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TV series review: Daredevil

Now I absolutely realize I’m a bit slow on the uptake, but I binge watched this series in two days and am already suffering serious withdrawals having to wait almost a year for the next season, so without further ado here are my thoughts on Daredevil!

Note: I’ve tried to keep this as spoiler free as possible!

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A usual fan of all things Marvel and DC, I have to admit I was feeling a little burned out on superheroes. I tried Gotham, and had really high hopes for the show but gave up after only maybe 5 episodes. I was addicted to the first couple of seasons of Arrow but this latest season left me underwhelmed. I gave up after 6 episodes. I similarly had very high expectations for The Flash and was, again, disappointed. Perhaps I was simply burned out on the CW with the last two shows. I watch a bunch of series on that channel and, to be honest, they all start to look and feel the same. It doesn’t help that they recycle actors, so familiar faces keep popping up. Stephen Amell will always be the sulky werewolf from Vampire Diaries for me, not Oliver Queen. The CW shows are all very pretty with very pretty cast members and all that saturated color and prettiness gets boring after a while. The CW is also a ‘family’ channel and storylines, even dialogue, are somewhat constrained by that PG requirement. Suffice it to say, when I saw teasers for Daredevil, I rolled my eyes and watched Game of Thrones and Penny Dreadful instead. Until now…

Last weekend I was husband-less and feeling lonely without anything new to watch. Since I’d heard people chatting about Daredevil, I decided to look it up and holy crap – that’s Charlie Cox! Charlie was the adorable, if somewhat bumbling, love interest in Stardust and I adored him. I couldn’t imagine that teddy bear playing the badass Matt Murdock. I was intrigued. Then I continued reading the cast list and well, yeah, I just had to watch. Vincent D’Onofrio plays the villain people!

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With much trepidation, I started watching and I couldn’t freaking stop! First off, no voice over! No ‘my name is…’ – just good story! Also, Instead of pretty, well-coiffed cast members in ridiculous designer clothes running around in high heels and pumped up cleavages, I got gritty and bloody. Even the cinematography turns monochromatic in some places, adding to the overall bleakness of the show. Sure, it has its moments of shiny, upper echelon sparkles, but most of it is spent in a decrepit Hell’s Kitchen among the less affluent. How refreshing that the hero isn’t a billionaire. He isn’t exactly poor either, but he’s no Bruce Wayne or Oliver Queen (before certain events dented Ollie’s bank account). Matt Murdock comes from the same background as the people he’s fighting for. His superhero motivation comes from seeing how rough people in his quarter of New York have it and wanting to make their lives better – not some selfish idea of avenging dead parents. I love that! It’s so much more real and so much easier to empathise with the guy.

Matt Murdock is blind – although, granted, some comic-book license has been taken with this disability to make it more help than hindrance, it does lend him a certain vulnerability. It definitely makes him more human, showing he’s susceptible to injury, to pain, and death. Murdock’s, and likewise Daredevil’s, fragility is reiterated throughout the series as he repeatedly takes a beating (he dishes out plenty too), but this is a guy who gets tired, who takes days to recover from injury and who bleeds buckets for what he believes in. The show doesn’t shy away from showing his weaknesses – and what hubris will get you – and that’s refreshing too.

Matt Murdock is Catholic and the opening scene sets up the internal conflict for this character brilliantly. It’s the first (only?) time I’ve seen a religious superhero on TV. It adds another dimension to his character, again making him more real by showing that his moral quandary goes beyond the letters of the law and that he’s trying to act within a powerful if ethereal moral code. It makes him not wanting to kill people a lot more understandable, even when it means he has to take twice the beating before putting down the bad guys. The fight scenes are very realistic too – this is a guy who gets tired and shows he’s hurting.

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Matt Murdock is a lawyer. He’s smart, he worked hard for what he has (no wealthy daddy handed him the keys to a company on a silver platter), and has to work every day to keep food on the table. As such, he is so much more relatable than these billionaire playboy superheroes with a chip on their shoulder. Okay, enough about the awesomeness that is Matt, who is played perfectly by Charlie Cox by the way!

The villain, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, is one of the best I’ve encountered. He is so heart-achingly human. Disturbed, misguided, morally dubious sure, but he’s human. He’s damaged, he’s vulnerable, he needs a hug! And that makes the struggle between Matt and Fisk all the more real and despairing because they’ve both struggled, they’ve both come from tough backgrounds and had to fight to get where they are. They both believe they’re doing the right thing and doing it for the right reasons even though their approaches couldn’t be more different. It’s a very odd thing to feel empathy for the villain in this way. It makes for some seriously nail-biting episodes because there are times I find myself almost rooting for the other side (sorry Matt!). Vincent D’Onofrio is, of course, spectacular in his role as Fisk and commandeers every scene he’s in, demanding your undivided attention.

The show isn’t perfect though. The stereotyping of Asians is rather atrocious and I hope the show does something about that in season 2. The role of women in the show could also be better. At the moment they’re relegated to playing damsels in distress or the love interests (sometimes both). The exception here is Karen (played by Deborah Ann Woll who was my fav vamp in True Blood). Her character is stronger and darker than she first seems and they’ve only just begun to expose the various layers of her character. I hope they make more of her in the next season and give her room to shine alongside the boys. Rosario Dawson plays Matt’s love interest, Claire, and could also be doing a lot more if the script allowed her to. As of yet, there are no LGBT+ characters and only minor black characters 😦 (Ben Urich is perhaps the exception here but is the only PoC with a substantial storyline that isn’t a racial stereotype) I guess I’ll reserve judgement until season 2 and hope the writers move in the right direction, embracing the diversity of their setting. I do like that fact that Matt and Karen both speak Spanish in a part of NY where there is a large Latin community. And we don’t only get two words of the ‘foreign’ language (looking at you Arrow!), we get entire scenes with characters speaking Spanish – and Chinese – which pleases me because it means the producers at least acknowledge the fact that their audience can read subtitles and doesn’t need to be pandered to.

Thank goodness Daredevil is on Netflix. I don’t think the show could do what it’s doing were it on a channel like the CW. This show is dark and gritty, full of conflict, bloody and badass, and my new favourite addiction! I am definitely going to have to rewatch this series before the next season comes out. Actually, I might have to start rewatching today… 5/5 ink splats for a fabulous show!

5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2015 in Reviews

 

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TV Review: Constantine

Comic book adaptations are all the rage at the moment. Just look at all the films from the Marvel universe! Being a bit of a comic geek myself, I’m certainly not complaining about the numerous and often awesome adaptations gracing the small and silver screen, but some are certainly better than others.

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There were two shows I was extremely excited for this autumn, one being Gotham and the other being NBC’s Constantine. I didn’t hate the 2005 film starring Keanu Reeves like so many fans of the comic books did. No, the film wasn’t perfect, but it did capture the spirit of the Hellblazer anti-hero in a way that left me feeling somewhat satisfied. Also, Tilda Swinton, but I digress. Point is, after that incarnation of John Constantine, I was excited to see a blond, Welsh actor take the lead role in the series version of the story, which seemed to promise a more traditional and true-to-source rendition.

The Hellblazer comics – which I discovered via Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman – are super dark, gritty and unapologetic, starring the ever so snarky, cynical and somewhat unlikable Constantine. Given the superficial aesthetics the show seemed to be getting right with the blond, British hero, I thought they’d be on track to deliver an equally accurate story world complete with all the ghastliness of the source material. However, I had my reservations when I discovered that NBC would not be portraying Constantine as bisexual. This was a big red flag. If the studio was prepared to alter this trait (and do I even want to know why they felt having a bisexual protagonist wasn’t okay for television?), what else might they be planning to change.

Episode one did not blow me away. If anything, it irritated the living daylights out of me because once again we were treated to the ‘my name is…’ voice over that needs to die a sudden and eternal death. Not only this, but Matt Ryan who takes on the titular role, didn’t seem settled in the shoes of his character, not sure whether to play this detective dark and brooding ala Keanu or go for a more tongue-in-cheek jaded antihero type. Consequently, his portrayal is a bit of a mess as it jaunts between the two a little erratically, throwing off the tone of the show. Does it want to pull the comedy card and follow in the footsteps of paranormal shows like Supernatural or Buffy, or does it want to be Gotham and go for the throat? The writers can’t seem to make up their minds.

Episode two was worse in that it set the stage for an episodic series structure I was not expecting. I don’t want another monster-a-week type show. Even Supernatural moved away from that in favour of larger, longer story ARCs and with the likes of Gotham and Game of Thrones now on screen as proof that a show doesn’t have to follow the episodic formula to gain viewership, I’m a little disappointed with Constantine. Also, I wanted this series to be jet-black, not a grimy shade of grey, and I’m getting a sort of off-white. Splashes of fake blood do not a series dark make! Perhaps this is simply my own fault for expecting something different from what the show has so far delivered.

Episode three was actually a bit better and enjoyed this week’s offering a lot more than either of the previous episodes. Hooray, no voice over! This immediately gained the show some extra points. It’s also in episode three that we first encounter Midnite and learn a little more of John’s musical history – something sadly lacking in the 2005 film version. That said, I’m still not clear on why this show is set in America other than to perhaps give the US audience that sense of security that comes with familiar settings, but I honestly think it would’ve been a far more atmospheric and interesting show if they’d stuck with the London setting.

Three episodes in and Constantine reminds me a whole lot of Supernatural without the awesomeness of the Winchesters. Like Sam and Dean, Constantine and crew traipse about the US hunting down nasty outbreaks of magic/demons/monsters/sorcery etc. Like Sam and Dean, Constantine has a complicated relationship with an angel. Like Sam and Dean, Constantine has a tubby bearded guy as his research guru who usually holds down the fort in their home full of strange artifacts. Unlike Sam and Dean, Constantine does not provide anywhere near the same amount of eye-candy or sex appeal. Unlike Sam and Dean, Constantine lacks a significant other with whom to trade barbs and witty banter and consequently much of the humour falls flat. I think Matt Ryan is trying his best, but he’s all alone behind the camera and isn’t quite able to carry the story on his narrow shoulders, especially given that he appears to be a character with nothing to lose, thus there’s a distinct lack of conflict and lack of stakes for this guy. So every bit of magic he performs shaves off a few days of his life, meh, he doesn’t seem to care so why should we? Also, any attempts at the silliness and parody Supernatural has got down to a fine art, merely induces eye-rolls in Constantine.

In short, Constantine did not live up to my expectations and certainly doesn’t deliver the kind of story or personality I wanted considering the source material. In the wake of an epic show like Supernatural that’s now in its tenth season, Constantine just doesn’t feel fresh and has yet to offer anything new to the paranormal/urban fantasy genre. Honestly, I’ve seen it all and done better on Supernatural. My constant thought while watching Constantine is ‘if only Sam and Dean were here to help,’ so… I will give Constantine a few more episodes to find its feet, but I am so far underwhelmed and strongly recommend watching Supernatural instead if you’re in need of werebeasties and pentagrams. Constantine gets 2/5 ink splats, saved by this third installment and my hope that it will continue to improve.

2 inksplats

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2014 in Reviews

 

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TV Show Review: Forever

I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for procedurals. JAG, CSI, Lie to Me, House, Castle, Criminal Minds, Mentalist, Bones, Elementary, White Collar… – I have watched and loved them all! Give me a procedural with a speculative aspect and I am in my uber happy place. Shows like Blood Ties, Moonlight and even Tru Calling really did it for me. So I was delighted to discover the brand new TV show due to air this Autumn on ABC. It’s called Forever and stars Ioan Gruffudd, an actor I had a mega crush on when I was a kid and addicted to the Hornblower series. Gruffudd’s soulful eyes and accent aside, Forever made me all kinds of excited and it certainly wasn’t because of the IMDB description:

A 200-year-old man works in the New York City Morgue trying to find a key to unlock the curse of his immortality.

Forever

When I first read that rather dry one-liner, I went ‘nah’ and moved on to the next new series of Fall 2015, but then reviews started dribbling onto the net and I saw some promo pics and I realized that there was a hell of a lot more to this story. See, that 200-year-old man, Henry Morgan (Gruffudd), isn’t some creepy janitor mopping the mortuary floors and getting cozy with the corpses, he’s the NYPD’s medical examiner! He’s a highly intelligent doctor with a savant-like eye for detail, a somewhat brooding countenance and a dry wit to boot, and his days aren’t spent pondering his immortality so much as they are running around New York City with an ultra slick female Latina detective, Jo Martinez, who is as badass as she is beautiful. She’s a strong, independent female character in a male dominated field who could give Kate Beckett a run for her money and I find her an interesting and compelling character, if not quite as interesting as Mr Immortal. So, the show’s description probably should’ve read something like this:

A 200-year-old man works as a crime-solving ME in New York City while trying to unlock the secret of his immortality before a know-it-all stranger threatens to destroy his carefully constructed world.

Now that sounds exciting and is far closer to the gist of this story, which is equal parts police procedural and sci-fi mystery – yup, there’s a whole immortal sub-plot lurking in the background and I know it’s going to be unnerving and awesome! I thoroughly enjoyed the pilot and have remained captivated through the other episodes that have aired. This is due in part to Ioan Gruffudd owning the screen with his portrayal of a sometimes arrogant, often endearingly naive, always quirky character as he navigates the modern era with his sexagenarian side-kick who provides comic relief and food for thought. While certain aspects of the show seem a little familiar – hard to avoid given that this is a police procedural after all – there is enough of an emphasis on the science fiction aspect – or arguably fantasy aspect, we’re not sure yet – to make this series seem fresh and unique when compared to the bevy of other procedurals currently on air.

My biggest gripe about this show? The bloody voice-overs! I point my fingers at the CW for turning this into a trend. Voice-overs have always been a lazy, but easy way of conveying exposition to an audience, be it words scrolling on the screen or the main character dictating a screed of ‘stuff you need to know.’ I have NEVER been a fan of this trick so pervasive in SF/F film, and I’m even less of a fan with it on the small screen. Shows like Arrow, The Tomorrow People and now The Flash are all guilty of it and the whole ‘my name is’ formula is getting old fast. While I could forgive the voice-over in the pilot of Forever as a way to set the scene and explain the main SF concept to those perhaps expecting a more mundane crime show, I am fast losing my tolerance for it in subsequent episodes. Thank goodness they seem to be sticking to an intro voice-over and an end of episode wrap-up comment with a slightly philosophical tone. Any more than that and I think I might put my fist through the screen. Still, this is a trend I wish would die a sudden death!

In conclusion, Forever is great for fans of procedurals with a sci-fi bent who enjoy quirky characters, more thinking/less action, and slower pacing for subplots. If it weren’t for those damn voice-overs, this might’ve scored 5 ink splats from me because this show has just about everything I look for in smart, entertaining TV. Alas, it only gets 4.5 splats.

4.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2014 in Guest Reviews, Reviews

 

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