A Little Intel On Daredevil Ratings

According to a report at Variety , Daredevil may have garnered over 4.4 million viewers in the first 11 days after its premiere…and that’s only analyzing viewers on tablets and phones.  The actual numbers, which would include viewers that watched the show on actual televisions, via gaming consoles, smart tv’s, DVD and bluray players, etc., may be much, much higher.  If the figures are true, then Daredevil ranks highest among Netflix originals for overall viewership in the opening salvo of release, as well as highest as a per cent of overall subscriber base. daredevil-netflix-costume

Streaming giant Netflix has always declined to publish ratings of its original content…After all, if there are no advertisers, why should they risk misinterpretation of the figures by shareholders and the media?  Nevertheless, the estimated viewership, extrapolated by San Diego-based Luth Research’s analysis of the viewing habits of 2500 Netflix subscribers nation-wide, give us some indication of the power of the show.  4.4 million viewers would be a great week for national broadcaster CW’s Arrow, for example, and the viewers of Arrow don’t represent $10 in monthly fees a piece (give or take).  I don’t want to guess as to the numbers that watched on an actual tv, but considering that no Playstations, X-boxes, AppleTV’s, Roku’s, Chromecasts, etc. are represented in those figures, nor any smart tv’s or set-tops, I have a mind to say it ranks with just about any series drama out there.  That means good things with regard to series budgets for Marvel/Netflix ventures going forward, and that should pay dividends for viewers in terms of quality AND quantity.

Jim’s Movie Reviews: Ex Machina

Ex Machina is the directorial debut of acclaimed oft-sci-fi screenwriter Alex Garland (Sunshine,  28 Days Later).  Fans will know to expect more from a Garland script than your typical sci-fi popcorn flick, and here, he delivers in spades both as writer and visual storyteller.  This movie blends high-minded science fiction,  psychological thrills, and social commentary in a uniquely entertaining way.

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Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a software engineer who has won a contest hosted by Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a reclusive billionaire and developer of the world’s foremost search engine.  Caleb is supposed to spend several days at Nathan’s mountain hideaway, but the contest is a ruse:  Its true purpose surrounds the character of Ava, played by Alicia Vikander.  Ava is a robot hosting a new form of AI, and Caleb is invited to interact with her in a sort of Turing test of Nathan’s devising.  As Caleb interviews Ava, he begins to question Nathan’s true motives, his own role in the story, and matters of conscience as his feelings for the machine evolve from deep curiosity into empathy.

Ex Machina invokes thought in the way only deep science fiction can, and invites comparison to the stories of Asimov and Clarke. Moving beyond the obvious, “Does it have a soul?” question is it’s most brilliant departure from things you’ve seen before: This is a story of the soul in jeopardy, of contrasting viewpoints, and the nature of creator and creation.  It’s Genesis in the age of the smart phone.

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The film manages a novel’s worth of story while true to its cinematic nature.  Interesting visual contrasts inform the viewer on several levels:  A well-appointed (if concrete) underground bunker in the middle of a lush forest contrasts nature with man’s creation, wherein the amenities of the rich contrast with its utility as testing ground and, perhaps, prison.  Liquor bottles cast around the otherwise immaculate rooms, at times, hint at the damaged state of Nathan’s soul, and the impregnable glass walls throughout divide characters while hinting at points of contact.  Ava’s form itself, so richly animated by Alicia, is an interesting contrast between idealized human features and vulgar mechanism (or is that backward?)

Though the movie is set almost entirely inside Nathan’s little fortress,  cinematographer Rob Hardy tells a story with every surface, every nuance and detail of the place, constructing multiple frames-within-frames across the glass, but never so overtly that it removes you from the spectacle.  Subtle arrangements in the blocking and backdrops serve to clue the audience in, but without a heavy hand.  A simple scene in a kitchen, for example, is stacked with innuendo imparted by choices in viewing angle and background detail. Even the controlled lighting is administered to, its shifts communicating claustrophobia or intimacy, or subtly  heralding the arrival of evil.

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Domhnall Gleeson masters a subtle balance throughout: his character’s deep curiosity as he glimpses the frontiers Ava represents, and his willingness to pitch himself into the abyss of more immediate concerns.  As Nathan, Oscar Isaac beguiles and menaces and every subtle shade between.  However, the absolute standout here is Ms. Vikander’s performance as the humanoid Ava.  She masters the smooth, graceful movements and vocal control of the robot, and imparts subtle, yet meaningful and controlled shifts in facial expression. She lets you know very early on that the new creation indeed has a soul.  She also, without tipping her cards as a human would, hints at an infant’s curiosity and an indescribable yearning for experience.  download

SO, if you’re looking for something a bit deeper than your typical summer fare, and wish to leave the theater both thrilled and contemplative, this movie is for you.

A+, go see it now.

 

Comics Podcast Of The Damned Ep 06: Grab Bag O’ BS

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Join the CPOTD crew this week as we answer questions such as, “What should Marvel be doing with West Coast Avengers right now?” and “How is Arrow like Hot Tub Time Machine?” and “Why is Ken only one episode into Daredevil, but he has a series review for Farscape he didn’t have last week?” Well, we never got an answer for that…but we do have comics reviews, including Darth Vader #4, Star Wars #4, Bloodshot Reborn #1 and Kaptara #1!


Experience the wailing and gnashing of teeth!

A look back at Batman HUSH

This week, I went back and read one of my favorite batman stories ever: HUSH. It is written by Jeph Loeb and the art is by Jim Lee. Loeb has written a number of amazing stories like BATMAN: DARK VICTORY and LONG HALLOWEEN. HUSH is Lee’s first work with DC and it was definitely a success. You can pick up the trades or the individual issues are Batman #608-619 in 2002-2003.

It starts out with a prologue by Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne/Batman’s butler that reads like an origin story. It quickly moves to the main story where Batman is trying to rescue a young kid who has been kidnapped by Killer Croc. When he finally subdues Croc, the money is stolen by Catwoman but she isn’t working alone.

While Batman is in pursuit, his bat rope is cut mid-air and he falls into crime alley. His body is badly injured and skull is fractured. He taps his fingers and through morse code, Batman suggests Alfred gets in tough with Bruce’s childhood friend and renowned surgeon Tommy Elliot to save his life.

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That’s about as deep into the story as I should go because I could easily sit here and go over every single detail but I don’t want to ruin it for people who have not read it before. HUSH is one of the most complex stories with a hefty cast of characters from Batman/Bruce’s past. Loeb explored the long history that the Batman universe has to offer and it is packed with “wow” moments in every issue. That being said, you don’t need to be a Batman junkie like me to follow the story. I’m not saying that it spoon-feeds everything to you but there isn’t an assumption that you are well versed in the Bat. Loeb makes sure to explain the intricacies without derailing the story and I dig that.

The art is…just..wow. I have been a fan of Jim Lee since he hit the scene in Marvel’s X-men books and I was hooked. I even own the X-men series trading cards they released from the popular book. When I heard that he was going to do a story arc of Batman, I thought my head was going to explode. He puts so his much detail into his art and it does what good comic should do: bring the images to life. It isn’t just his Batman that I’m a fan of but almost all of his other characters as well. Of course being a Batman addict, I’m a big fan of his arch nemesis: The Joker. Lee’s Joker is as distorted as the character’s mind with a twisted face and pointy attributes.

So if you haven’t figured it out, I highly recommend getting out there and picking this up. It has superb wiring with excellent development for characters both the known and the obscure. Like I said, the artwork is detailed, sharp, clean and engaging. Lee’s Batman is now one of the fan favorite’s in both the costume and, specifically, the emblem. I can promise that this book will not disappoint. I have read HUSH countless times and I know I’ll read it again and again.

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Star Wars Battlefront 3 has a trailer and release date!

This week, the Star Wars celebration is in full effect and with that, they have released game footage from one of my favorite video game series ever, Battlefront. It is a game where you choose a side from the Star Wars universe and battle in the famous fight scenes from the movies or the expanded universe. The trailer shows us that they are definitely going back to Hoth and Endor. It hits retailers on 11/17/15 and will be available for the Xbox One, PS4, and PC in both a regular & Deluxe edition.

The Deluxe Edition includes:
-Han Solo’s Blaster (instant access)
-Ion Detonator (instant access)
-MPL Ion Torpedo (instant access)
-Ion Shock (exclusive emote)
-Victory (exclusive emote)

So get out there and pre-order your copy, you won’t regret it!

Netflix and Marvel’s Daredevil

 

Spoiler free review:  Daredevil is Marvel television at its best. Go watch this series, now.

Daredevil looks and feels like a great comic book. A friend asked me why I liked this series so much, and I had to consider how to explain it. I told her, “Watching each episode feels like holding my most highly anticipated book in my hand, reading it for the first time after an agonizing wait.”

The fight scenes are a standout aspect of the series. The choreography is well executed but doesn’t feel over the top. This is just men fighting: No gods, no superpowers, no magic hammers, just street fighting, and it feels like it. Each bout is brutal, but realistic and the consequences are immediately felt.

The characters have a depth I find refreshing. Take Matt Murdock, for example. I was worried when I first saw the promos for this series; I didn’t think Charlie Cox looked the part. Five minutes into the first episode and I was sold.  He has a presence, an awareness about him that screams. ‘I’m Daredevil.’   Foggy is a great character, adding humor and perspective to the show that’s just fun to watch. Fisk especially has deep layers: His interactions with Vanessa show he’s more than just a villain. In his mind, he wants to make NYC into something more. He’ll do everything possible to make it great, and put himself in the ultimate position of power at the same time.

The show’s greatest feature is the interpersonal connections. It does what no other show out there is doing, that is, using the down time to develop the personality of each character. No matter if it’s Foggy and Karen, Fisk and Vanessa, Matt and Claire, Matt and Fr. Lantom, or Matt and Stick, the conversations add a depth that makes you actually care about what’s going on.

Daredevil gets compared to Arrow frequently. Daredevil is what Arrow should be.  Everything Arrow gets wrong, Daredevil goes out of its way to get right.

Check out Comics Podcast of the Damned #5 for Jim and Myself’s indepth review of Daredevil.

Comics Podcast Of The Damned Ep. 04: Madonna’s Return!

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This week, we triumph over time and space to bring you the comics podcasting return of Madonna (not 80’s the pop star)!  We take time to talk about our first experiences with comics, comics tv and movies, and the news of the day! Comics reviews this week include the Hulk #14, DC’s Convergence #0 and #1,  and Saga #27.


Experience the wailing and gnashing of teeth!

Some Things That Are Wrong With Arrow

My co-hosts and I haven’t made any bones about our feelings on Arrow‘s most recent season:  It’s a notch or two down in quality.   No matter how high they ratchet the action, tie in related comics properties, or hype the romantic pairing of the week,  it all seems built on quicksand.  The ratings bear me out on this:  Currently, Arrow is rocking half the audience of its heyday, and is beaten soundly every week by the CW’s other tights-and-capes effort Flash.

The reasons for this, I fear, are mired in the show’s foundation: I’Il bet many of them are in the series bible, or were pitched at network execs early in production.

Listed below are the chief reasons the show is losing my attention.  Although they are separate aspects, they are connected at common threads throughout:

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1.  Ollie Isn’t Likable

It’s tough to judge series lead actor Stephen Amell on his performance as Oliver Queen, when he’s clearly directed to maintain intensity at all times.  I bet his every line in the script is in italics.  I bet the director routinely scolds him for turning up the corners of his mouth, even a little. Put simply, somewhere between the writing and direction, there is a mandate that Ollie not be allowed lingering moments of joviality, affection, sadness, sincerity, kindness…you know, the kind of emotional bearing that wins friends and influences viewers.  And don’t cite the occasional 30-second speech about his feelings he gives every other episode, between melee attacks:  Narration is the cheapest means in cinema to tell a story.  We’re to believe Ollie loves the women in his life because he says so…like a robot, on his way out the door.  We’re to believe Ollie feels hurt, afraid, angry, nonplussed, etc. because he says so…like a robot, on his way out the door.  I’m amazed how little it occurs to the writers to have these sorts of emotions flow freely from conversations, arguments, etc., instead opting again and again for pre-melee statements and speeches.

Ollie is surrounded by a supporting cast purported to be his friends…but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.  Can you?  His little odyssey got Laurel’s sister killed and alienated her from her father…why’s she still around? Felicity spends her nights wearing tight dresses to the Arrow cave, but invariably ends up alone, bathing in the light of an LCD while Ollie orders up this or that digital deus ex machina; Why is she there?  Is there a particular reason Roy feels inspired by Ollie’s crusade, enough to don red leather and brave the militaristic villainy of Starling City?  There may be all the reasoning in the world, but without giving Ollie some charisma, none of these relationships feel natural.  Come to think of it, why should I care about Ollie?

2.  Modeling Arrow After The Movie It Wants To Be

The problem here, I think, is in modeling the show after cinematic takes featuring similar characters. The “action movie every week” model mandates Ollie define his relationships in curt statements uttered while he straps his quiver on.  Further than that, the push toward melee action makes every subsequent effort at dramatic tension less and less convincing.  Although the writers have been successful, after a fashion, at roping nearly every threat into the hero’s origin or personal mileau, these conflicts never carry the weight they should: The personal stakes are alluded to, but their effects are all but ignored.  Because of the lack of emotional range allowed the main character, it just doesn’t grab.

3.  CW Pairing Of The Week

If the show-runners spend half their time thinking about how they can make Arrow more like Batman Begins, then a good part of the remainder is spent playing musical chairs with the supporting characters’ relationship status.  These approaches are wholly at odds with one another:  Attempting a Nolan-esque tone for Arrow is admirable, in my opinion, but a lot of that tone is subverted by the sort of “will they won’t they” romantic tension and shifting relationships that is a cornerstone of the network’s offerings.

Take Laurel’s ever-changing relationship dynamic, for example:  Laurel mad at Ollie/Laurel supports Ollie, Laurel vs. drugs/Laurel masked hero, Laurel lies to her Dad/ Laurel loves her dad/Laurel the DA working against her Dad on Ollie’s behalf….and that’s just one supporting character!  The Arrow/Canary relationship is, imho, one of the best pairings in comics….here, you’d need pushpins and yarn just to explain Ollie’s relationship to Laurel.  As the central figure, Ollie’s own palette is decidedly more convoluted: Ollie will/won’t Laurel, Ollie will/won’t Felicity, Ollie’s working with Detective Lance but protecting Canary’s identity, etc. constantly changing in dynamic, yet never managing freedom from the tepid, muddy tones these relationships become mired in.  Speedy is just a train wreck at this point: The writers have contradicted themselves on her motivations way too many times for her character to seem anything but a means to a narrative end.  I can hear her voice now:  “You lied to me, Roy/Ollie, so I hate you! But it was to protect me, so I love you again! I’m hanging out with the dad I never knew who’s a psychopathic mass murderer, because it seems like a good way to get back at you or avenge my mom or something! But now I hate him because he lied to me, and I’m going to sell him out to the League of Assassins…”

4.  Ollie Isn’t A Hero

This is the most important aspect, I feel, in which the Arrow has ‘failed this city’. In its attempts to capture the tone of Nolan’s Batman films, the Arrow creators missed the mark on one very important aspect of character:  Through most of the first season, Ollie was portrayed as a vengeance-fueled nemesis who checked his enemies off the list, Punisher-style.  The show was well on its way through the first season before series bible changes were made and the opening narrative was amended with a vague stricture against killing.

I’m sure the show-runners were going for a darker tone, a more “mature” theme to entice the ever-important young adult male viewership.  I’m sure many would defend the “willing to kill” idea as a stylistic choice, citing how this kind of psychotic behavior and emotional deconstruction of a character can be complex, even fascinating, to explore in series television.  While I agree to that possibility, I don’t think the writers either fully understood or evaluated how this would impact their long-term goals for the character.

The effects of this decision weren’t just stylistic.  Besides alienating many fans of the comics character (who no doubt represent only a tiny fraction of the tv viewership), Ollie racking up (see what I did there?) a body count that would make Rambo blush set relationships on which the show depends on a foundation of quicksand.

Think about it from a writer’s perspective, in terms of the early planning for the character: You’re telling the story of a vigilante who lives in a fair-sized city in the modern era.     Your desire is to surround him with the supporting cast necessary for that CW soap-opera aspect.  You accept that audiences will lend you a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, especially when your hero is cloaked in some form of “super” costume.  Maybe they’ll allow that the hero shows up at the crime scene without being noticed by the several hundred smart-phone laden persons he had to drive past… while in costume…on his green motorbike.  Maybe they’ll accept that a hood is a great way to conceal one’s identity from an interested population.

Of course you anticipate your hero running into the police from time to time.  If you were planning such a character for series television, wouldn’t you carefully define that relationship early on?  No doubt they are the most likely source of allies and/or rivals for your character, or at least a source of information on crime.  Is your character in constant threat of being arrested and tried? Maybe there’s a friend on the force or at city hall who provides tips to your hero.  Maybe there’s a detective nemesis searching for your hero’s identity.  Arrow has or had all of these things, and relies on these relationships frequently.  Think of how the decision to make Ollie a murderer affected his relationship with the police.  Is there any positive aspect?  In any case, wouldn’t the conceit that the police turn a blind eye (as illustrated in The Dark Knight) to the hero’s nightly exploits because he’s a ‘good guy’ be helpful? Conversely, if you’re planning on illustrating the hero as a perpetual fugitive, and are on board with him murdering people in a quest for justice, then you’d better pare down the close relationships with those in and around the police, maybe?  Like maybe Ollie shouldn’t foster a working relationship with Laurel as Canary?  Like maybe Detective Lance should be a little less ready to embrace the vigilante as a force for justice?  Batman meeting Jim Gordon on a rooftop makes sense because Batman doesn’t kill people

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Even though he turned a new leaf in later seasons, Ollie-as-murderer still strains credibility in terms of his relationships. Whenever purportedly rational characters, characters who know and/or care about him, speak concerning these deeds, they seem delusional.  Witness Felicity, when confronted by Ray over her alliance with murderer Ollie: “You don’t know him…you don’t know what he’s been through,” she says, sounding a lot like a 14-year-old explaining her love of early 2 Live Crew to her horrified father. Witness  Detective Lance: No doubt it was the alcohol that inspired him to knowingly turn a blind eye to a mass murderer for a year before coming to his senses, right?  How de-humanizing is it whenever Roy and Diggle talk Ollie down when he expresses even the least bit of remorse: “You did what you had to,” and whatnot. Only he didn’t have to, did he? Ollie himself, in CW-sized moments of remorse,  talks about bearing “the burden”, as if the consequence owed him for killing all those people is having a 1000-yard stare and being unable to articulate emotions besides intensity.

Judging by the hood and the way he acts around women, maybe his idea of an appropriate consequence is celibate monasticism.

Ollie is harried and pressured into just about every move he makes as the Arrow, instead of exposing his sense of justice, love of his friends and family, or any other traits that elevate the hero from the vigilante.  Yes, there are those times where protection of loved ones supposedly motivates him, but the show does not invest enough in establishing those relationships for that aspect to ring true.  Further, the emotionally stunted way in which Ollie addresses the danger he places those loved ones in by allowing their association with him doesn’t speak highly of his character.  At least the Punisher knows enough to keep innocents at arm’s length.

Bringing it back to the comparison:  Batman is a character that is, in my opinion, not principally motivated by a need for vengeance, regardless of any themes and mantras he voices about being ‘the night’ and whatnot.  Vengeance is a trait not in keeping with his discipline of mind and body, his commitment to the mission, and his forthright expectation of cooperation from other heroes and guardians of justice.  As a character, I think the best portrayals of Bruce Wayne depict him as a boy robbed of justice, of order, and of safety in a way that his sheltered life couldn’t keep at bay. Therefore, he seeks to create justice, order, and safety for others via use of the Bat as a symbol to inspire fear in criminals. The same discipline that allows  him to do so without succumbing to fear himself denies him the self-indulgence that vengeance represents.

What if the same had been true for the Arrow?  What if, in gaining skill and overcoming the threat the island posed, he forged peace and justice for himself instead of anger?  In my opinion, this would have been the better outcome, and the one more likely to yield interesting plots for seasons to come. Although Ollie’s “evolution” from murder has yielded much in terms of conflict, we don’t need every aspect of character and relationship defined by conflict. Contrast is a necessary part of defining a character, too! If you can’t convey love, hope, or joy, then you can’t do justice to loss, shame, anger, etc.

In short, I think vengeful Ollie was a serious mistake, and I’m glad to see in recent episodes the writers finally address the consequences in a seemingly serious way.  However, the damage has been done, and a full exploration of realistic consequences would involve many long years with Ollie in a prison cell.  Best now to tell a quick story about it, then move along.  I’m hoping the writers find a way to close the book on that aspect of character AND its consequences.   I hope they give Ollie and the supporting cast some time to strengthen emotional  ties and humanize the main character.  Let the conflicts come from his enemies exclusively for a while, and give viewers a hero they can empathize with.