In Appreciation Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
16Nov/170

In Appreciation – Deborah Snyder

Say hello to the driving force behind the most fiercely debated mainstream blockbusters of the 21st century. (image source)

Cinematic partnerships have been the foundation of onscreen legend.  Bogie and Bacall, Astaire and Rogers, Powell and Loy - all performers who found a partner that bring out the best in each other and find ways to push their already considerable talents to new levels.  Partnerships behind the camera sometimes result in similar transcendence with pairs like Scorsese and Schrader, Tarantino and Menke, or - one of my recent favorites - director Tom Ford and musician Abel Korzeniowski.

With Justice League on the horizon, I wanted to take some time to write about one of my other favorite pairings where one half gets too much attention and the other a bare minimum.  To the former, Zack Snyder - the latter, Deborah Snyder.  Zack's films are the most challenging big budget extravaganzas being made today and, ever since I learned Deborah produced all Zack's films since 300, I've had this nagging sensation that the easily excitable Zack has only been able to reach his full potential because of Deborah.

Put simply - there is no Zack Snyder without Deborah Snyder.  Zack gets most of the attention but it's Deborah's work behind the camera putting the correct pieces in play that makes Zack's films click.  Broadly, this makes her an excellent producer.  Specifically, the shift in quality between Zack's first and second films, Dawn of the Dead and 300, along with details about her increased involvement in the creative process in-between those films, point to how important she is to their production company - Cruel and Unusual Films - as well as her growing influence on the industry overall.

7Dec/150

Jessica Jones: “AKA It’s Called Whiskey”

After their late night exchange of secrets Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are growing closer in a way few others on the planet can understand.  In the meantime Hope's case hinges on the public's ability to believe in mind control and Trish has Hope on her talk show to spread the word.  From the shadows Kilgrave continues to taunt Jessica into making a mistake.  Andrew and Ryan look at the third episode of Jessica Jones, "AKA It's Called Whiskey".

This is going to take some putting togetherSomething we talked about last week on "AKA Crush Syndrome", and I feel will be an ongoing discussion with regard to Jessica Jones, is how the new wave of 'net shows are constructed in a way which anticipates binge watching.  I bring this up because "AKA It's Called Whiskey" is a bad episode in the scope of binge watching but would be a decent "coming off hiatus" sort of story.  The first half of "AKA It's Called Whiskey" was a retread of almost the exact same images and dialogue spots we got in "AKA Crush Syndrome".

Thankfully the second half, picking up from when Trish goes on her ill-advised rant about Kilgrave, picks up the slack considerably.  The acting keeps things brisk in a way the poor direction doesn't.  This is the first episode of Jessica Jones directed by David Petrarca, whose sole cinematic outing produced Save the Last Dance 2 and visually lackluster shows like Big Love and Dawson's Creek.

Visually speaking "AKA Crush Syndrome" is a huge step down from the previous two episodes, but Petrarca's work on those shows let's Jessica and Luke's relationship breathe a bit.  Granted, that breathing is heavy moaning from the supersex their having - a point repeated so often I started thinking "enough already" in my head.  But the tender moments, even in the midst of passion as they realize neither one of them has to hold back for once, and the post-coital conversation were better than the rest of the shenanigans.  How'd you fare with Petrarca's first outing behind the camera?

Lovey dovey super folksI am a strange person and have always wondered what superhero sex might be like and I am glad that Jessica Jones finally let me peer behind that curtain.  I also seem to like this episode much more than you.  While I agree it picks up in the second half with the attack on Trish and Jessica battling her way through the family under the spell of Kilgrave but there is a very good moment near the front of the episode as well.

From the other episodes, we know that Jones is on a mission to stop Kilgrave and to her collateral damage is acceptable if she achieves her goal, but the scene she screwed over Malcolm to get the medicine she needs in her battle was cold and tough to watch.  I give the show and the director Petrarca credit for not overplaying the hand after she pushes Malcolm into the nurse to cause a distraction by having him yell at her.  The look she gets when she quickly passes him on her way out of the hospital said all that needed to be said.  A lot of this episode asked about good and evil and this wonderfully painted Jessica in a shade of grey.

30Nov/150

Jessica Jones: “AKA Crush Syndrome”

Following the gunshot conclusion of "AKA Ladies Night", Jessica Jones takes it upon herself to prove Hope Shlottman was under the control of the psychic psychopath Kilgrave.  As Jessica investigates the circumstances of the accident which severed Kilgrave's control over her she tries to find a weakness in Kilgrave's power.  Andrew and Ryan look at the second episode of Jessica Jones, "AKA Crush Syndrome".

I'm being crushedThroughout this second episode of Jessica Jones, which in almost every way was a step up from last week's, I kept wondering just what these shows would look like on a more traditional television schedule.  It seems that with these new waves of internet-only and Netflix specifically television shows the idea of what television can do isn't be challenged so much as it's being stretched out.  This means creators have a lot more room for digressions and while some are entertaining, like any scene with Foggy and Matt Murdock in Marvel's Daredevil, or wheel-spinning to the nth degree, as shown in the drug-out third season of House of Cards.

"AKA Crush Syndrome" has a bit of that going on.  You talked last week about how long Jessica's drinking was going to be the lingered on and in "AKA Crush Syndrome" it's been reeled in a bit.  But what hasn't been reeled in are those digressions which don't add anything we weren't already aware of with Jessica's character.  The entire subplot with her upstairs neighbor culminates in an awkward moment where the woman who occupies that apartment yells at Jessica about how she's horrible to the people she wants to get close to.

Setting aside that this scene doesn't do anything that wasn't already clear from "AKA Ladies Night" it also doesn't serve as a visual or performance-based showcase for anyone involved.  This isn't to say "AKA Crush Syndrome" is poorly directed, and there was a key visual shift around Jessica and Luke Cage's relationship I want to discuss, but I have to wonder what television in general and Jessica Jones over the next few weeks will look like if the 'net model allows for flabby storytelling like this.Frame me through the blockadeI had the same conversation with my wife about this episode.  To get really geeky, I called it the Quantum of Solace of episodes.  Although unlike that disliked Bond film, this episode was really entertaining.  The reason I call it that is it felt like a continuation of the first episode and not its own thing.

I think that goes with what you are saying about the way storytelling is done on streaming shows because of the binge factor.  If this was on TV, I am guessing they would have tacked it on with the first episode and make it a 2 hour pilot "movie".  I don't know if the next episode will feel any different or if we are in store for a 13 hour movie but you can really feel the different story telling options when you watch the episodes spread out like a typical show like we are doing.

I don't think we are the only ones noticing this either because the great TV writer Alan Sepinwall talked about this on his blog recently as well. I still think we will get a great stand alone episode along the lines of "Hush" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" from X-Files before all is said and done but maybe that is just wishful thinking.  I also liked the weird subplot with the upstairs neighbor because it gave us the best line of the night in "Lady, you're a very perceptive asshole".

23Nov/150

Jessica Jones: “AKA Ladies Night”

Jessica Jones, private investigator, harbors scars from a past she avoids talking about and drinks to get through the day.  But when the parents of a missing girl come to her office looking for help Jessica is forced to confront the purple demon lurking around the corners of her consciousness.  Andrew and Ryan look at the first episode of Jessica Jones, "AKA Ladies Night".

A view askewI haven't hid my distaste for many of the Marvel films released over the last six years.  For every Ant-Man we end up with Iron Man 2 or Age of Ultron.  They've got horrifically inconsistent characterization with Captain America being a gung-ho hero in one film, a total dope in the next, and a moody man of conscience in yet another.

So I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Marvel's Daredevil.  Freed from the constraints of Kevin Feige's vice-grip over Marvel Studio productions Marvel's Daredevil was free to craft a moody, funny, and violent take on the Man Without Fear.  I wasn't as impressed with the fight choreography at first, but as each episode went on the technical craft grew as the character relationships became more complex.

When I found out Marvel's Daredevil was one in a series of shows designed to create a sort of small-screen version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe I grew a tad paranoid.  That paranoia grew as Jessica Jones was announced as the follow-up to Marvel's Daredevil.  As Ryan knows, I was a huge mark for Brian Michael Bendis, the comic writer who created Alias which starred Jessica Jones, and gave us an in-depth look at PTSD through the lens of a drunken, violent, foul-mouthed, and painfully insecure former heroine.  It wasn't a "dark for darkness' sake" comic but one which wanted to grapple with Jessica's serious psychological issues and just what that meant for someone with superpowers.  Now that I've watched the first episode I have to admit I'm still a bit skeptical, but some of the issues I had with even Bendis' stellar writing on Alias have been addressed in Jessica Jones while introducing some awkward twists.

I'll get more specific as we continue on, but how did you respond to "AKA Ladies Night"?RendezvousI have to thank you again for introducing me to this comic series, it quickly became one of my favorites for all the reasons you mentioned along with the dialogue and look of the comic as well.  I was not as skeptical as you when the four character-oriented shows were announced (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist) because I was too freaked out about Netflix getting into my hopes and dreams.  These "street level" characters are my favorite Marvel heroes and I would rather follow them than a romp through Asgard with Thor or Hulk smashing up a city.  I loved Marvel's Daredevil and thought it improved when the Kingpin became as big a star as Daredevil was on the series.  So I had hopes for Jessica Jones and the first episode surprised me.

I was surprised at how "slow" it was and I put that in quotations because I don't want it to seem like I am saying that as a bad thing.  I teach my students in class all the things that a pilot should do and Jessica Jones didn't do many of them.  The show barely gave a road map about what it will be from then on, didn't introduce the characters in 2 or 3 quick minutes and didn't make you love the heroine.  What it did do was give you the tone it was going for and that seems to be psychological thriller/noir.  The one pilot thing it did do was hook me into wanting to watch the next episode, but for having a great idea on what the show is, I am still in the dark on that.

8Oct/150

In Appreciation: Review Season 2

Ryan reviews reviewThis season on one of the best shows on the air, I have seen the main character get shot, stabbed in the stomach, buried alive, get wrapped up in a cult, murder a man and lose many loved ones and I laughed every second.  Review is black as night comedy like nothing else on TV.  While the show follows a pattern each week with main star Forrest MacNeil (Andy Daly) review "life" for his TV show also named Review, it is impossible to guess where the show would take Forrest and the audience each week.

Review just ended its second season on Comedy Central last week and is easily going to end up in my top five best TV shows of the year.  Simply put, there is nothing else like it on TV.  Many articles have been written about how we are leaving a cycle of TV where are main protagonist was a anti-hero whom we should not root for like Walter White, Tony Soprano and Vic Mackey and Forrest fits in with them perfectly.  Unlike meth or the mob, Forrest's main downfall and destruction is his own ego and wanting to feel special.  He is on a TV show that doesn't review movies, TV, theater or music but instead life itself with such questions from his audience including "what is it like to lead a cult" "sleep with your teacher" "have the perfect body" and "murdering someone".  Forrest will then live his life using these questions and then rate what it is like using a 5 star scale.  No matter what the review might be, chances are things will end horribly for Forrest and his life will be worse than it was before.

I am a fan of really dark humor and Review fits that bill perfectly (Andrew's note: I wouldn't have found out about the excellent Cheap Thrills otherwise).  I didn't think Review could go to more uncomfortable places than season one where you saw his home life imploding slowly and painfully but it found a way.  The best episode from season one was "Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes" which twisted the knife into Forrest slowly and then just twisted it more. I thought things couldn't be more cringe inducing then that wonderful episode but season 2 had at least 4 episodes just like it.  Forrest is a horrible cyclone of destruction on not just him but also anyone that happens to be in his path.  His ex-wife has seen her whole life upended at least twice and at one point makes a smart choice to move her and her son out of town and away from her ex and his show.  In this season Forrest also destroys other people's marriages, destroys whole lives, inadvertently murders a handful of people and burns down two separate houses of family members.  There is no doubt that Forrest is the villain of this show and it is even worse because he never comes to realize this or he is too delusional to come to terms with it.