Thursday, April 30, 2015

Review: "Avengers: Age of Ultron" is expert superhero spectacle with a voice and a heart



Avengers: Age of Ultron is very, very much a Joss Whedon movie, and for that alone, I kind of love it.

Beat for beat, moment for moment, Age of Ultron has a more specific sense of voice than most major superhero movies, even those in the Marvel universe. It is of a piece with what has come before, absolutely, but it is also strange, glib, imaginative, and supremely heartfelt in ways that make Whedon’s signature clear from beginning to end. His love for these characters and affection for the conventions that dictate their lives is obvious and sincere, but so is his joy in arranging those characters in unfamiliar patterns, or sending them in directions that interrogate who they are, or taking said conventions and undermining them with a gleeful wink. He is willing to push things dark, to focus on the small-scale and personal even in the midst of enormous action mayhem, but always with an eye for levity. That devotion to maintaining a sense of fun, no matter what else comes, has always been one of the most admirable parts of Whedon’s creative identity, and it is on full display here.

What I find most impressive about the film, then, is that this sense of voice comes across so strongly, so unceasingly, in the midst of a giant action blockbuster that features no less than five major set-pieces, a narrative sandwiched right at the crossroads of Marvel’s broader movie plans, and at least 10 main characters, in addition to a much larger swath of supporting players. Age of Ultron is positively massive, in scope, mechanics, and ambition, and that Whedon keeps this train chugging along at all, let alone with the joyous sense of balance and enthusiasm that permeates the proceedings, is a bit of a miracle. The film isn’t perfect, and ultimately feels a tad less consequential than Marvel’s highest watermarks – Whedon’s own original Avengers and last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, namely – but in its best moments, Age of Ultron is the most impressive thing the company has yet achieved, and as a whole, it is a rather glorious personification of the interwoven comic-book storytelling Marvel has strived to create from day one.

Continue reading after the jump...

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Weekly Stuff Podcast #108 - Star Wars Trailer, DC Shenanigans, and reviewing Netflix's Daredevil




It’s time for another episode of The Weekly Stuff Podcast with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapman, a weekly audio show that explores the worlds of film, television, and video games. You can subscribe for free in iTunes by following this link.
                                        
With so much movie news these past few weeks, we devote the first half of this week’s show to discussing a variety of topics, ranging from the new Star Wars Episode VII trailer and related announcements, to the reveal of Jared Leto’s lovably terrible Joker design, to ongoing shenanigans in the world of superhero movies.

But the main event this week is our in-depth discussion of Netflix and Marvel’s amazing Daredevil series, the first season of which premiered a few weeks ago. Having finally had a chance to binge the whole thing, we talk about the show’s character, style, narrative, and future, devoting a large amount of time to what is definitely one of the most exciting projects to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far.

Enjoy!  

                                                                 



If you have questions, comments, or concerns about The Weekly Stuff, or would like to write in to the podcast to have your questions read on the show, please e-mail dinochow@jonathanlack.com.

The Weekly Stuff with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapman is a weekly audio podcast, and if you subscribe in iTunes, episodes will be delivered automatically and for free as soon as they are released. If you visit www.jonathanlack.com, we also have streaming and downloadable versions of new and archival episodes for your listening pleasure.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Weekly Stuff Podcast #107 - Reviewing 'Persona 3 The Movie #2 - Midsummer Knight's Dream'



It’s time for another episode of The Weekly Stuff Podcast with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapman, a weekly audio show that explores the worlds of film, television, and video games. You can subscribe for free in iTunes by following this link.

This time last year, we reviewed the first entry in the new four-part film adaptation of our all-time favorite video game, Persona 3. Our conclusion: It was incredible, and definitely surpassed our expectations. Now, a year later, the second film in the series has finally reached Blu-Ray, and we go in-depth to explore why Persona 3 The Movie #2 - Midsummer Knight's Dream is an absolutely astounding film.

Also discussed are Sean's final thoughts on "Bloodborne," our take on the upcoming revival of "The X-Files," an impromptu rant about the general awfulness of Telltale games, thoughts on The Simpsons and the future of physical media, and more.

Enjoy!

                                                                    



If you have questions, comments, or concerns about The Weekly Stuff, or would like to write in to the podcast to have your questions read on the show, please e-mail dinochow@jonathanlack.com.

The Weekly Stuff with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapman is a weekly audio podcast, and if you subscribe in iTunes, episodes will be delivered automatically and for free as soon as they are released. If you visit www.jonathanlack.com, we also have streaming and downloadable versions of new and archival episodes for your listening pleasure.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

It's Showtime, Folks! Why I already love "Better Call Saul" more than I ever liked "Breaking Bad"

 
Warning: This article discusses spoilers for the entire first season of Better Call Saul, and the entirety of Breaking Bad 

When AMC’s Better Call Saul premiered nine weeks ago, it carried with it some of the heaviest expectations in recent TV history. A spin-off of Breaking Bad – one of the all-time great American TV dramas, and which departed recently enough that its impact is still fresh in virtually everyone’s minds – was reason enough to be nervous, given how tricky it is to recapture magic like that the parent show conjured, but a spin-off devoted to Saul Goodman, one of Breaking Bad’s overall thinnest regular characters? And a spin-off that would, no less, be structured as a prequel, one of the absolute trickiest narrative types to successfully pull off? I had faith in Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould and the rest of the Better Call Saul creative team, but like pretty much everyone else looking forward to the show, I naturally approached it with a certain level of hesitancy.

Then the premiere aired, with two episodes over two nights, and Better Call Saul effectively waved away most of those concerns in fine fashion. In fact, any and all potential creative pitfalls one could identify going in immediately turned out to be artistic strengths. Gilligan and company had no trouble recapturing the aesthetic chemistry that made Breaking Bad such a joy to watch, and even seemed to be redoubling their efforts to capture Albuquerque in ways beautiful, offbeat, and consistently surprising. The new show felt like a natural extension of the old one, but also immediately established its own quieter, more down-to-earth voice, while always staying in fascinating conversation with the themes and narrative of the parent series. Saul Goodman – who, at this early point in his career, is still going by birth name Jimmy McGill – turned out to be a vastly deeper, much more compelling character than Breaking Bad could ever really hint at, and Bob Odenkirk was more than up to the task of anchoring his own TV drama. And the prequel structure clearly wasn’t a creative burden, but a fire burning brightly at the heart of the series, our knowledge of where Jimmy McGill’s journey will eventually take him adding countless layers of shading, surprise, and suspense as we examined how this seemingly good man would eventually sell his soul in exchange for cheap suits, piles of money, and a little slice of local celebrity glory. 

Continue reading after the jump...

Sunday, April 5, 2015

“Mad Men” Season Premiere Review: “Severance” (Season 7 Episode 8) – “Is that all there is?”



Mad Men has returned for its final season(*), and just as I have in years past, I will be reviewing and analyzing each and every episode of the new season in depth, on Sunday nights shortly after the episodes air. We begin tonight with the season premiere, "Severance." As always, doing the episode justice means this review contains heavy spoilers, so do not read unless you have seen the episode. 

(*) And yes, I am considering this last stretch of episodes its own, separate season, at least for the purposes of discussion. Whatever AMC might call it, last year’s 7-episode stretch was a contained narrative entity, and given the obvious ‘premiere’ nature of tonight’s episode, Weiner isn’t treating this set of episodes any differently. So we’ll call them Season 7A and Season 7B from here on out, and just recognize that, crazy scheduling aside, these are two distinct seasons of television.

Spoilers for “Severance” after the jump…

Review: "Furious 7" bids farewell to Paul Walker in miraculous, wonderful fashion




The final minutes of Furious 7 are nothing short of a cinematic miracle.

I find the majority of this movie to be pretty miraculous, in all honesty, for many of the same reasons I’ve found this series so thoroughly enjoyable over the years. I summarized most of my thoughts on why this series works so well in my Fast & Furious 6 review, but to reiterate, I am constantly blown away by how completely these movies embrace not only the spectacular and the absurd, but also the earnest and heartfelt. These films are as big and goofy as any action series ever made, thoroughly committed to imagining and realizing the craziest stunts and set-pieces possible, but they also wear their heart on their sleeves, and without that crucial component, no amount of on-screen mayhem would inspire audiences to such fervent anticipation and adoration. There is a genuine earnestness to everything that happens in these movies, an honesty embedded in every character interaction, every cheesy one-liner, every ridiculous car crash, and most importantly, every utterance of the word ‘family.’ These films truly believe in what they offer the audience – they believe in having fun for the sake of having fun, and they believe in the bonds between these characters, because those bonds are what makes the fun worth having. The films know what they are, they consistently execute at a consistently high level, and anyone who waves the series away with a casual, “it’s not great or anything, but…” is being insufferably pompous. It does take a certain level of greatness to achieve what these films achieve, and at what they do best – offering a pure, undiluted, guilt-free shot of adrenaline-fueled joy and awe to the audience – nothing out there right now quite tops the Fast and Furious movies. 

Continue reading after the jump...

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Weekly Stuff Podcast #106 - Bloodborne, Persona Q, New Nintendo 3DS, Gaming News, & More!



It’s time for another episode of The Weekly Stuff Podcast with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapman, a weekly audio show that explores the worlds of film, television, and video games. You can subscribe for free in iTunes by following this link.

Today is one of those ‘grab-bag’ episodes, in which we run the gamut from discussing the recent James Bond Spectre trailer, Trever Noah taking over from Jon Stewart as host of the The Daily Show, recent updates to the PlayStation 4, and all the major announcements from Wednesday’s Nintendo Direct stream (including much confused analysis of the Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem trailer, because it’s still kind of baffling).

Then, for our main topics, Sean reviews Bloodborne, the new sensation for the PS4, while Jonathan talks Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth after finally finishing it and, lastly, gives his thoughts on the New Nintendo 3DS.

Enjoy!  

                                                                   



If you have questions, comments, or concerns about The Weekly Stuff, or would like to write in to the podcast to have your questions read on the show, please e-mail dinochow@jonathanlack.com.

The Weekly Stuff with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapman is a weekly audio podcast, and if you subscribe in iTunes, episodes will be delivered automatically and for free as soon as they are released. If you visit www.jonathanlack.com, we also have streaming and downloadable versions of new and archival episodes for your listening pleasure.