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Jessica Jones – AKA 99 Friends (Review)

Jessica Jones has always been more interested in the style and aesthetic of noir than in its storytelling.

The show’s visual aesthetic and stylistic sensibilities hark to noir. Jessica Jones is a cynical hard-drinking private investigator, who routinely works cases involving cheating spouses. She narrates her harsh reflections of life as she studies the world through the lens of a camera. Meanwhile, sad saxophones play in the background of lonely establishing shots of New York as the city that never sleeps, while our hero works alone late into the night seemingly accomplishing nothing. That is to say nothing of the actual opening sequence, with its impressionistic flair.

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While Jessica Jones borrows a lot of the stock archetypes and set-ups associated with noir, its storytelling is more of a hybrid between conventional superhero drama and feminist psychological thriller. The problem is that Jessica Jones never actually feels comfortable with its main character’s profession. Despite the fact that Jessica Jones is a licensed private detective, the eponymous character spends precious little time actually detecting stuff. Jessica’s investigations are generally in pursuit of Kilgrave, with her profession treated as a background detail.

AKA 99 Friends demonstrates how uncomfortable Jessica Jones is with this aspect of its title character. Over the course of the show’s thirteen-episode run, AKA 99 Friends is the closest that the show comes to offering a straightforward “case of the week” episode. Unfortunately, it is pretty terrible.

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My 12 for ’14: Guardians of the Galaxy and “the Day I Left Earth”…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a Marvel movie through-and-through. It comes with burdened with all the trappings that one expects from a Marvel film. Thanos provides a mostly superfluous element that clouds the narrative while serving as an advertisement for a film several years away. Ronan the Accuser makes for a suitably banal villain, like a cosplaying fan who won’t choose between his deep abiding affection for Thor and his love of the Smurfs. The third act is a jumbled mess, one that occasionally loses sight of its characters amid all the CGI spectacle.

And, yet, it works in spite all this. One of Marvel’s biggest problems as a movie studio is the way that it tends to smother individual creators in pursuit of a more consistent project. The studio’s best films  – Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 – are the films that aren’t afraid to let a writer or director’s voice shine through. In contrast, the weakest entries – Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 2 – try desperately to drown out any hint of personality in pursuit of something that can be homogenised; rendered safely within the studio’s comfort zone.

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After all, Marvel is a company that likes to play it safe. It is a studio that would replace Edgar Wright with Peyton Reed for Ant Man. It is a movie that would gladly have Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spin its wheels for two-thirds of a season so it can wait for Captain America: The Winter Soldier to arrive in theatres. It is a studio that has build six movies around blonde white actors named Chris without a single female- or minority-led superhero film. (Sure, Black Panther and Captain Marvel are coming… eventually, but Black Widow remains a rotating co-star.)

To be fair to Marvel, this system makes a certain amount of sense. It avoids horrific misfires like Catwoman or Elektra, but also does not allow for anything as transcendental and unique as Tim Burton or Christopher Nolan’s work with Batman. Guardians of the Galaxy is very much a product of this system. It is safe, hitting all the necessary plot beats and offering minutes of screentime (and plot convolutions) as tribute to the shared universe. However, there is just enough of James Gunn left in the final product to make it all worthwhile. The film retains a sense of oddness and charm that prevents it from ever feeling generic.

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Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Volume 1 (Review)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”

It’s fascinating how Marvel managed to effectively reinvent the Avengers franchise over the better part of the last decade, pushing the title to the centre of their publishing line and revitalising it – both through Mark Millar’s alternate-continuity Ultimates and Brian Michael Bendis’ New Avengers. Both were poles apart from the type of books fans associated with the property, favouring sweeping and blockbuster storytelling in the place of the more conventional soap opera antics. As such, Joe Casey’s miniseries, offering a reflection on the first few years of the team, feels like something of a polite acknowledgment of the legacy of the team, and an attempt to celebrate their history together.

Not quite a train wreck…

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Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers – Mighty Avengers: Assemble & Secret Invasion (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

This is the ninth in a series of comic book reviews that will look at the direction of Marvel’s core continuity (and in particular their “Avengers” franchise) over the past five or so years, as they’ve been attempting to position the property at the heart of their fictional universe. With The Avengers planned for a cinematic release in 2012, I thought I’d bring myself up to speed by taking a look at Marvel’s tangled web of continuity. Get an overview of what I’m trying to take a look at here.

After the schism of Civil War, a title like Mighty Avengers makes sense on some level. If you’ve pitted heroes against heroes in a contest that you’ve deemed to be allegedly subjective (Marvel’s editorial policy was that there was no right or wrong side to the conflict), then it makes sense to follow the winners as well as the losers. The post-Civil War issues of Bendis’ New Avengers followed those heroes who had fought against registration of superheroes and lost, and Mighty Avengers was launched to offer us an on-going narrative featuring the winning side. It also seems to be a conscious nostalgic effort on the part of author Bendis, perhaps a response to the criticism that his early work on New Avengers steered clear of conventional Avengers storylines – occupied as they were with Japanese ganglands, prison breakouts and Sentry’s inter-personal issues. Here, Bendis seems to be consciously focusing on classic Silver Age devices – in the first run of issues, the State-sanctioned Avengers team faces classic foes like Ultron, the Symbiotes and even Doctor Doom. The problem is that Bendis isn’t necessarily comfortable drafting conventional superheroic fare.

Ultron puts Tony in touch with his feminine side…

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House of M (Review/Retrospective)

This is the third in a series of comic book reviews that will look at the direction of Marvel’s “Avengers” franchise over the past five or so years, as they’ve been attempting to position the property at the heart of their fictional universe. With The Avengers planned for a cinematic release in 2012, I thought I’d bring myself up to speed by taking a look at Marvel’s tangled web of continuity. Get an overview of what I’m trying to take a look at here.

The X-Men represent the oddball of mainstream superhero comic books. In a genre and medium dedicated offering a static setup – things never really change or resolve – the X-Men are built upon the very idea of evolution. The whole basis of the franchise is the pursuit of equality by the genetically distinct mutant population, the idea that they and mankind can grow together. It has even been frequently suggested that these super-powered individuals represent out future or our replacements. However, the only way to actually tell a story like that is to follow it through to its logical conclusion – to let the ball roll and to let the world change. It feels a little counterproductive for Charles Xavier and his students to still be fighting for the same rights as everyone else nearly fifty years on – it might even seem a little stale. Grant Morrison’s superb New X-Men run offered a solution of sorts – it gave us a world where humanity would be extinct in a couple of generations and showed the growth and relationship between human and mutant subculture. Gone was the minority struggling against an oppressive majority – a more complex example of race relations had come into play with “mutant music” and “mutant slang” making their impression on the youth, amid a silent and almost invisible middle-class backlash. This was an ingenious approach which demonstrated the relevance of the franchise. Unfortunately, Marvel were not quite pleased with this – some people even, ridiculously, accused Morrison of telling all the remaining X-Men stories – and decided to set things right. They did that through House of M.

Dive in...

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Should Joss Whedon Direct the Avengers?

It appears that releasing news that Joss Whedon was in contention for the gig as director of The Avengers on April 1st was just horrible timing – it looks like this particular story might not be a festive-themed joke and might just be something thiat may be actually happening. However, since Marvel’s somewhat shrewd business strategy seems to consist of mentioning a name and dodging the internet backdraft long enough to determine how fans will react, we thought that a Joss Whedon helmed Avengers film might merit some discussion.

Will Joss Whedon assemble the Avengers?

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Iron Man 3 Before The Avengers?

A geek bombshell has landed. Apparently Iron Man 3 may be arriving in 2012. Not that it’s coming at us out of nowhere. Iron Man and Iron Man 2 were two years apart. There’s no reason to believe the same wouldn’t be true of Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3. Also, The Avengers was the only major Marvel film planned for 2012… well, before the Spider-Man reboot got moved back to 2012, but that’s a co-production with Sony. Marvel have strived to get a bit of momentum going – Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk were released in 2008 as a double-act and Thor and Captain America will have the same partnership next year. The Avengers is big enough to open by itself, but it seemed likely that Marvel would have some other support feature designed to lead into it a month or two before release (in case audiences forgot about Captain America: The First Avenger in the year since its release). I like the idea of Iron Man3 in 2012.

Looks like Tony might not be taking any well-deserved time off...

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