Daredevil

Have you ever thought to yourself, “Mannnn, I wish this shitty comic book movie was ten hours long instead of just two!”? If you have, then Netflix’s “new original series” Daredevil is for you.

daredevil

Films based on comic book franchises are an easy target for ridicule. They’re disastrously written, disastrously acted (as if the actors are being directed to do so on purpose), late-capitalist cash grabs that rely almost solely on CGI to drag along the corpse that is hastily thrown together character development and predictable plot lines. This isn’t unique to comic book films, they just do it better than anyone else. It sucks because if you read comics as a kid, especially some of the darker ones like Daredevil, The Punisher, Silver Surfer, etc. you know how well they were written, how laboriously the characters were developed (yes, the canvas for a monthly comic book is much bigger than a 2 hour film), and how much pain, isolation, and self-loathing that was in them. The bleakness of watching Wolverine as he lay there, half dead in the jungle gnawing on a deer carcass as his comics often began almost jumped off the page at you. While Hugh Jackman does the best he can and seems literally born to play Wolverine, he’s forced to do so in the laconic, vaudevillian Marvel-on-screen universe. Given the time it’s taken to make all these terrible movies and the discipline he’s given to transform himself into a hulking freak to play the world’s favorite mutant, it’s a shame they aren’t any better.

The (biggest) problem with Netflix’s Daredevil is that the creators were given 12 fucking episodes to creatively develop their hero, his friends, and his villains and they still completely fuck it up. Instead of trying something new, they use the same tired, misty-water-color-flashback vignettes as every other comic series; they just use a lot more of them. To be fair, Charlie Cox does a nice job as the lead role. Aside from showing up to the office almost every day with the shit kicked out of him (he’s blind so he falls a lot…get it??), he’s earnest and mostly believable. But his real-life/day-job partner at his fledgling “law firm” has the same forced and painfully acted bad lines as any other comic movie sidekick, just a lot more of them. As far as the action, all the fight scenes are interchangeable, Kung Fu slug-fests reminiscent of Rocky VS Drago. Also, and not to take anything away from Vincent D’Onofrio, a somewhat talented but limited actor who plays super-villain Wilson Fisk, did the casting department think we wouldn’t recognize him as the same angry fat kid who played Private Pyle 30 years ago in Full Metal Jacket?

Since it’s ever-increasingly important to the internet-activism crowd, let’s address the “social justice” element of the series. Instead of celebrating Daredevil’s blindness (yes, he was a blind superhero who lost his vision in a chemical spill that gave him uncanny, heightened senses which create a mind’s-eye picture of the world around him), they manage to trivialize it and only show the “world through his eyes” a couple times. And of course there are the car accident/fell-taking-the-trash-out deep tissue wounds and butterfly bandages that are brushed aside as lovable mishaps by his compatriots during office hours. This is all in spite of the entire opening credits being shot as an actually quite brilliant abstract-expressionist montage of what his world might look like, which would have been a tremendously cool and unique spin for this genre. In addition, they do themselves no favors with the #Feminism crowd. All three, mostly perma-frowned female leads have shadowy pasts and whose dialogues elude to that ol’ chestnut: bad choices in men. This of course renders them vulnerable and easily manipulated, although the writers seem miraculously unaware of this fact. The one female character that does appear confident in herself is the shitty sidekick’s ex-girlfriend who works as a young shark for the super-villain’s nefarious and Byzantine law firm. She struts through her scenes with the voluptuous confidence that only two thousand dollar high heels and a Versace skirt-suit can buy. So there’s that, ladies.

I muscled through all 12 episodes but only because at some point, I felt like I had to. And yes, Netflix announced yesterday that they’ve picked up the series for another season with a new director.

Oh and speaking of being born to play someone, the biggest takeaway from watching this was that HOLY SHIT, Scott Glenn was born to play Robert Durst in the sure-to-be-made biopic that’s coming.

Carrie and Lowell

When I started listening to Sufjan Stevens’ new record, Carrie and LowellI thought back to a YouTube video I saw of an interview with the American artist Brice Marden. In it he describes how close Paul Cezanne came to rendering the idea of painting pointless because he had so unequivocally mastered it. This is how I feel listening to Carrie and Lowell. As Marden says of Cezanne, he wasn’t just painting Mount Saint Victoire over and over as an academic exercise; he was painting the seminal thing that nurtured his existence. Stevens’ entire being has been defined by the emptiness and pain leftover from a lifelong, disastrous relationship with his late mother and for me, if he never wrote another note of music after this he would have said everything that he ever needed to.

From the opening line of the album’s first track, “Death with Dignity”, Sufjan dives head first into the catharsis of confronting his years of loneliness, depression and isolation with the words “Spirit of my silence, I can hear you but I’m afraid to be near you, and I don’t know where to begin…”, and it just gets more real and more painful from there, but it also becomes more beautiful too. This album is an exercise in acceptance and a rectification of the myths that we interweave into the fabric of our memories to make them more palatable. It also speaks to the idea that when children are forced to process feelings and emotions that they’re not mature enough to, deep and unhealing wounds are created. As young people we process grief and loss as best we can but it only ever grows to a place of bewildered adolescence, and then we self-medicate that half-tempered pain with alcohol, drugs, bad relationships and emotional withdrawal from others. We deify these things we can’t deal with and then wake up one day in our 30’s and still feel like we’re 16…scared and alone and helpless to help ourselves. I recognize these themes in Sufjan’s songwriting because I am living them, and they run constant throughout Carrie and Lowell (the album is named after his mother and her second husband, Stevens sometime step-father).

To his credit, he pardons his mother but reminds us over and over that this came at a terrible price (not excluding bouts of suicidal thoughts laid bare on “The Only Thing”) and that those heartbreakingly whimsical tales from his previous “fictional” albums were all very, very real. But it’s only in this space that he finally tells us these stories both honestly and courageously and without the make-believe, and that his faith and (in an absurd contrast to the pain of living) the beauty of the world have been his salvation. Stevens reminds us that our feelings of isolation are okay but that we had better treat them with care and respect, which is a lesson worth revisiting sometimes.

What sets this version of Sufjan Stevens apart is his honesty. There is no end and no beginning, it’s just a man trying to make sense of his life. This collection of music is nothing short of a masterpiece, and if you experienced anything like what Stevens did as a child, it will cut very close to the bone. Like Automatic for the People, I will carry it with me like a prayer-book through everything the future may hold.