TV Review: Mad Men (2007-2015)

Original Run: July 19th, 2007-May 17th, 2015
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: David Carbonara, RJD2 (opening theme)
Cast: Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Batt, Michael Gladis, Aaron Staton, Rich Sommer, Maggie Siff, John Slattery, Robert Morse, Jared Harris, Kiernan Shipka, Jessica Paré, Christopher Stanley, Jay R. Ferguson, Kevin Rahm, Ben Feldman, Mason Vale Cotton, Alison Brie, Joel Murray, Peyton List, Harry Hamlin, Linda Cardellini, Rosemarie DeWitt, Randee Heller, Caity Lotz, Ray Wise, Stephanie Courtney, Patrick Fischler, Alexis Bledel, Anna Camp,

Weiner Bros., Silvercup Studios, Lionsgate Television, @radical.media (pilot only), Lionsgate Television, AMC, 92 Episodes, 47 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Last night saw the end of an era, as the series finale to Mad Men aired. The show was one of the best shows of the last ten years and frankly, one of the best television shows of all-time.

Sure, maybe I’m late in reviewing it because it is now over and it has been on television since the summer of 2007. I also didn’t have this blog back then and I like to wait and review television shows after they have had time to establish themselves.

Chances are, most of you reading this have already seen the show and formed your own opinions. Most of you probably loved it or at the very least, liked it. Sure, there is the minority that didn’t and that is fine. Regardless, it is what this show brought that makes it so iconic and important.

As viewers, we were thrown back into the 1960s. The time and the style of the show ignited nostalgia in a lot of folks and thus, had them engaged from the first scene: Don Draper sitting in a bar trying to solve the dilemma of marketing Lucky Strikes cigarettes.

The strongest element of the show was not its style however, it was its substance. With that opening scene, you knew that you were in the past, where things were quite different. A time where minorities and women were treated generally, pretty poorly. Also a time where cigarettes could be marketed and people were a lot less concerned about the health risks of smoking, drinking and sexually transmitted diseases. As the show traversed its way through the 1960s and into 1970 – in the final season, our characters were faced with a multitude of issues and many of them had to deal with the consequences.

There isn’t anything in this show that hasn’t been dealt with our addressed in entertainment before but what this show did, was take all of these issues and put them in one place. Mad Men was a brilliantly executed smorgasbord of the social, economic, political, health and safety issues of the time. It also doesn’t hurt that the show was just always stunning to look at and perfectly acted.

Whether it was the set designers, the creative directors or the wardrobe people on set, it all became a happy and perfect marriage and gave us something special and unique. It has also paved the way for other shows on non-premium cable television to take more risks and not be fearful of being too edgy.

Without Mad Men, AMC wouldn’t have become a television powerhouse. For those that forget, AMC used to just show old black and white movies and that was it. Mad Men opened a door at the network that led to shows like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Walking Dead, Hell On Wheels, Halt and Catch Fire, TURИ: Washington’s Spies, The Killing and the soon to debut Preacher, Fear the Walking Dead, Humans and Into the Badlands. Mad Men also inspired a resurgence of period dramas on other networks – some successful and some, not so much.

With the last episode now having aired, I can say that Mad Men lived up to its continued hype and never disappointed. It was quality from day one and maintained its superior level of television storytelling all the way up to the very end. And ultimately, it had the balls to take everything it told you from the beginning and flip it on its head at the end.

The show had a unique ability to reinvent itself and its characters without the viewer realizing it in the moment. That being said, the characters on Mad Men could very well be the most human characters in television history.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Magic CityHalt and Catch FireThe Astronaut Wives Club and Manhattan.

TV Review: Cobra Kai (2018- )

Original Run: April, 2018 (Tribeca Film Festival) – current
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: characters created by Robert Mark Kamen
Music by: Leo Birenberg, Zach Robinson
Cast: William Zabka, Ralph Macchio, Mary Mouser, Courtney Henggeler, Xolo Mariduena, Tanner Buchanan, Jacob Bertrand, Randee Heller, Peyton List, Martin Kove, Ed Asner

Hurwitz & Schlossberg Productions, Overbrook Entertainment, Sony Pictures Television, YouTube Red, 10 Episodes (so far), 30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I went to the theatrical premiere of this streaming television series. The premiere consisted of just the first two episodes, so that is all I have to go on for this review. I’ll probably update this and adjust the rating after I’ve seen the completion of the first season.

For those that don’t know, this series takes place now, in 2018. It follows Johnny Lawrence, the main bad guy from the original Karate Kid movie. He’s having a hard time in his fifties and really has nothing going right in his life. He runs into Daniel Larusso a.k.a. Daniel-san and the encounter inspires Johnny to reform the Cobra Kai, because he yearns for his glory days in a typical “peaked in high school” sort of way.

What makes this really damn cool and the only reason why this should have been made, is that it brings back both William Zabka and Ralph Macchio as Johnny and Daniel. And man, it was really cool seeing them on the screen together, once again.

I love the tone of this series. It is true to the tone of the original movies but is very different in that it is about those teenagers, thirty-four years later, as adults with adult problems and an event that changed both of them permanently, giving them different trajectories through life.

The show sort of does a bit of role reversal, as Johnny is teaching the young weak teen that is constantly bullied. In fact, Johnny kicks the crap out of the bullies in the same way Miyagi did in the original film where Johnny was one of those original bullies. But Johnny’s methods and agenda are very different than Miyagi’s. At least he’s not a psycho like John Kreese, the original Cobra Kai leader.

I really dig how this show examines these characters and their lives. Daniel has basically become the rich family dad living in the Hills, which is in stark contrast to where he was as a poor teenager trying to hook up with the rich girl. Johnny has gone from the top stud in high school to utter poverty.

This show works and it works well. I had some high expectations for this after I saw the first trailer but those expectations have been surpassed, at least with this small sample size. We’ll see how it goes as the show marches on.

For now, I’m definitely a fan of Cobra Kai and it may just make me subscribe to YouTube Red, at least just to watch this until the season one finale.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: The original Karate Kid trilogy of movies, obviously.

Film Review: ‘The Karate Kid’ Trilogy (1984-1989)

The Karate Kid made a pretty big cultural impact in 1984. It had two sequels featuring the main cast, as well as a spin-off sequel and a nonsensical remake. It also influenced a ton of 80s kids to take up karate.

Let me address each film individually.

The Karate Kid (1984):

Release Date: June 22nd, 1984
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Written by: Robert Mark Kamen
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Ralph Macchio, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, Elisabeth Shue, William Zabka, Martin Kove, Randee Heller, Chad McQueen, Tony O’Dell, Ron Thomas, Rob Garrison, Frances Bay, Peter Jason, Larry B. Scott

Columbia Pictures, 127 Minutes 

karate_kidReview:

The first film is the best overall. I would consider it to be a classic. Sure, it can be 80s cheesy but that is also a lot of the appeal. It still feels pretty realistic and has a grittiness to it.

The film was directed by John G. Avildsen and the score was done by Bill Conti. Both men worked on the original Rocky and there are plenty of similarities between that film and this one. Just make the hero younger and switch out boxing for karate and there you go. But as emotional as Rocky was, The Karate Kid may actually have more depth and character.

Sure, some of my love of this film is due to nostalgia but it still resonates today. The message is timeless. It is about standing up for yourself and not backing down or succumbing to fear. But it also shows how bad kids can be created by the influence of bad adults. It is also about friendship in its purest form, as teenage Daniel and the elderly Miyagi have one of the strongest bonds in motion picture history. There is a lot to take away from this film.

It is shot well, directed well and the music is perfect, whether it is the score or the pop tunes of the time. In fact, some of the epic landscape shots, enhanced by the beautiful score, are majestic. The cinematography was superb.

It also just hits you right in the feels.

The Karate Kid, Part II (1986):

Release Date: June 20th, 1986
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Written by: Robert Mark Kamen
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Ralph Macchio, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, Nobu McCarthy, Tamlyn Tomita, Yuji Okumoto, Danny Kamekona, William Zabka, Martin Kove, Chad McQueen, Tony O’Dell

Columbia Pictures, 113 Minutes 

karate_kid_part_iiReview:

This film picks up at the point where the first one ended, which was kind of cool. It then follows Daniel and Miyagi as they travel to Okinawa to see Miyagi’s sick father. While there, a former best-friend turned rival challenges Miyagi and the heroes must face stakes much higher than those of the first film.

This is a beautiful picture. Even though it takes place in Okinawa, it was filmed mostly in Hawaii. But the island village life and the geography are well captured and become characters in the film.

The scenes between Miyagi and his long lost love Yukie are both heartbreaking and heartwarming and really make an impact in this film, more so than the love story between Daniel and his new love interest.

As a kid, I liked this film better than the first but that was due to the exotic feel of it and the fact that Daniel was forced to fight to the death. The threat in this film is just so much more real than the petty squabbles of teenagers from the first movie. But as an adult, I can see that the original is superior.

This film doesn’t get the respect it deserves by critics or IMDb, as it is certainly better than its 5.9 rating.

The Karate Kid, Part III (1989):

Release Date: June 30th, 1989
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Written by: Robert Mark Kamen
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Ralph Macchio, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, Robyn Lively, Thomas Ian Griffith, Martin Kove, Sean Kanan, Randee Heller, Frances Bay

Columbia Pictures, 112 Minutes 

karate_kid_part_iiiReview:

While this might be the worst film of the original trilogy, it is still better than the 2010 remake and that 1994 abomination, The Next Karate Kid.

This film sees John Kreese, the leader of the villainous Cobra Kai from the first film, join forces with his war buddy in an effort to get revenge against Daniel and Miyagi. Their plan is to tear apart the bond between Daniel and Miyagi while finding a challenger that can crush Daniel and take his title.

The spirit of the series is still alive in the relationship of Daniel and Miyagi but that is where it ends, really. You still love the characters and it is hard to watch them struggle, as they find themselves at odds with one another for the first time. But this film also has some of the sweetest moments between the two characters, as Daniel sacrifices a lot to help his mentor achieve his dreams.

This is still a movie worth your time, if you like the series. It’s not great but it’s not a total waste either.

Although, I find it hard to believe that the villainous Kreese and Terry Silver just walked away after this film ends. And I have to wonder what’s wrong with Daniel after striking out with three girls in three films. Can we maybe get some sort of follow-up or update?

Maybe I’ll write and direct The Karate Kid, Part VII, disregarding the nonexistent films Part IV, V and VI. In my film, Earth is in a post-apocalyptic state following the Cobra Kai defeating the military might of the world. Daniel awakes from a coma to find out that he was in a plane crash, orchestrated by the Cobra Kai and that Miyagi has died. He discovers that the Cobra Kai took over the world and now he must lead a band of fighters proficient in Okinawan karate. Daniel and his karate army must stop Terry Silver and John Kreese’s fascist Cobra Kai government. Daniel’s advantage is that Silver and Kreese don’t know he survived the plane crash years earlier. But they are about to discover the truth like a crane kick to the face!