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The Defenders – Take Shelter (Review)

The Hand are an unequivocal disaster, looming large over The Defenders.

To be fair, this an entirely foreseeable problem. When the Hand were teased in the first season of Daredevil, they were at least interesting. Largely carried over from the Frank Miller comics that were a major influence on the series, episodes like Stick and Speak of the Devil suggesting something uncanny lurking in the shadows behind Wilson Fisk. However, as the Hand emerged from the shadows, they became a lot less intriguing. As they became less mysterious, they become more generic. By the end of Iron Fist, the audience had enjoyed enough of the Hand to last a lifetime.

“I’ll tell you where to Stick it.”

A major part of this problem is the fact that the Marvel Netflix shows cannot agree upon a single unifying theory of the Hand. What is the Hand? What are their goals? What are their motivations? What are their methods? It seems like every other episode had a different idea of what the Hand could be, allowing what had been a fairly simple premise of a secret ninja death cult to evolve into something that could be everything to everyone. With every reversal and twist and reinvention, the Hand became less ominous and more frustrating.

As a result, The Defenders suffers from the decision to build its story around the Hand. Much like the series reveals of Manhattan itself, The Defenders is built on a rather shaky foundation.

Homecoming.

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Marvel and Netflix’s The Defenders (Review)

The Defenders stumbles in familiar ways.

The series is nominally a crossover between the four Marvel Netflix series, a small-screen version of The Avengers providing a point of intersection between Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. In theory, this is the perfect opportunity to bring together four television superheroes to face a larger threat. There is something inherently cool in the idea of a crossover, in watching worlds collide and watching protagonists folded into a larger ensemble.

However, things are not so simple. The Defenders prejudices some of its constituent elements more than others. Most notable, it is overseen by Marco Ramirez and Doug Petrie, the producers on the second season of Daredevil. It also carries over several elements from that season, including the hole in the ground from Semper Fidelis and the death and resurrection of Elektra from A Cold Day in Hell’s Kitchen. More than that, The Defenders carries over the mythology of the Hand and the Iron Fist from Iron Fist, putting heavy focus on Danny Rand.

From the outset, The Defenders effectively handicaps itself by leaning on the two weakest pillars of this multimedia empire. The second season of Daredevil was a disjointed mess packed with poor writing and stuffed with generic ninjas. The first season of Iron Fist was a collection of Orientalist stereotypes crammed into a cheap and poorly constructed origin story fashioned from whatever meat that Daredevil had left on the bones of the template that Christopher Nolan had established in Batman Begins. These are not foundations for an epic.

More than that, this emphasis on the second season of Daredevil and the first season of Iron Fist comes at the expense of the three strong seasons of Marvel’s Netflix output. The Defenders never captures the emotional power of Jessica Jones, nor the street-level perspective of life in New York conveyed through Luke Cage. Even more basically, The Defenders never even tries to create the same sense of pulpy thrill that defined so much of the first season of Daredevil. Instead, The Defenders focuses on ninjas and mystical nonsense.

The central plot of The Defenders hinges on the revelation that the island of Manhattan has been built on a volatile foundation. The Defenders could just as easily be speaking about itself.

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Non-Review Review: Rampart

Rampart features a powerhouse central performance from Woody Harrelson as corrupt Los Angeles Police Officer Dave Brown. Harrelson manages to take a character who should be (and is) reprehensible, and yet manages to imbue him with the faintest sense of tragedy. However, the problem is the movie that takes place around Brown. Brown’s story is an inherently tragic one, a relic of a by-gone era trapped in his own self-destructive pattern. He’s not dynamic or proactive, and so reacts to the world around him. While director Oren Moverman populates the film with any number of iconic and recognisable character actors, the film can’t help but feel a lot too sterile, a little too inert. We’ve seen this story before, and while Harrelson’s performance is compelling, the film around him is not.

He’s got this police thing working gangbusters for him…

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Non-Review Review: Red Lights

With Buried, Rodrigo Cortés demonstrated a skill for executing a Hitchcock-esque high concept. While it wasn’t an entirely successful experiment, it demonstrated that Cortés was a talent to watch. His follow-up, Red Lights, affirms that potential, though it also fails to entirely deliver on its fascinating high concept. Cortés shows a real talent for the technical craft of direction – for framing his shots, use of colour and light and space, pacing and even editing. Writing, directing and editing this film, he demonstrates skill with big ideas and high concepts, as well as skill on a frame-to-frame basis. However, he’s still missing some connection between the two – some intangible skill at developing big ideas into dramatic story beats to fit his own style of film-making. That’s not to say that Red Lights isn’t a fascinating a well-crafted film, just to explain that there are some fundamental flaws.

Do you believe?

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Non-Review: Alien Resurrection (Theatrical Cut)

To celebrate the release of Prometheus this week, we’ll be taking a look at the other movies in the Alien franchise.

I always feel a little hint of trepidation when I return to a movie that I know I didn’t like the first time. Part of me is reluctant to watch it again, even for the purposes of examining what exactly went awry during production, while some small part of me holds out hope that the film might be redeemed – that I might somehow magically get it the second time around. So, completing a marathon rewatch of Ridley Scott’s Alien and the sequels it spawned, I left Alien: Resurrection until last.

Unfortunately, it was just as flawed and messy as I remember it.

Reflecting on his behaviour…

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On Second Thought: Alien³ (The Assembly Cut)

To celebrate the release of Prometheus this week, we’ll be taking a look at the other movies in the Alien franchise.

Alien and Aliens are, quite rightly, considered classics of the science-fiction horror subgenre, superbly constructed examinations of the monsters lurking in the darkness. Unfortunately, the two sequels, Alien³ and Alien Resurrection are not so highly regarded. One would imagine that producing a film about a monster in the future really wouldn’t be that difficult, but the films were both dogged by their own pre-production turmoil. In particular, this third film went through several painful iterations before reaching the big screen – and, even then, there was a sense that nobody was especially happy with the result.

However, this series of films has also benefited from a great deal of affection, attention and examination from both creators and fans. As such, it isn’t really a surprise that even the creators have returned to help patch them up from time to time, lovingly repairing and restoring and updating the installments in this landmark franchise. While Alien³: The Assembly Cut is not a literal Director’s Cut, it does afford the viewer a rare insight into what David Fincher’s version of the film might have looked like.

Back against the wall…

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Non-Review Review: Aliens (Theatrical Cut)

To celebrate the release of Prometheus this week, we’ll be taking a look at the other movies in the Alien franchise.

I think Aliens might be my favourite James Cameron movie. Of course, the guy has any number of iconic movies vying for that position – The Terminator and Terminator 2 both come to mind, for example – but I can’t help but admire how efficiently the director constructed his first big budget motion picture. Regardless of its place within an iconic science-fiction franchise, Aliens is practically a guidebook on how to effectively construct a movie, from writing the script to directing the action and absolutely everything in between. It’s hard to look at Aliens as anything less than a complete triumph, no matter which angle you examine the film from.

Queen bee…

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