Review: “Luke Cage”

“Luke Cage” is complex, gritty, and riveting. It begins after the events in Jessica Jones. Luke (Mike Colter) is working two jobs in Harlem, one in a barbershop run by a former criminal Pop (Frankie Faison) who has spent his life since prison making his shop a safe haven in the neighborhood. The other job is as a dishwasher in an upscale Harlem club run by Cornell Stokes (Mahershala Ali) Aka Cottonmouth. Stokes is running guns in the city and we soon learn that a theft of his money leaves him in a difficult position.
There is crime and politics with references to Fisk and other events in the city. The villains are complex with varying reasons for their actions. One, Stokes’ cousin, Mariah Stokes (Alfre Woodard) wants to make a difference in Harlem and build it up to be a better place but she uses her cousin’s money to do so. Cornell firmly believes money is the only thing useful in the world. Excuse the phrasing but none of the characters are black and white. They all believe in what they are doing and trying to live in a society where poverty and crime walk hand in hand with hardworking, caring people
Even the music aids the storyline, each episode beginning with music tied right to the heart and soul of Harlem, its history and its people. The show is clearly filmed in Harlem, with stores and places familiar to those living in the area. Music and people are the presence that ties this show together and the city is a living heart accompanying the story of Luke Cage.
Luke wants to lie low but with his friends in trouble, with people he cares about on the line or dead because of the political machinations of Cottonmouth and Mariah, Luke has no choice but to stand, to stand up and stand his ground, to stand for the people of Harlem and not allow its people to be dragged down, to help them live their lives in decency and to keep alive what Harlem really means, the people.
Each of the characters, good or bad is strong and vital, their motivations clear and their personalities real. Luke is just a man who wants to be left alone but keeps finding himself in the middle, keeps helping people because he’s a good person. Misty is a strong female cop in a mostly male force and holds her own against corruption and dishonesty, upholding the truth. She might want to look away but she forces herself to face the ugly truths and help the people of her city. Even the villains are strong, Mariah, unflinching in the face of Diamondback killing three people. She stands her own ground and she survives even if we as the viewer dislike her thirst for power and her machinations, the scenes we have of her as a young, powerless girl give us the insight to understand her motivations.
Luke Cage manages to combine contemporary social commentary with the issues that black people face today in Harlem and communities around the country. The line, “Why is he running?” with the answer, “He’s a black man being accused of a crime he didn’t commit.” That statement speaks a lot to the issues in the country and the slogan Black Lives Matter was brought up during the show. One of the interesting points it seemed to play on was that everyone in Harlem deserved justice, the cops whose fellow officer was killed and Luke Cage when everyone is ready to shoot him on sight. There are those who speak out for him and it is as though they speak out for every person of color who was ever accused of a crime they didn’t commit. And at the end, even though Luke is cleared of any wrongdoing in Harlem, he goes back to face up to the crimes he’d originally been accused of in Georgia, ready to fight for justice for himself so that he can continue to fight for others.
One of the parts I like the best about Luke Cage is how much the history of Harlem is woven into the story, everything good and the bad, the historical figures who fought for their people to be free, the music of Harlem, the art and the people, not just African-Americans but all the ethnicities that live in the area, Puerto Rican, Korean, everyone was included. There was a richness of diversity that is found in so few network shows that this was a delight.
Between the complexity of the characters, the nod to the comic books, and the richness of diversity and culture, I enjoyed this show immensely and think it is one of the best Netflix Marvel series yet. If you haven’t watched any of the others, you don’t need to do so to enjoy Luke Cage and I think you should definitely check it out.

Review Stranger Things

When “Stranger Things” first premiered on Netflix, I really had no idea what it was about. It looked like science fiction with the bonus of an intriguing mystery involving the disappearance of a boy. My husband and I decided to sit down and watch it. If I’d realized it was also a horror series, I probably wouldn’t have watched it and I would have missed out on one of the best shows to be aired in recent years.

“Stranger Things” is set in the eighties. It begins with a group of boys getting together to battle monsters and defeat evil, at least in a tabletop gaming system reminiscent of Dungeons and Dragons @TM. And that scene had me hooked. The characters were engaging and the mystery, what happened to Jonathon Byers (Charlie Heaton) kept me glued to my seat, even while I held my hands in front of my face to protect myself from the scary scenes.

The show quickly ramped up the intrigue and the spookiness by bringing in a young girl called Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) who has escaped from a government think tank facility just outside of town. Eleven is not your normal child and she is being chased by men in suits whose goals in regards to her remain nebulous and threatening. And the people who try to help her, don’t fare very well. Eleven falls in with Jonathan’s friends, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) as they soon learn that Eleven can do things they only imagined and she assists them as they search for their friend.

At home his mother (Winona Ryder) attempts to communicate with him. And his brother, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) bands together with Mike’s sister, Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) to discover the secret of why others are disappearing. The sheriff, Jim Hopper (David Harbour)does the same, poking around the government facility as well as digging into the past to find answers. The show is about finding answers, both to who Eleven is and to what has happened to Jonathan. And the answers are terrifying and brilliant all at once.

This show manages to bring together the feel of an eighties movie with some thought provoking physics concepts all while keeping you glued to the screen. The characters are engaging and the actors do an astounding job with their roles. I couldn’t stop watching it even when I was terrified and it even managed to creep out my husband who is way less susceptible than I am. All in all, this is a show that combines outcasts bonding like movies such as Stand by Me and ET with harder core science fiction/horror like The Thing and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. And it does it effortlessly. I will be looking forward to the second season even while I try to sleep at night.

You can find Stranger Things on Netflix.