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Mixed Media

Mixed Media, Sunday 17 January 2016

I finished watching season 1 of Jessica Jones on Netflix this week. I thought Daredevil was pretty dark and gritty, but Jessica Jones tops it handily. It takes as its core theme the question of how people live with themselves after bad things have happened to them, and after they themselves have done bad things. It mines classic noir tropes with an occasional twist of humour, but it’s rarely more than a wry smile. I was impressed by how un-stereotypically the character arcs of some of the supporting cast played out. Kilgrave is a sociopathic mind-controller, and the series never lets you forget the trail of devastation a villian like that will leave in his wake.

I loved it as a show in its own right, and I loved the tight integration with other characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We live in a world of media franchises and crossovers. This week’s episode of the Imaginary Worlds podcast is about the Tommy Westphall universe spawned by the 1980s TV show St. Elsewhere. In the very last episode of St. Elsewhere it was revealed that the whole show had actually taken place in Tommy’s imagination. But because the show had been linked to many other shows through crossover appearances, does that imply that those other shows also took place in Tommy’s head?

It struck me as interesting how the Marvel Cinematic Universe makes use of real places like New York, and so can easily place shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones in a very realistic contemporary setting, whereas DC’s properties take place in fictional places like Metropolis, Gotham, and Star(ling) City. I wonder how this influences the writers and producers? I can see how audiences could make a stronger emotional connection with places they know, while writers and producers can take more liberties with imaginary cities.

Most of all, watching Jessica Jones made me want more shows like that. Specifically, I think it would be a perfect fit for Matt Fraction and David Aja’s down-to-earth interpretation of Hawkeye. Except…in Avengers: Age of Ultron Marvel decided to give Clint Barton a white-bread family out in the country. It would be hard now to place him in a run-down apartment in New York with a string of ex-wives to his name. Pity.

Last weekend I finally made time to listen to the Hamilton cast album. It’s excellent. Not something I’d listen to all day on repeat, but I’d definitely go and see the show, if tickets could be had for less than the price of a modest used car.

Something I could (and will) listen to all day is Bleached. They’re playing Bitterzoet in May, and it looks like my Indiestadpas should get me to see them for free, if I can figure out how to get on the guest list without signing up for Facebook.

Films:

  • I don’t remember how I came across it, but Spartan looked like something for me: Val Kilmer (whom I’ve always enjoyed watching since Thunderheart) and a shades-of-grey covert agent plot that doesn’t rely on stunts and explosions. It’s a very satisfying thriller, and I liked it a lot.
  • I missed Sicario in the cinema last year (most of my cinema time in 2015 was with Fiona), and I was looking forward to catching up with it. It’s far more than a conventional law-enforcement against drug dealers thriller. The world of borderless action against criminals who show themselves as capable of boundless ambition and cruelty is…disturbing. This is exactly what FBI agent Kate Macy (played by Emily Blunt) has to come to terms with. She has her eyes opened to a new world. Part of her is attracted to the idea of making a difference, and part of her is repulsed by the ease with which the supposed good guys can abandon the rule of law. She can’t unsee any of it, and she can’t unexperience the horrors to which she is exposed. Will it corrupt her, or will she stick to her principles? What is she willing to stand up for, and what is she willing to let slide? It’s an ambiguous, thoughtful, and powerful film.

2008 in review: Films and TV

Early on this year I gave up on tracking films and books in my Quick Reviews list. I hope this is a temporary condition, because I’ve come to the end of the year and I’m struggling to remember what I have watched and read.

At least with films, I know for a fact that the list is very limited. I caught a few of the obvious ones (Iron Man, The Dark Knight, Quantum of Solace), but there there are many more I wanted to see, but missed: Hancock, The Incredible Hulk, Body Of Lies, etc. And nothing I saw has stuck in my mind as an all-time great.

The viewing experiences I enjoyed most in 2008 were TV shows, consumed in multi-episode nightly blocks, courtesy of DVD box sets. I love pouring myself a glass of single malt, curling up on the sofa, and settling in to watch a couple of episodes of something big – a story that is going to go on for hours and hours. Here’s what I’ve been watching in 2008:


  • The Wire is one of the best TV shows ever made — believe everything you hear about it. Every character is nuanced, every piece of dialogue is textured, and every episode is a treat to savour. I caught up on seasons 3 and 4 this year, and it keeps getting better. I’m about to order season 5, and I can easily see myself going straight back to the first series to watch the whole thing all over again.

  • Richard is a big fan of The Shield, and it was on his recommendation that I started watching it. I was a bit apprehensive at first — The Wire sets a high bar for quality — but The Shield is a very different beast. It’s fast-paced where The Wire takes its time. It runs on a constant knife-edge of conflict where The Wire exists in a flux of uneasy truces. When violence erupts, in The Shield it is ugly, brutal, and personal, whereas in The Wire it is more likely to be “just business.” But in both cases, the characters are more than just the heroes and villains of the story, they are the story. I’m up to season 5 now, and about to order season 6.

  • Spooks had never really been on my radar when we were in the UK, which is odd, because I do like a good spy story. My brother bought me series 1 last Christmas, but I didn’t watch it until June. After that I was hooked, though. The episodes are uneven, and sometimes it feels like the team just stumbles from one terrorist plot to another with nothing much inbetween. It really shines, though, when the characters’ decisions matter, and affect their lives from that point forward. I’m three seasons in, and 4 is ready and waiting.

  • Criminal Minds is the odd one out here. The cast of characters is engaging and watchable, but although each episode takes the opportunity to reveal something more about each member of the BAU team, it has not irrevocably changed any of them — so far, at least*. I’m two episodes into season 2, and it’s still the Serial-Killer-Of-The-Week club. That’s not to say I don’t like it — I do; it’s well-written and very entertaining — but with the exception of a few episodes, it’s popcorn crime compared to the The Wire and The Shield.

The only downside of watching TV series is that it’s way too easy to say, “oh, I’ll just watch one more episode,” and before you know it it’s gone midnight.

* Update: spoke too soon. I should have waited until episode 5+6 of season 2.