Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A World on Fire - Netflix and Marvel's Daredevil

Remember that movie in 2003, the first time Ben Affleck tried to be a super hero? Though it's always cool to watch Jennifer Garner kick butt and do her own stunts like she did in the amazing series Alias, but it wasn't enough to save that movie as it was rightfully laughed right out of the box office. (For your own necessary enjoyment, watch the Honest Trailer HERE)

Though the film was terrible, I was drawn to the concepts of the narrative below the surface. The Gothic, film noir atmosphere, the blind hero, the Catholic faith. Spires. Streets. Shadows. Blood. Netflix was able to pick up the pieces of the narrative the movie messily left behind and create something worthy of those unique elements. The opening credits alone present this beautifully. Justice. Angels. Devils. More Blood. 

I was blown away but the fullness of the characters. They are well-developed, multi-faceted, and still manage to surprise us. The two adversaries are the heart of the show. We are shown two sides of a very tough coin through the eyes of two men who are probably the most intriguing characters currently on TV in general. Matt Murdock (Daredevil) and Wilson Fisk (Kingpin).

The Daredevil lives in the underbelly of the city he loves, a place commonly referred to as “Hell’s Kitchen.” Blinded from an accident in his childhood, Matt describes what he sees in his blindness as “a world on fire.” This extends into the physical world he inhabits. Concrete, brick, glass, asphalt, metal. All painted with high-contrast lighting, bold fiery hues, and the blackest shadows. The office Matt occupies with his friends and co-workers Foggy and Karen, his apartment, and just about everywhere he goes is overwhelmed by this imagery. Even his glasses are tinted red to further emphasize how he sees the world. Red is the color of rage, passion, fire, and yes, the devil. Hell’s Kitchen is full of people with heart, but it’s in utter chaos daily.

Clean, modern, minimalist, glass, white. This is how we see the world through Wilson Fisk. His money folds as crisply as his suits. Color coded closet, the same breakfast every day, routine, structure, order, system. Wilson appears to be a quiet man of civility on the surface. He even pours green tea in the culturally correct manner he learned abroad in Asia. He observes every courtesy, every manner of grace to those he respects. Yet, for all his orderly living and respectful manners, there is a coldness in his voice that cuts through his presence like a razor. 

Matt's rage comes from the outside in, Wilson's comes from the inside out. Their righteous rage is what binds them together. Matt’s father gave his life so his son would know he was honorable, Fisk killed his father so that he would no longer abuse and torment his family. Matt trained at the highest level of martial arts and went to law school. Fisk learned the arts of business and culture. Both self-made men find themselves at war with the other when their passions and visions for the city collide. What's unique about these two is that they both believe what they are doing is genuinely what's best for the city and initially their morality isn't that far apart. 

Vincent D'Onofrio gives a thoroughly unprecedented performance as Wilson Fisk. His character has so many layers, motivations, and emotions you have absolutely no idea what he'll do next. He's shocking and alluring. There's a placid quality to his courtesy and respect, but once crossed he becomes a geyser of reaction. In most portrayals of "the Kingpin," the character is seen merely as a fat mobster in a gray suit, but D'Onofrio's Fisk has a sensitive, beating heart. It's this sensitivity that gets him into trouble. His decisions and moves are often made with emotion and compromise.

This was shown to us very vividly the morning Vanessa (the beguiling art dealer he falls in love with) wakes up next to him. We see his normal routine heavily influenced by her. She eats breakfast with him, picks out his suit and cufflinks, dresses him. He lets her, though he seems uneasy about it throughout the entire montage. His love for her allows him to compromise his own routine and later we see it allows him to compromise everything he's worked for. It's not that their love isn't genuine, it totally is, and it's not that love shouldn't be the most important thing, it should be. However, when you are a person with a tendency to be completely consumed by your emotions love can go from nectar to poison quickly. 

Daredevil (though he dons neither the suit nor the name until the end of the series) lives up to the name. He's no saint. His world is one of cuts, bruises, stitches, and broken bones and he gives just as much as he receives. He uses brute force and often finds his ethical rage leading him down a path of blood and pain. The violence in this series is graphic, but not gratuitous. It's a hard reminder of reality, especially Hell's Kitchen's reality, which often leads lambs to slaughter along with the wolves.

Initially Matt is known as "the man in black" or "the devil of Hell's Kitchen." He wears a black outfit any guy could throw together. I think it was a byproduct of convenience as much as it was for symbolism. When he was "the man in black" he was vulnerable. No armor, no way to contain his rage or protect himself.  This openness often left him bleeding in dumpsters and putting himself and those he cares about in harm's way. There is an old-fashioned recklessness in the way Charlie Cox portrays Matt and that helps to better justify the vigilante name he later chooses for himself.

Matt is also plagued with his emotions, but not in the same way. "Stick," the man who trained him in martial arts, begged him to let go of his attachments to people, implying that they slow him down and prevent him from becoming the soldier of righteousness he's meant to be. Matt refuses. He chooses to have relationships because he knows that while life may be easier without them, he would lose sight of what he's fighting for if he broke away from those he cares for.

In the early episodes, we learn about Matt's relationship with his father, Jack Murdock. He was an "average Joe," but he loved his son more than life and wanted him to be the best he could possibly be. Jack made a living as a boxer. Matt saw daily that violence is what put food on the table and he was the one who patched up his dad's wounds after every fight. When Jack was asked to lose a fight to help some shady people make big money, he accepts, until Matt tells him he needs to win and shows how much he believes in him. Unwilling to be a coward in his son's eyes, Jack fights and wins. Though he wins in the ring, he loses on the streets, murdered shortly after the match because of his defiance.

When Matt's earthly father dies, he turns to his Heavenly Father. One of my favorite aspects about Daredevil is Matt's faith. He's far from perfect, and often finds himself in confession. He struggles with his belief and doubt, but it's his faith that sets him apart from the real demons in Hell's Kitchen, as well as the other super heroes in the Marvel-verse.

Matt and his Priest have a solid relationship. Father Lantom has open arms and grace in spades. However, if you're thinking he's the next Uncle Ben or some all-wise oracle, think again. Lantom is a very relatable character. He questions Matt's motives, but asks Matt to examine himself rather than rely solely on him for sage advice. Lantom admits when he isn't sure of something and has no problem telling Matt hard truths un-apologetically. Their conversations are amongst my favorite moments in the series as they are truly character defining and inspiring moments for the Daredevil journey. I hope season two will explore this on an even deeper, personal level for Matt.

To conclude I will say that Daredevil is a nearly perfect series. The "nearly" part is because they totally dropped the ball on the adorable Foggy/Karen development toward the end. It was as if the show completely forgot all their build-up from the beginning of the season. (Seriously, WTC Netflix?) Other than that, this show is a masterpiece for the small screen. I would recommend it to anyone even, and perhaps most especially, to people who aren't normally fans of comic-based stories.

Faith. Love. Realism. Rage. Death. Justice...

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Testament of Youth - My Guest Post on Reel World Theology!

Hey all, I have some exciting news!

Recently I've connected with some wonderful folks from Reel World Theology, another film/television blog that also does podcasts. They've kindly let me do a guest posting on their blog for the film Testament of Youth.

I'm really exicted as this is the first time I've shared a post with another site, and I certainly hope it will not be the last. RWT shares the vision of Reel Cathedral in digging into the spiritual heart of film, television, and media. Their tagline "entertainment is not mindless" sums it up perfectly.

Click on this link to my post below and be sure to check out the other reviews and topics on their site...

Testament of Youth Review on Reel World Theology

You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter...

RWT Facebook

RWT Twitter

Thanks everyone! Next I'll be discussing Marvel's Daredevil, the Netflix original series.

Stay tuned,


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

M.O.S. #1 - Hoban and Zoe Washburne

Hey everyone! I am still working on redefining and remodeling this blog, but in the meantime, I wanted to start another series that I will continue sporadically in the future called M.O.S. No, it's not mit out sound, for all my filmmaking amigos, but Marriage on Screen.

Yes, I am an old-fashioned old lady who is very passionate about marriage and the union of husband and wife. However, I've noticed an increasing trend of traditional marriages often being shown in a negative light on screen in our contemporary culture. I'm not sure what it is, but when you find a truly inspiring, yet realistic marriage on screen it's a rare thing.

Another reason I want to discuss marriage on screen is that often marriage has been merely the end game of the story and once they get together the credits roll and we don't see what real married life is like. Or, people are married but their relationship is splattered with infidelity and other kinds of quirky dysfunctional hijinks. Or, they're married and secretly want to kill one another (Gone Girl anyone? Yikes!) So I am making it one of my side-missions to talk about the on-screen marriages I adore and why I feel they deserve praise. If I don't pick certain ones it doesn't mean I am against them,  it just means I'm extremely picky and want to only discuss couples I'm personally passionate about. Sorry, but life is short!

So without further ado, first on my list is Hoban and Zoe Washburne of the incredible, gone-too-soon Joss Whedon masterpiece, Firefly. These two are played to perfection by the adorable Alan Tudyk and the gorgeous Gina Torres.

For those who haven't seen Firefly, SEE IT. RIGHT NOW. Not even kidding. Until then...


Zoe and Wash are a wonderful pairing of opposites. Wash is goofy, loving, imaginative, energetic and positive. Myself and many other fans agree he's an ENFP (Myers-Briggs type), which is fun for me because I am too and it's rare to see male ENFPs on screen. Zoe is a reserved, serious, practical, honor and duty-bound soldier. She's a text-book ISTJ, the complete opposite of Wash.

For them, differences work well together and it's what attracted them to each other. Wash brings out a sense of humor in Zoe that enables her to let her guard down, be relaxed and have fun. When she's with Wash she's playful and carefree. Likewise, Zoe is Wash's guardian. He's the pilot of their ship Serenity and she's basically the captain's first mate. Wash's imagination and emotional desires can sometimes cloud his judgment, so Zoe is always looking out for him and has his back, even when he doesn't realize it.

They are also an interracial couple, which is nice to see. I really appreciate that they are an interracial couple that doesn't feel the need to make a big deal out of the fact they are an interracial couple. In fact, it doesn't even get mentioned once throughout the entire series. Why? because it's irrelevant! Thank you Joss Whedon for showing diversity without telling. If this show had gotten preachy about it, it would have detracted from the heart of the matter which is that two very different people can have a thriving, committed relationship.

Likewise, Zoe and Wash break a lot of stereotypes without making a big deal out of breaking the stereotypes. Wash is a lover, not a fighter. He's an amazing pilot, but when it comes to the fighting and the shooting, he takes a step back. Zoe is the soldier. She can shoot and fight better than most men and she doesn't get all smug about it either. Zoe has nothing to prove to anyone. She's a strong woman and her husband loves her for it. They embody all the necessary facets of husband and wife: lovers, friends, partners, teammates. They both love and respect each other for who they are and don't try to change the other. Wash isn't threatened or emasculated by Zoe's strength, he's simply himself and he encourages his wife to be herself. Fancy that!

Now that doesn't mean this respect doesn't get tested occasionally. Zoe and Mal (the ship's captain) have a long history of being friends and comrades together in the war long before she ever met Wash. Zoe listens to Mal because he was her commanding officer and she trusts his judgment. One good example of a moment Zoe and Wash are tested is in the episode called "War Stories." Here Wash struggles with Zoe's tendency to trust Mal's judgement more than his. He feels left out when he should be the most important thing to her. In the episode, Wash and Mal get captured and tortured by Nisk, who is basically a sadistic mob lord. When Zoe comes to their rescue Nisk says she can only take one of them. He assumes he'll get the joy of watching her agonize over the choice between her husband and her captain, but before he can draw another breath she points right at Wash and says. "Him."

In just one word, Zoe sums up who she is as a wife. Her husband truly is the most important person to her. She would fight for him, die for him, and she will always choose him first. No, I'm not tearing up while... I'm... typing... this... *sniff*

Another scene that comes to mind is when Simon, the ship's doctor, gets shot. He calls on Zoe to help him remove the bullet. She struggles with it a bit, and Wash just jumps around energetically wiping her brow and pretty much being useless in the practical sense. However, it's his presence and support that encourages her to tackle the challenge.

They face many such challenges and moments of miscommunication or irritation with one another, but thankfully are never subjected to the stereotypical TV methods of testing relationships. Soap opera tactics like love triangles or couples willfully deceiving each other for some dramatic reason or other. These two have love, respect, a healthy sex life, and a strong bond with their ship family. I believe they are more relatable and realistic as a couple because of these qualities.

Yes, Inara. I feel that way during the funeral scene of Serenity too.
Zoe and Wash start out married and stay married, right until the end. An end that I still have trouble talking about. I will NEVER get over Wash's death in Serenity. Too far, Joss, too far. Though Fox terminated Firefly way before it's time and Serenity brought a devastating climax to the Zoe and Wash love story, there is a small sliver of hope. So many fans, myself included, imagined that maybe Zoe was pregnant before Wash was killed. They spoke of wanting to have a baby in an episode. So thankfully in the graphic novels the authors too felt some sort of hope was needed for this incredible couple. Thus, Zoe was indeed pregnant and gave birth to a daughter she named Hoban after her father.

I don't give a good gorram about relevant, Wash. Or objective. 
And I ain't so afraid of losing something 
that I ain't gonna try to have it. 
You and I would make one beautiful baby. 
And I want to meet that child one day. Period.

~ Zoe Washburne

I leave you today with this fan video I found that may or may not have made my mascara run. Zoe and Wash forever. Peace out, Browncoats!