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Daredevil – Rabbit in a Snowstorm (Review)

To celebrate the launch of Marvel’s Daredevil and the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, we are reviewing all thirteen episodes of the first season of Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

One of the more interesting aspects of Daredevil is the way that it wears its influences so confidently on its sleeve. As if aware that the stock comparison for the show will be Batman Begins, the series goes out of its way to hit a number of key points from that particular film – introducing its masked vigilante during an atmospheric attack at a dockland smuggling operation, stopping the import of superweapon into the city by a secret society of ninjas. The show returns to the work of Frank Miller time and time again, knowing that he is the defining Daredevil writer.

In terms of televisual influences, it feels like producer Steven DeKnight was heavily influenced by a lot of prestigious contemporary drama. In particular, Rabbit in a Snowstorm features sequences that feel like they might have been lifted from Breaking Bad and The Wire. This makes a certain amount of sense; those are two very well-respected shows that lend themselves to “binge” watching of (relatively) short seasons. Netflix has even found great success as a distributor of Breaking Bad in Europe. There are worse influences for Daredevil.

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To be fair to Daredevil, the show never loses sight of itself. This is a superhero story about a masked vigilante who cleans up Hell’s Kitchen and comes face-to-face with honest-to-goodness ninjas and other possibly supernatural events. Nuance and subtlety have their place, but Daredevil arguably works best when it revels in its theatricality – grand sweeping statements, bold imagery, heightened drama. For all that Rabbit in a Snowstorm tries to expand and ground the world of Daredevil, it is marked by two acts of over-the-top violence at the open and close of the hour.

At the same time, this underscores the biggest problem with Rabbit in a Snowstorm. Daredevil is not a show that lends itself to the same sort of aesthetic as The Wire, and some of the attempts to ground the show feel clumsy and awkward; the show works best when it is big and bold and operatic, stumbling a bit when it tries to present a grounded real-world setting.

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Non-Review Review: Takers

The obvious point of comparison for Takers is The Town, Ben Affleck’s bank-robbing thriller that opened around the same time. However, I think it’s a misleading comparison, if only because Affleck’s film feels far more specific and nuanced in scope than this heist thriller. Instead, I think the best point of reference for this particular feature film is to consider is as Heat for the MTV generation.” Of course, any film’s going to come out quite badly from that synopsis, but I do think it’s fair, as it speaks to both the strengths and (perhaps more importantly) the weaknesses of this particular film.

Are the crew being taken for a ride?

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My Top Ten Shows of the Decade

Yep, it’s retrospective time. I’ve done my top 50 movies of the past ten years, so it’s time for me to reflect on my top 10 television shows of the 00s. Prepare to be awed and mazed, shocked and astounded, angered and enraged, by the inclusions (and omissions) from my list. The good folks over at Television Without Pity included their favourite episode in each choice, so I think I’m going to run with that idea.

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V for… Version II?

Wow, things are really heating up, remake-wise. In the past week we’ve had confirmation that Robert Rodriguez will be doing The Jetsons and that Liam Neeson will be Hannibal in the A-Team remake. Couple that with the upcoming remake of V that will soon be hitting our screens (giving Elizabeth Mitchell a welcome home after the Lost finale), and it got us thinking: are there any television shows that actually warrant a remake?

I hate it when the neighbours come looking for sugar...

I hate it when the neighbours come looking for sugar...

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The Disappearance of Without a Trace

I’m going to be honest – I’m not a fan of Without a Trace. I’ll confess to something resembling indifferent affection to Anthony LaPlagia, but I’ve never sat down and watched an episode. I do know lots of people who watch it regularly. Hell, based on the viewing figures, there are a lot of people who watch it regularly. So, as someone who never watched the show, I am still gravely worried by what I see: the recession is affecting networks so badly that they are being forced to cancel expensive high-budget dramas.

I wonder if the network cancelled it simply because of the amount of puns that journalists could make about Without a Trace going missing...

I wonder if the network cancelled it simply because of the amount of puns that journalists could make about a show called Without a Trace going missing...

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Welcome to Baltimore…

“This is Baltimore, gentlemen. The gods will not save you.”

-Bill Rawls

I finished the fourth season of The Wire yesterday. Boy was that depressing. Really depressing. Even my parents, who had been wading in and out as they were going about their weekend business, found it almost soul-destroyingly downbeat. That’s not to say it wasn’t great – just depressing. Anyway, my mom repeatedly stressed that she didn’t believe that anywhere as bad as Baltimore could actually exist. I decided to investigate.
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Home Entertainment

I just finished the third season of The Wire on DVD. I am impressed. I never caught the show the first time around, so – as with many of today’s fine televisual treats – it seems to be one best sampled on DVD, at your own pace. It’s a fantastic saga that really capitalises on the previous two seasons (which, while very good fell just short of greatness). I may not be entirely convinced that it is, loike, the best TV show in the world… ever, but I can see why George Hook likes the show.

As I was watching the development of themes and character and mood in the twelve-hour set, I began to think about how far television has come within its own context in the past few years. I remember the days when it was the height of praise to describe a show as being like ‘a new movie every week’. The X-Files, Law & Order, Miami Vice and Star Trek: The Next Generation seemed to epitomise the early wave of this view point, as the networks seemed desperate to sell the illusion that viewers shouldn’t go out to the cinema – the can find entertainment of a similar scale on the box.

Not only can they look moody, the cast of The Wire can also act pretty damn awesome as well...

Not only can they look moody, the cast of The Wire can also act pretty damn awesome as well...

Of course, this wasn’t quite the case. No matter the loft heights that the narratives may reach (and the best television can be as compelling as the best movie or novel or play), the shows were always confined by the ceiling of their budget. So Crockett could crash a speedboat and watch it explode, but he couldn’t blow up a building, or Mulder could see an alien spaceship, but only from the distance as a sequence of blurry lights. You can really only fool the audience so often – eventually they’ll realise the champagne you’re serving is simply apple juice mixed with white lemonade. And treating television as literally a ‘home box office’ also confined the plot: each story had to be self-contained, or you couldn’t mess with the status quo too much, nor develop the characters too far beyond their original positions. It goes without saying that – unless you’re planning a franchise – movie makers rarely have to put the pieces back where they found them. Sure, shows might make a token effort – The X-Files mythology comes to mind – but it would plod rather than glide, if it moved at all.

Television isn’t filmmaking. That should go without saying. As such, it came as a bit of a surprise that it wasn’t really until the last fifteen or so years that writers and producers really embraced the idea. Movies have bigger budgets, but smaller canvas. Your plot pretty much has to fit within two hours (or four if you’re really powerful and can overpower the editor). A television show runs on average about one hundred and fifty episodes. It spans several years in the lives of a bunch of characters. Sometimes events don’t simply occur in handy forty-minute blocks.

As ever, science fiction lead the way, really – but didn’t get the credit. Babylon 5 embraced a complex narrative arc-structure that made the show nigh-impossible to casually follow. Many science fiction nuts would accuse one of the Star Trek spinoffs (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) of stealing the gimick with a densely layoured (yet still relatively accessible) two-and-a-half-year war storyline balancing a huge number of individual characters whose lives changed from week-to-week. Then again, it’s quite likely that not many people know either of these shows. The more geek-aware would note season-long arcs (again carefull constructed so as to not alienate casual followers) on Joss Whedon’s shows Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Angel.

The approach really made its jump to the mainstream with The West Wing. I love the show, but will readily admit that most of the time the plots made little-or-no-sense in-and-of-themselves, but rather played into larger arcs both in terms of narrative and character. Big events were seldom concluded within the same hour that they commenced (the shooting, the impeachment hearings, the re-election campaign, the middle east initiative, the primaries and the general election, for example). The show went down as the prestigious pretentious drama it was intended to be, but it began to signal that maybe a change was coming.

This was taken on Jack's day off...

This was taken on Jack's day off...

About the same time, Home Box Office began producing its own run of series. Oz, though I love it, was a glorified night time soap opera and a respectable first attempt. The Sopranos is generally acknowledged as their masterpiece, though those seeking to be a little contrarian will champion The Wire as the best HBO series. Either way, both unfolded almost as gigantic miniseries, needing to be viewed as a whole to be appreciated in their full beauty. Sure, most episodes of The Sopranos unfold around an issue of the week in Tony’s life, but these generally play as a solo movement in a larger concerto. I know nothing about music, so I don’t know if I messed up that metaphor.

At the same time, regular television shows such as Lost proved that modern audiences could follow an interweaving, no-answers-up-front style of storytelling, with a carefully-constructed six year arc. Well, either that or they’re making it up as they go along, depending on who you ask. Love it or loathe it, it represents a huge step forward in modern storytelling – contestably one story in 150 smaller chapters. A more obvious example is 24, where literally every hour on screen is an hour in Jack Bauer’s really bad day. The advent of the DVD market at around this time undoubtable helped these shows reach people who want a big story, but are afraid of missing an episode on the television.

I love that television seems to have found a unique way of telling a story. That’s how media evolves. Film took a while to find its feet (initially stalling in boring uninspired adaptations of stage plays), emulating an earlier media form much as television aspired to. Sure, you’ll still find a movie-of-the-week style show or two (Law & Order and the CSI franchise spring to mind), but even those shows seemingly following an episodic story format will infulge the odd long game (the CSI franchise like serial killers, unsurprisingly; Life on Mars saw Sam try to get home while solving the crime o’ the week; House is as much about the protagonists many, many, many on-going issues as it is the patient of the week).

I love movies. I also love television. Variety is the spice of life.

I’m ordering the fourth season of The Wire now…