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Luke Cage – If It Ain’t Rough, It Ain’t Right (Review)

The past stays with us.

Part of what is interesting about the second season of Luke Cage is the manner in which it engages with, and builds from, what came before. Continuity is a long-standing fixture of superhero narratives, most obviously in the four-colour source material. Fictional characters accrue a history, as individual issues and appearances add up to create a complex set of interlocking details that define and shape the character. It is in some ways comparable to how individual histories help to forge identities and determine who we are.

Of course, it should be noted that superhero movies and television shows have carried over some of this continuity from the comic books. Although cinema’s first “shared universe” was arguably constructed between the Universal monster movies of the thirties, the modern popularity of the term is driven by the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, an elaborate physical construct that ties together everything from Avengers: Infinity War to Daredevil to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to Spider-Man: Homecoming.

The idea is that, in theory, events from one end of this universe might ripple over to another. After all, Misty can drop a casual reference to “the Incident” into an interrogation in Straighten It Out, a nod to the events of The Avengers which can be used to justify the proliferation of advanced technology within this shared universe. Overlap can happen in the strangest places, such as a character mentioned by Misty in For Pete’s Sake turning up a week or so later in an episode of Cloak & Dagger.

At the same time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has struggled to build a truly interconnected universe, in part due to the commercial of realities of film and television production. As a result, Robert Downey Junior is highly unlikely to pop by Hell’s Kitchen for an homage to Born Again, while the Hulk can only be explicitly referenced as “the big green dude” in AKA It’s Called Whiskey or “the green monster” in All Souled Out. The characters from The Defenders are highly unlikely to ever have to worry about Thanos’ finger snap, after all.

This strange dissonance and discontinuity that exists between the various facets of the live action Marvel Cinematic Universe is part of what makes the strong continuity connections between the first and second seasons of Luke Cage so compelling, the sense of a tightly woven narrative that is expanding in a logical way from earlier events, where characters’ current behaviours are largely shaped and defined by what the audience has already seen. It’s a very effective use of continuity, particularly for a comic book television series.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Child’s Play (Review)

Interesting, isn’t it?

What?

With all their technology, their opportunity to explore the galaxy, the thing they want most is to get home.

A Trek away from the Stars.

Child’s Play is a fascinating episode of Star Trek: Voyager, in that it might be seen as a firm rejection of some of the show’s core conservatism.

Voyager has always been the most conservative of the Star Trek franchise, the series most likely to panic about gang violence for two whole seasons starting in Caretaker or to rail against immigration in Displaced or to voice its anxieties about refugees in Day of Honour. More than that, what are episodes like Remember or Distant Origin or Living Witness or Memorial but expressions of literal anxieties about the erosion of the certainty of history to postmodernism and moral relativism? At its core, Voyager is a series about nostalgia, about the yearning to recapture what once was, how the only journey is the journey home.

“Everything the light touches is your kingdom…”

Child’s Play is interesting as a firm rejection of the idea of the traditional family unit in favour of a more modern (and less rigidly defined) idea of a “found family.” It is a story about how a child’s best interests do not always lie with their biological parents, and about how some of the strongest and most loving bonds in a young person’s life can be forged by chance rather than biology. Child’s Play is essentially an ode to the kind of complicated family dynamics that were entering the mainstream at the turn of the millennium, a staunch defense of a liberal and inclusive definition of family.

More than that, the episode also seems to be making several very pointed jabs at Voyager‘s traditionally conservative outlook.

“I want to be out there…”

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Star Trek: Voyager – Memorial (Review)

Memorial is a great example of Star Trek: Voyager doing a generic Star Trek story.

The episode has a very basic premise that allows for the construction of a science-fiction allegory, the kind of storytelling associated with the franchise dating back to early adventures like The Devil in the Dark or Errand of Mercy. Despite its unique premise and set-up, Voyager had largely embraced the archetypal mode of Star Trek storytelling in its third season. A lot of Voyager episodes feel very broad and very generic, and could easily be adapted for another series – whether inside or outside the franchise.

The real devil in the dark.
Spoiler: It’s us.

There any number of episodes that are not rooted in the specific premise of Voyager, that could easily have been reworked or reinvented for another crew at another point. The Chute was a harrowing story about the horrors of mass incarceration and its capacity to turn people into animals. Nemesis was a meditation on killology, in the way that militaries turn soldiers into killing machines. Scientific Method was a treatise on the horrors of animal testing. Random Thoughts was paranoia about “political correctness gone mad” translated into forty minutes of television.

Memorial belongs to a very specific subset of these episodes, something of a bridge between the more generic Star Trek storytelling to which Voyager aspires and a slightly more specific area of thematic interest. Voyager is a series very much engaged with the idea of memory and history, perhaps befitting the Star Trek series that straddles the twentieth and twenty-first century. Episodes like Remember, Distant Origin and Living Witness are all archetypal Star Trek stories, but they are built around ideas of particular interest to Voyager.

The past never remains buried.

As the title implies, Memorial belongs to that very specific subset of episodes. It is easy to imagine a version of Memorial starring James Tiberius Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, Benjamin Lafayette Sisko or Jonathan Beckett Archer. It is a generic Star Trek episode that could work with any crew, perhaps meaning something slightly different in each context. (On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it would be an “O’Brien must suffer!” episode. In fact, Hard Time is quite close.) However, it is an episode that engages overtly with ideas that are of great interest to Voyager.

Memorial is about the importance of memory and history, even in a world where time seems to have lost all meaning.

Standing watch over history.

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Jessica Jones – AKA Top Shelf Perverts (Review)

Generally, Jessica Jones is quite optimistic in its portrayal of responses to trauma.

In AKA It’s Called Whiskey, Will Simpson tried to murder Trish Walker with his own hands; by half-way through AKA The Sandwich Saved Me, the two are involved in an energetic and fulfilling sexual relationship. In AKA Top Shelf Perverts, Malcolm helps to dispose of the body of Ruben before engaging in a half-season long deception of Robyn about the fate of her brother; but AKA Take a Bloody Number, it seems like there might be romance in the air. In AKA You’re a Winner!, Jessica reveals that she killed Luke Cage’s wife; by AKA Smile, they have reconciled.

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As a rule, Jessica Jones suggests that trauma is not defining or delimiting. Trauma damages a person, but it does not necessarily break them. Jessica Jones never avoids exploring the consequences of abuse – particularly long and sustained abuse – but it also refuses to let its characters be trapped by those experiences. Trish’s abuse at the hands of her mother might have led her to build a fortress, but she still puts herself out in the world. Jessica has been abused by Kilgrave, but she still wants to save Hope. AKA Top Shelf Perverts is the exception that proves the rule.

After the events of AKA You’re a Winner!, Jessica spirals into truly self-destructive behaviour. In many ways, AKA Top Shelf Perverts serves as an effective contrast to the rest of the season, demonstrating how functional Jessica was up to this point. As with AKA The Sandwich Saved Me, the episode suggests that Jessica is not solely defined by her traumas; that she is not broken by her experiences with Kilgrave. AKA Top Shelf Perverts does this by teasing the audience with glimpses of what a truly broken Jessica might look like.

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Watch! First Twelve Years a Slave Trailer!

Shame was one of the best movies of 2012. So it stands to reason that I’m looking forward to the next collaboration between Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender. Twelve Years a Slave looks to be a decidedly larger-scale affair than either of the duo’s past collaborations, based on the epic and heart-wretching true story of Solomon Northup, a man born free and then sold into slavery. The cast is also a lot more impressive, with well-respected character actors (like Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor) standing alongside Brad Pitt. It’ll be interesting to see how this turns out, even if it does look a bit more like conventional Oscar-bait than Shame or Hunger.

Of course, that could simply be a stylistic decision made when cutting up the trailer, given the success of other slavery-themed epics (Lincoln and Django Unchained) at this year’s Oscars. Either way, UK and Irish audiences won’t know until 24th January 2013.

Check out the trailer below.

My 12 for ’12: Shame & Silence

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #2

Addiction stories are very tough to do right. It’s far too easy to get caught up in the melodrama of the cycle – the excess, the withdrawal, the relapse, the epiphany. It’s tempting to wallow in each of those stages, to structure them as acts in a drama. It’s hard to resist the urge to heighten absolutely everything, to dwell on the heat of obsession and desperation that surrounds any addiction.

Director Steve McQueen and actor Michael Fassbender do a sensational job with Shame, avoiding these potential problems, offering a portrayal of addiction and personal collapse that is strangely understated and introverted rather than overwhelming or excessive. Indeed, the fact that the movie is about sex addiction might lead some potential viewers to worry. If ever an addiction lent itself to trashy and tasteless excess, one might imagine that sex would be that personal demon.

Instead, McQueen shows admirable restraint in tackling the topic. While he never blushes in presenting the depths of his lead’s degradation, he never sensationalises it. Instead, much like Brandon’s addiction, Shame is cold and clinical – and all the more powerful for it.

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12 Movie Moments of 2012: Running (Shame)

As well as counting down the top twelve films, I’m also going to count down my top twelve movie related “moments” of 2012. The term “moment” is elastic, so expect some crazy nonsense here. And, as usual, I accept that my taste is completely absurd, so I fully expect you to disagree. With that in mind, this is #8

It is quite common to see New York presented in an unpleasant light. After all, Martin Scorsese’s films capture the metropolis at its very best and its very worst, and there are countless gangster films devoted to exploring the dark underbelly of a city that is easily one of the most recognisable in the world. I have never been to New York, and yet I feel like – through years of film-watching – I have come to know the city almost as if I have lived there.

As such, I was surprised when Shame managed to offer me a somewhat novel take on New York itself. The city is as much a character in the film as any of Steve McQueen’s supporting cast. (Indeed, Carey Mulligan even gets to perform an extended version of “New York, New York” in tribute to her co-star.) McQueen manages to craft a distinctly unpleasant and uncomfortable exploration of the city without resorting to any of the trite clichés that one associates with the horrors of urban living.

Indeed, one long single-take shot of Brandon running within the confines of the city offered a more powerful sense of urban anomie and isolation than I have ever seen before, presenting a cold blue city completely indifferent and unaware of the millions of people living within the city limits.

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