Sunday, 22 November 2015

Jessica Jones (2015)

Over the past few days, and for at least a few days ahead, you will no doubt have seen/will see plenty of online critiques of Jessica Jones, the latest Marvel TV show helping to build an enjoyable, cohesive, superhero universe on Netflix that complements the recent cinematic output from the comic book powerhouse. Would it be able to compete with the great success of Daredevil, the previous show that premiered on the streaming service?

Dare you to miss Jessica Jones

For the relatively uninitiated, the titular character is played by Krysten Ritter. The main villain, a man who can use mind control to make others do his bidding, is a man named Kilgrave, played with superb charm and menace by David Tennant. And Rachael Taylor and Carrie-Anne Moss play important, supporting female roles. Oh, and fans of comic books may also like seeing Mike Colter as Luke Cage.

From timelord to mind ruler

I am not going to be breaking down elements of this show. I haven't read the source material. I don't want to comment on each episode individually. If you're after that then you can browse at least three dozen other websites (at a conservative estimate).

No. After watching all 13 episodes of Jessica Jones in record time (for me, anyway), I was compelled to praise it for a depth that I hadn't at all expected. Daredevil was about the dangers, and moral quandary, of vigilante justice. It also generally kicked ass, and had yet another astonishing performance from Vincent D'Onofrio, a man who can probably deliver astonishing performances in his sleep.

Jessica Jones may be equal in the kicking ass stakes, almost, and may benefit immensely from that Tennant performance, but the most impressive thing about it is that, both overtly and in so many layered ways, it's about consent and control. It's there at the forefront, of course, with a villain who can make people do exactly what he wants them to. But that's almost irrelevant when the series starts to show more of the supporting characters and their relationships with one another.

Living, or just surviving?

Jones herself, for example, likes the feeling of self-control she can get by slumming it as a private eye, allowing her to seek out information that other people will use, while also helping her to keep a low profile. Jeryn Hogarth (played by Moss) is a powerful lawyer who quickly shows a very controlling, indeed ruthless, personality. She's involved in a bit of a . . . . . . . . complicated situation with her love life, and as things develop we get to see more and more instances of her trying to control those around her and keep them acting in her own best interests. Wil Traval plays Will Simpson, a man who first encounters Trish Walker (Taylor) in a violent scene before looking to create a, to put it simply, better second first impression with her later on. He apologises profusely, seemingly very sincere while always having the excuse that it wasn't actually him in control of his own actions. But what part of that provides full justification for the actions of the people onscreen, and what part of it is a very handy get-out clause for anyone who knows how Kilgrave works? Even the main villain, as shown in the most interesting backstory sequences, spits out pathetic, wheedling lines like: "what's the point in having ears if you don't listen to me?"
That may not sound like a particularly interesting piece of dialogue, but it sums up everything the show covers - as does the episode title itself, AKA 1000 Cuts.
And that really is just the tip of the iceberg - a mass made up of guilt, resentment, debated responsibilities, more apologies, obsession, and lots and lots (and LOTS) of emotional manipulation.

Jessica and "Patsy"

While it's decidedly not aimed at kids, and really don't just let your kids sit down to watch this (although I'd say teens won't be too scarred by anything here), it's impressive that this show has such a strong, yet flawed, female lead, and addresses issues that we've previously seen dressed up and romanticised in the likes of Twilight and 50 Shades Of Grey.

AKA Badass

There is plenty more to dig into here, and I am sure that better minds than my own have already started on that, but this post is here just as an attempt to encourage anyone to watch the show. Whether you like "superhero" fare or not, this is well worth your time. And I hope the continuing relationship between Marvel and Netflix delivers more of this fascinating content.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Edinburgh's Wild Wild West

Moving away from the huste and bustle of the centre of Edinburgh, walking down the main road that runs through Morningside, and then turning into Springvalley Gardens will take you into . . . . . . . Springvalley Gardens. But take one more right turn, through an unspectacular archway that looks like it leads to nothing more than one or two small business, and you will find yourself here (see pics). Edinburgh's own little slice of the Wild West.

Wells Fargo, of course.
Props Tom L Shattuck and Charlie Fick
There have been a number of articles that have highlighted this quirky attraction over the years, and I kept reading about it and then almost immediately forgetting to check it out. Recently, however, articles about the area have also taken the time to warn people that the building frontages have fallen into disrepair over the years. Probably a mix of our usual weather and standard city life encroaching further into ever nook and cranny of Edinburgh (as I was taking photos I tried my best to hide the more modern signage telling me about the area being monitored by CCTV, amongst other things).

And that spurred me on, no pun intended. I had to see this place before it disappeared. Perhaps when it's gone there will be no way to know it was ever there. Nothing apart from memories and maybe some photos. Like these ones.

Barkeep? Barkeep!!!!
I'm the law round these here parts.
But even the law likes a drink on occasion.
 So get along to it, have a look while it's still there. Here is a map (WW = Wild West, obviously).

While digging around for the origins of this Edinburgh anomaly, I discovered that the main man behind it was a Michael Faulkner (as mentioned in this Edinburgh Spotlight article). That led me to a blog written by Faulkner, in which the following is written in a 1 May 2010 entry:

"When we were designing the facades for the township of 'El Paso', which took three of us (Sean, Rab and I) four months to build and which formed the exterior of my Santa Fe furniture business in Edinburgh, we used stills from Cat Ballou, along with several other classic westerns, for inspiration. This is the only digital image I can dig up:

*please visit blog entry linked to see original image*

When the photograph was taken the signage, which we were at pains to get right, was incomplete but most of the structure was in place. As well as the railroad, general store, jail house, cantina and livery stables which you can see, we built a saloon, sheriff's office and stagecoach depot which are out of shot to the left.

We were proud of the place but I don't like to go back now, as the closure of the business was a big part of an even bigger life reversal. As far as I know the structure is still in place, ten years on, in Springvalley Gardens, Morningside" 

And here are some more photos.

Not even big enough to be a one horse town
Not gonna lie. I got wood.
Not bragging, but I think I could escape that one.
Nobody would trade with me today.
And some more.

I asked for some new shoes for my horse. I'm still waiting.
I hope they get back in the saddle some day.
Y'all come back now.
I've done it now. Marked it off my small, and not very interesting, bucket list. And I encourage others to do the same. Embrace it while it's there. And, hey, share a pic or two to encourage friends to do the same.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Just follow the Arrow

Despite a recent foray in to the US market, after a successful fundraising campaign, Arrow Films have really been known as one of the best suppliers of shiny discs for home entertainment enthusiasts here in the UK for the past few years.

There HAVE been mistakes along the way (a few seconds missing from Zombie Flesh Eaters caused by the branching options, I believe, and the sepia prologue of The Beyond being black and white are two of the most notable examples, although fans are still eagerly awaiting news on the seconds that were snipped from their recent, otherwise excellent, release of Shivers).

But the rest of their output more than makes up for these mistakes. And, to be fair, the company is very good at communicating with customers and arranging replacement discs when bad things happen. They also set their RRP with a nice balance of pre-order value and the ability to supply other sellers with copies (unlike, for example, 88 Films and their American Ninja debacle, which I have yet to forgive them for - long story short, the release date was mucked around, the pricing was set incorrectly, with them denying that they were responsible for, ummmm, the pricing of their own product, and their were people very unhappy when the price was slashed not long after release).

Having always been there for the horror fans, with particular attention paid to the likes of Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, and George A. Romero, to name a few, Arrow have now managed to surpass even those earlier releases with some recent output that will take your breath away. Or, to be fair, Arrow may have always offered such a range of quality and variety without me noticing, due to me having my head all too often buried in the horror section anyway.

You might struggle to find it at a decent price now but The Scarlet Box Hellraiser Bluray set is just about the best thing I've ever seen. Mind you, that's another horror release. As was their recent boxset of two very different movies based on The Black Cat. And their gothic Vincent Price set. And much more.

The REAL draw lately comes from their increasingly interesting journeys into releases that aren't such an easy sell. Next year will see a release of a Rainer Werner Fassbinder collection, perfect both for newcomers like me and fans who want the films displayed as beautifully as possible. There's also the Nikkatsu Diamnond Guys set (Vol 1), some more blaxploitation (Sheba, Baby is coming), the apparent beauty of the Battles Without Honour and Humanity set, and a little something entitled Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism.

Are Arrow Films the only people looking after cinephiles in such a good way? No. Some fans may like to also check out the aforementioned 88 Films (I have also enjoyed Blastfighter and Night Train Murders from them) and there are some real gems being released by Eureka! And let's not forget the BFI range.

Any why am I writing all this? Well, I've been overwhelmed by awesome releases lately. That's one reason. I wanted to celebrate their greatness. The second reason, I haven't written anything here for a while. Third, and perhaps most important, is the fact that more and more people should be encouraged to use these guys and order direct from them. Arrow Films, in particular, offer both rewards points and also send orders out earlier, whenever possible, to those who have ordered from their site.

Oh, and as Christmas is coming up, you may also want to know where to get the best sweaters and tshirts. It's right here - darkbunnytees.