Thursday, March 16, 2017

White Men Can't Karate (the Idiotic Controversy Surrounding Marvel's Iron Fist)

As a longtime fan of the character who never truly expected to see him appear on film or television, I am eagerly awaiting the debut of Marvel's Iron Fist on Netflix.  I will definitely be binge-watching the series this weekend, and I'll share my take once I have seen it.  Personally, I'm cautiously optimistic.  I'm excited because I think this property could be totally gnarly on the screen, and yet I'm a bit worried because it also has the potential to fall flat.  Still, I'm looking to forward to seeing whether or not it can wow me the same way that Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage have.

Having said all that, I must admit that I'm rather bummed by the nonsensical controversy that has led to a lot of bad press for the show prior to it being released.  Namely, a very vocal element of the PC police has apparently decided that white people shouldn't be allowed to practice martial arts or portray martial artists in the cinema.  A great many are deriding Iron Fist's ethnicity as some sort of appropriation, and these critics allege that Marvel should have abandoned the source material and the entire "stranger in a strange land" aspect of the character's origin.  Ever since Finn Jones was cast as Danny Rand in the lead role, there has been a lot of BS about "white saviors" and Asian culture being monetized out there in regards to the show, and there is a lot of genuine anger and outrage being directed at both Marvel and Netflix.

This irks me on a couple of levels.  Please, allow me to elaborate.

1) I'm a lifelong martial arts devotee, and I'm rather white, so of course I find it a bit ridiculous that there are those who believe that white people practicing martial arts is somehow offensive.  This argument is just as insightful as that "baseball is a white man's game" crap I used to hear from time to time in the foothills of rural Virginia.  Furthermore, I would argue that martial arts is a wonderful venture for anyone of any race who wants to experience all the many gifts that it has to offer, with those gifts including discipline, joy, confidence, respect, humility, and wisdom--and so much more.  Fortunately, in all the interactions I've had with other martial artists of various races (in various dojos, practicing various styles), I've never heard anyone express such a thoughtless perspective.

2) As a film buff and a martial arts devotee, I greatly enjoy a wealth of martial arts films (if you follow my blog, you know this already), and I feel that one really has to work at injecting vindictive political agendas and personal grudges into the viewing of such pictures to see them as monetizing any culture.  Additionally, while we Americans do love our karate flicks, it's probably fair to note that if one truly views such movies as some diabolical form of exchanging a precious culture for loot, they might want to go ahead and acknowledge that most of these pictures are . . . (gasp!) Asian.  So maybe we shouldn't burn Netflix or Marvel to the ground after all.  Of course, one so petty as to see the world in such a fashion could make similar arguments about westerns or any number of sub-genres, but it serves no real purpose.  I mean, it's not like we haven't seen people of virtually every race portray a martial artist in the cinema or on television at some point, so I just don't understand why anyone would expect Marvel to abandon the very concept of this character in their efforts to bring him to the screen.

3) The "white savior" bit is a real laugher.  Danny is pretty handy with his fists and his feet, but he's also a goofball who is frequently played for laughs.  Honestly, Negan from The Walking Dead is more apt to be described as a savior than Iron Fist.  Additionally, the mystical city where he got his powers has been around for a long time, and while Danny may have helped to save the day there on occasion, I don't think he's ever done it alone.  K'un Lun existed long before he got there and it should be around long after he's gone.  Besides, if you take Danny's origin out of the equation, it should be noted that he generally hangs out in the inner city.  Bonus points: he would have perished about a million times by now if he wasn't best buds with a certain black dude with unbreakable skin who serves as both the brains and the brawn of their unlikely partnership.  Apparently white saviors aren't all they're crackered up to be.

4) Shang-Chi!  Look, at the rate the Marvel universe is expanding in terms of its presence on the big screen and television, we're probably going to see Shang-Chi at some point--and Shang-Chi is an ultimate badass.  He could probably take Iron Fist down if he had to, and unlike Iron Fist, Shang-Chi doesn't have any mystical powers.  With that in mind, wouldn't Shang-Chi be a bit redundant (if not totally underwhelming) if Marvel did throw out Iron Fist's origin and have him be Asian in an effort to gain capital with a bunch of politically correct zealots?

5) Shang-Chi aside, there are a wealth of quality Asian characters featured prominently in the Iron Fist mythos.  I love Danny and all, but he's maybe half as cool as Lei-Kung the Thunderer.  Hell, Colleen Wing is going to be on the show, and she's a sensational character.  As someone who is extremely familiar with the material, let me assure you that it exists more as a tribute to kung fu cinema than any legitimate culture (the setting is a mystical city that doesn't exist, the characters have special powers, and there are dragons and stuff).  As such, anyone well-versed in the comics will surely note that the idea that Iron Fist exists to demean, diminish, or monetize Asian culture is no more a rational suggestion than aiming the same criticism at a film starring Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, or today's reigning champion of martial arts cinema, Iko Uwais.  Perhaps most importantly, the comic book has always featured a stellar cast of male and female characters representing various races, and it probably features more Asian characters than any other Marvel or DC title that comes to mind, so it seems rather bizarre to aim such small-minded criticism at this particular property.

Honestly, that's about all I have for now.  Again, I'm white, and I practice martial arts (true story: I'm no Chuck Norris, but I've actually thrown a few punches and kicks on screen once upon a when), and I guess that makes me some awful devil who gets his jollies from raping other cultures for personal gain, so take my opinion for what it's worth.  Seriously, though, I'm looking forward to the show and I'll provide an honest review of Iron Fist here once I have watched it from start to finish.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Short Attention Span Review: Highlander (1986)

Short Attention Span Review: Highlander (1986)

A mild success upon its initial release, Russell Mulcahy's Highlander emerged as a cult classic and inspired a handful of inferior sequels and a goofy television series--and a couple of animated ventures too.  Christopher Lambert was a unique choice for the lead role, and while he would go on to play several action heroes in other movies after this franchise grew wings, none of those flicks would prove nearly as memorable.  In fact, aside from The Hunted, I'm not sure that any of them are any good, though a handful (Fortress, Knight Moves, and Gunmen) are at least watchable.  He does a fine job here, though he is overshadowed by the gifted Clancy Brown in what is likely his finest role.  Brown is simply impeccable as the Kurgan, a cold-blooded madman who is every bit as entertaining and quotable as he is imposing and loathsome.  Lambert is also upstaged at every turn by Sean Connery as his bold mentor, the spirited Ramirez.  I don't intend to downplay Lambert's contributions; as I stated before, this picture spawned quite the franchise, and several other actors would try (and fail) to fill his shoes in the lead role.  The direction by Russell Mulcahy, who had recently turned heads with his cheap but vivid shocker Razorback, gives the picture some serious punch.  The opening tracking shot in an arena and the dolly work on display during the grand finale are both truly spectacular, and Mulcahy invests a lot of energy into every frame.  Another big assist to Highlander comes courtesy of legendary rock act Queen, who put together one hell of an album in support of the film.  Finally, Gregory Widen's screenplay is inventive and brimming with drama, making Highlander stand out by virtue of the way it blends action, science fiction, fantasy, and romance together.  I fell in love with this picture the first time I saw it, and it's one of those rare gems that I seem to appreciate a little more every time I sit down to watch it.

Final Grade: A+

Lambert is solid in the lead role, but Clancy Brown steals the show as the fiendish villain--and Sean Connery also frequently upstages Lambert's MacLeod as his flamboyant mentor, Ramirez.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Short Attention Span Review: Headshot (2016)

Short Attention Span Review: Headshot (2016)

Given the talent involved and the picture's Indonesian roots, it is only fair to compare Headshot to The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2, and that is a bit unfortunate.  While it never reaches the heights that star Iko Uwais and director Gareth Evans soared to with those martial arts epics, the so-called "Mo Brothers" (Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto) have put together one hell of an action picture.  Given their horror background, it should come as no surprise that this is a gory affair, but Headshot delivers on that promise in excess.  Seriously, the level of gore contained in this movie is more in line with Peter Jackson's early work than either The Raid: Redemption or The Raid 2--and those were some pretty damn bloody flicks in their own right.  Headshot is almost a bit cartoonish in its gleeful depiction of limbs being shattered and bodies being dismantled, but the gritty tone and the escalating tension are somehow able to keep the movie from becoming a parody of sorts.  As a horror junkie and a martial arts devotee, I thought it was awesome, and I have to give the Mo Brothers some serious props.  This film could have become redundant, but somehow they kept upping the ante.  The latter third of the movie sees Uwais graduate from manhandling various thugs to squaring off with better opponents in a series of insane duels that kept raising the bar.  Most importantly, this gruesome carnage was brought to life by a dynamic combination of spectacular choreography and wicked cinematography.  The plot is basic, yes, and there are no surprises in the mix, but that's typically the best course for a martial arts picture.  In this case, there was just enough of a story in play to give all the balls-to-the-wall beatdowns unfolding on the screen some resonance.  Ultimately, Headshot isn't a great film, but it is totally gnarly, and if his work with Gareth Evans hadn't already made this clear, it is now apparent that Iko Uwais is the best thing going in martial arts cinema today.  If you like punches and kicks or copious amounts of gore, you owe it to yourself to check out Headshot.

Final Grade: B-

While it is inferior to both The Raid and its sequel despite the presence of Iko Uwais in the lead role, Headshot does provide viewers with a wealth of bone-crunching action to enjoy--and it cements Uwais as the baddest martial artist working in movies today.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Short Attention Span Review: Logan (2017)

Short Attention Span Review: Logan (2017)

While Hugh Jackman has thoroughly owned the part of Wolverine and his presence has been essential to the success of the X-Men franchise as a whole, his solo ventures have been . . . well, less than stellar.  A terrific ad campaign, an "R" rating, and the knowledge that Logan would serve as Jackman's final outing as Marvel's favorite mutant have set the stage for this swan song to emerge as the Wolverine movie we've all been waiting for.  So, did Jackman and director James Mangold finally get the job done?  Yes.  Yes, they did, my friends.  This is a brutal affair with a lot of heart, and Hugh has never been so effective in this role--or any other role, for that matter.  Littered with f-bombs, berserker rampages, gushing blood, and severed limbs, Logan is a love letter to all the fanboys who have clamored for a look at Wolverine's dark side, but it's also so much more.  A western at heart, there is ample time for a lot of somber meditation on heroism and family values included in the show, not to mention some serious pondering so far as purpose and mortality are concerned.  With that in mind, the constant nods to Shane were definitely a nice touch.  Surprisingly, the powerful themes and the gruesome carnage never seemed at odds, but somehow joined forces in a spectacular and introspective farewell for a fabulous actor who has embodied a beloved character since the year 2000.  In many ways, it's a shame that we finally got the Wolverine movie we wanted just as Hugh decided to move on from the role, yet at the same time it must be noted that he is going out on top--and it's hard to fathom any follow-up being a worthy successor to this impressive departure from the standard comic book movie formula.  While the X-Men movies have been quality cinematic experiences with one notable exception (hello, X-Men: The Last Stand), Wolverine's standalone efforts have been mediocre at best . . . until now.  I truly believe that from this point on, when we sit down to talk about the best comic book movies out there, Logan will be in the mix.

Bonus Points: Patrick Stewart was sensational, and one can only hope that newcomer Dafne Keen is able to continue in the role of X-23, as she also knocked it out of the park.

Final Grade: A+

It's true: this is the Wolverine movie we've been waiting for.  As much as I don't want to see Jackman retire his claws, it's highly unlikely that he would ever find a better point to do so.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Short Attention Span Review: Doctor Strange (2016)

Short Attention Span Review: Doctor Strange (2016)

As an avid fan of the character, it may be a bit of a surprise that it took this long for me to finally sit down with Doctor Strange, but I have five children and movie tickets are expensive.  Anyhow, I recently viewed Marvel's latest blockbuster, and I must say that I was thoroughly impressed.  In all honesty, while I'm a big fan of the character, this was a situation where I wondered how well the property would translate to the screen.  Of course, I felt the same way about Guardians of the Galaxy and we all know how that turned out--and I guess maybe I should stop worrying about them fouling Iron Fist up.  While I may have wanted a to see a bit more horror in the proceedings, particularly with Scott Derrickson serving as director, I can't complain about the final product.  Doctor Strange may not be a classic, but it is a polished feature film with a wealth of excitement and an ever greater array of impressive special effects.  The characters were well-drawn, the plot delivered far more action than we often see in a typical origin tale, and the picture seems to fit nicely within the Marvel cinematic universe.  Benedict Cumberbatch was a fine choice for the title role, deftly portraying the arrogance, the vanity, and the expertise that make this hero so prickly yet remarkable.  Bonus points: the costume is positively magnificent and the Cloak of Levitation may have stolen a few scenes along the way.  Tilda Swinton was a nifty choice for the part of Strange's mentor, the Ancient One, and Mads Mikkelson oozed menace as the villain.  Casting the versatile Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo was another inspired choice, and his role in the franchise could yield some monumental storylines moving forward.  No, this one wasn't on the same level as Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain America: Civil War (or Captain America: The Winter Soldier), but it was a rock solid beginning for a kooky character who brings something decidedly different to Marvel's wildly successful cinematic landscape.

Final Grade: B+

I don't really have any complaints about Doctor Strange, but I would single out star Benedict Cumberbatch and the mind-boggling special effects as the biggest keys to its success.