Monthly Archives: November 2015

Jessica Jones: Not Your Victim

I’ve been watching Jessica Jones on Netflix, because it’s Thanksgiving Break and there’s a new Marvel show out so what do you expect me to do? I’m eight episodes and, so this post will contain some spoilers.

Right off the bat, there’s the fact that after Agent Carter, this is the second MCU property to have a woman front and center. And to the sides too. And basically everywhere you look. Jessica Jones doesn’t skimp on filling out roles with women, whether they’re Jessica’s best friends, lawyers, or even annoying neighbors. Female characters in Jessica Jones are given the breadth and depth male characters are usually afforded.

More telling is Jessica Jones’ own subversion of the typical “Strong Female Character” template. As women become more prominent in fiction we tend to idolize characters like Black Widow or Imperator Furiosa; women who kick ass and take names. But characters like Sansa Stark fall by the wayside since they don’t fight back, at least not physically Never mind her steady mastery of politicking, she’s nowhere near as interesting or ‘strong’ as her sister, Arya (I disagree vehemently, but that’s for another day). Now, given that Jessica Jones literally has super strength, it would seem that she would lean towards the action-sort of a strong character. Yet many of Jessica’s biggest and best moments aren’t her throwing a punch. Throughout the show, Jessica will put herself in situations she would rather run from but instead will face up to despite the emotional weight. Whether it’s facing up to a villain she knows will bring up personal trauma or even trying to comfort someone when what happened is still eating her up inside, Jessica shows strength in ways that don’t involve punching thugs.

What Jessica Jones does, though, is rewrite the victim narrative. Jessica spent time under Kilgrave’s mind control and she shows the trauma and PTSD from it. When he comes back, the space exists for there to be a vengeance narrative; where she finds him and kills him. Through a cruel twist of fate, however, Jessica needs him alive. Which means she has to actually confront the man who destroyed her life. When she finally does, she yells at him; explicitly accusing him of rape. Though Jessica was a victim, she’s not the helpless witness while the CSI folks do their thing. The show lets Jessica make a choice about how to react to what happened to her, and she isn’t limited to the traditional revenge thing or running away. She can confront her rapist and prove that she’s more than what he did to her.

Which brings me to one more thing Jessica Jones does so differently from a lot of other shows: its depiction of female sexuality. With the exception of very few, the general consensus of pop-culture is that women aren’t supposed to enjoy or desire sex without being labeled ‘sluts.’ In Jessica Jones however, the consensual on screen sexual encounters — of which there are more than a few — are all either initiated by a woman or ones where she’s enjoying it. Furthermore, there’s a great emphasis placed on intimacy and not just physicality. We see Jeri and her mistress/girlfriend in quiet moments, cuddling in the back of a car rather than as sapphic eye candy. Although there are sex scenes intended for mature audiences, the women don’t seem to be “on display” for the camera and the male gaze. Quite the opposite in fact, since Luke Cage is clearly set up to be a person of desire. It helps that he’s smoking hot, but the show is shot so that Luke is clearly the eye candy for Jessica and the audience, and not the other way round. Of course, Jessica’s relationship with Luke is one of equals and something that I’d need another 800-odd words to get through.

Point of all this to say, Jessica Jones is a fascinating show — and I haven’t even gotten into its plot proper yet. If anything, Jessica Jones does a fantastic job of reworking the typical display of sexual politics in pop-culture. On that show a victim can be strong, women can do or want anything, and, dang, Luke Cage is hot.

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The Surprising Elegance of Jackie Chan

I’ve been on a bit of a different movie kick lately. Watched Attack The Block (finally!) before jumping into a bunch of martial arts flicks like The Raid and Armor of God. The latter prompted a dive into Jackie Chan’s filmography and that’s how I found myself watching Police Story. Which, somehow, I hadn’t seen before.

Which is a real shame. Because, dang, that’s an excellent movie. And not just in the “Good-Jackie-Chan-flick” or even just cool for an action movie. We’re talking great across the board. Yes, the action and stunts are unquestionably top notch, but the central story is quite robust and there are a couple truly exceptional scenes.

Like many a good cop movie, there’s a courtroom scene where the hero cop tries to indict the villain. What surprised me when I watched it was how surprisingly well done it is. Rather than being a scene just there for fluff, it’s a scene treated with as much craft as the rest of the movie. It’s an intense scene with as many twists and turns as an action scene. It’s good, is what I’m saying, something you almost wouldn’t expect to be in this sort of film.

The other thing that Police Story does that so many movies forgo is the use of slapstick. Emblematic of Jackie Chan’s films is slapstick — both within action scenes and in the story itself. This slapstick isn’t just physical comedy, but also fantastic visual storytelling. Take the scene where Jackie’s character, Ka Kui, takes the witness, Selina, back to his apartment. What follows is a great sequence where Selina and May, Ka Kui’s girlfriend, attempt to stay out of his sight as Ka Kui bad mouths her. It’s hilarious and it works, in no small part because there’s actually a great deal of effort and craft put into it. The camerawork is used to hide things for solid reveals and the characters’ blocking move them around, just keeping them missing each other.

But the best part of Police Story is how all of this works together, particularly within Ka Kui’s character. It’s not terribly easy to get a proper read on him, insofar as it’s hard to pigeonhole him into a Typical Protagonist Archetype. He’s not quite the renegade cop or the one good police officer or even the bumbling incompetent sort. Ka Kui is a good, honorable officer, but he’s also not above being a bit of a jerk. But even more noteworthy, the movie balances him being a slapstick character while also letting him be dramatic. He’s not just the comic relief character, he also gets heavy beats. The court scene is a big moment for Ka Kui, an early chance for him to prove himself to the audience. At that point in the film we’re able to take him seriously enough for it to have enough drama, but its ending on a comedic beat doesn’t feel out of place. Yes, it’s a blow to him and his goal, but it doesn’t diminish him as a character. It’s effective because Police Story’s world is one that allows for both deep drama and broad comedy.

It’s an unusual tone not really seen in Western films, where the hero can be the butt of slapstick jokes but still be, well, the hero. Maybe it’s partially born out of a familiarity with the sort of stuff Jackie Chan makes, but it may also be a willingness to think a little differently about storytelling. At the end of the day, I’m honestly not sure. I grew up with all sorts of movies from all over the place, but never realized how well done some of them were — like Police Story. In any case, I’ve a bunch more Jackie Chan flicks on my to-watch list.

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Why Easy A Is An Excellent Example of Storytelling

I saw Easy A when it first came out a few years ago. Wanted to because Emma Stone (of Zombieland fame), Will Gluck (who did Fired Up!), and The Scarlet Letter (which I, being a dutiful student in 11th grade English, read). I liked it a bunch and so when it was on sale recently I picked it up.

And I finally re-watched it. And I think I like it even more.

Because Easy-A is an excellent piece of storytelling. There’s a lot to like about it, of course. It’s fabulously witty, with the script’s jokes coming fast and punchy. Then there’s the great family dynamic that comes all to seldom to high school comedies. Olive’s parents aren’t the losers or the antagonists, instead they’re, well, her parents. The movie’s one of all too few (Super 8 comes to mind) that doesn’t write out the parents completely but rather makes them interesting in their own right. Of course, that may be partially to blame on Stanley Tucci, but all the same. Where Easy A really shines, though, is in its excellent plotting and commitment to theme. Seriously. The movie doesn’t waste anything.

Clocking in at around and hour and a half, Easy A fittingly moves along at a brisk pace. It takes barely five minutes in to reach the inciting incident (the rumor about Olive spreads) and the movie ends shortly after that plot line ends (Olive comes clean about the truth). There’s no Return of the King style ending where we get a half hour’s worth of resolution, nor is there an age spent establishing characters and dressing up their normal world; Easy A skips right to the punch. Heck, the inciting incident happens before we’ve been introduced to all the major players.

This quickness reveals one of Easy A’s greatest strengths. Each character, from Todd to Olive’s parents, are established with an expediency that would make Joss Whedon jealous. Granted, Olive’s voiceover helps speed it along, but here it isn’t a lazy storytelling device. See, the voice over is worked into the narrative itself: it’s Olive’s confession and retelling of all the events. So not only does it help us, as the audience, get up to speed with everything really quickly. But it also serves the story in that it’s Olive saying what really happened. It’s not lazily doing nothing; her voice over emphasizes the central theme of the film.


That’s the other thing Easy A does so well: stick to its theme. As Olive says, there are two sides to every story. The film is about the truth and rumors and every conflict within the narrative is born of it. The central tension rises out of Olive’s story being overheard; it escalates when she makes a business of lying to spread ‘positive’ rumors. Lastly, it’s the truth — and Olive spreading it — that brings about the story’s resolution. Everything in the film is about it. But because everything adheres to this central tension (truth versus rumors), the plot feels incredibly focused.

So not only does Easy A know the story it’s telling, but it is firmly committed to telling that story. Everything is built around it; Olive’s relationships are built around honesty and who believes her. Who knows the rumors versus the truth. Who believes the rumors versus the truth. Here’s the biggest thing to learn from Easy A: if you know what your story’s about and develop everything around it, nothing gets wasted.

So yeah, Easy A is an excellent example of a story well told. And I’d got more into it but t’s almost midnight and I’ve gotta get this posted. Long story short, it’s fantastically paced and handles its theme in a great way.

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Signs of the Times

The Uncharted games are what got me really into gaming as an adult (well, them and Metal Gear Solid). With the release and my subsequent acquisition of the Nathan Drake Collection, I’ve spent the past couple days replaying Drake’s Fortune, the first game in the series, for the first time in a few years.

And the game still holds up, because of course it does. Drake’s Fortune still looks great eight years after it came out (due in some part to the Remastered nation of the Collection) and it still plays great. Punching and shooting bad guys is as fun as ever and the platforming remains surprisingly deft.

It’s certainly different from the later two Uncharted games, though. Drake’s Fortune lacks the wide variety of verticality that became a hallmark of the series. The game’s firefight arenas are oddly linear. Sure, sometimes you have to shoot up to kill a pirate-mercenary-baddie, but climbing around to flank them from above isn’t so much an option as is continuing on down the differently-dressed corridors of gunfire. Also of note is how oddly lonely Drake’s Fortune seems, especially compared to Among Thieves. Where the later games would have you running around and exchanging banter with someone throughout the game, be it Elena, Chloe, Sully, or Charlie. Drake’s Fortune has Nathan Drake on his own for huge swaths of the game, to the point where it sometimes feels that Naughty Dog was deliberately setting him up to be alone. Sure, we still get him talking to himself now and then, but the lack of banter is noticeable. It also does a disservice to Elena and Sully, who frequently opt to sit out a part of the adventure for some arbitrary reason. Or maybe Among Thieves just isolated Drake more organically. I’m replaying that next.

But what’s most striking about Drake’s Fortune is the parts where it seems so old. The video game landscape looked very different in 2007 than it does now, particularly in narrative-focused adventure games like this. For example, there are a few glaring quick time events where you literally push x (or o) not to die. It’s obvious where the mindset comes from, trying to add some new actions to the game. Drake can jump off a falling ledge now (if you push x at just the right time). These quick time events, besides being annoying (dude, I don’t wanna have to push x not to die randomly during the final showdown!), are jarring when you look at the steps taken in Among Thieves, where the player is in control as a building explodes or a city crumbles. Drake’s Fortune’s quick time events feel lazy and, well, unimaginative.

They do add variety, though, but Drake’s Fortune was clearly born out of an era where gameplay variety meant a couple jet ski chapters and one where you manned the gun on a truck. And sure, it does succeed in switching up gameplay from the usual run-gun-climb, but it feels like a crude method to do so, once again something later Uncharted games have improved on by changing up the area where you run-gun-climb. Not to say it’s bad by any means, rather it’s very much a sign of when it was made. Drake’s Fortune is very much a video game from 2007.

I suppose then that it shows the growing pains of video games like Uncharted went through. Some concepts and features feel have-formed in comparison to what they would become and others feel downright old. All that to say, I can’t help but to wonder how games will look eight years from now; what mechanics that games employ now will be old hat then?

Oh please let it be micro-transactions.

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