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November 24, 2015

Season review: Jessica Jones (Netflix)

Posted on November 24, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Jessica Jones

In the US/UK: All 13 episodes are available on Netflix

When superhero comic books first became popular in the 20th century, it was largely because they were fantasies. Male fantasies for boys. Superman may have been a fantasy of immigration, but it was also about a mild-mannered man who could never reveal his all-conquering power to anyone, not even the woman he loved from afar. Of course, if she knew what he was really like, then she'd fall into his arms without a moment's hesitation.

Batman? A boy orphaned by crime who devotes himself to destroying those who would make him feel frightened. The Hulk? A 'milksop' scientist with a terrible temper that others better not unleash by bullying him. Spider-man? A nerdy boy with pretty much the same issues as Superman. Captain America? A man who could defeat the Nazis while remaining true and good and honourable.

You get the picture. Lots and lots of power fantasies for lonely boys.

Superheroines took a while to appear and represented different kinds of fantasy. The first, Wonder Woman, was originally intended as both a male and female fantasy - a precursor to a better, future, female-dominated world, with Wonder Woman an icon of feminine power that women could embrace and men could accept. But with a slightly kinky subtext and male authors, her popularity often stemmed from… other sources. Future superheroines didn't fare much better, and frequently fared much worse.

Which meant for decades, many girls and women found comic books to be female-unfriendly areas that were practically a panopticon of the male gaze. There were plenty who became involved or who became readers, but they were the exceptions. And although male authors came along who tried to make female characters less fantasies than they had been before, that was pretty much the rule.

That was even the case when comic books started being adapted into movies. Think Sue Storm perpetually having to disrobe in the street in Fantastic Four. Think Black Widow in lingerie shots in Iron Man 2. That Wonder Woman movie? Only just being made, just as we're about to get our third series of Batman and Superman movies in the past 40 years. And try to find superheroine merchandise from those movies for your daughters if you dare

But the times have been a changing, of course. Have a look on Facebook and you'll discover that more than 50% of the people who identify as comic book fans are women. And while only 3% of the people who'll step into a comic book store are women, more than half of those who read digital comics are women.

Marvel, of course, has been doing rather well at the movie with its comic book adaptations. However, it's got considerable stick over the years for not giving any superheroines their own movies - particularly Black Widow. Now that's changing, with a Captain Marvel movie due… in 2019, a full 11 years after Iron Man came out. 

On TV, of course, we've already had Marvel's Agent Carter, except she's not a superheroine, per se. But finally, we have our first, fully fledged superheroine TV show, the second of this year's Marvel's Netflix 'Defenders' shows following Daredevil - Jessica Jones. And what's interesting about Jessica Jones is that despite being based on a character and a story created by two men, I think what we have is the first instance of an on-screen superheroine who's there for a female audience and who's a female fantasy.

Or should that be nightmare? It could be both. After all, it's got David Tennant in it.

Beware: some spoilers ahoy.

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November 19, 2015

Review: Into The Badlands 1x1 (US: AMC; UK: Amazon Instant Video)

Posted on November 19, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Into the Badlands

In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, AMC
In the UK: Tuesdays, Amazon Instant Video

There is a famous paradox. Although Knight Rider claimed it was Zeno's Paradox, it's not. But it is at least a paradox. Here it is:

What happens when an unstoppable force hits an immovable object?

What's the answer? Into the Badlands. How so? Because it's an actual, real-world test of that paradox. It takes the unstoppable force that is the Hong Kong martial arts movie and confronts it with the immobable object of an AMC TV series.

Despite the likes of Indonesia's The Raid coming along to challenge them, Hong Kong martial arts movies are, of course, the fastest genre in the world. If you have any interest in martial movies, you watch Hong Kong martial arts to see the best - and fastest - martial artists the silver screen has to offer. I'm most partial to classic Jet Li myself, but Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan et al have all formed part of my viewing habits since Jonathan Ross's Son of The Incredibly Strange Film Show revealed their delights to me back in the 80s.

And the slowest genre in the world? AMC TV series. The network practically fetishises slowness:

Even its fastest shows - Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul - have a glacial chill to them, and that's before we consider the almost geological time scales over which the likes of Mad Men, Hell on Wheels and Halt and Catch Fire operate.

And Into The Badlands is a deliberate attempt to bring these two genres together. Rather bizarrely the brainchild of Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, it stars Daniel Wu, an American actor but the star of dozens of Hong Kong martial arts movies.

The show is set in a post-apocalyptic America. This isn't that surprising: martial arts date from before guns and are made largely redundant by the presence of guns, so a martial arts movie usually needs to have a reason for there to not be any guns - something somewhat problematic in modern-day and even historic America, but not so hard in a post-apocalyptic, post-technological society. Unles you turn the guns into a virtue, of course.

As with most other post-apocalyptic societies, everything's become weirdly patriarchal and feudal in Into The Badlands, with seven 'barons' now running America, following a series of wars. Each has made their territory safe and stopped the wars by getting rid of guns. In return, everyone either learns how to be a 'Clipper' - martial arts soldier cops - assuming they're male or goes to work in the fields picking poppies or getting married to the Baron.

Wu plays one such Clipper, who patrols the territories, enforcing the justice of his increasingly unstable, increasingly bewived Baron (Marton Csokas from Falcón, Rogue, The Equalizer, The Bourne Supremacy). One day, he comes across a peaceful boy sought after by another Baron, 'The Widow', only to discover that he gets superhero killing powers at odd moments. 

What will he do? WIll he take the boy into the lawless 'Badlands' between Barons' terrorities, looking for the boy's mother and answers to his own past? And will he do it before the Sun expands into a Red Giant and dies (aka the next AMC Upfronts)?

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November 12, 2015

Review: Blood and Water 1x1-1x2 (Canada: Omni)

Posted on November 12, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Blood and Water

In Canada: Sundays, 10pm, Omni

Everyone knows that Canada is a bilingual country: while most provinces are majority English-speakers, many have sizeable numbers of French-speakers and Quebec, of course, is 80% Francophone. What's less well known is that Canada is a very diverse country - Toronto, Canada's largest city at 2.7 million, is claimed by many to be the most ethnically diverse city in the world, with 50% of its population foreign-born; and of the country's 35 million inhabitants, more than 1 million speak a Chinese language at home.

Not that you'd know that from the average Canadian TV show, of course. 

While the TV shows themselves fail to reflect that diversity on-screen, the country's TV networks do their best to serve the community. The Omni network airs programmes in 20 languages to communities encompassing at least 20 cultures, ethnic programming comprises 60% of the Omni stations' schedules. However, until now, this has largely been foreign acquisitions, sport and news.

But Omni's now breaking out into original drama with Blood and Water, one of the first, if not the first trilingual dramas to grace Western TV screens. Shot with an almost entirely Chinese-Canadian cast in English, Cantonese and Mandarin, it's a cop drama that sees Steph Song (Achar!, jPod and former FHM Asia #1 Sexiest Woman in the World) having to investigate the murder of a prominent billionaire's junkie son, experiencing both political and cultural pressure from inside and outside the police force as she does so. She also has to cope with her recent diagnosis of uterine cancer, as well as the disrespect and different working methods of her more experienced white, male partner (Peter Outerbridge, who's best known from ReGenesis but was also the original Murdoch of The Murdoch Mysteries). 

Despite being only eight episodes, neatly bundled into 25-minutes chunks, the show's less compelling than you'd hope, almost fetishing its trilingualism, with there more drama in who's choosing to speak which language when and to whom than there is in most other scenes. Song's personal issues make you worry more about the quality of Canada's much-vaunted healthcare system than they do about her, while her being the universal butt-end of both civilian and cop disrespect lacks anything by way of subtlety.

It is thoughtful, though, lovingly shot and the interrogation scenes do make you feel like you're learning how police use psychology to get information from people. All the same, despite its virtues, I'm not sure the mystery, the characters or the politics are compelling enough to make me want to watch any more of it.

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