Unfriended is a horror film that is sort of a deviation of the found footage genre. The entire film takes place from the view of a teenage girl’s computer screen. Blaire and her boyfriend and a handful of other friends are in a group chat on Skype, when a mysterious party enters the conversation. In the group chat the icon is blank/no picture, and no matter what they do from a technical standpoint they can’t get rid of this person.

Assuming it’s a hacker, they realize this Skype account is from Laura, Blaire’s childhood friend who killed herself one year ago. Blaire is also getting Facebook messages from Laura’s account. As they try to investigate, it is suggested that it is actually Laura’s ghost out for revenge. At one point a forum post is read about not answering electronic messages from dead people, as it appears what is happening to them is a world-wide phenomenon. This supernatural phenomenon is not extrapolated on much further, there’s not much of a plot angle to suggest a logical explanation. The movie simply gives the audience this concept and runs with it.

As events unfold secrets are revealed about each character, and slowly we see each one of them die via the webcam. There’s a few death scenes that are quick but pretty gruesome. Unfriended doesn’t give much in the actual scare department, partly because the characters are unlikable, and as you find out, not nice people. It does provide some real emotionally intense moments. The highlight being the “Never Have I Ever” game in which each person has five fingers up, and must put one down if they’ve ever done an action mentioned in the game. For example, “Never have I ever roofied a girl.” One male character puts a finger down who has done that.

The theme of the story is modern cyber bullying. There was an embarrassing video of a drunk Laura on Youtube that lead to her suicide, and each of the characters had a part to play in her misery.

Unfriended offers a new way of storytelling for this generation. The whole story is told via Skype, Facebook, and instant messenger, with I-tunes occasionally providing a soundtrack. Some background information is also provided by what Blaire begins to type, but then erases to say something else.

While not exactly frightening, Unfriended offers possibilities in this offshoot of the found footage genre. I’m curious to see what direction filmmakers can take it from here, and how scary this idea can be in the future.

Marvel’s Daredevil is the first of four Netflix exclusive shows from Marvel comics set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Daredevil is set in Hell’s Kitchen, as the other three shows presumably will be. It opens with a 9 year old Matt Murdock, who was blinded in an accident after pushing an old man out of the way of a truck full of chemicals. While he was blinded, his other senses have been heightened to superhuman ability. Flashbacks of his childhood are interspersed throughout the course of several episodes. He is raised by his single father, a boxer who meets a tragic end after refusing to throw a fight. Later Matt is trained in the martial arts by a blind swordsman, who returns into Matt’s life as an adult.

The adult Matt Murdock has opened a law practice in Hell’s Kitchen with his best friend Foggy Nelson. In their first case they defend Karen Page, a woman who was falsely accused of murder and ends up working for Matt’s law office. What Matt’s partners don’t know is that Matt stalks the streets at night as a vigilante. (He’s not called Daredevil until the very last episode and is called that by the press.)

This show takes full advantage of the creative freedom offered by Netflix, and is a stark departure from the MCU films. It is a strictly R rated show with brutal violence. Daredevil deals with real world problems of human trafficking, drugs, child abuse etc. The spark that drove him from taking the law into his own hands was not inspiration from heroes like Captain America, but from accidently stumbling across a horrible crime that he could not ignore.

Like all great comic book films adaptations, the villain steals the show. Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. the Kingpin, is perhaps the most intriguing character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At first he’s in the background, slowly revealed like a movie monster. Your first shot of him you just see his arm inside a limo. For the first few episodes his name is not even in spoken. That is actually a rule for anyone that works for him, they are not allowed to say his name.

Kingpin in the MCU is just as he is in the comics, a dangerous beast who is always one step ahead. In his first act of on screen violence he comes at someone like bear. He is a shark who preys upon anyone he chooses. However, perhaps unlike the comics, Wilson Fisk is an extremely vulnerable man filled with pain, haunted by his childhood. Even his manner of speaking reflects the incredible hurt inside of him. Vanessa, from the comics, is an art dealer and Fisk’s love interest. She provides healing to his troubled soul, she is, as he says, his heart. The relationship between Wilson and Vanessa is in fact highlight of the series.

In classic comic book style Wilson Fisk is a mirror image of Matt Murdock, the two had fathers that are polar opposites. You could even argue that Wilson Fisk and Matt Murdock have the same goals. Both were raised in Hell’s Kitchen and both have a vision of Hell’s Kitchen being a better place. The plot of the show involves Kingpin taking over Hell’s Kitchen via a real estate scheme. Hell’s Kitchen was devastated during “the incident” which is what people refer to when the Avengers had their battle in New York. Fisk takes this opportunity to rebuild the city in his image.

There aren’t many Easter Eggs to the wider MCU, I think, like the first Iron Man, they wanted to keep things focused on Daredevil. There are old newspapers shown that mention the battle of New York as well as the Hulk fighting in Harlem from his movie.

The supporting cast is great with intriguing characters on both sides of the law. Real actual characters die too, giving the story a sense of real consequences the films sometimes lack.

As beautifully violent as this show is there are times when it gets a little ridiculous, same goes for Matt’s superhuman senses. The end of the second episode has a great fight scene, but we are to believe Matt did all that with two broken ribs. There’s also a scene where someone tazers Daredevil, who then collapses. It was a lot for me to believe he didn’t get shot. During one great fight sequence with a ninja (whose costume looked a little goofy) Daredevil is truly outmatched, but ends up winning almost by pure dumb luck.

Still this is a fantastic show from the get go. The first half of the serious is brutally violent filled with yell out loud moments. The later half turns up the drama, although it’s not lacking in the beginning either. The episode about Fisk’s childhood is probably the standout episode of the series.

Marvel’s Daredevil is arguably the best single unit of story telling produced so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is at least better than most, if not all, of the MCU films. Looking forward to the rest of the Marvel Netflix shows.

I was a latecomer to the Fast and Furious series. I didn’t see any of them until just a few years ago, but I enjoyed what I saw. In particular I thought Fast 6 was exceptionally good.

Unfortunately Fast 7 doesn’t live up to it’s predecessors. Following up directly from the last film, Jason Statham plays Deckard, a super ex-special forces bad guy, whose younger brother Owen was the villain in the last movie. Owen is apparently in a coma, and Deckard has seems to have wiped out an entire unit of special forces so he can tell his comatose brother that he will get revenge. I don’t think Owen heard him though.

This super ex special forces guy is only able to kill one of the heroes, which we already saw happen in the bumper scene of the last one. The remainder of the story is something about Statham teaming with some terrorist to steal God’s Eye, a super surveillance/hacking program that can basically find anyone in the world. The good guys are helped out by the government in the form of new character played by Kurt Russel.

This tangent of the God’s Eye plot allows the characters to travel around to cool locations like Abu Dhabi and we get the usual party scenes with hot chics etc. UFC champ Rhonda Rousey appears for a good fight scene in this locale. In Abu Dhabi it turns out they have to steal this flash drive and guess what, said flash drive is hidden in this super sports car near the top of the Etihad Towers. How convenient is that, that the McGuffin is hidden inside something that’s the basis of this franchise? That’d be like if they were in a sequel to the 1987 Stallone classic Over the Top. Only this time the flash drive is hidden inside a semi truck that is the prize for a professional arm wrestling contest! Cue to the montage of Vin Diesel grunting while arm wrestling to the sound of “Winner Takes it All” by Sammy Hagar, perhaps remade with a techno/hip hop beat. Yeah, really.

There is a nice send off to Paul Walker, which is very touching and is easily the highlight of the film.

The Fast and Furious series always had fun over the top action, but this one was just too ridiculous. There’s at least one or two entries of this series I haven’t seen, but I think 7 is the worst of the ones I’ve seen. I’d say this series has officially jumped the shark.

basis of this franchise

At the end of Captain America: Winter Soldier, it is revealed that Hydra has possession of the scepter that Loki had during Avengers. How Hydra acquired the scepter is the focus of Age of Ultron Prelude: This Scepter’d Isle. It is a digitally exclusive comic that serves as a prelude to the upcoming Age of Ultron film.

According to this story SHIELD initially had the scepter, as they acquired a lot of the alien technology after the Battle of New York in Avengers. They are analyzing it at S.T.A.T.I.O.N. the Scientific Tactical Intelligence Operating Network. SHIELD agents are named, including Mark Smith, Nicholas Cooper, and Mark Basso. I don’t believe that these are pre-existing characters. There’s a certain SHIELD agent who is disgruntled with the agency,and gets recruited by Baron Strucker (who apparently has hair in the MCU) to join Hydra. They steal the scepter and take it to their lab in Sokovia, a fictional politically unstable European country.

There’s a Dr. List character that runs experiments on the scepter (which I suppose the audience knows contains an infinity gem) and they use its energies to experiment on people. Looking for test subjects they turn to the student demonstrators that protest against the Sokovian government. They tell the students that they need power themselves to affect change, the kind of power the Avengers have. Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, twin siblings who eventually become Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, are among the demonstrators.

It ends with a recreation of the post credit scene in Winter Soldier, where some of the human volunteers have died from the experiment, but the twins have developed powers.

This Scepter’d Isle is a nice one in done story that fills in some interesting background to the upcoming Age of Ultron film, which is what is set out to do.

The comic can be purchased here on Comixology.

This two issue series that ties into the Marvel Cinematic Universe takes place in the 1980s. The specific year/date is not set, but the story involves Hank Pym crossing the Berlin Wall on a secret mission. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989, so at the latest this story takes place in the 1980s.

Hank Pym is a SHIELD scientist, and has apparently discovered what will be the Pym particle, which allows him to shrink his body to be just a few inches tall. Howard Stark, Tony Stark’s/Iron Man’s father and founder of SHIELD wants a covert team to use the Pym Particles to sneak across the Berlin Wall on a mission. Pym doesn’t want to share the secrets of the Pym particle to fall into the wrong hands, and insists that if anyone should use the particle it’s him.

We get a nice surprise appearance from Agent Carter, who is still with SHIELD and obviously drawn to look older. She agrees to prep him for his solo mission and gives a nice use of the “I think it works” line from the first Captain America film. There’s also some Davis character with Pym in the lab but I don’t know who that was.

The first issue ends with a cliffhanger that to some may be reminiscent of Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy. The second issue deals mainly with the mission and is filled with action beats. The mission is that some radical group SHIELD was watching got a hold of old Hydra tech and are reverse engineering it. The villains in this book are faceless/not actual characters, but while Peggy states that Hydra was cut down decades ago one of them does say Hail Hydra and they are in Hydra uniforms. The technology in question is a memory wiping device reminiscent of what was used on Winter Soldier. This group apparently kidnapped some poor victim to test it on.

The story ends with Pym realizing there’s important work out there in the field that only the Pym particle can handle, but his experiences reinforced the idea that only he should use the particle. This implies that, as Ant Man, he’ll be an active field agent for SHIELD.

The Ant Man prelude set’s the stage for the Ant Man prelude and establishes Pym as an active field agent. It would be cool to see more comics and maybe a video game about Ant Man missions for SHIELD, but for now the stage is set for the Ant Man movie.

Prophecy is a comic book crossover featuring characters that Dynamite has the license too, Vampirella, Ash/Evil Dead, Red Sonja, and Pantha, along with public domain characters Sherlock Holmes, Alan Quatermain, Dorian Grey, and Dracula.

The tale starts in 1890 London. Inspector Lestrade and Sherlock Holmes investigate the murder of a man who was shot in a museum. Apparently, he was shot over an ancient Mayan artifact that is now missing.

Cut to the Yucatan Peninsula in 632 AD. At the height of the Mayan Empire, a sacrifice is to be made. The girl being sacrificed turns out to be Red Sonja, who, through magical means, is pursuing an arch foe of hers across time. The villain escapes again, and travels to the (at time of print) present day of 2012. There’s a collage of images as the characters go through time, which provides a few Easter eggs for readers. One image is of Project Superpowers, the universe Dynamite created for public domain super heroes. We also see the Lone Ranger, the 3 Musketeers, Robin Hood, Evil Dead, the Phantom, Zorro, and even what looks to be a vague image of Indiana Jones.

The second issue opens at Miskatonic Asylum, where Herbert West, the Re-Animator is committed. (We also see the creators of this series, Ron Marz, and Geovani Walter locked up here) The Re-Animator was a short story by H.P. Lovecraft of Cthulu fame. Miskatonic University was also a creation of Lovecraft that was referenced in several of his stories, appearing first in The Re-Animator. The infamous Necronomicon is also a creation of Lovecraft which is referenced often and is even a part of the Evil Dead mythos. Dynamite has previously made Re-Animator comics, though set in the modern day.

Anyway West escapes his captors and travels to South America. He is in possession of the Necronomicon, which he later says he got in exchange for a certain experiment on a certain client. I don’t know what this is a reference too but in the stories West has a formula that can resurrect the dead.

In South America Herbert West runs into Red Sonja, who has just appeared from the past. Vampirella also appears and the two women briefly fight. Vampirella is also accompanied by Dracula, and Pantha. Later we get Eva, who claims to be Dracula’s daughter.

Sonja somehow is able to speak English, and communicates that her arch foe has come here to cause the end of the world (Basically the Mayan 2012 prophecy). The heroes fight the villain in the temple, where they Greek Goddess Athena shows up to help. At this point several supernatural creatures are summoned and spread across the globe to wreak havoc. The rest of the story has the team splitting up to fight them, then converging back in South America for the final battle.

One of the creatures attacks Las Vegas, and Ash comes into the story at this point. Ash also knows West from previous encounters. Periodically we get flashbacks to Victorian England, where Holmes encounters Alan Quatermain and Dorian Grey. These parts were entertaining but I think I missed how they connect to the main story.

We get a big final battle at the end, during which Vampirella steals a line from the Army of Darkness movie (Which is the 3rd Evil Dead movie.). One interesting turn of events is that a certain character gets turned into a vampire, and is still a vampire at the end of the story. I’m curious to see how that was resolved in later comics. I liked that touch which added a real consequence to this series so it wasn’t just another crossover.

Overall Prophecy is a pretty effective crossover that unites a set of characters you might otherwise not think of seeing together.

Agent Carter is an 8 episode mid season series that spins out of 2011’s Captain America the First Avenger. Focusing on Peggy Carter, who helped fight Cap fight Hydra in WWII, she now finds herself still working in the SSR but not taken seriously by her male colleagues. Her duties are resigned to getting coffee and filing paperwork.

Set in New York City, Peggy greatly mourns the loss of Captain America, whom she believes to be dead, as does the rest of the world. His loss and the void he leaves behind loom large over the series. The opening scene recaps the end of First Avenger as Peggy is remembering her final moments speaking to Cap. On a humorous note in this world there is now a Captain America radio show and it is ridiculously hilarious. In this show Cap’s girlfriend is completely helpless and is constantly fretting “Help me Captain America! The Nazis tied me up again!!!”

The main story opens with Howard Stark, (who later will be the father of Tony Stark from the Iron Man films) accused of being a traitor. Some of his inventions turn up missing and he is accused of selling them to America’s enemies. On the run from the SSR, he contacts Peggy and asks for her help. This puts her in a position where she almost becomes like a super hero, in that she has a secret life from her co-workers, and has to carry out her investigation in secret.

Assisting her is Howard’s English butler Jarvis, whom Tony Stark later bases his AI assistant of off. They are great on screen together, sharing that British whit. Though Jarvis is not one for combat he is a loyal aid to Carter.

Peggy Carter is played as a person first and an action heroine second. Her doubly secret life affects her friendships and living situation as well. She becomes close to a diner waitress, but their friendship is strained by her secrecy. Peggy’s public identity is that of someone that works at the phone company, which is actually the hidden base for SSR.

She does have one colleague who takes her seriously, and offers some romantic tension. He is a fellow agent who was hurt in WWII and uses a crutch to get around. They don’t go the full blown romantic route but the possibility is planted. Their relationship is strained as he begins to suspect her doubly secret life.

One thing I like is there is an actual body count to this series, and it’s mostly the good guys. Specific agents and characters we are introduced to die, which adds a real consequence to the actions of the series, something I think honestly is lacking from the MCU movies. Also the series finale offers one particular scene that is more gruesome than anything the movies have offered.

There are reference to other things in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but the show is not over burdened with them. Anton Vanko makes one appearance, who is the father of the Iron Man 2 villain. The Roxxon Corporation is around in this time. The Howling Commandos appear in one episode, and share Peggy’s grief over the loss of Steve Rogers. The Red Room, where the Russian Black Widow spies are trained, is introduced. We get one female character that is a foil for Peggy, but the word Black Widow is never said in this series, which was a nice touch of subtlety. There’s another Russian character whose abilities reminded me of Purple Man, but I don’t think it was actually that character.

The final episode ends with a good emotional scene reminiscent of the end of First Avenger, in which we get some good insight into the relationship between Peggy and Howard, as well as how Howard views himself. Peggy is clearly the hero, and does get recognition from her immediate peers, but that moment is soon deflated as she is again ignored by the higher ups. At this point Peggy seems not to be bothered by this anymore, which may come across as sort of anti-climatic.

The final ten minutes or so wrap things up for the characters. For Peggy’s fem fa tale there is a scene that honestly reminded me of the end of Halloween, when Dr. Loomis looks over the balcony for the body of Michael Meyers. Peggy takes a step to move on in her grief of Rogers. Seeds are planted for future stories  which viewers of the MCU, especially the WInter Soldier movie, will be familiar with.

Even though we know that both Carter and Stark will survive the events of the series, these 8 episodes provide a tight character driven story that definitely leaves us wanting more. Here’s to many more great seasons of Agent Carter.