I’m not the biggest fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (M.C.U.), a couple of the movies are really good but it’s essentially a (admittedly well made) culturally imperialist content generator: racking up minutes and occupying multiplex screens. But when you combine the films with the Netfix Originals offerings, Marvel have, maybe inadvertently, created a rather significant and interesting gap between the two with the small screen offerings playing out as the damaged echo chamber of the film’s classic bants tinged mass destruction.
The films have obviously already started to react to the previously unmentioned mass destruction in very direct ways, the plots of Captain America: Civil War (2016) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice directly concern the aftermath of these cataclysm and the latter even seems driven to insanity, but they are still top down views. Films about billionaires, gods and Government operatives. Jessica Jones (2015 – ) is the view from the cheap seats. It’s a series that directly references the MCU, infuses everything it does with the shackles and scars of the past, and successfully grounds it by having real and unimaginable trauma as it’s main focus. It’s also infused with mistrust of motive and power and the superhero ‘powers’ are almost invisible until they are used in blink and you’d miss it moments or damaging frantic fights.
Jessica Jones is the best that Marvel currently has to offer. On it’s own it would just be a very strong and interesting series, with smart writing and great performances. With the weight of the MCU’s glib body count it’s turned into a diamond. I’ve still got two episodes to go before completing the first season, I might just cry if she starts wearing a costume.
So where to begin? Season 8 started really promisingly, I even felt inclined to review it, but then, with the exception of almost two episodes it just died on the way to a truly bad finale (The Brigadier? Really?). Which is a real shame because Peter Capaldi is a great Doctor.
So what’s the problem? In short, it’s Clara Oswald. Jenna Coleman has been doing what she can but the character just isn’t interesting and her boyfriend, Danny Pink, is worse. He’s a character that you could only describe as a teacher, a soldier or ‘a bit sad’ or tall. But it’s not his fault, he’s only here because this Doctor is not Clara’s pseudo boyfriend any more so that dynamic had to be shoehorned in elsewhere; presumably women are only allowed on telly if they are available to someone or girls will only watch if there is a romantic sub-plot.
Maybe I’m just miserable. Maybe the sight of a mother riding a bicycle through the forest in her BBC mandated bike helmet just tipped me over the edge.
Ho-hum. Roll on Season 9 and my nerdy and masochistic dedication to watching home-grown sci-fi on TV.
Highly Recommended – Recommended – Meh – Shoot Me
So, Doctor Who is back and we’re already three episodes in. I’ve always been a fan of the Doctor and the past few years have been a bit uneven to say the least. Christopher Eccleston was something of a high point, David Tennant had some great episodes but was over-whelmed by the show’s new found insistence on recurring characters and having everything linked up wazoo, plus his whole zany shtick got very tired very quickly. Matt Smith was fantastic, classic even, but tied to mostly terrible episodes. In all, although I’ve kept watching because there were moments and people that made the work worthwhile, the whole thing was convoluted where it should have been complex and ‘wacky’ when fun is much more fun…
…but now we have Peter Capaldi, and things are looking really good. The opener was a bit stretched (too much getting to know you stuff but it’s all about ‘jumping on’ so I get the point and the Paternoster Gang are eye-rollingly bad), the second, Dalek meets Fantastic Voyage (1966), was excellent, so please bring back Ben Wheatley for some more directing, and Robot of Sherwood was just as good despite being wildly different and clearly labelled ‘disposable’.
This is how I like my Doctor Who. Different each week with a Doctor who is just enough of a dick to give the character some dimension. Think I might start reviewing the episodes properly if they carry on in this interesting vein.
So after nine years no one grew up. That’s what I can’t get over about the end of How I Met Your Mother. No one grew up.
Even as a fan of the show, I’ve found the final series to be a more of an obligation than a joy but once we met Tracey it really picked up again and, generally speaking, I’m about the same age as the characters and that really helps because, you know, ‘it’s funny cos it’s true’ etc.
Anyway, the punchline was fumbled and in such a way that the rest of the series now has a bad taste about it. Tracey was stuffed in a fridge and How Your Mother Was The Second Most Important Women In My Life is a terrible title.
I didn’t catch Dallas Buyers Club on it’s cinema release. I wanted to see it but one thing led to another and, you know, life, etc, etc but I didn’t, well couldn’t avoid the buzz and, of course, it’s McConaughey. As luck would have it, or not, I’ve received my rental copy the week following the British TV première of Ryan Murphy’s rather excellent The Normal Heart.
In fairness, whilst both films start with AIDS they are about entirely different things but the stories and characters chosen are symptomatic of the difference in attitude between the small and large screen. The latter is a stirring campaign film, a cry, a disaster movie in which the approaching monsoon is apathy and ignorance. It also runs a nice sideline in representing the tension between the simplistic answer of ‘stop having sex’ and the very real, but rarely explained/contextualised, idea of sexual activity itself being a political act.
The former is a personal drama in which the virus forces the straight protagonist to meet gays and, shock horror, they turn out to be people and history is cherry-picked to allow us progressive 2014 folks to feel that, just like Forrest and his good ol’ ways escorting that girl into school and breaking segregation, we would have done something. Wouldn’t we? Didn’t we? No. The proof is history. I suppose it’s saving grace is that the central character isn’t exactly altruistic but even with that focus the film doesn’t have much to say.
Of course both films are well acted, directed and blah blah blah.
One of them is recommended.
For a devastating look at the arrival of HIV/AIDS I would recommend the brilliant documentary We Were Here (2011).
Well, it’s Easter, Good Friday to be precise, and coincidentally I’ve found myself reading Jose Saramago’s really quiet brilliant novel The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, which, as these things do, has bought to mind several films along related lines but the one that I always think of is Dennis Potter’s Son of Man.
Originally broadcast as part the BBC’s Wednesday Play strand, Son of Man tells the story of Christ (Colin Blakeley on tough form) as if he is unsure of his own divinity, a question that the play itself steadfastly refuses to resolve (even the silence is ambiguous) and a conceit that pushes the central and brilliantly revolutionary thought of loving your enemies to the foreground. There are no miracles here but Son of Man is full of the kind of quietly stunning moments that the small screen does so well, including a shattering (shattered?) reaction from Pontius Pilate.
Apparently, Potter’s film was shot cheaply in about three days in a studio and you can tell that the black and white is hiding a multitude of budgetary shortfalls but, none the less, this is a provocative and fasinating film that easily stands alongside the likes of Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964).
There are two things about True Detective that should disincline me towards it. The first is that I’m tired of watching police shows in which the starting point is a dead, mutilated, often raped woman. This is isn’t a feminist thing (although the point remains) but rather a variety thing, and there are just so many police shows and rape has always been the cheapest of cheap fall backs for easy drama. Secondly, when these conspiracies get reduced to a monster in a maze it often lets real power, those that run things, off the hook. The implication being that the smart elites must keep the wretched poor on a leash and all for the sake of a visceral finale.
True Detective was great TV because it did these things but did them well and knew exactly when to make the implied literal. Of course, the central pairing of Harrelson and McConaughey didn’t harm it either with both actors perfectly cast to embody the show’s back and forth on the drift between the real and the uncanny (for several episodes the opening credits seemed like a misstep then they suddenly made sense). Then, on the technical side of things, there was that bravura unbroken take during the robbery which passed by almost unnoticed as if to boast about the sure and perfectly judged hold that director Cary Fukunaga had on proceedings.
This was treat of a TV show. Plus it gets extra points for actually finishing instead of trailing on and on inevitably off.
Watching The Walking Dead these past couple of weeks has been a bit of a chore. Don’t get me wrong, I do like it but it seems like the programme guide info is a constant repetition of ‘Rick and the group face new challenges’, ‘Rick and the group find safety but is everything as it seems’, ‘tensions mount as Rick and the group face new challenges… that might not be as they seem’ and so on etc etc and I keep thinking about BBC 3’s wonderful drama In the Flesh.
Based four years after ‘the Rising’, the show tackles the question of what happens after all the head shots and brain eating has finished and cleverly keeps the big problem (the guilt of killing and the guilt of enjoying it) front and centre by having the undead semi-cured and return home. It created an answer to The Walking Dead’s biggest problem, which is ‘where to go from here’ and, because no zombie is just a zombie, it was a great portrait of what it’s like to be a teen and different.
Sadly, I’m writing this on a day when it’s been announced that BBC 3 will be closed in Autumn 2015. It’s a channel that usually has stuff I don’t like on it (which is one of the arguments I’ve heard for closing it and one of the most spoilt brat pieces of logic going) but regularly turns out great, odd, experimental TV. Apparently, it’ll live on ‘online’ shuffling around just like a…
Like the BBC’s earlier The War Game, Threads is scary in a way that commercial channels can only dream of. It has a bureaucratic public information feel that other broadcasters would have replaced with emotional spectacle.
Of course, Threads still has it’s big moments, with a mushroom cloud over Sheffield and soldiers shooting looters in the streets, but it’s the local-ness of it all that kills you; the emergency committee trying to manage the civic fallout and the iconic image of the armed Traffic Warden working alongside soldiers. The core of Threads is the very British terror that we already know how shit the local council is at getting the bins collected so lord knows what’ll happen if the bomb drops.