Tyler Trudeau

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Tyler Trudeau is a junior Architecture major from Raleigh, NC, who spends most of his time writing about film and TV, running in 90 degree heat, and bingeing Netflix shows. You can find more of his film criticism and editorials at his personal website below.

TV REVIEW: ‘Marvel’s Daredevil’ rallies together a morally complex and highly engrossing third season

 

Minor spoilers from “Marvel’s Daredevil” and “Marvel’s The Defenders” will be discussed.

Even with the likes of “Iron Fist” and “Luke Cage” swiftly biting the dust on the small screen as the streaming giant of Netflix begins to clean house of its more maligned Marvel series, the pioneering superhero series that started it all in “Marvel’s Daredevil” returned this month to retain the show’s status as one among the top-tier of superhero television. Not only strikingly beautiful in its direction but breathtaking as it continued to bring classic comic-book lore to the small screen, the complex themes and all-too-real aesthetic of “Daredevil” pitched audiences its best season yet this October. As the shattered morale of its leading lawyer-turned-vigilante swayed towards increasingly darker measures, the essential thrills at the heart of the series returned to top form.

Following the conclusion of “Marvel’s The Defenders,” Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a.k.a. Daredevil, is presumed dead after a building explosion in New York leaves him and the assassin Elektra (Élodie Yung) missing. Finding himself among the walls of the orphanage he grew up in, Murdock reconnects with old friend, Sister Maggie (Joanne Whalley), as he slowly recovers from his injuries. As the shadow of vicious crime boss Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) looms behind his back, Murdock yearns to give in to his dark desire for vengeance instead of returning to his old life in Hell’s Kitchen. With Fisk on the cusp of gaining back his freedom from incarceration, waging his influence to manipulate the justice system that holds the city together, Murdock must traverse the thin line between good and evil once more in order to not only bring down Fisk, but keep the people he cares for the most alive.

With this year delivering a slew of sophomore debuts from the other Marvel-Netflix dramas, each varying in quality and reception, the one series I didn’t expect to return this year was “Marvel’s Daredevil.” After a somewhat-lukewarm second season arrived in 2016, which spun a far more mystical narrative hallmarked by the stellar debut of Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle, the character of Matt Murdock/Daredevil next found himself in the 2017 miniseries “The Defenders.” Even as the event series sought to tie up the loose ends of his second season, Daredevil’s story was far from over. With the burdens of a messier sophomore season in the wind, the third season of the series returned to the roots of the show, accessing once more the gritty, complex moral battle that made its first season so damn good.

The third season of “Daredevil” managed to situate itself in an intriguing spot as it rolled in just as 2018 seemed to be nearing its end. As the second season of the series pitched lawyer-vigilante Matt Murdock into a web of deceit and deadly ninjas, crossing paths with old flame Elektra Natchios along the way, “The Defenders” continued to toss a plethora of nameless goons and moral dilemmas at the complicated hero. Nothing, however, could match the vital trials Murdock was destined to face in his third solo outing this year. Essentially “killing” its titular hero by dropping a building on him and leaving him for dead, season three picked up as the crime-ridden realm of Hell’s Kitchen sought to move on from the hero that once bared its name. As the looming threat of crime bosses and corrupt organizations remained, however, the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen could not sit idly by and watch his city crumble.

That is where we find our dear leading hero Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox). Perhaps more broken than we’ve ever seen him before, the man who once served New York City as a counselor for law and justice has molded into a misguided soul on the cusp of giving into his darkest, most violent desires. As season three brought us back into the religious side of Murdock’s persona, the lawyer blinded in his childhood finding himself in the same Catholic orphanage he was raised in, we quickly saw the ideals that built up the show’s first season float to the surface again. While the question he has always struggled with remained (“Why would God blind me if he wanted me to see?”), the moral code Murdock had created as the vigilante Daredevil was also tested once more. Vowing not to kill those who can be redeemed, not to push the limits of law and order beyond what cannot be forgiven, Murdock’s muddled faith and cracked morality became even more complex this season.

While last season of “Daredevil” saw the rise of ex-Marine Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) as one of the central adversaries to Matt Murdock’s mission to protect Hell’s Kitchen, the undeniably massive presence of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk (aka Kingpin) could not possibly be left out of the show’s third season. As Charlie Cox delivered yet another startlingly nuanced performance as a man beaten and broken both physically and psychologically, the return of D’Onofrio’s volatile crime boss was easily one of the top draws of the season. Equally as furious and restrained as the show’s hero, the larger-than-life Fisk also entered the third season in a unique position. As Cox’s hero sought redemption and vengeance, the complex antagonist of Fisk waged war on the city the only way he could from the confines of a prison cell: painting his image as the savior the city deserves and tossing Daredevil’s name into the muck of a divided and increasingly corrupted playing field. As he coerced everyone to bend to his will, from the FBI’s best to the vile criminals who work under him, allowing him to slip through the cracks of law and order, Fisk matured into an ever bigger power player within the series.  

With the morale of a vengeance-fueled Murdock challenging that of a seemingly pure-hearted but ever-conniving Fisk like they have since season one, the supporting characters of the season filled the foreground just as profoundly as the show’s two leading men. As fantastic performances secreted from Murdock’s allies like Deborah Ann Woll’s crusading reporter Karen Page and Elden Henson’s passionate attorney Foggy Nelson, the newcomers to the series showcased a variety of potential. From the reserved dignity of Joanne Whalley’s Sister Maggie (surely a standout this season) to Jay Ali’s naive self-righteousness as FBI agent Ray Nadeem, the new faces that occupied Hell’s Kitchen brought yet another level of humanity to the series that worked to combat the shifting pathology of its leading crusader. Perhaps at the hero’s throat the most this season was Wilson Bethel’s iconic foe in Agent Ben Poindexter, whose sharp-shooting talents and psychopathic tendencies set their sights on bringing down the titular Man Without Fear.

Overall, as “Marvel’s Daredevil” weighed even heavier on the faith-driven complexities of its hero, the theological crisis of Matt Murdock became even more engrossing in season three. Balancing its profound themes of righteousness, identity and the line between evil and good with a motley display of comic-book thrills, the third outing of “Daredevil” only elevated the brilliance of one of television’s greatest superhero series. Even as the moral code of the blind vigilante continually wavers, the classical tale of a hero driven to his most violent edge as the faith to which he was once devoted fails him was right at home as the trials of Daredevil evolved in this latest chapter.

Season Three of “Marvel’s Daredevil” is available to stream on Netflix now.

 

Photos Courtesy of Netflix and Marvel Television

TV REVIEW: ‘Marvel’s Iron Fist’ Season Two shines a fleeting ray of hope on a consistently dull narrative

 

Mild spoilers from the second season of “Marvel’s Iron Fist” will be discussed.

As the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand further across the silver screen, the adjacent comic-book universe that resides on the small screen has packed this year with its own further explorations into its posse of titular street heroes. As March offered up another chapter with super-powered private eye Jessica Jones, and the summer lent more to the culturally-infused tale of the bulletproof Luke Cage, September sought to propel one of the small screen’s weakest links in the second season of “Marvel’s Iron Fist.” With the Netflix series weighing heavily on the familiar theme of family conflict, the season worked to tease at greater storytelling set to come, all while purposely sidelining its problematic leading hero.

With the events of “Marvel’s The Defenders” leaving New York City mostly scarce of protection from the growing wave of gang warfare on the streets, Danny Rand (Finn Jones) has evolved his purpose as the Immortal Iron Fist in order to become a silent protector to a volatile city. As he works to maintain a peaceful living with former martial arts master Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), the looming threat of his past manifests in Davos (Sacha Dhawan). As Danny’s former colleague yearns to take the mantle of the Iron Fist from him, a vicious battle for power ignites across Chinatown. As other deadly factors come into play, from warring factions to the venomous assassin Walker (Alice Eve), Danny must uncover his true role as the Iron Fist before the violence finally boils over.

When compared to the other Marvel/Netflix series that were set to debut their sophomore seasons this year, the return of “Marvel’s Iron Fist” was the one I was probably least excited about. Even while “Jessica Jones” evaded me for far too long, eventually leaving me solely with a surprisingly impressive second season for “Luke Cage,” I was less than eager to witness the continued adventures of the ill-fated martial arts-focused “Iron Fist.” With Season One offering up a widely-panned and fairly uncompelling origin for billionaire-turned-monk Danny Rand, which stumbled between being a corporate bore and a mythic-heavy tale of redemption, I had sparse hope that Season Two would play out much differently.

Promise for the new season, however, arrived in new showrunner Raven Metzner, who made it clear that a new direction was coming for the series. With that, while the tale of the Iron Fist still might have clung to its muddled mixture of comic-book and kung-fu clichés, it pulled off something I never expected the show to actually do: letting its central hero ride the coattails of a far more interesting supporting cast. As the first episodes of the season worked to strip Danny Rand of the power he harbors so close to his identity as hero and protector, while still maintaining him as the slightly-less whiny medium between rival Chinatown gangs, the season as a whole pushed towards emphasizing the elements that continue to hold the show together.

While I’ll delve into Rand and the faults of the show’s leading focus soon enough, a number of factors allowed the second season of “Iron Fist” to mature slightly beyond its lacking debut. As the scales of justice were mostly pushed aside this time around, opening the door for a handful of Rand’s former allies to forge darker paths, the narrative of the season focused primarily on the show’s antagonists. With last year’s team-up mini-series “The Defenders” leaving the thin-veiled collective of deadly ninjas and crime bosses known as “The Hand” in the dust, “Iron Fist” moved on to explore the villainous players stitched even closer to the show’s hero. While Jessica Stroup’s Joy Meachum took a back seat to Sacha Dhawan’s aggressive fighter Davos and his mission to reclaim his birthright, the duo created a suitable focus as the theme of family cropped up once again. While the potential of the conflicts between Danny and Davos, as well as Joy and Tom Pelphrey’s Ward, didn’t string out as far as I’d hoped, they did appear far more authentic than the conflict of family felt in Season One.

Also tossed in the mix was Alice Eve’s Mary Walker. Acting somewhat as the middleman between the dealings of Joy, Davos and Danny Rand, the inclusion of Walker (known as Typhoid Mary in the comics) sought to inject another facet of the deep-seated comic-book lore the season yearned to draw from. As if to say the mystical origins of Danny’s abilities weren’t confusing enough, Eve’s dissociative mercenary rolled into the series flocked with her own underdeveloped story to tell. Even while the actress channeled the multiple personalities of her comic-book counterpart to minor success, equally off-putting as she was hyper-competent, the entrance of the character felt more like filler material rather than a worthwhile addition to the story.

With the show’s first season clearly favoring glitzy fight choreography and thick comic lore over true development of its main characters, the second season again failed to give its central hero, Finn Jones’ Danny Rand, very much to do. After “The Defenders” ultimately shrunk the Iron Fist to a mere MacGuffin for the plot following his dismal first season, and “Luke Cage” Season Two lent the character a few more points towards becoming an enjoyable character, I saw some hope in Season Two to bring the character to greater potential. Despite being a far-less-whiny, self-proclaimed protector of his homeland, the show still felt like it didn’t know exactly what to do with the character yet. As he abandoned his billionaire businessman role in favor of a quiet life with Jessica Henwick’s far-more-intriguing Colleen Wing, his morals as a holistic protector shifted as he became too eager to become the savior vigilante New York truly needs. With that, as his motivations for why he remains the Iron Fist changing constantly throughout the season, nothing really gave the audience a clear purpose to see Danny’s story through to the end.

Overall, even as increasingly amplified fight sequences and a superior supporting cast held prominence this season, “Marvel’s Iron Fist” remains the weakest link of the Marvel/Netflix repertoire. As its unlikeable protagonist continues to struggle to find his role among his fellow street-level heroes, the mythology surrounding the title character has slowly become more and more irrelevant. Even with a new direction, as the second season leaned into its comic-book lore and sent up a mildly-coherent duel of fates, the show still has plenty of kinks to work out. In the meantime, someone please get Netflix to develop a “Daughters of the Dragon” mini-series with Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing and Simone Missick’s Misty Knight!

Season Two of “Marvel’s Iron Fist” is now available to stream on Netflix. You can read my review of the first season here

 

Poster Courtesy of Netflix and Marvel Television

 

Uncovering the Finer Details at the CoAA Global Studies Exhibition

Photo by Patrick Magoon.

The selected works of a number of students in the College of Arts + Architecture were on full display as this year’s Global Studies Exhibition kicked off at the Storrs Gallery. Spanning the students’ experiences across a variety of media, from sketches and photographs to analytical diagrams and installations, the collective voyage of the students across a handful of countries was celebrated as the participants themselves dissected their individual travels.

Acting foremost as celebratory evidence of the knowledge collected by the students who traveled abroad as well as an invitation to those who still yearn to do so, the latest exhibition from the Global Studies department also sought to explore the social implications surrounding the subjects of each student’s travels. Just as the exhibition displayed architectural designs and artistic interpretations for such things as Roman bathhouses and revised Japanese tapestries, it also included subtle peeks into not only the people who created these things, but also those who occupy the spaces where these creations lie.

Even while I instantly gravitated towards the architectural drawings and analytical diagrams of the exhibition, myself, a fellow Architecture major, was eager to dissect the work for what it is, the work that adorned the opposite walls was also interlaced with their own unique portrayals of the students’ experiences abroad. As the drawings and diagrams showcased their own distinct portraits of occupation, scale figures from the drawings strolling alongside intricate building concepts situated among ancient Roman cathedrals, the work from the other side of the artistic spectrum gave another perspective from the various studies done by the students. As I listened to one photography student discuss their capture of daily activities (and fun, unexpected excursions) while abroad in Poland, the rich collection of polaroid photos pinned to the wall clued me in to another tangent of what studying abroad is truly about.

Photo by Patrick Magoon.

Rough, uncomplex and exposed, the selected photographs and sketches paralleled the measured architectural drawings of the exhibition with a silent beauty about them. Just as my eyes scanned the drafted works to pull away some semblance of design and inspiration, I found equal inspiration in the smaller, more intimate things students selected to share. From those layered, lucid polaroids to a collection of crude yet ornate charcoal portraits from another student, the works strived to reveal just what it means to study abroad. While there comes a time to craft professional work for portfolios or to see exceptional ideas realized on paper, there also comes a time to capture moments, experiences, people; the finer details that you can discover abroad.

As the new Director of Galleries Adam Justice drew our attention from the work on the wall to a duo of dance students set to perform, the Global Studies Exhibition concluded with an entrancing piece quite different from the mostly static works that filled the room. While the drawings and photographs worked to challenge and inspire me and others, the dance performance that came soon after teased something more. Two individuals locked in beautiful conflict, moving together as a singular organic form, the performance only furthered my belief that those finer details you grasp while abroad are the things that compile to create something incredibly profound.         

The College of Arts + Architecture Global Studies Exhibition will be on display at Storrs Gallery until September 28.   

 

 

MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Mandy’ is a strikingly lovely callback to classic horror cinema

 

Two souls deep in love. A pack of monstrous cultists willed by intoxicated egos. Dreamscapes dripping neon across a scathed mountain topography. The pupils of all eyes dilated by adrenaline, hallucinogens and pure, unwavering rage. Muddled religion collided with the solemn, convicted prayers of a man shattered by loss. This is the peculiar chemical concoction that worked to craft the latest from director Panos Cosmatos and star Nicolas Cage in the cosmic horror fever dream of “Mandy.” Oozing with gripping performances, a palette of breathtaking visuals and a revenge premise driven to a violent edge, “Mandy” crept out of the shadows and quickly solidified itself as a stunning mix of modern aesthetic and classic horror cinema.

The year is 1983. Hidden away deep in the primal wilderness of the Shadow Mountains, logger Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) has created an idyllic existence alongside his beautifully deceptive partner Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough). Deep in love, no outside force could possibly penetrate the couple’s quiet life tucked beneath the mountains. The peaceful reality Red has made for himself shatters in an instant, as a vile band of cultists and otherworldly beasts come crashing through the glass facade of his haven. His love taken, his body wrung out and chained, his mild-manner temper shaken, Red now lives for a sole purpose — to hunt down the wretched things responsible and exact a swift and bloody revenge.

Among the realm of modern horror, which has held a steady existence of easily thwarted tropes and predictable thrills, there always seems to creep in a select few from the genre that seek to inject their unique vision into a singular, self-contained story. As the latest fall season kicks off mildly with genre films like “The Nun” and the upcoming “Halloween” continuation, the high-concept thriller to combat said franchise hopefuls arrived this month in the supernatural fever-dream of “Mandy.” In what promised to be not only a visceral tale of vengeance but also one of the most volcanic roles from actor Nicolas Cage, “Mandy” entered the playing field with the goal of becoming far beyond the latest slasher feature hidden among the Hollywood Hills.

Once I uncovered just what “Mandy” was, beneath its facade of what seemed a routine revenge premise, a number of factors drew me even closer to the distinct indie thriller. While I was never a true fan of star Nicolas Cage, though familiar to the volatile and unhinged performances across his vast career, something about the actor channeling a tempered-logger-turned-brutal-executioner promised to be the perfect addition to the supernatural revenge tale. It was also the overall look of the film, from director Panos Cosmatos and cinematographer Benjamin Loeb, that truly got me invested in witnessing just what “Mandy” was all about. What began as a contemplative portrait of two souls entranced in their simplistic life evolved steadily into a nightmarish picture of hell-scapes and the single-minded rage of a broken man.

While the performances might hallmark the majority of the seedy midnight thriller, as Cage’s eruptive transformation interplayed with a number of subtle to bizarre caricatures, the true potential of “Mandy” can be seen in its production. As up-and-coming filmmaker Panos Cosmatos returned to the horror scene, the same genre that stitched his 2010 debut “Beyond the Black Rainbow” together, the director worked to craft another distinct blend of genre with “Mandy.” While “Black Rainbow” sent up a bold mixture of science fiction paranoia with the classical tropes of slasher horror, Cosmatos’ latest sought to recall some of those same tropes, all while taking a massive dive into something completely unexpected. Backed by a promising slew of producers, including fantasy/horror alum Elijah Wood, and an intoxicating score from composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, “Mandy” strived to bring Cosmatos to the forefront.

Even as “Mandy” gave off an eerie subterranean vibe as it scuttled between its sadistic extremists and neon-tinted atmospherics, the cast of the film lent the project another wild card for its ambitious director to play. With such an enigmatic character as Nic Cage climbing aboard and his increasingly deranged persona continues to open his door to a plethora of off-kilter films, the lead role in logger Red Miller offered the actor the ideal chance to explore a wide range of emotion. As his quiet life — accompanied by his partner in Andrea Riseborough’s alluring Mandy — is quickly broken down, Cage’s once-hushed demeanor devolves into a manic frenzy of violent desperation. While the beginning of the film featured a less-than-zany Cage, focusing more on Riseborough’s mostly-static Mandy, once the man crossed paths with the sadistic members of a mysterious cult, the leash was let loose. Even while Cage’s fiery outbursts might be nothing new to fans of his often-comical exaggerations, watching his character dissolve into pure mayhem was surely a pleasure to watch unfold.

As Riseborough offered a far more tame performance when compared to her counterpart in Cage, her silent mysticism was opposed with even greater force by the central antagonist of the film. With English actor Linus Roache filling the shoes of a passionate zealot willed by a higher power, the deranged conception of “Mandy” was only further heightened by its enthusiastic supporting cast. As Roache’s Jeremiah Sand portrayed a crude mix between Charles Manson and Buffalo Bill from “The Silence of the Lambs,” he clashed his wretched idealism with Cage’s vicious desperation. While Roache’s cult leader might not get the payoff his fervent extremist deserved, his confrontation with Red was a smashing but unsurprising conclusion for the film; it was the leading radical and his followers that brought further enjoyment to the maniacal and psychedelic tone of “Mandy”.

The visuals of “Mandy,” which included everything from neon-drenched bloodshed and shadowy mountain scenery to dreamlike color mixing and innovative camera work, ran parallel to one of the film’s other major highlights. Just as Cosmatos sought to paint a nightmarish homage to classic horror behind the camera, he also worked to capture a striking auditory experience as well. With the late composer Jóhann Jóhannsson delving into his latest layer of eerie, methodical soundscapes (after scoring such films as “Arrival” and “Sicario”), the artist managed to draw out the sadistic yet slow-burning feeling of “Mandy” through a superb mix of moody atmospherics and wailing metal rock. Resulting in surely one of the most exhilarating scores I’ve heard all year, one of Jóhannsson’s last works could likely be his most timely.

Overall, the sophomore piece of filmmaker Panos Cosmatos’ “Mandy” made for a thrilling experience at the theater. Backed by not only a riveting musical score but an unflinching tale of passion, vengeance and the violent limits that lie between, the seedy thriller presented a visually-entrancing horror epic with a phenomenal set of characters. Even while some of its characterization might border the realm of stereotype and certain splashes of its stimuli might not fit the film to perfection, “Mandy” brought yet another bold independent horror effort to the forefront of my attention. Promising plenty more than simply the latest in a long line of zany Nic Cage-starring features, “Mandy” is the psychedelic revenge romp of the fall season.

 

Poster Courtesy of RLJE Films

 

‘Mandy’ is now playing in select theaters in Charlotte.

Legion M President Jeff Annison talks pioneering media company and new project ‘Mandy’

Photo courtesy of Legion M

Marking the rise of a fascinating new business model with the potential to change Hollywood forever, entertainment company Legion M has created one of the world’s first fan-owned media platforms. Allowing fans all over the world to invest in a broad slate of film, television and digital content, the company strives to make the audience the number one priority. Here to break down just what Legion M is all about, the Niner Times got a chance to speak to co-founder and president Jeff Annison about the company and its goals. Also giving us the latest on their most recent investment, the supernatural thriller “Mandy,” Jeff Annison spills the beans on why Legion M could be the next revolutionary startup.

Legion M introduces one of the world’s first entertainment companies owned and invested in by fans. Fans are able to get involved with and even own stock of the company just by investing as little as $100. That money is then pooled together to go into a variety of diverse projects. How did a company where people all over the world can easily invest in original content come to fruition? How is a company like that even possible?

While there’s plenty of business talk and logistics that go into how Legion M was formed, the primary goal of the company is to give fans a say in what Legion M does. We wanted to create a media company made up of people who are emotionally invested in the process of content creation. Under new rules enabled by the JOBS Act, fans can now invest as little as $100 to own a piece of the company. While that process always comes with its risks, there is reward in the ideas and projects Legion M seeks to endorse. Investing in the company is only half of it, however. Legion M has always strived towards creating an authentic grassroots buzz for the projects they’re involved in. As we partner with more and more creators, we can provide marketing, development, financial backing and most importantly fan engagement.

Risk is always a major factor when investing in something like this. One often has to weigh the risk vs. reward before putting money into a project or company. Legion M is made possible by new rules entitled in the JOBS Act, a process called equity crowdfunding. How is Legion M changing the game in the ways the general public can invest in projects?

Equity crowdfunding is all about allowing the general public to invest in pre-IPO startups like ours. Prior to the JOBS Act, most of the population was forbidden from investing in startup companies. Unless you had a net worth north of $1 million or an annual salary of more than $200K, you were excluded. Now, even with some limitations here and there, the JOBS Act promises that all of us can have the chance to invest like the 1%. Of course, you have to know the risks of investing in something like a company. We ourselves took a risk on investing in our latest project “Mandy,” which we entered early at the script phase. That being said, the risk and reward of investing in something like Legion M is never guaranteed. While most startups fail, those that succeed often change the world. That is what we seek to do with Legion M.    

You work with a number of people besides the fans on Legion M and its projects. From co-founder and CEO Paul Scanlan to a variety of diverse production companies, Legion M has grown tremendously since 2016. How has your past experience working as an entrepreneur influenced how Legion M came to be?

Legion M marks the third company I’ve started with Paul Scanlan. In 1999, we launched MobiTV, one of the pioneers of digital streaming on mobile devices. We ended up winning an Emmy for Technical Achievement in Advancing Television for our work on that project. From that experience, and the ones that followed, I’ve learned that one of the most essential parts of being an entrepreneur is a willingness to take risks. I’ve also learned that most startups fail, as I said. Even the likes of Google, Tesla and Disney all took risks when building their companies. Investing is already a risk vs. reward business, but there was no question in the prospects of what Legion M could become.

After launching two years ago, the company has amassed nearly $5 million with an ever-growing number of fan investors. Did you ever see Legion M taking off like this? What are some of the major goals you have for Legion M as it continues to grow?

One of our main goals can be found right in our logo. The “M” with a line over it is the Roman numeral for one million. Our “master plan” so to speak is to become one of the most influential companies in Hollywood, with over one million shareholders backing what we do and what we produce. If we can achieve that, we’ll have hundreds of millions of dollars to develop new projects, with over a million people who have contributed to the process. Another goal of ours is to “open the gates of Hollywood” to the fans, giving them the opportunity to spearhead some ambitious projects in the future.   

Legion M resides on somewhat of a different playing field as Hollywood. The majority of major Hollywood-produced entertainment, be it film or television, is run by massive conglomerates. Legion M on the other hand strives towards prioritizing individuals who are passionate about budding projects. How has Legion M worked to differentiate itself from the Hollywood formula of content creation?

Hollywood is a notoriously difficult place to traverse in the entertainment business. What we find in content creation, and the investment process as well, is that every project is seeking an audience. Putting the fans at the forefront, we can back a wide variety of bold and inventive projects from some of the most promising creators out there. Among Hollywood, which is such a massive world to step into, there are limitations along with those huge companies. In essence, it’s a “hit-driven” enterprise, where the lines are drawn between the artistic side of filmmaking and the business side of entertainment. That can be a complicated street to walk down.  

Poster Courtesy of RLJE Films

After working on such films as “Colossal” with Anne Hathaway and “Bad Samaritan” with David Tennant,  the company’s latest investment finds itself in the seedy, 1980s revenge tale of “Mandy,” starring THE Nicolas Cage. How did you come across this project and what drew you towards it personally?

“Mandy” is not a film for everyone. It’s dark, visceral, outlandish, but there’s plenty of fantastic potential there. It comes from independent director Panos Cosmatos, who has made a name for himself as the Stanley Kubrick of our time with his startling visual style. At Legion M, we love the idea of supporting up-and-coming filmmakers like Panos, and giving them the chance to showcase their unique talents on-screen. With “Mandy,” which stars such an enigmatic character as Nic Cage, the potential of the director mixed with what Cage could convey as an actor was very promising. Toss in a heavy metal score from the late composer Jóhann Jóhannson and there’s something distinct there.   

Films like “Mandy” have the tendency to garner substantial cult followings after their release. “Mandy” has already received plenty of buzz at both the Sundance and Cannes film festivals. While smaller, more obscure films like this often don’t see much return at the box office, they still have life among the fans. Do you see “Mandy” becoming a cult classic? What do you hope people take away from the film?

As I said, there’s definitely something special about what the filmmakers behind “Mandy” have crafted. Aside from its great cast in Nic Cage, Andrea Riseborough and Linus Roache, the film has the obscure, sensational aesthetic of what we like to call a “midnight” movie. From an investment standpoint, “Mandy” has a lot of potential to gain a following from not just its premise, but the film’s riveting 1980s-infused soundtrack as well. While we can’t possibly predict how the general public will receive the film next week, we hope the passion behind the project will resonate with the fans who brought the film to light in the first place.  

Legion M continues to grow in the content it provides, from major releases like “Colossal” and “Mandy” to digital content with fellow creators Kevin Smith and Stan Lee. How has Legion M worked to broaden their reach into a larger variety of projects?

Discovering creators like Panos Cosmatos, as well as working alongside more-established names like Kevin Smith and Stan Lee, of course contributes greatly to broadening Legion M’s horizon. Support from our fans and the passionate audiences that continue to engage with us also goes a long way towards bringing more and more projects to our door. “Mandy” is just the latest vastly-imaginative and highly-promising project we’ve invested in, and there’s plenty more to come.     

“Mandy” hits select Charlotte-area theaters Sept. 13. You can get tickets to a special one-night only screening for the film here

You can learn more about Legion M and how to get involved here.

 

TV REVIEW: ‘Marvel’s Luke Cage’ Season 2 expands the riveting, self-aware world of Harlem’s hero

 

With the next Marvel/Netflix collaboration rolling out this month in the second season of “Marvel’s Iron Fist,” it was about time I finally checked back into Harlem to give my thoughts on the other small-screen hero to return this summer. As the bulletproof “Hero of Harlem” Luke Cage stepped back into the spotlight, the sophomore season of the Netflix series successfully expanded upon what made his 2016 debut such a stellar and thoroughly-investing outing. From its conflicted and “woke” central hero to the show’s distinct New York atmosphere, “Marvel’s Luke Cage shattered any fears of the infamous “sophomore slump.”

After clearing his name as a falsely-accused convict, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) has become the face of a neighborhood still plagued by violence and crime. As a media-obsessed society flourishes within Harlem, Cage has amassed far more attention from the world than he ever wanted before. Following the death of her volatile cousin Cornell, Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) maintains a fierce grasp on Harlem, her fingers in every avenue of the city’s seedy underworld. While the drug-and-gun game sours under Mariah’s hand, her loyal companion “Shades” (Theo Rossi) doing much of the dirty work, a new threat arises in John “Bushmaster” McIver (Mustafa Shakir). An American with Jamaican blood, fueled by vengeance towards Mariah, McIver comes toe-to-toe with Cage as a startling new war sparks on the streets of New York. Despite that, trade wars and adversaries tough as iron are the least of Luke Cage’s problems.

With each of Netflix’s quartet of small-screen Marvel heroes now introduced, their individual stories culminating in last summer’s “The Defenders,” the aftermath of the team-up event notched each hero into unique spots among their street-level environments. As things get even more complex and complicated for the big-league heroes like the Avengers, the faces that lie at the heart of the individual Marvel/Netflix series have come into their own issues as their stories continue to unfold. As the second season of “Jessica Jonesunveiled further troubles for the super-strong private eye, and this month’s “Iron Fistseeks to paint the naive warrior of Danny Rand as a more compelling hero than before, it’s the weathered and wicked streets Luke Cage occupies that I found myself this time. As the legacy of the “bulletproof black man” thrives and shakes things up, the second season of “Luke Cageis where the central hero-for-hire really hits his beat.

Much like the debut seasons of “Daredevil, “Jessica Jones and even “Iron Fist,” I enjoyed the first outing of Luke Cage aka Power Man even amid its subtle pitfalls. Luckily for the so-called “Hero of Harlem,” Marvel and creator Cheo Hodari Coker managed to craft a tale equally as riveting and distinct in tone as Netflix’s first dive into superhero affairs with “Daredevil.” As the series moved out of Daredevil’s territory of Hell’s Kitchen and into the culturally-vibrant streets of Harlem, it found its focus in a hero that breathed and bled the injustices and anxieties of the ever-divided world we occupy today. That hero, manifested in Mike Colter’s moral-driven, headstrong Luke Cage, instantly became a figure to rally behind as his first season worked to give meaning to his vital cause in Harlem.

As his cause to protect Harlem and its people from harm flowed into both “The Defendersand Season 2 of his eponymous series, the character of Luke Cage was peeled away even further as his life became increasingly complicated. While Season 1 of “Luke Cagesought to introduce us to both the power set and the emotional state of Cage as he strived to reclaim his innocence, the second season saw the hero battling with even greater internal forces than he ever imagined. From familial struggles (accompanied by a phenomenal performance by the late Reg E. Cathey as Cage’s father) to his own morally-converging paths towards justice in Harlem, Season 2 looked to pitch its indestructible hero against his greatest fight yet. Toss in the ever-fluctuating scales of power among Harlem’s most vile players, and you’ve got a season full of startling twists and bittersweet outcomes.

While Marvel and Coker distinguished “Luke Cagein a number of ways, from its seething, culturally-infused narrative to its emphasis on capturing the music scene of Harlem, the first two seasons of the series found much of its appeal in its performances. Just as the show’s sophomore season expanded upon the rich culture of Harlem’s people, it also proved that its main and supporting cast are what really give the series its style. As we see Colter’s bulletproof savior struggle with his true purpose in Harlem, we also see the other side of a number of characters in the show. From the equally-determined detective in Simone Missick’s Misty Knight to the emotionally-unstable gangster of Theo Rossi’s “Shades,” the swagger that once shielded the supporting characters of the show was broken down to reveal just what motivates each persona that runs across Colter’s central hero.

With other great performances running parallel to Colter’s, like Luke’s pastor-father in Reg E. Cathey’s James Lucas, much of the season’s focus tilted towards detailing the affairs of its central antagonists. As the scales of power and justice shifted as villain “Bushmaster” McIver entered the playing field, the dynamic between the revenge-seeking Jamaican and the queen of Harlem in Alfre Woodard’s Mariah Dillard became just as vital to the season’s narrative as Luke Cage’s own journey. With the season detailing Mustafa Shakir’s haunting manifestation into a man built from the rebellion of his homeland, the newcomer to the series proved to be as vicious and stone-cold a villain as last season’s Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali). As he collided with Woodard’s callous Mariah Dillard, the two feuded over their destructive past and familial issues. Matched with their desire to manipulate Cage to their will, the villain and villainess of this season gave Season 2 the proper nerve it needed to elevate the story to unexpected heights.

The entrance of John “Bushmaster” McIver wasn’t the only factor that bled into one of the season’s essential themes. As the season continued its exploration of Luke Cage’s moral code in protecting Harlem, and his subsequent denial of said code to maintain order, it also focused primarily on the muddled relationship between Cage and his estranged father. As Reg E. Cathey’s hard-edged wisdom as James Lucas clashed with Cage’s stubborn ideals of “heroism,” their steady reconciliation throughout the season fueled its focal point of family. Paralleled with not only Bushmaster’s reclamation of his birthright, but Mariah’s complicated bond with her daughter (Gabrielle Dennis) as well, the theme of family became even more prevalent than it was in Season 1.

Overall, as Season 2 of “Marvel’s Luke Cageraised the stakes on Luke Cage’s ever-burdening struggle to keep Harlem safe, the continued story of Harlem’s hero and the diverse and deadly realm in which he operates managed to send up a gripping second outing. As it revealed more and more about its central and supporting characters, from their shifting moral agendas to their violent ultimatums, the second season elegantly glided past the feared sophomore slump a number of shows tend to face. While the second seasons of “Daredeviland “Jessica Jones faced a handful of missteps in both story and pacing, comparatively, “Luke Cagemanaged to maintain the distinct tone of its debut season, all while crafting a dynamic narrative of reclamation, revenge and above all, reputation.

You can stream Seasons 1 and 2 of “Marvel’s Luke Cage” now on Netflix. “Marvel’s Iron Fist” returns for its second season Friday.  

 

Poster courtesy of Marvel Entertainment and Netflix

Snapping into the New Year with the Gold Rush Outdoor Movie

Students watch “Avengers: Infinity War” in Jerry Richardson Stadium. Photo courtesy of Nikolai Mather.

Easily one of the biggest hits this summer at theaters across the globe, Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War” was the obvious choice to headline this year’s Gold Rush Outdoor Movie Night, presented by Campus Activities Board (CAB). For a number of reasons, this jam-packed superhero goliath offered up just the right amount of angst, astonishment and bittersweet anticipation to parallel the dawn of a new semester for Charlotte students. While its premise might stray far from the anxieties and hopes we find here on campus, as it sees the superhero team battling the likes of radical despot Thanos, who yearns to extinguish half the universe, the first week of class has concluded in epic fashion.

By this time, I’m sure, there are only a rare few who have yet to witness the monumental cataclysm that resulted from one of this year’s most devastating films. As it swiftly took over the box office, the nineteenth feature film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe rolled into theaters this April with the intent of reshaping the billion-dollar franchise as we know it. Set with the largest cast of characters in any superhero film ever and a slew of surprising narrative twists along the way, the latest “Avengers” chapter quickly manifested into the epitome of game-changing summer blockbusters. Even after seeing the film two times already, I was certainly eager to experience it once more.

If I recall, the last time I ventured to Jerry Richardson Stadium for a CAB event, the just-as-substantial mammoth of a superhero film in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” was splayed across the massive screen just above the football field. As I sat amongst mostly all strangers, myself a naive freshman at the time, I settled atop the artificial turf and arched my neck as I awaited the “Avengers”-esque hero vs. hero face-off to play out. Leaving just as shell-shocked as I had been the first time I’d seen the film, this time with a surge of sporadic opinions spewing from the surrounding crowd of students and Marvel fans alike, I departed from the stadium that night in an excited silence.

The emotional events of “Civil War” some two years ago, however, were somewhat pale in comparison to the earth-shattering premise of this year’s “Infinity War.” As I entered the stadium once more, intoxicated by anticipation and the hope of relinquishing the anxieties of a budding semester, I found myself drawing an intriguing parallel between the colossal blockbuster and the new year of academia. Traveling this time amongst good friends, classmates who have shared the stresses of a complex major here at Charlotte, I saw the film as something beyond the grand-scale superhero epic it presented. As it pitched a story of desperate survival, unexpected consequences, and a slice of hope on the horizon, the film became a peculiar metaphor for the semester ahead.

While I didn’t come here to review the film, as others have done that for Niner Times already, I uncovered a unique melancholy watching it again on the first week of class. Beginning my junior year, it would seem that I have entered a particularly vital time in my college career, a sort of crossroads where the decisions I make now could shape where I go in the coming future. As my studies become increasingly more complicated and fascinating than before, the anxieties of the school year have been mixed with a subtle hopefulness of what might come next. Be it a job at the highest-regarded firm in Charlotte or some other bold aspiration, I feel that I’ve arrived at the most exciting, and nerve-wracking, time of my college existence.

While I won’t go so far as calling it the endgame, at the risk of sounding almost morbid, the disquieting suspense of the future is what fuels not only the plot of “Avengers: Infinity War,” but my own personal aspirations as well. As the Marvel powerhouse is very much a precursor to 2019’s untitled “Avengers 4,” this emerging semester is in itself a precursor to unexpected things set to come. Even as the film, a fantasy of titans battling adversity amid a swift and shocking turn of events, might very well lay apart from our simple reality, the struggles at its center are not unlike our own. Albeit being far less dramatic than the demise of half the universe, both the anxieties and inherent optimism within “Infinity War” in many ways mirror that of the upcoming semester.

Despite the somewhat-contrived metaphor I sought to lay out from the night, returning to the Jerry Richardson Stadium to watch “Avengers: Infinity War” was an enjoyable experience nonetheless. While my mind still sprawled to the coming semester, the fascinating mix of excitement and dread imbued in the superhero fantasy lent the night even more significance than simply watching a movie in a field. Perhaps it was CAB’s sole concern to let students enjoy a great film in the company of friends, but beyond that, maybe something more.

Photo courtesy of Nikolai Mather.

MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ soars with a well-rounded, light sequel amid dark times

Mild Spoilers for “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and “Avengers: Infinity War” will be discussed.

Acting as the first film to follow the drastic events of April’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” the second solo outing for Marvel’s minuscule hero soared into theaters this summer. Seeking to pitch a far more light-hearted adventure, the sequel to 2015’s “Ant-Man” tossed its characters into yet another enthralling heist, all while introducing fans to the franchise’s newest female hero. While its low-stakes premise might not hold nearly as much emotional weight as April’s massive team-up effort, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” still managed to send up an exciting and hilarious team-up of its own.

Following the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” ex-con Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) grapples with the consequences of revealing his superhero persona Ant-Man to the world. As he serves a two-year sentence of house arrest, he strives to take care of his daughter Cassie, reluctant to don the suit again. After Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) reemerge from hiding, however, they enlist Lang to help find Hope’s mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) within the mysterious Quantum Realm. As new enemies and old allies seek to stand in their way, Lang must team up with Hope as Ant-Man and the Wasp to ensure Janet’s return.
Even with anticipation on the rise for the future heavy-hitters of its ever-growing franchise, like next Spring’s “Captain Marvel” and the yet-untitled “Avengers 4,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe notched its twentieth feature film in this summer’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” Seeking to continue the story of con-man-turned-superhero Scott Lang set by 2015’s “Ant-Man,” director Peyton Reed set out to not only delve further into the complicated new life of Paul Rudd’s mini-hero but also to introduce us to one of the MCU’s latest female badasses. While returning to the world of “Ant-Man” seemed pale in comparison to speculating what occurs after the latest “Avengers” film, Reed managed to fish fans back in with the simple promise of a light-hearted story amid dark times.

While 2015’s “Ant-Man” was far from the best the MCU had to offer in their big-screen outings — following up massive stand-outs in 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” the franchise’s first true dive into the heist genre did ultimately pay off in the tiny hero’s favor. As the film detailed the exploits of inventor Hank Pym and his reluctance to make “The Ant-Man” a tool for a higher power, it also gave us a promising debut for actor Paul Rudd within the superhero genre. With his unique mix of melancholic charm and naivety lending him to become more than simply a minuscule comic relief, we found in Scott Lang a criminal molded by the principles of both fatherhood and newfound purpose. Even as the film dredged into a similar power struggle to 2008’s “Iron Man,” the protagonist in Rudd’s conflicted hero and his allies proved to be something worth exploring more of.

Thus came “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” the highly-anticipated follow-up to one of Marvel’s smallest adventures. Making for possibly one of their best sequels yet, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” set out to do exactly what a compelling sequel should do. As it blended its shrinking action set-pieces with a worthy narrative of uncovering the past, the film used the charm and inventive nature of its predecessor to craft a fun, quick and cunning small-scale superhero effort. With more character development for Lang, Pym and Evangeline Lilly’s superb Hope van Dyne, and a driven director in Reed, the sequel succeeded where it counted most.

With such a small-scale story, the likes of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” surpassing a film as grand and dramatic as April’s”Avengers: Infinity War” was never in the headlights of director Peyton Reed and the other filmmakers behind the sequel. Yes, while crafting a great film that would make the studio loads of cash was surely on the radar, the film never intended on outdoing the earth-shattering ramifications of the April release. Instead, it worked to run parallel, sewing together the threads left open from the 2015 original and gearing towards the greater — and frighteningly unexpected — threat ahead. That, I think, was what made “Ant-Man and the Wasp” so powerful, similar to the other solo MCU films surrounding the bigger players of the franchise. That too played into what makes Ant-Man such a compelling hero.

While I won’t spend this whole review comparing this film to the latest “Avengers,” due to the fact that they are radically different films, the fact that “Ant-Man and the Wasp” runs parallel to the events of “Infinity War” made its lightweight premise that much more interesting. As we found Scott Lang reeling after the events of Marvel’s last showcase in “Captain America: Civil War,” we saw how his relationship with daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) has shifted since. Even with his life in danger and his identity as the Ant-Man now revealed to the world, his loyalties lie ever-so-tethered to his family. As we see the same conflict in Hank Pym and his own daughter Hope, the unexpected consequences of “Infinity War” managed to give this film its own emotional edge, begging the question: Is saving your family worth it when an untimely end lies at the horizon?

Despite this, the film paid much of its attention to staying oblivious to the effects of “Infinity War,” working instead to craft a compelling, low-stakes adventure free from the dread of the latter. As its plot sent Lang and Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne on a desperate search for her mother Janet, the film quickly developed an even greater emotional depth than the first. As Rudd’s naive hero melded with both his daughter and new ally Hope, as he struggled to keep his life as a father and a partner in line, Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym battled his own demons from the first film. With the search for his wife Janet leading him into the affairs of former partner Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), we saw more of Pym’s past and his reluctance to resurface it. We also saw how the scientist’s past aligned with the destruction (and creation) of the film’s antagonist in Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost. Equally fueled by the grim outcomes of her own past, John-Kamen gave the film another ounce of emotion atop the familial struggle at its center.

Overall, while the action sequences in the latest minuscule chapter might not leave a lasting mark on the MCU as a whole, the charm and emotional depth at the heart of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” put it in a unique spot alongside the other Marvel releases of 2018. As February’s “Black Panther” introduced us to a culturally-significant and vastly-compelling story of revolution and royalty, and April’s grand team-up drew a startling shadow over the franchise, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” lent its story to explore a lighter side of things. Still teeming with a close-knit internal struggle between its main characters, the sequel made for an entertaining, well-rounded palette cleanser with its own emotional significance.

 

Poster Courtesy of Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios

MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ sets the bar even higher for one of Hollywood’s most thrilling franchises

With director Christopher McQuarrie and actor Tom Cruise returning for more nerve-wracking action and phenomenal storytelling, the sixth chapter in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise has arrived. Even as its leading man nears his 60’s, and the breath-taking stunts of the series couldn’t possibly get any more intense, “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” didn’t pull any punches as it soared to surpass even the franchise’s best installments. While its premise tilted once more to the consequences of nuclear weaponry, “Fallout” presented a character-focused, action-heavy chapter that set the bar even higher for modern action blockbusters.

Two years after the capture of terrorist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the remains of the criminal organization “The Syndicate” have reformed into a new group known as “The Apostles.” When Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team (Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames) are tasked with intercepting the sale of three plutonium cores to the group, things take a turn when the mission goes awry. Leaving the plutonium in the wind, the CIA brings in elite operative August Walker (Henry Cavill) to team up with the IMF and locate the cores. Crossing paths with deadly assassins, shifting agendas and a beautiful woman known as the White Widow, Ethan and his team must race against the clock to stop a nuclear plot from coming to fruition. With Lane reemerging to stand in Hunt’s way, former allies like Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) must take matters into their own hands to soften the fallout set to arrive.

As far as major Hollywood film franchises go, the “Mission: Impossible” films easily lie at the top tier of enduring action filmmaking. With the sixth chapter in theaters now, the series has matured from the run-of-the-mill espionage thriller it was back in 1996 to a fascinating introspective into the limits of its leading man. As star Tom Cruise (now 56 years old) continues to push himself, plunging his character in IMF agent Ethan Hunt to the brink of his physical and psychological demands, the spy franchise has only gotten better and better. With 2015’s “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” making for one of the franchise’s best, as it propelled a compelling antagonist and an even more compelling double agent at Hunt’s side, this summer’s “Fallout” only furthered what made “Rogue Nation” such a sensational entry.

With “Rogue Nation” director Christopher McQuarrie returning for his second installment, the follow-up of “Fallout” held a number of familiar traits to McQuarrie’s debut in the franchise back in 2015. As the capture of antagonist Solomon Lane bled into the affairs of Ethan Hunt and his team this time around, the plot wasn’t the only familiar element to carry over from “Rogue Nation.” While the franchise has harbored a prestigious line-up of filmmakers in its past, from Brian De Palma to J.J. Abrams, the tone and directing style between the series’ latest two entries has felt the most consistent. Even with countless action set-pieces lining its script, as they always have, writer-director McQuarrie has perhaps done the most to push the franchise to new storytelling heights.

While there still remains the bare bones of the franchise, which continually pit top agent Hunt against every deadly mission known to man, “Rogue Nation” and the latest “Fallout” have especially worked to propel intriguing character-driven stories, teeming with unique characteristics of its filmmaker. From the subtle nuances between characters to the dialogue-free scenes that play out throughout the film, McQuarrie has cemented his name in the franchise’s legacy as it strives further to balance immense action with daring spy narratives. As “Fallout” further delved into what keeps Ethan Hunt going, from the vendettas of his past to the people he yearns to protect, McQuarrie sent up a premise tripping with surprises, and phenomenal filmmaking, around every dark corner.

As the film’s plot promised one of Hunt’s greatest feats yet, the cast of “Fallout” injected a great degree of emotion and fearlessness into their roles. While no particular performance really stood out to me this time around, as Cruise, Pegg and Rhames sent up their respective blends of machismo and wit, the returning faces of double agent Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust and Harris’ slithering terrorist in Solomon Lane made for some of the film’s more noticeable character developments. As far as the new players of the franchise go, Henry Cavill and the ever-mesmerizing Angela Bassett added the blunt edge to the chapter they promised from the trailers. While Cruise and Company scraped along on their wit, Cavill came crashing in with enough unyielding charm (that mustache though!) to match the film’s leading agent.

Even while the heart-stopping stunts of this installment might not match some of the best in the franchise, the storytelling and characters at the heart of the latest “Mission: Impossible” were enough to leave me eager for the next chapter. As “Fallout” expanded on the seeds director Christopher McQuarrie planted in “Rogue Nation,” the lengths at which Tom Cruise’s leading spy will go to save the world have yet to hit their limit. With another riveting entry in “Fallout,” the “M:I” franchise could be inching towards its end as Hunt and his team finally find resolution; before that, however, the next mission awaits.

 

Poster Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ is now in theaters everywhere.

MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’ blurs the line between stylish, tense filmmaking and muddled machismo

 

“This is a land of wolves now.”

The words of Benicio Del Toro’s shadowy operative Alejandro Gillick echoed along the deadly new battleground on which this summer’s “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” has found itself. The sequel to 2015’s visceral, slow-burning thriller “Sicario,” the violent ambitions of the mysterious contact that once crossed paths with Emily Blunt’s wide-eyed recruit Kate Macer have evolved further in a fiery voyage towards revenge and retaliation. As “Day of the Soldado” peeked behind the curtain of not only Del Toro’s mercenary, but also the corrupt inklings of U.S. and Mexican relations, the sequel found solace in brutal violence, hoping to scratch at some semblance of intriguing humanity.

When a series of suicide bombings by Islamic insurgents suddenly find their way onto American soil, the United States government enlists the help of agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) to investigate. When it is discovered that Mexican drug cartels are suspected of transporting these terrorists across the border, Graver seeks the aid of black operative Alejandro Gillick (Del Toro) to ignite a war between the neighboring cartels of the country. Staging the kidnapping of the daughter (Isabela Moner) of cartel kingpin Carlos Reyes in an attempt to converge the cartels, Graver, Gillick and their team soon spark retaliation from the Mexican federal police. As alliances quickly shift, Gillick finds himself desperate to return the girl to safety, all while chaos breaks loose on a volatile hellscape without rules.

While I was somewhat hesitant to return to the world of “Sicario,” especially after the first film never truly cemented itself to me as a “classic,” something about venturing back onto the fascinating landscape of the Mexican cartels drew me into “Day of the Soldado.” While the first film in 2015’s solemn and cinematic “Sicario” painted a subtle feud between the American and Mexican governments, as Emily Blunt’s eager FBI recruit stumbled onto a larger mystery afoot, its sequel escalated the battle in a number of interesting ways. As the focus of the film centered on Benicio Del Toro’s silent hitman from the first film, as well as Josh Brolin’s head-strong agent in charge, “Day of the Soldado” sought to traverse a set of story elements that somewhat expanded on the issues teased at in its predecessor.

As the first film set its focus on the drug-fueled economics that lie at the border, one of the most interesting things I found in “Day of the Soldado” was the other business that contributes to the conflicted relations between the U.S. and its neighbor to the south. Shifting from narcotics to people, the film began with a startling showcase of the terrorism threat that skims the thin border between America and the rest of the world. As radical insurgents slip through the border and onto our doorsteps, the prologue to the film’s central story presented a compelling focal point for it to delve into those who make their living moving people.

Even while it never took that sophisticated of an emphasis on said business, “Day of the Soldado” still managed to offer a riveting premise on its own. As the motivations of both Del Toro and Brolin’s leads continued to manifest, tasked with pitting the cartels against each other over the life of a young girl, the film did manage to scratch at the surface of both the political and more personal sides of war. As we found Del Toro’s secretive mercenary carving out a personal vendetta against the cartels, we also saw how Brolin and his own operation swayed in and outside of the law. At the heart of the sequel, amidst numerous gory reckonings in its runtime, was a single question — What has to be done to maintain order and truth in a lawless land?

Among the lawless, the film lent a number of viable performances that contributed to the film’s overall-enthralling premise. As Del Toro led the show with another devious yet compassionate performance as Gillick, his partner-in-crime Josh Brolin also sold an enjoyable return for his grizzled, laid-back soldier from the first film. Despite the absence of Emily Blunt’s engrossing lead from the first “Sicario,” the two men, for all their robust testosterone, offered the action-thriller worthy top billing. In what could be a subtle effort to replace Blunt’s emotive performance with another, newcomer Isabela Moner also lent something substantial to the film, as her captive cartel daughter sent up a mature parallel to the hard-edged personas of the leading men.

For all its amped-up cartel violence, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” managed to pitch an exciting follow-up to director Denis Villeneuve’s contemplative first film. What it lacked in cinematic flair and subtle atmospherics, it made up for with thorough performances and a thrilling screenplay from writer Taylor Sheridan. While it might not rival the original on a number of levels, “Day of the Soldado” worked more to tease at the potential for a dynamic trilogy, where the jarring bloodshed of the cartels is just one layer in a searing look at the corruption and betrayal that lies at the border.

 

‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’ is directed by Stefano Sollima, and written by Taylor Sheridan. It is now playing in theaters everywhere. 

 

Poster Courtesy of Columbia Pictures and Lionsgate

TV REVIEW: ‘Westworld’ – ‘Vanishing Point’

Spoilers from ‘Westworld’ Season 2, Episode 9 will be discussed, as well as details from the previous season.

Ed Harris as William (Courtesy of HBO)

In the penultimate episode of Season 2 of “Westworld,” the central stories of the season finally teased at their mysterious endgames, as the four leading characters sought to uncover their true places outside the fiction they’ve been yearning to escape. As we’re quickly clued into the startling affairs that have haunted William, we find Maeve and Bernard in compromising situations that look to push them toward unsettling fates. While the answers of the season still remain ever-so-clouded, “Westworld” nears its bitter end in one final leap into the past.

As the solemn journey for William continues, he encounters his daughter Emily once more after getting captured by the Ghost Nation. Delving into his memories of his wife Juliet (Sela Ward) and her mysterious suicide, the two contemplate the true cause of the incident. As William’s demons consume him, his kinship with his daughter meets a grisly and sudden end, forcing the man to question his humanity. Meanwhile, the manipulative tendencies of Maeve have turned on her as Charlotte Hale uses her host code to reprogram the hosts to inflict violence upon each other. As an unknown fate rests at Maeve’s feet, Bernard faces his own demons in the form of Robert Ford, the man haunting his every move as he yearns to draw out the truth. As the ultimate revelation lies at “the Forge,” a vault of stored guest data, the secrets at the heart of Westworld are bursting at the seams.

While much of this season has been dedicated to delving into the affairs of the somewhat-unreliable narrator of Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard, as well as cluing us into the more expansive sides of the show’s titular park, the penultimate episode of the season sought to explore further into one of Westworld’s most elusive guests. With Season 2 thus far drawing heavily on the Delos family and their origins constructing Westworld, the path of William/The Man in Black has been an intriguing one. After years roaming the park, carving out a violent road towards damning the world he escapes into, the black-clad outlaw’s own origins have remained in the shadows. Truth and reckoning, however, found themselves in the entrance of William’s head-strong daughter Emily.

Even as Katja Herbers’ Emily might have entered the series at the height of the season’s ever-growing mystery, her role in her father’s path wasn’t just a wasted revelation. As the episode revealed more about William’s past, from his broken marriage to the injustices that define him in the present, it also clued us into the true conflict between the man and his daughter. As the apparent suicide of William’s wife and Emily’s mother pit the two against each other, we quickly found William at the edge of his reason. As questions began to spring up, like whether or not the man is human or merely another slave to the park and its violent delights, the fate of The Man in Black suddenly became even more cryptic than before.

Fate, it seems, remains an ever-present theme across this season, as this week’s episode also found both Bernard and Maeve’s paths weighing down on their ultimate endgames. As Bernard continued to seek answers to his own existence, he was finally able to relinquish himself from the devil on his shoulder, so to speak. While the remnants of Robert Ford still proved to leave their mark on William, Bernard found the only way to move forward was on his own, free to uncover the dark secrets ahead with his own eyes. Also caught in the tendrils of Ford’s presence this week was Maeve, still bound towards an untimely demise after parting ways with her daughter. As her mind is excavated by the likes of Charlotte Hale and the remaining Delos forces, her role in the series doesn’t yet seem finished.

As the three central characters of the season in William, Bernard and Maeve are all likely to collide in the season finale, one character’s fate is set to leave a lasting imprint on the series as a whole. With Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores still trekking towards an unknown salvation, this week lent the audience a glance at just one of the revolutionary’s weaknesses. As her relationship with her compliant compatriot Teddy finally reached a startling peak, with the man realizing he cannot stand idly by while she tampers with his mind, we saw the beginnings of Dolores’ journey unraveling into a desperate battle to retain control. Her story is far from done, as her biggest battle still lies ahead, at the gates of the Valley Beyond.

Season 2 of ‘Westworld’ airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO. Catch up on Season 1 now on HBO Go.

MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Tag’ mines the heart and humor from an absurd, true-to-life premise

If anything can be said about Hollywood filmmaking today, it would have to be the fact that almost anything can be made into a movie these days. From spur-of-the-moment ideas to stories that have been boiling for decades, with the proper backing, almost anything can make its way to the big screen if it’s sold right. Some of the most interesting films, however, evolve from peculiar places, like an absurd newspaper clipping from The Wall Street Journal. Such was the case with “Tag,” the film inspired by said newspaper clipping about a group of adult friends engulfed in a near 30-year game of tag. What seemed like a premise that might run thin with the potential to make waves at the theater, however, ultimately proved to be something far more satisfying.

For one month out of the year, five highly-competitive friends (Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner) come together to continue their 30-year-long tradition of playing tag. Risking their necks, their careers and their relationships to make sure they’re not the last one “it,” the game has become their life and the one thing that keeps them all together. Their once-childhood game, however, has since matured into an all-out war with Jerry (Renner), the one friend who has never been tagged. On the eve of Jerry’s wedding, the no-holds-barred game is turned up a notch as the group unites to even the score once and for all.

However disposable the premise might be, something about this month’s “Tag” lent itself to be one of the more promising comedies I’ve seen so far this year. Be it the somewhat talented cast of comedians, pot-heads and suave competitors, or the mindless childish antics of five grown men playing “tag” for thirty years, the film drew me in with the confidence it wore on its sleeve. While there was obviously not a whole lot to expect from the film going in, “Tag” ultimately presented itself just how it was supposed to. With such an undemanding plot at its disposal, the only thing the story really desired was a compelling-enough cast to keep it afloat. While I’ll delve into the cast of the film soon enough, “Tag” offered pretty much the bare minimum of what you might have expected from its title, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Leaping off the back of a somewhat lacking five months of big-screen comedies, albeit a few exceptions like “Blockers” and the similarly-themed “Game Night,” “Tag” sought to enter its own bid in the well-casted pool of comedy cash-grabs of 2018. While it refrained from playing its crude card like many summer comedies tend to do from the start, spilling sex jokes and the like without hesitation, the objective of “Tag” remained simply to propel an undemanding premise with a viable, comedic cast. While not as ingenious as other modern comedies that don’t need crude humor to make them stand out, “Tag” managed to pull together a generous cast of players for its mediocre, yet highly-entertaining, game.

The cast, led by a suave and unruly Jeremy Renner, proved to be one of the film’s most valuable assets. Even while its premise neared melodrama as it neared its final act, the players at the center of the action lent a round of versatile performances to the film. From Ed Helms’ infantile protagonist to Renner’s straight-faced cunning, the film tilted much of its appeal on the interactions between its childlike adults trapped in a never-ending game of wits. Sometimes funny, sometimes dull, the cast managed to inject a good balance of emotion and childish arrogance into their roles.

While not the most high-brow comedy surely to hit theaters this year, “Tag” nevertheless left me in high spirits, as it delivered an enjoyable romp of childhood antics and the perils of accepting adulthood. While it’s hard to look at the film as much beyond its thin premise of “tag taken to the extreme,” the film harbored plenty of heart and humor than it initially led on. Making for a fun, mindless summer comedy, “Tag” never took itself too serious enough to become over-complicated. Instead, it took the childhood memories of one ambitious group of guys and brought it to the big screen.

 

Poster Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

EP REVIEW: King Princess rings in a queer pop knockout with ‘Make My Bed’

Album Cover Courtesy of Columbia Records and Zelig Records

TV REVIEW: ‘Westworld’ – ‘Kiksuya’

Spoilers from ‘Westworld’ Season 2, Episode 8 will be discussed, as well as details from the previous season.

Martin Sensmeier as Wanathon (Courtesy of HBO)

Perhaps even more compelling and mysterious a group than the inhabitants of Shogun World, the Ghost Nation of Westworld were finally introduced to us this week, as the eighth episode of the season aimed to peek behind the curtain of yet another host’s mind. Finding its focus in tribe member Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon), who finds himself on a desperate journey to escape the park and reclaim his past, ‘Kiksuya’ worked to tie the distant threads of the season so far into one, all while sending the audience on an enthralling and heartbreaking voyage.

Prior to the events of Dolores’ uprising, Ghost Nation tribe member Akecheta lived as a peaceful host along with his wife Kohana (Julia Jones). Unbeknownst to his greater purpose outside of Westworld, the man lives a compliant existence away from the violent rebellion set to ignite. When the shooting starts, however, Akecheta finds new meaning when he discovers the symbol of the maze once created by Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). Setting him on a path that leads not only to faces of the past, like a delirious Logan Delos (Ben Barnes), but also to the bitter demise of his one true love, Akecheta’s journey is spelled out in violent and heartbreaking detail. What emerges from the turmoil: a promise yearning to be kept.

In yet another visually-enthralling episode of “Westworld,” the mysterious Ghost Nation finally got their due this season, as the bloody tidings of the show’s central characters spilled into the affairs of the cryptic tribe. After the brutal confrontation between Maeve (Thandie Newton) and William (Ed Harris) ended with the two clinging to death, tribe member Akecheta entered the picture once more to shake things up. Taking not only William with him, but Maeve’s daughter as well, Akecheta quickly established his new role in the series, moving in from the distant valleys where he once lurked. As his story unfolded, blurring the past and present into one, Akecheta’s perspective took center stage this week.

Akecheta’s story, it turns out, is one of bloodshed, heartbreak and bitter revelation. As the second season of “Westworld” quickly nears its end, this week’s episode decided to contribute most of its time to detailing the emotional journey of one of the show’s newest characters. With his sudden discovery of Ford’s maze, in the same totem that was floating around during Season 1, Akecheta set out to find out the truth that lies beyond his own world. Digging into the past and venturing over sandy hills towards an unknown fate, the man sought to uncover the meaning of his existence as a host. As he stumbled upon a number of surprises, from Ben Barnes’ Logan Delos (wasting away in the desert after being abandoned by brother-in-law William) to a “door” to a secondary world outside of his own, Akecheta’s path quickly became more and more complex as he trekked on.

While the episode spent its good time showing us the tragedy and revelations of Akecheta, and those whom he tells his story to, his role became even more significant in the present. After capturing William (only to bargain him away to the man’s daughter Emily), as well as Maeve’s daughter, the biggest surprise out of this week’s episode came in its final act. While the loss of Akecheta’s love in Kohana and his subsequent chat with Robert Ford about his greater purpose left their respective marks, the connection between Akecheta and Maeve’s daughter spawned a glimmer of hope in the woman’s own voyage towards answers. As a rather-unfortunate Maeve lay dying in Delos HQ, her powers of manipulation seemed to have extended onto Akecheta, as her promise to protect her daughter could be kept under someone else’s hands.

Even as the season nears its finale, this week’s episode of “Westworld” offered yet another one of the show’s best, as it explored the depths of another fascinating victim of the park. Just as episodes like “The Riddle of the Sphinx” and “Akane no Mai” took focus in the personal vendettas of the park’s most mysterious characters, “Kiksuya” sought to continue the show’s evolving narrative through the eyes of those we least expected. With the paths of Maeve and William shifted dramatically, and Akecheta set to carve his own route towards salvation, “Westworld” aims to drop even more major revelations in its final two episodes.

Season 2 of ‘Westworld’ airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO. Catch up on Season 1 now on HBO Go.