Luke Cage is the 4th Marvel Netflix show, and the 3rd one from Marvel’s original deal (their first show, Daredevil, was so popular it was immediately green lit for a second season). The title character was introduced in Jessica Jones, and this series follows his exploits as he has left Hell’s Kitchen and moved to Harlem.

This show is in part a tour of Harlem and its history. Throughout the series the viewer is informed about various landmarks in Harlem, the history of artists and writers that lived there, etc. After the previous three Netflix Marvel shows taking place in Hell’s Kitchen, it was a nice change of scenery to have the show set in Harlem.

Similar to those previous shows the titular hero is not focused on saving the world, but on saving the neighborhood. The opening scene is a group of guys talking in a barber shop. Cage is laying low working at the shop, but eventually becomes more of a presence in the neighborhood as a local gangster looks to move in on Harlem. In the process Cage becomes a man of the people, doing the best he can to resolve local problems. The gangster owns a nightclub which brings us a lot of musical performances.

The sound track is one of the highlights of Cage, hip hop and R&B are fully integrated into the show. Each episode in fact is named after a Gangstar song.

While Jessica Jones took a head on approach to sexual violence, Luke Cage fully tackles the issue of race, police brutality, and the black lives matter movement. At one point in the series Cage is on the run from the police. In a show of solidarity people in the community start wearing hoodies with bullet holes in the back knowing this will bring police harassment. (Cage’s super-power is strength and unbreakable skin).

Along the way we get the usual references to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe. Cage is compared to a local Captain America. Bootleg footage of “the incident” (The final battle in the Avengers movie) is available on the street. Matt Murdock is hinted at towards the end. There’s also a nice and unexpected reference to Iron Man two, which does serve as part of the plot.

For all its strengths, I found it to be my least favorite Marvel Netflix show. Some of it may be personal bias, as the two seasons of Daredevil had two of my favorite characters, Kingpin and the Punisher. There was no one in Cage that I found to be as fascinating. The first three episodes of Cage felt a little slow, it wasn’t until the fourth episode that started his origin that I really felt intrigued.

Writing Luke Cage is to face the same problem in writing Superman. How to you make it suspenseful when nothing can hurt the guy? Hence the fight scenes aren’t very elaborate, but instead are brute force. The final battle in the last episode tries to remedy this as the villain has a powered up suit. It looks like a poor man’s version of the end of Rocky V, with the hero slugging it out in the street while the neighbors chant his name. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but aping a poorly received movie usually isn’t a good idea. During this fight, the villain has this big battery pack on his back which powers his suit. I kept waiting for Cage to just crush the battery pack and end the fight, but that never happened. It’s not like he didn’t see it, in one scene he looks right at it. There’s some smart writing here about how Cage is able to win by not feeding his opponent hate, but at this point smart writing doesn’t make up for the common sense question of why he didn’t just crush the battery.

On a more positive note, the final fight was not the end of the show, it actually goes on for another 20 minutes. Interestingly enough, in the end it appears the villains have won. That was a nice touch, because, so far, no Marvel movie, TV or Netflix show ended with the villains winning.

While Luke Cage has many positive traits, if there is a season two I would hope they’d have more intriguing characters, while maintaining its sound track and social commentary.

Shin Godzilla, also known as Godzilla Resurgence, is the 31rst film in the Godzilla franchise. Produced by Toho pictures, it was given a limited US theatrical release for one week in October of 2016.
Not tied to any previous Godzilla film, Shin opens with the Tokyo Bay Aqua line being flooded. Government officials meet to discuss action, and one person suggests that the disaster is due to a giant creature. While dismissed, is quickly (too quickly) revealed to be accurate, as a giant tail is shown coming out of the ocean near Japan.
The central problem of Shin is too many scenes of people sitting in a room arguing/discussing what action to take. While I appreciate the critique of an inefficient Japanese government, these scenes aren’t compelling enough to maintain interest in the film.
Soon the creature come ashore, after the government predicted it couldn’t. The first shot of the creature appeared to be done with puppetry instead of CGI, it looked really different and they eyes in particular didn’t look good to me. Honestly I thought the creature was Anguirus at first because of the design. However what happens is we see Godzilla evolve on screen until he changes to his final form, which is the tallest Godzilla ever on screen.
Some backstory is dropped about how the creature was mutated from toxic/radioactive waste dumped in the ocean. There’s no suspense or even story about trying to expose this information, it’s just kind of there. We get some angle about a missing scientist (who we never see on screen) who’s been studying the possibility of the creature’s existence for years. In the notes he left behind he named the creature both Godzilla and the original Japanese name Gojira, which was a sort of Easter Egg for the fans.
The final act is more satisfying, with the humans coming up with some innovative ways to slow down Godzilla. The creatures powers are enhanced in this film, but come with an accompanying weakness.
Naturally the Shin Godzilla is left open for a sequel, but while I appreciated the effort of trying to make a political statement, future entries in this series will need to be much more interesting.

No one was on the first floor. They found a still working old lantern that illuminated the tools and equipment Sarah’s father mentioned. This included the mechanical devices that were strange and indescribable. They planned to check the second story, where Robert met his fate, but were distracted by strange noises emitting from the very earth below them, The Rider noticed a small handle on the ground, he pulled it upward to reveal a passage to a subterranean chamber. Numerous already lit lanterns shown the way into this dark and evil pit. As they descended the air filled with undecipherable sounds that may never have fallen in human ears before.
While their ears were assaulted by hideous sounds, the bottom of the chamber lay sights of the mad and macabre that eyes had not seen even during the War of the Rebellion. Pieces of cadavers were strewn across blood stained mechanisms. It was like some bizarre processing plant. Pieces of bodies, both human and animal, mutilated by machines. Yet that was not the most horrible sight for Sarah, as she then saw laid before her what was her brother. His remains also desecrated, parts missing, and the top of his head had been scalped. Sarah tried to contain her shriek, only the Riders hand over her mouth kept them from being revealed.
She looked up to see her father lying face up on a table. His face pale and lifeless, a white sheet covered him from the neck down. She ran over to him sobbing, she stroked his gentle face and his white beard. She wished with all her soul they had never come to this town. But then, something uncanny occurred. Through the sheet she could see his hand begin to move. Tears of fear and sorrow turned to joy as she exclaimed “He’s alive!!! He’s alive alive alive!!!”

She glanced ahead to see the black horse’s head snap down to the Rider, attempting to bite him, but missed. The Rider sat up and with a Herculean strength wrestled the horse to the ground by its neck. The Rider’s hands then clinched the horse’s mouth and with a savage fury ripped the horses jaw apart, leaving it dead.
Sarah did not share in the same strength as she felt death cold hands on her wrists, which suddenly threw her off her opponents back. The dark rider rose again looking down on her with a deadly stare, when another lasso wrapped around its waist and drug it away. The Rider pulled their last adversary towards him and beat on the foe with both fists. When the now captive enemy ceased to move, the Rider snapped its neck in one swift motion. The Rider paused for a moment, then swiftly pulled the fiend’s body over the horse, draping its coat over them both. Shockingly both foe and horse began to twitch again, as the Ringed Rider reached down to his belt and retrieved a pack of matches. Soon the black coat was in flames, and both creatures burned as well. A shrieking unholy howl filled the sky as the flames for a moment put forth an unearthly color. An evil stench of burnt flesh filled the sky, as Sarah embraced her new ally.
“Are you alright?” were the first words she heard him speak. He has a kind, considerate voice.
“Yes thank you.” She responded.
“What was that?” the hero asked.
“I don’t know but they took my family, you’ve got to help them. They may still be alive. They’re in the abandoned town close by.”
“First I’m getting you somewhere safe.”
“I’m coming with you, there’s nothing around here for days. Please help my family.”
Knowing she was right and that there was no time to argue, they got on his steed and rode off.
As the sun began to set they could see the town ahead Sarah had mentioned. Though their ordeal was far from over, now that the immediate danger was gone her curiosity had peaked about her companion. “So are you the one they call the Ringed rider?” Sarah asked.
His answer was simply to raise is hand, revealing the mysterious ring on his finger.
“Is it true that you’ve fought bandits everywhere from Deadwood to Dodge?”
“I try to help people where ever I can”
The events of the day were so shocking, that she just realized the amazing durability she’d seen from the Rider. “How are you still moving after that horse kicked you? Aren’t you hurt?” she asked.
The Rider answered, “Let’s just say it will take more than that to put me down.
She touched his hand, feeling the strange ring around his finger. “Is it because of this ring? Does it really make you move like lightning?”
“What happened to your family?” The Rider interrupted.
She knew eventually she’d have to bring those events to her mind again. Her head rested against the back of his shoulder, and as the sun dimmed and the darkness began to approach, she told her tale.
“We were on our way to California, hoping to start a new life for ourselves. We saw the town up ahead and thought we’d stop for supplies. We soon realized it was a ghost town. No one was around. Mom and I stayed in the wagon, while my father and my older brother Robert decided to have a look. They went in what looked like an old General Store. I knew something was wrong. I could sense it.”
“How could you tell?”
“As we entered the town there were a dozen wagons like ours that had been abandoned. Some of them looked broken down. One really stood out to me. The wheels were broken off and the wood was rotting away, like it had been there for a while. The canopy was torn and flapping in the wind. For a moment as it flapped I swear I saw an old blood stain on it.”
The recent memory haunted Sarah making her pause. The Rider asked, “Did your father and brother come out of the building.”
My father did. He said inside was just old mining equipment, dynamite and things like that. There were also a few odd devices but didn’t know what they were.”
“And you’re brother.”
Tears filled her eyes as she reflected on this horrible moment.
“Dad said he went to the second floor. It was then we heard this blood curling scream, and Robert came flying out of the second window. He had a noose around his neck, and his body slammed against the side of the building. Oh it was horrible!”
“I’m sorry. How did you get away?”
“I’m not sure what happened next. My parents got their rifles out and told me to hide in the wagon. They fired a few shots but I could hear them screaming, then it got real quiet. I peeked out and saw people dressed in black taking my parents into the same building my brother died in. I was so scared. I snuck and rode of. I just took one horse from our wagon hoping they wouldn’t notice I was gone, but as I got away from the town I saw that horrible thing riding behind me. Then I saw you.”
“Sarah, I can’t promise I’ll get your family back, but I’ll do my best.”
“I know.” They were now at the edge of town.
“What do I call you.”
“You can call me Rider.”
“But what is your name? You’re the Ringed Rider but that’s not your name.”
“It is who I am.”
“Rider, I couldn’t believe what my eyes saw today. That horse had its flesh coming off it. And whatever was riding it, it seemed, inhuman. Have you ever seen anything like that before?.”
“No, never in my life.” In this moment his voice no longer gave the appearance of a larger than life warrior, but instead revealed a man in fear and trembling of the evil set loose upon the earth.
“Me neither. Rider, I want to tell you, in case we don’t make it…”
The Rider did not say a word but his turned head, his look into her eyes was enough to interrupt her. His resolve would not allow him to back away from this danger.
Their horse galloped past the wagon that once carried Sarah’s family. She motioned to the old General Store now cloaked in blackness. “It was here, inside this building.”
The Rider got of his horse and said “Okay, take my horse and wait behind your wagon. If something else comes out of here that’s not me, take this horse and go as far as you can. This horse is as fast as the wind.”
“No I’m coming with you, my family is in there.”
“I don’t want you getting killed too.”
“Well riding away on horseback didn’t work so well last time now did it?”
The royal blue mask could not hide the frustration behind his face. He opened a small compartment on his saddle which held another pistol. “Do you know how to use this?”
Sarah gripped the gun, “I sure do.”

Today I found this old story I wrote on my computer years ago. I still liked it and decided to post it piece at a time. It’s not very long. Enjoy part one!

Sarah sped across the prairie in fear of her fate. The young girl frighteningly thrashed at her horse pushing it to the limit. She looked back in dread, seeing her pursuer riding its evil black horse, approaching in a speed almost unnatural. Her panic was so intense she feared it was now affecting her mind, for the horse looked almost demonic. Her eyes couldn’t believe the testimony they gave as it appeared the horse’s flesh was rotting away, at points exposing the skull beneath. The hoofs beat so swiftly they seemed to have a dark glow to them that shone through the dust. The rider itself dressed in black, oblivious to the heat. It’s black glove drew a gun. She thought her family may have already suffered a similar fate, and now she would be joining them.
The evil crackle of the gun shot out across the field. Sarah winced but no bullet entered her body. Yet she still suffered in pain as she hit the ground after falling off her now dead horse. Through the dust she could see the dark rider now upon her. Her fate seemed to be sealed.
Nevertheless her will persisted, and her legs began to move through the grass, still hoping for some chance of escape. Her ears could hear the twirling of the lasso through the air, and soon she felt it tug around her body. She struggled but it was no use, as she was pulled closer and closer to her captor. Her lips cried out for help, and in this frantic moment she saw up ahead, a lone rider on a pale horse. A white hat lay atop his head, and his mouth and nose was covered in a royal blue mask, leaving only his eyes exposed. In a flash of hope she saw something on his hand sparkle in the sunlight. In the distance it indeed appeared to be the Ringed Rider.
Since Lincoln’s assassination, stories spread throughout the west of the mysterious Ringed Rider. Named such for a ring he bore, which the tales told gave him a lightning fast draw. Supposedly he’d been sighted in Deadwood, Forth Worth, and all over the west fighting bandits and criminals, like the Confederate outlaw Colonel Lee who robbed a train in Nebraska. She wasn’t sure if she believed such fantastic accounts. In the moment though, she cared not if it was a children’s story or a real legend, as long as it was someone that could save her from this menace.
A heavenly shot rang out, snapping the rope in two. The ringed hero rode towards them; his pistol flashed burying 5 slugs into the fiend, dropping it from its horse. Sally looked up to her savior as he dismounted. His hand bore the fabled ring. It was dark and otherworldly, almost drawing her attention away from his concerned eyes.
She was too shocked to speak as the Rider inspected her for injuries, his back now to his fallen foe. The monstrous horse whined at its fallen master. Sarah shrieked aloud as the black shape sat up on the ground, turning its head giving them both an evil stare. The rider stood up and faced his foe. His mask could not hide the shock and surprise in his eyes. With his ringed hand he landed a punch square on its jaw, knocking it back off its feet. Suddenly the black horse rose on its hind legs and kicked the Rider into the air. He landed on his back as the horse galloped towards him.
The evil rider rose a second time and drew a gun, intending to finish off her would be savior. Sarah grabbed the remains of the rope she’d previously been caught in, and leapt on its back strangling the fiend around the neck. It fell face first into the dirt as Sarah pulled the rope up continuing to choke him. The smell of gunpowder and burnt flesh rose up through small holes on the back of his coat. “My god” she thought, “how could such a thing still live?”

To be continued…..

Suicide Squad is the third entry in the DC Extended Universe. A Dirty Dozen with super villains, the premise is government operative Amanda Waller assembles a team of criminals to fight super human threats. However, only a handful of the operatives are meta-humans themselves. One might wonder why regular humans are on this team, aside from the fact that they’re characters the movie audience knows or are played by well known actors like Will Smith.

I’ve never seen a movie that tried so hard to have a cool soundtrack. It opens with three or four classic songs in a row while the premise is set up. While I was perfectly happy to hear Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, by that point the constant use of songs seemed excessive.

While working so hard to be cool it forgets a few basic things, like giving the audience enough time to read the text shown to introduce each squad member. In fact the opening shot is of Harley Quinn’s prison and they show text on the bottom right corner of the screen to tell us the location, but the colors on that part of the shot are so dark I couldn’t even read it in time.

Interestingly enough the squad isn’t assembled for a specific mission, but soon enough a situation arises that they’re sent off into, partly involving finding a certain mystery contact. The identity of that contact serves as a plot twist but the way it’s edited doesn’t carry the feeling of shock that it should, it’s just kind of like “oh ok.” Shortly after this another bit of information is presented to the team that is supposed to surprise them, but I couldn’t quite grasp why this information would be surprising, other than to serve that part of the script where the team says “screw this mission I’m going home.”

Most of the Squad members seem pretty interesting, but this team movie mostly centers around Harley Quinn, because she’s a beloved character, and Deadshot, because he’s played by Will Smith. Quinn is fantastic by the way, and I’d happily watch another movie with her, but potentially more interesting characters like Killer Croc are underused. I wanted to know what his condition is, what is his life like, etc. Instead Killer Croc seems to serve the role of Groot in this August would be block buster. Action happens, Harley says something funny, Croc grunts, repeat.

The character Slipknot just kind of shows up, and it’s said that he can climb anything. Why can he climb anything? Is he a skilled master thief (and if that’s all it is why does this qualify him to be on a team to fight meta-humans)? Is he a meta-human? Can he climb walls like Spiderman or something?

Katana is another character that just kind of shows up, apparently because when they wrote the script they forgot to introduce her earlier. She seemed like a cool character I’d like to see more of. She’s not a criminal, but a government operative, which left me wondering why she joined the team in the “screw this mission we’re going to the bar” scene. Maybe because the writers didn’t know what else to do with her or they didn’t have time to film a scene where she fought them instead.

Team leader Rick Flag is pretty good, his life as a government operative leaves him conflicted. Amanda Waller is like an evil Nick Fury of this universe and she’s good to watch. I enjoyed the Joker as well.

The final battle isn’t very suspenseful. The evil plot isn’t exactly clear, a machine is being built, but I couldn’t tell you what it was supposed to do, other than generic destruction. There’s no timeline on this plan either, it just seems to always be there with no real progress. One of the big bads get’s destroyed by conventional explosives, which made me wonder why the conventional military couldn’t have stopped it, aside from the fact that the movie is about Suicide Squad. Rick Flag himself wonders why he can’t just take care of the problem with his own soldiers. So is a character in this movie wondering why this movie exists?

As I’m writing this I realize I have a lot of negative things to say. I didn’t hate watching this movie. Looking back on it Harley Quinn pretty much saved it. I will say that one of the things the DC Extended Universe has over the Marvel Cinematic Universe is they’ve established that a lot of things have already happened. Rick Flag has a history. The actual government name of Suicide Squad, Task Force X, has a history. Katana has a history, and Batman ran Killer Croc out of town. Batman vs Superman established a Batman that was active for 20 years, and the upcoming Wonder Woman movie takes place in World War One. (BTW I’m disappointed nobody made a World War One movie since it’s been a hundred years. I find it ironic that the only World War One movie we’ll get is a Wonder Woman movie.)I enjoy this approach more than how Marvel has all their big name heroes being active right now.

Suicide Squad is not a terrible movie, but in the context of a underwhelming Man of Steel and a divisive Batman vs Superman, this movie needed to be so much better than it was. In fact, for all my complaints I’d still say it’s the best movie of this universe so far. As I think about it, that’s worrisome for the future of this franchise.

Civil War is the third entry of the Captain America trilogy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is perhaps the only MCU film to adapt a specific story from the comics, there was a story called Age of Ultron, but that story was completely different from the movie.

Here the Avengers tracked down an old foe in Lagos Nigeria. This scene is shot like a black ops Jason Bourne style espionage thriller. While the fight scenes are entertaining they are shot in that quick cut shaky cam style that makes them hard to watch at times.

Unfortunately there are civilian casualties during this mission, including Wakandans on a humanitarian mission. Meanwhile the UN has issued the Sokovia accords, which call for the Avengers to be overseen by the United Nations. Tony Stark/Iron Man agrees with the idea of government oversight, while Captain America does not. This philosophical disagreement split’s the Avengers down the middle, as something with the Winter Soldier arises that exasperates the situation.

One vast improvement with the movie over the comic book story it is loosely based on in the movie presents both sides fairly evenly. You can understand both Tony and Steve’s point of view, whereas in the comic book story the pro-registration side was made pretty villainous.

Casualties from the fictional nation of Wakanda allows the Black Panther to be introduced to the MCU. The Wakandan superhero puts himself into the mix, and I’m definitely excited to see a solo Black Panther movie after this.

Also introduced to the MCU is Spiderman. While only appearing briefly this is probably the best Spiderman seen on screen. He’s funny, cracks jokes during battle, makes pop culture references, etc. Ant-man is also brought in for humor. Honestly neither Spiderman nor Ant-man are really necessary to the plot, but they’re both so entertaining you don’t mind.

There is an interesting villain behind the scenes. Civil War takes a break from the take over/destroy the world plot. This villain’s motivations are personal and smaller scale, and if you think about it, the villain does succeed.

Captain America is possibly the best superhero trilogy, and another superb chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.