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Luke Cage – The Creator (Review)

Luke Cage has always been engaged with The Godfather.

This was obvious even during the first season. Outside of dialogue accepting The Godfather, Part II as “the sequel better than the original” in Step in the Arena, the portrayal of the Stokes family in flashback owed a lot to Francis Ford Coppola’s generation crime saga. Indeed the sequences of the Stokes family gathered around the family table, unaware of the chaos that would rain down upon them, evokes the closing flashback of The Godfather, Part II. It is an image rich with irony, bringing the tragedy something of a full circle.

This point of comparison makes a great deal of sense. The Godfather is a story about a minority community in America, trying to exist both inside and outside the law. It is an archetypal American fairy tale, one of the great cynical meditations on the American Dream. (After all, the opening line of The Godfather is “I believe in America.”) This fits neatly with what Luke Cage is, an exploration of a particularly distinct subculture within contemporary America that explores the sometimes tumultuous relationship that this community has with the law and with political structures.

The second season of Luke Cage commits to this idea even further, its narrative borrowing liberally from The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II in crafting a generational superhero crime epic.

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Luke Cage – For Pete’s Sake (Review)

Maybe we don’t all become our parents, but we do live in their shadows.

The second season of Luke Cage engages with the idea of parents and children as a consistent thematic arc across the length and breadth of the season. In Soul Brother #1, Luke is thrown off his game by the arrival of his long-absent father in Harlem, seeking to reconnect. In Straighten It Out, Mariah is informed that one of better chances at going legitimate would be to cultivate a relationship with her own long-estranged daughter. From his introduction, even before his story is articulated in On and On, Jon McIver is clearly seeking justice for his parents.

This is not something that the second season conjures out of thin air. The first season had also hinted at generational tension. The battle between Luke Cage and Willis Stryker in the second half of the first season was largely fought in the shadow of the as-yet-unseen Reverend James Lucas, with Luke even taking Claire home to Georgia in Take It Personal to provide a sense of his history and back story. Similarly, both Cornell and Mariah wrestled with the obligations and the wounds that the Stokes family had inflicted upon them, seen in flashback in Manifest.

However, as all successful sequels and follow-ups tend to do, the second season of Luke Cage works from those small kernels and develops them into a strong central thematic arc for the various characters. Reverend James Lucas actually appears, force Luke to work through his anger and his rage towards his emotionally distant father. Similarly, Mariah is forced by political necessity to reach out to the daughter who has largely been absent from her life, which serves as a catalyst for confronting all of these deep-set issues.

This parental anxiety simmers through the season in interesting ways. The Jamaican restaurant that serves as Bushmaster’s base of operations is called “Gwen’s”, implicitly named for his long-deceased mother and a reminder of what motivates him. At the climax of On and On, the story of the loss of Bushmaster’s mother is cut against Luke remembering the last time that he saw his own mother. Similarly, Tilda’s store is named “Mother’s Touch.” In For Pete’s Sake, she assures Reverend Lucas that she meant “Mother Nature’s Touch”, but it seems a telling choice.

The second season of Luke Cage is all about family. Those that are there, and those that are not.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Spirit Folk (Review)

The holodeck is horrifying.

This is nothing new. It has been this way since Star Trek: The Next Generation. The holodeck has been an unsettling concept from almost the very beginning, not least because of the kinds of stories that the holodeck suggests. From the moment that the Enterprise updated the holodeck in The Big Goodbye, there has been a creeping sense that the holographic creations are capable of comprehending the nature of their existence; in fact, that episode ends with the horrifying notion of McNary wondering what would happen to him when Picard turned off the program.

It’s the poster for the least exciting action movie of the late nineties.

This anxiety simmered in the background of the next few holodeck-centric episode, albeit less directly. Both Minuet in 11001001 and the Comic in The Outrageous Okona seemed to grasp their nature as computer constructs designed to serve specific purposes. They lacked the existential angst that McNary expressed in his final moments, but there was still something lurking just beneath the surface. If these entities were self-aware, could their creation and destruction be ethical? In Elementary, Dear Data, Moriarty brought the question to the fore; a hologram who wished to escape his captivity.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine largely stayed away from the holodeck (or the holosuite) for most of its run, barring small recurring gags about the crew’s recreational use of the facilities. Our Man Bashir cleverly side-stepped the issue of holographic self-awareness by casting the lead actors in the role of holographic supporting players. Nevertheless, the introduction of Vic Fontaine in His Way introduced yet another self-aware holographic character, his self-awareness taken for granted and only really articulated in episodes like It’s Only a Paper Moon.

A public (house) meeting.

In contrast, Star Trek: Voyager has only doubled-down on this idea that holographic characters are self-aware. This is most obvious with the EMH, the holographic doctor who struggled for recognition as a person in early episodes like Eye of the Needle and who made a long and gradual journey towards self-actualisation in episodes like Lifesigns and Real Life. However the show engaged with the idea of holographic self-awareness even outside of the EMH, with characters like Dejaran in Revulsion, Leonardo DaVinci in Concerning Flight, the aliens in Bride of Chaotica! and the town in Fair Haven.

To be fair, some of the arguments made by Voyager have been treated with the weight which they deserve. The EMH consciously asserts his personhood in Author, Author, a clumsy but well-intentioned final-season homage to The Measure of a Man. There is a sense that Voyager is capable of treating holograms with the same dignity that The Next Generation afforded Data on his own journey towards self-actualisation. There is something genuinely moving, for example, in the way that the degradation of his program in The Swarm is treated with the same gravity as the neurological decline of a flesh-and-blood character.

Mass appeal.

However, this also creates a strange dissonance in the episodes that don’t use the holodeck for high drama, and instead treat it as the setting for a romp or an adventure. Voyager seems to argue that every hologram is capable of reaching self-awareness, which means that every use of the holodeck to create new characters should be a momentous occasion. In the world of Voyager, every holodeck program, with the right combination of time and experience, can become a sentient being. This means that use of the holodeck should be something treated with weight and respect.

Fair Haven and Spirit Folk are nowhere near as charming as the production team seem to think that they are, but in the broader context of how Voyager approaches holographic characters, they are downright horrifying.

High spirits.

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Non-Review Review: Damo & Ivor – The Movie

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

In the spirit of The Hardy Bucks Movie before it, Damo & Ivor: The Movie takes a popular Irish television series and weds it to the formula of the road movie to provide a theatrical adaptation.

This is not a bad approach in principle. The road movie is a versatile template, and one that provides a solid template for bringing television characters to the big screen; it provides a clear plot, an opportunity for new viewers to get to know the characters, and the chance to show off a greatly expanded budget. It is no coincidence that even larger American television-to-cinema adaptations have followed this approach, most notably The Muppet Movie.

Indeed, The Hardy Bucks Movie took advantage of the opportunities afforded by this template to take its characters beyond Ireland, allowing them to visit the continent. This was something that would have been impossible on the budget of an Irish television show, and demonstrated an ambition in taking a broad and popular television comedy to the multiplex. In contrast, Damo & Ivor is decidedly more tempered in its ambitions. It is a road movie, but one the confines itself to Ireland. There is little here that could not have been accomplished in a television special.

This much sets the tone for Damo & Ivor: The Movie, which very much aspires to a “good enough” aesthetic in its production. Damo & Ivor is not a film that is enticed to take chances on jumping to the multiplex, instead relaxing casually into formula. Damo & Ivor doesn’t exactly fail, but only because it never really tries.

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No, “Twin Peaks: The Return” is Not a Movie

It is December.

As tradition dictates, the major publications are rolling out their “best of” lists. One of the more interesting trends of the “best of” season in 2017 has been the repeated suggestion that David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return should be considered an eighteen-hour movie. It made the Sight & Sound and Cahiers du Cinema polls, and even got a write-in vote at the Los Angeles Film Critics Awards. This is interesting on a number of levels, because it suggests that labelling The Return as a feature film is not a lone act of contrarianism, but something of a minor trend.

Of course, there are grey areas between film and television. There always have been, given the similarities in the technology and mechanism. Film can be shown on television, and television can be shown in cinemas. There are television movies and film series, and it is often possible for stories that start in one form to transform into the other. The boundaries are not as absolute as they are with theatre or prose, where the technical form is so fundamentally different that any comparison is ridiculous. After all, consider the debate over movies released on Netflix, or films edited for television.

The Return is not an ambiguous area, though. It is a fairly simple case. It is a television series. And there is nothing wrong with that.

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Non-Review Review: Brigsby Bear

Brigsby Bear is a sweet, if slightly uneven, ode to the act of reclaiming problematic art.

The concept of Brigsby Bear is simple. James Pope is a twenty-something-year-old manchild who has grown sheltered from the outside world, living with his parents in a converted shelter locked away from the world. James’ only interaction with the outside world is through the internet, where he maintains contact with fans of the only show still broadcast on the airwaves, the eponymous anthropomorphised bear.

Bearing his soul.

However, one day James discovers that this is all an elaborate lie, that the world does not work the way that he thought it did. Brigsby Bear is positioned at the centre of this betrayal, with James discovering that the show was never what it appeared to be. As James struggles to come to terms with the reality of his situation, he finds himself struggling to make peace with the bear at the centre of these amateurish and endearing morality plays.

Brigsby Bear suffers from tonal issues, struggling to balance the darkness at its core with the whimsy on its surface. However, the movie plays as a compelling study of trauma and recovery, of the power of fannish obsession, and the art of taking back art that has been tainted or undermined by subsequent revelations. Indeed, Brigsby Bear is arguably more relevant now than it was when it was produced.

“Disney are really going to extremes to stop me leaking details on The Last Jedi.”

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The Defenders – Royal Dragon (Review)

Royal Dragon might just be the best episode of The Defenders. It is also the smallest.

Royal Dragon is in many ways the runt of the litter. It is an episode relatively low on action beats, particularly given that it is sandwiched between the closing scenes of Worst Behaviour and the opening scenes of Take Shelter. It also has a relatively small primary cast. There is no sign of supporting players like Colleen Wing, Misty Knight, Trish Walker, or Claire Temple. The episode also confines most of the four heroes to one location for the bulk of the runtime, even if Jessica Jones gets to take a breather. It could easily be the “bottle” episode.

Hero shot.

Royal Dragon is also an episode that accomplishes relatively little in terms of plot momentum or forward movement. There are no major revelations in the episode, with a lot of the exposition covering information that the audience already knows from the other four shows. In some ways, Royal Dragon feels like a void at the centre of the season. It does not tangibly push the season forward. In many ways, the cliffhanger is arguably just a retread of the ending to Worst Behaviour; these four heroes, standing together against impossible odds.

At the same time, Royal Dragon luxuriates in this space and this emptiness. It is an episode that essentially locks its four leads together in a confined space for most of the runtime, which affords the writing staff the opportunity to have the characters slow down and process what has happened to them, to bounce off one another. Royal Dragon allows for the first extended interactions between various combinations of these four players.

A taste of teamwork.

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