Tag Archives: David Tennant

Jessica Jones – Season One

marvel-jessica-jones-krysten-ritter

“Maybe it’s enough that the world thinks I’m a hero.”

Netflix have quickly become the kings of event TV. The marketing genius behind throwing all episodes of their latest show up at 8am on release day for us to binge over a couple of days is just amazing. It gives us, the audience, the opportunity to watch the shows at our own pace. It gives the creators a chance to stretch their muscles when they aren’t relying on artificially hyping up week-by-week viewings with cliffhangers and – most importantly for me – it means I can watch and review these shows as the 13 hour movies they are created as.

Jessica Jones is the second of three original series’ in conjunction with Marvel and ABC studios after the surprise hit that was Daredevil. It stays within that same universe, but plays it a little differently than our new favourite blind superhero.

But, the same as everything in the combined Marvel and DC universes, I get to go in as the anti-comic book nerd. I know next to nothing about these worlds unless a film or something has mentioned them first. My comic book/graphic novel history begins and ends with The Mask, one volume of Hellblazer and a volume one compilation of Fables. While I may not always be the target audience for these, I admire the commitment of the production companies involved in keeping me, a non-believer, in their thoughts when they make them.

Meeting Jones (Krysten Ritter) as a New York private eye, we are instantly given a showing of her powers; an insane strength, as she overpowers a client that refuses to believe what she’s dug up about God knows who and tries to take it out on our new hero. That, as she tells us, rarely goes well for them as the client’s head appears through a pane glass window. Little is revealed about the mysterious woman outside of the stereotypes she brings to the table; loner, alcoholic, you name it. Fitting more with an old pulpy noir novel than the bright lights of New York, Jessica Jones clearly spends her life in the wrong place and the wrong time.

A woman who seems to be nothing short of a walking cliché, Jessica is damaged; terrorised by haunting visions of her past and fearful of her future. Still running from a lifetime’s worth of abuse, Jones must break free from a man whose control over her is more than just theoretical. It’s very real and extremely dangerous.

This man, Kilgrave, a monster in more ways than one, has the power to manipulate people and bend them to his will. His “gift” leaves a lasting impression on his victims, affecting them long after he has seemingly left them be. Thinking she has been free of Kilgrave for long enough to finally move on, Jessica feels his presence returning to New York and starts to see his influences all across her city. Enlisting help from her best friend, Trish (Rachael Taylor – of See No Evil fame) a radio personality who seems to have the magical ability to talk sense into Jones when no one else can; and Luke Cage (Mike Coulter – an almost full-time TV actor who is a regular voice actor for the Halo series) an indestructible bar owner who’s only connection to Jessica is also being gifted; the private eye must take the evil mentalist head-on in a game of wits that puts the lives of dozens of people on the line. Success will mean freedom for the tortured superhero. But failure will mean an eternity of suffering for her, and those close to her.

The underlying premise for Jessica Jones is a simple one; a woman who has spent years in an abusive relationship must find the strength within herself to escape her abuser. The draw to go back to a bad relationship and try again, believing an abuser can be changed or they really aren’t that bad is one that many abused people find themselves repeating time and time again with a form of Stockholm syndrome that makes them believe they need to stay and this is an amazingly strong theme across Jessica Jones‘ 13 episodes, followed closely by the belief that what is happening is their fault and to watch Jones fight her way through her own personal hell is to root for every mentally and physically beaten woman that can relate to her situation.

As with everything that comes out of the Netflix TV studios, Jessica Jones has the quality and style to keep almost everyone entertained and invested for not just the first season, but for the entire run of the show. It’s why I’ll be going back to House of Cards in March even though the previous season didn’t quite hit expectations. Jessica Jones‘ first season lets us spend a little over ten hours with this tortured soul and while it doesn’t necessarily hit the highs that Daredevil did earlier in the year, it’s certainly well worthy of your time.

In the titular role, Krysten Ritter is amazing. Having only ever seen her in Breaking Bad before now, I wasn’t too familiar with her and as such I was quite open minded going in and had no expectations. Sadly, I can’t say the same for David Tennant. A man I only really know from Dr. Who, a show I loathe and despise. Everything I’ve seen him in since (maybe excluding the Fright Night remake) has just irked me, so I went in ready to have him be the worst bit of a show I was quite excited about. But no, he steals every scene from his co-stars and his portrayal of Kilgrave comes with a terrifying air and a maniacal look in every frame. Every scene has a flash of purple – a nod to his “Purple Man” moniker from the source comic books – that feels like a nice, sometimes not too subtle, alternative to having a really sinister soundtrack play with every scene he arrives in. And once you spot it, the influence bleeds into scenes Kilgrave isn’t even in, but his presence is most definitely a part of; a beautiful little bit of direction that sits as an example of how and why Netflix as a production company are becoming a worldwide phenomenon.

But Jessica Jones isn’t perfect. And when its holes appear, they seem to be much more obvious because of the quality of show that they are making look bad. For example, the show works very hard to remind you that it’s part of the Avengers universe, to quite a jarring level. We know it’s set in a post-alien invasion New York – and for those that don’t, a quick mention of it will be fine to set the scene for us all. Mentioning it more than once felt unnecessary and as if the show is treating us like morons who may have forgotten after a couple of hours.

Directors and editors do a fantastic job of making Jones’s gifts seem realistic. I suspect this is to save spending a fortune on effects that will date the show and ruin the tone they are going for. “Flying” looks awkward and uncomfortable because it would be, wouldn’t it? Jessica’s feats of strength don’t look unrealistic because to keep herself inconspicuous, she has to limit herself and as such, she isn’t lobbing sweaty fat guys into the sun and just using what she needs to get the job done – dishonourable mention to one awful effect that is so bad, and so jarring, that the fact it happened in the last episode almost ruined my whole experience – but for the most part, everything looks and feels great.

But overall, Jessica Jones is an excellent show. The only thing that stops it being up there with Daredevil, in my opinion, is the simple fact that miss Jones didn’t have an awful, awful film overshadowing it before the show premiered that it managed to blow away in the first 15 minutes. Daredevil has the beautiful, visceral combat that I covet so much. But Jessica Jones is a gorgeously dark noir thriller that, just because I say isn’t as good as its predecessor, doesn’t mean for a second that you shouldn’t be watching it.

These Netflix/Marvel productions are putting a premium on quality and characterisation and as such, have become a name that can easily be mentioned in the same conversation as HBO, FX and Showtime.

What We Did On Our Holiday

What.  The.  F*ck.  Happened?

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

wwdooh2You know the last shot of Crank 2: High Voltage where a flaming Chev Chelios (and I mean that in the literal sense that he’s on fire), a man currently is as high as multiple kites and who has gone through an amount of pain that would reduce most men to damp squibs on the ground, turns to the camera and flips off the audience; a shot that perfectly encapsulates the opinion that Crank 2 has of any member of its audience that wanted a film that made the slightest bit of coherent sense?  That’s as good a metaphor as I can think of for the film debut of Outnumbered creators Guy Jenkin and Andy Hamilton, What We Did On Our Holiday; a good 45 minutes of that middle finger pointed squarely at the audience.

More attentive readers may notice that What We Did On Our Holiday is actually 96 minutes long, and that is precisely my point.  For the first 45 minutes, What We Did On Our Holiday threatens to go to big places, to use its BBC sitcom-style lightweight comedy to address serious topics like death, dissolution of marriage, the pettiness that can come from divorce and other such things that a film that takes many Outnumbered-style detours into “kids say the darndest things” (although, for the most part, they’re actually pretty funny so I’ll let it slide) wouldn’t normally do.  I mean, the comedy is a bit too broad and the drama keeps getting undercut, but the potential for a breakthrough is there.  Then, at about the 45 minute mark, A Thing Happens… and the film promptly flies off the rails and drives straight into Crazy Town from which it never makes a recovery.  The problem for me is that that bit constitutes a giant spoiler… but pretty much all of my thoughts centre around that thing and the back half that follows it.  You see my dilemma.

So, rather than dance awkwardly around the issue for a whole bunch of pages, I am going to split this review into two parts.  The first will attempt to awkwardly dance around the issue, and pretty much anything positive I say should be immediately suffixed with “but it’s pretty much for nought when the film goes to sh*t in the second half”, but will avoid the giant spoiler elephant in the room.  The second part will tell you the exact scene where the film hit The Point Of No Return and then explain, as a result of that, why the rest of the film completely falls apart as a result.  Don’t worry, there’ll be a giant indicator to let you know when to get the hell out of dodge if you really don’t want to know.  OK?  Right then…

Spoiler-Free Review:

It starts a lot like Outnumbered.  That same claustrophobic shooting style, that same family dynamic only switching out Jake for a girl who has just hit double-digits, that same seemingly semi-improvised nature of most of the dialogue, that same small London house…  So far, so “Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin are really sticking to their comfort zone”.  But then little hints punch through that separate the McLeods from the Brockmans.  The kids get along swimmingly, but they keep having to remind Mum (Rosamund Pike) and Dad (David Tennant) that they’re around whenever a conversation starts.  The landlord of their house seems genuinely surprised that Dad is at her door asking for the spare keys.  Mum and Dad snipe angrily at each other at every opportunity.

Then, during a roadside argument, the shoe is dropped.  Mum and Dad are separated and in the middle of divorcing one another (Dad had an affair), and their lawyers have basically frazzled all possible pleasantries between the two, especially since Mum has plans to relocate to Newcastle and take the kids with her.  Their holiday to Scotland and their happy family ruse is all for Granddad’s (Billy Connolly) 75th birthday and everyone is sticking to this ruse as Granddad has cancer and is clearly in the final stages of his life, so nobody wants to shatter this happy portrait for him.  That, of course, will be easier said than done as the kids can’t keep a secret to save their lives, Mum hasn’t actually told anyone yet about her Newcastle plans, and they’re all stuck at Dad’s really obnoxious brother’s (Alexander Armstrong) country house for the duration of the trip.

In other words, it’s a recipe for broad comedy giving way to alternately heart-warming and heart-wrenching dramatics.  But you know what?  I was on board with it.  It probably helps (as much as such a situation like this could “help”, but what the hell) that my own Granddad passed away from cancer just under a year ago and the wound is still fresh for me, so I was basically being set up for tears, but the film was succeeding on its own merits, if not totally.  Although the jokes are funny, I did spend a good amount of the runtime at least chuckling to a degree, the humour is a bit too broad to fully coalesce with the low-key drama.  Instead of easily switching between tones, What We Did more lurches between the comedy bit and the drama bit to a near-whiplash inducing degree; when the comedy is subtler (like when Mum lightens the mood to Granddad by reminding him “at least you’ve dodged Alzheimer’s”), it works better.

The cast, meanwhile, end up establishing quite the rapport with one another.  Not only do the jokes themselves pop a lot more than they could have due to everyone managing to operate on each other’s wavelength, the more dramatic sequences carry genuine impact as well as everyone is able to believably sell the illusion that they are a real family.  Billy Connolly is especially great, clearly comfortable with everyone he interacts with (which is basically everyone) and he’s even able to sell his character’s acceptance-of-his-fate arc (with sample lines like “Life is like when somebody tickles your toes.  Whenever it’s going on, you’re always screaming ‘Stop!  Stop!’  But when it does, you shout ‘More!  More!’”) as stuff that human beings might actually say.  Connolly’s a rare presence in film, but it’s performances like this that remind me why I perk up whenever he turns up.

So, everything seems to be going great… then Something Happens and What We Did On Our Holiday promptly takes the very next available train to Insanity Station, never really coming out from there until the credits start rolling.  Its tonal issues become exacerbated, its emotional nuance goes out of the window, it deploys a large amount of absurdity but doesn’t stick with it, it threatens to use that absurdity to make an overall point but then tries to eat the cake it also wants to have, the dialogue drops down several notches, it tries to slip back into the Outnumbered skin that it shed early on but that just kills the pacing, I have absolutely no idea where the saccharinely sweet happy ending came from…

To put it bluntly: the second half of What We Did On Our Holiday is a total and absolute mess that wastes nearly all of the hard work the first 45 minutes had put in and left me in completely bewildered bafflement for the remainder of the film, growing more and more baffled as it went further and further off-the-rails the longer it ran for.  I thought I had the film figured out, even if that would have shown the first half to have had way too much effort put into it for said point, but then the ending came along and I instead settled on the idea that Hamilton and Jenkin actually had pretty much no clue, as well.  Hence the question that makes up the deck of this review.  Seriously: what the f*ck happened, guys?  Did you misplace some script pages?  Smush a whole bunch of half-finished ideas into one film cos you desperately wanted to make a film?  Were you both victims of a dare or just decided to see how far audiences are willing to stick with a comedy as long as jokes occasionally rear their head?  What?

Unlike many other films where the audience laugh along at every cue whilst I sit there in bafflement (feel free to change one or two words in that sentence so that it can apply to all genres of film, if you wish), I get why the people in my screening of What We Did On Our Holiday loved it.  I get the feeling that you might too.  See, although the film goes completely cuckoo-bananas and boils the beating heart that used to sit in its centre in sulphuric acid, the jokes and attempts at jokes don’t let up.  If you can get past the fact that the second half of the film housing said jokes is a total mess, you’ll probably really like What We Did On Our Holiday and think of me as some big meanie pants who just can’t have fun at the cinema.  But I couldn’t.  I just couldn’t get over how badly the film squandered its potential depth, heart and emotional resonance at the altar of the absurd, and I couldn’t get over how the second half feels like it was thrown together awkwardly over a period of months with long stretches between work being done on it.

What We Did On Our Holiday had something and it blew it hard.  It is the most hopelessly confused I’ve been at the cinema all year, though, so maybe it can take pride in that dubious distinction.

OK, that’s the spoiler-free bit done.  Now I need to detail the moment that the film goes doolally so that I can better explain why the second half of this film crashed and burned spectacularly; none of this dancing around the elephant nonsense.  So, this is your last chance.  Below this image, I will spoil a pivotal sequence in What We Did On Our Holiday.  If you don’t want to know or still intend to see the film, TURN BACK NOW.

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SPOILER BIT:

So, at about the 45 minute mark, Granddad passes away.  He’s on a beach trip with the children, many miles away from the country house and he’s purposefully let his phone run out of battery charge so that Dad’s obnoxious brother can’t hassle him back for his birthday party.  The death itself is represented in a really overblown way (he sees a vision of his deceased older brother calling to him just as he drifts away), but it still got a reaction out of me so good job on that, filmmakers.  Anyways, the kids react rather underwhelmed to the fact that their Granddad just passed away in their vicinity, but the eldest elects to run back to the house they’re staying at to get somebody to help them.  The parents, however, are arguing and the other adults are tied up organising the birthday party with hair-trigger tempers, so the kids decide to deal with it themselves.  And they deal with it by honouring Granddad’s last wish: to give him a Viking funeral.  So they do.

This is played completely straight.

Now, admittedly, this whole sequence had been foreshadowed.  Granddad was obviously going to die before the credits rolled, the Viking stuff had been frequently brought up due to the son having an obsession with them, and all three of the kids are shown to have “issues” of various kinds that would lead them to think that this was a good idea.  That being said, that still doesn’t mean that an extended and mostly humourless sequence of the kids (whose ages I estimate to be 10, 8 and 6 respectively) constructing a raft, loading Granddad’s body onto the thing, lighting the raft on fire and then letting it drift out to sea is going to come off as any less left-field and ridiculous.  Especially since the film prior to that was rather realistic and relatively low-key (when I mentioned “broad humour” earlier, I meant in terms of fart jokes and “kids saying the darndest things” stuff; broad but still in keeping with the realistic aesthetic of the film).

And yet, the film wasn’t totally a lost cause for myself by that point, because then the kids come back home and break the news to the adults, at which point everyone reacts as you’d expect sane human beings to do.  At this point (alright, about 15 to 20 minutes after this point), I thought that the film was going to use that as fuel to parody and deconstruct, in the most deadpan and straight-laced way possible, the kind of coming-of-age film where kids end up getting involved in that kind of ridiculous life-changing experience.  You know, show how that kind of thing would look to people who weren’t involved in it.  But the film keeps trying to wring emotional pathos out of the absurd in the most melodramatic and non-jokey of ways, and it doesn’t have the balls to follow through on its threats.  The ending proceeds to diffuse any possible risks or consequences in the most blatantly cliché and sappy ways possible with no jokes or subversive intent, hence my prior usage of the “having your cake and eating it too” saying.  It’s just a total mess that muddies whatever point and intent there may possibly have been thanks to nonsense and weak nerves.

Also, there’s a frequent occurrence where an ostrich runs across the camera.  It belongs to a nearby ostrich farmer but escaped from its pen.  One would think that this would lead up to some kind of joke, a payoff of some sort.  It doesn’t; after we find out where it comes from, it’s never seen again until the last shot of the film where… it runs across the camera.  This sounds like a nit-pick, but it’s rather representative of my issues with the second half of the film, where What We Did On Our Holiday throws away whatever it was building towards for a second half that messily jumps from setpiece to setpiece before just fizzling out without any payoff.

Callum Petch’s call never comes too late.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Failed Critics Podcast: Catching Fire, Saving Mr Banks, and watching Walter Mitty

Catching FireWelcome to our 90th (NINETIETH!) podcast, and this one is rammed full of new release reviews, disagreements, and top, top film bantz*

*contains no actual bantz

James was the lone surviving pod critic from the first Hunger Games film, and this week returns to the arena to tackle The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, as well as reviewing Saving Mr Banks, a new Disney film about the making of Mary Poppins. We’ve also go a review the new Ben Stiller film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and we discuss the twists, turns, and timey-wimeyness of the 50th anniversary Doctor Who special, The Day of the Doctor.

Join us next week for reviews of Carrie and Blue is the Warmest Colour.

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