Review of “Daredevil” (seasons 1 & 2)

      • B

daredevilThe first Marvel series made for Netflix, Daredevil is fairly entertaining. The series starts by introducing the character Daredevil and his alter ego, lawyer Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox). Matt is blind, but has a unique gift that allows his remaining senses to give him perception that is in many ways more penetrating than vision. He meets another blind man, Stick (Scott Glenn) who trains him in the martial arts.

After an initial battle where he is almost killed and kills a Japanese assassin called Nobu, he vows to never kill again. The remainder of season one is a mixture of court drama and combat as Matt and his partners battle Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), a criminal mastermind attempting to take over and redevelop Matt’s New York neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen.

In the second season, the series is more exciting, but jumps around a lot more. There are two major plot arcs. The first involves the Punisher (Jon Bernthal) executing members of several gangs, and Matt defending him in his murder trial. The second involves an old flame, Elektra (Elodie Yung), and the mysterious criminal organization she is battling. The two come together in the conclusion.

I found the first season a little slow. D’Onofrio stood out, and his character was a nice change from the typical one dimensional villain. Season two was more exciting, but it jumped around a little too much. The Punisher was introduced, but is much better developed in his standalone series (see my review of “The Punisher”). Elektra is a bit unlikable (probably intentionally).

Overall, I found Daredevil entertaining, but The Punisher is far better. The narrative structure of season 1 worked well, as Daredevil’s and Matt’s lives interleaved. Season 2 does a poorer job of it, and seems to be trying hard to make the show interesting. In doing so, it becomes a bit frenetic, jumping from one story to another a little quickly. The end of the season does a good job tying it all together.

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Review of “Moana”

* D

moanaUnlike earlier Disney animated features, Moana has little to recommend it. The songs are forgettable. The acting is serviceable, with Auli’i Cravalho playing the title roll, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson voicing Maui, the Polynesian Loki. Temuera “Jango” Morrison does some solid voice acting as Chief Tui, and Rachel House voices Gramma Tala, who is probably the most interesting character.

Other than musically, Moana fails in the writing. The typical story of a youth who ventures out and encounters the otherworld, the land of the gods and monsters, is recast with a girl, Moana, in the role of the hero. What a twist! Her father, on the other hand, is a craven coward, and even threatens to destroy the tribe’s ocean going canoes. These were essential to the culture, as when an island became overpopulated, brave men and women would venture forth in them to find a new one.

Moana’s character is completely masculine; she is fearless, and yearns for adventure. We are constantly told that she is not a princess (which in Polynesia, she would have been) but will be the future chief. There are also scenes where Maui questions her abilities because she is a girl, but she constantly proves him wrong. This comes off as heavy handed virtue signalling. If you want to gender bend a piece of mythology, you need to do so with finesse that was not shown here.

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Review of “American Assassin”

* D

american-assassinAmerican Assassin is a fairly straightforward action flick. It starts out well. Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) is caught up in an Islamic terror attack, and his fiancee is killed in front of his eyes. He then trains and joins ISIS, with the objective to kill those responsible. He is about to have his revenge when the cell is attacked by the Americans, and the man who killed his fiancee is killed. Mitch is taken captive, and is then recruited by the CIA.

After he is trained by Stan Hurley (Michael “Batman” Keaton), they are sent to stop a group of Iranian terrorists who are trying to acquire a nuclear weapon. There are only two things that scare me, and one of them is nuclear war. The weapon is stolen by a rogue former CIA agent who was also trained by Hurley, and Rapp has to stop him from blowing up the US navy.

After the promising opening act, Rapp’s revenge at any cost character is essentially dropped, and he becomes a rookie underdog good guy. At this point, the only thing that made the film interesting is gone, and what’s left is a tired plot out of an eighties James Bond film without any gadgets. Keaton is dull, and O’Brien isn’t up to carrying the remaining two acts of what becomes a series of cliched tropes.

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Review of “Blade Runner 2049” (spoilers)

* * C

bladerunner2049Blade Runner 2049 was a huge disappointment. The film is fairly hard to follow, and the reasons things are happening are often not obvious and go unexplained. It is set far into the future from the previous game. There is a long, difficult to read (on the small screen) text explaining what has happened in the intervening years: there has been a war in the colonies, and production of replicants has been banned.

K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner (rogue replicant hunter) who is himself a replicant. He has a girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armas) who is a software program who can project herself as a hologram. He gradually uncovers the mystery of what happened to Deckard (Harrison “Indy” Ford) and Rachael. Meanwhile, Niander Wallace (Jared “Joker” Leto), the current maker of replicants, has his replicant henchwoman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) seeking Deckard.

The original nailed the core concept of the Philip K. Dick novella on which it was based: What does it mean to be human? This film continues to explore the topic, delving into how implanted childhood memories are used to keep the replicants stable. A new test is introduced by which the K’s mental stability, referred to as his baseline, is verified. Joi, who for me was the most interesting character, is never explained, and you are left to wonder how human she is.

I liked the way that, like the original, the envisioned future was simply shown, with very little exposition. Unfortunately, this was not made up for with detail and dialog. In the first film, what replicants are is explained in video that Deckard watches and by people that he interviews. A negative, for me, was the bleak nature of Dick’s future. In 2049, the natural world is largely dead. Even wood has become incredibly rare. The dead world and the slow pace of the film make its mood deeply depressing.

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Liberal Male Guilt: Virtue Signals and Truths

A reader posted a link to the article The Unexamined Brutality of the Male Libido by Stephen Marche in her response to my post Are Men Who Avoid Women at Work Being Childish? Here are my comments:

libidoAfter weeks of continuously unfolding abuse scandals, men have become, quite literally, unbelievable. What any given man might say about gender politics and how he treats women are separate and unrelated phenomena. Liberal or conservative, feminist or chauvinist, woke or benighted, young or old, found on Fox News or in The New Republic, a man’s stated opinions have next to no relationship to behavior.

Only a man who lacks integrity would say that a man’s opinions have no relationship to his behavior.

Through sheer bulk, the string of revelations… have forced men to confront what they hate to think about most: the nature of men in general.

Bullshit. While it may be the nature of many, it is not the nature of all.

For most of history, we’ve taken for granted the implicit brutality of male sexuality. In 1976, the radical feminist and pornography opponent Andrea Dworkin said that the only sex between a man and a woman that could be undertaken without violence was sex with a flaccid penis: “I think that men will have to give up their precious erections,” she wrote.

Dworkin is a misandric radical feminist and a marxist. Not exactly a credible citation.

Beyond the gossip, there is a fog of the past that is better not to penetrate. Aside from the sorts of clear criminal acts that have always been wrong, changing social norms and the imprecision of memory are dark hallways to navigate. Be careful when you go down them; you might not like what you find.

If you feel this way about yourself, I feel sorry for you. My conscience is clear.

So much easier to turn aside. Professionally, too, I have seen just how profoundly men don’t want to talk about their own gendered nature. In the spring, I published a male take on the fluctuations of gender and power in advanced economies; I was interviewed over 70 times by reporters from all over the world, but only three of them were men. Men just aren’t interested; they don’t know where to start. I’m working on a podcast on modern fatherhood, dealing with issues like pornography and sex after childbirth. Very often, when I interview men, it is the first time they have ever discussed intimate questions seriously with another man.

Have you ever thought it might be you? Having read your article, I would not talk to you about myself.

A healthy sexual existence requires a continuing education, and men have the opposite. There is sex education for boys, but once you leave school the traditional demands on masculinity return: show no vulnerability, solve your own problems. Men deal with their nature alone, and apart. Ignorance and misprision are the norms.

I watch and read content produced by many other men. While men don’t deal with their nature in the way women do, we are far from ignorant. Holding up the sex education taught in government schools as good is laughable.

The (very few) prominent men who are speaking up now basically just insist that men need to be better feminists — as if the past few weeks have not amply demonstrated that the ideologies of men are irrelevant.

And yet many of the offenders are feminist men. Perhaps it’s time to stop doubling down on your ideology and instead start delving into philosophy, literature, and the world’s religions.

Liberalism has tended to confront gender problems from a technocratic point of view: improved systems, improved laws, better health. That approach has resulted in plenty of triumphs.

Liberalism in it’s (so called) progressive form has destroyed the family, made women less happy, and led to movements such as MGTOW who are walking away from society. Hardly a triumph.

But there remains no cure for human desire. (“It isn’t actually about sex, it’s about power,” I read in The Guardian the other day. How naïve must you be not to understand that sex itself is about power every bit as much as it’s about pleasure?)

Sex is about survival of the species. If you don’t believe sex is about pleasure, you’re doing it wrong.

Acknowledging the brutality of male libido is not, of course, some kind of excuse. Sigmund Freud recognized the id, and knew it as “a chaos, a caldron full of seething excitations.” But the point of Freud was not that boys will be boys. Rather the opposite: The idea of the Oedipus complex contained an implicit case for the requirements of strenuous repression: If you let boys be boys, they will murder their fathers and sleep with their mothers.

If you believe that, you must have had a fucked up childhood. Freud was a sad one trick pony, but he realized that these were subconscious motivations. How many men do you know who have murdered their fathers or slept with their mothers?

Women are calling for their pain to be recognized. Many men are quite willing to offer this recognition; it means they don’t have to talk about who they are, which means they don’t have to think about what they are. Much easier to retreat, into ever more shocked and prurient silence, or into the sort of reflection that seems less intended as honesty, and more aimed to please.

As I said in my post, we see that men are being hung without trial in the court of public opinion. Why would we not retreat?

Sex is an impediment to any idealism, which is why the post-Weinstein era will be an era of gender pessimism.

Feminism and gynocentrism have already led to immense pessimism among men. But I agree, it will now be worse.

What if there is no possible reconciliation between the bright clean ideals of gender equality and the mechanisms of human desire?

The genders are not equal. The best we can do is give everyone an equal opportunity, which we are failing at doing. But even if we do our best, we will not have equal outcomes, because people are different, and that is a good thing.

Meanwhile, sexual morality, so long resisted by liberals, has returned with a vengeance, albeit under progressive terms. The sensation of righteousness, which social media doles out in ever-diminishing dopamine hits, drives the discussion, but also limits it. Unable to find justice, or even to imagine it, we are returning to shame as our primary social form of sexual control.

I disagree. You are using fear, not shame.

The crisis we are approaching is fundamental: How can healthy sexuality ever occur in conditions in which men and women are not equal? How are we supposed to create an equal world when male mechanisms of desire are inherently brutal? We cannot answer these questions unless we face them.

Men and women are different. Healthy sexuality has existed for millions of years, albeit along side brutality. Shaming all men as brutal is certainly not going to help bring them to the table.

I’m not asking for male consciousness-raising groups; let’s start with a basic understanding that masculinity is a subject worth thinking about. That alone would be an immense step forward. If you want to be a civilized man, you have to consider what you are. Pretending to be something else, some fiction you would prefer to be, cannot help. It is not morality but culture — accepting our monstrosity, reckoning with it — that can save us. If anything can.

Why would I take advice from someone who believes he is a monster?

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The Son of Man: Origin

Chapter 7 of the book of Daniel, one of the prophetic books of the Jewish “Old Testament”, is an apocalyptic vision taken by Christians as a prophecy of the coming savior, the Christ. In the Christian “New Testament”, Jesus often refers to himself as The Son of Man, a reference to the character who comes among the clouds of heaven in the following story:

The four winds of heaven strove upon the great sea. Four great beasts came up from the sea, all different from one another.  The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings. Its wings were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon its feet as a man, and it was given a man’s heart.

Another beast, a second, like a bear, raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. They said to it “Arise, and devour much flesh.” Another, like a leopard, had upon its back four wings like a bird’s. The beast had also four heads, and dominion was given to it.

A fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and exceedingly strong, had great iron teeth. It devoured and broke things in pieces, and stamped upon the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that came before it, and it had ten horns. Another little horn came up among the rest , and three of them were pulled out by the roots. In this new horn, there were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things.

The thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of Days sat. His garment was as white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool. His throne was like fiery flame, and his wheels like burning fire. A fiery stream issued forth from before him. Thousands upon thousands ministered to him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. Judgement was set, and the books were opened.

Because of its voice and the great words which the horn spoke, the fourth beast was slain, and its body destroyed, and given to the burning flame. The rest of the beasts had their dominions taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season.

son-of-manOne like the Son of Man came among the clouds of heaven, and approached the Ancient of days, and they brought him before him. He was given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, so that people of all nations and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

One of them that stood nearby told the truth of all this and the interpretation of these things. The great beasts are four kings, who shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, for all eternity.

Here is the truth of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and exceedingly dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, and its nails of brass, and which looked more stout than its fellows. Its horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them, until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High. Then the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.

The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom upon earth, different from all other kingdoms, which will devour the whole earth, tread it down, and break it into pieces. The ten horns are ten kings that shall arise out of this kingdom. Another shall rise after them, and he shall be different from the others, and he shall subdue three of them. He shall speak great words against the most High, and wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change times and laws, and they shall be given into his hand for a time, until the end of the age.

But judgement shall come, and they will take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it in the end. Kingdom and dominion of the great kingdom under the whole of heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.

When the vision is explained by one of those standing near the throne of the Ancient of Days, the Son of Man is equated with the saints of the Most High, who, according to the explanation, are to be given rule over the everlasting Kingdom of Heaven. Ignoring this interpretation, the writer of the Gospel of Matthew took the Son of Man to literally be a divine being, the cosmic judge who will come at the end of days to rule over the Kingdom of Heaven. He then proceeded to equate this being with the resurrected Jesus.

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Review of “The Punisher” (Season 1)

* * * * A

punisherI thought the first season of NetFlix Daredevil started off strong, but it didn’t hold my interest. I haven’t watched the second season, in which the Punisher makes his first TV appearance, or any of the other Defenders series. I have also been fairly unimpressed with both Punisher films. So it was with high hopes and low expectations that I started watching The Punisher series on NetFlix. Those expectations were far exceeded.

Playing Frank Castle (AKA the Punisher), Jon Bernthal is far from the average leading man. His excellent acting along with great writing bring the character to life, making him more human and believable than he was in either of the films. His side kick, David (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) is also well written and acted, and the writers avoid many of Hollywood’s bullshit nerd stereotypes.

The plot interleaves backstory from Frank’s time in the military, focusing on the events leading up to the murder of his family upon his return home. Friends and enemies from his past turn up in the present, along with new characters. One of the weakest threads is a tie in to Daredevil involving Daredevil’s one time assistant Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). Other plot elements, particularly those involving David’s family, are very good.

The main line of the story, a cat and mouse game between Frank, his enemies, and the FBI, is satisfyingly solid, and the season comes to a satisfying conclusion. I’m assuming that it will be successful enough to warrant a seconds season, though as far as I know, no decision has been made so far. If so, here’s hoping that it will be as good as this one was.


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