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another (near) classic from Hitchcock's British years, 22 April 2015

Maybe not with the same quota of laughs as The Lady Vanishes or the same level of daring-do as 39 Steps, Young and Innocent (called The Girl Was Young somewhere, I guess) was another of Alfred Hitchcock's films about a murder, a chase, and plenty of intrigue and double crossings and such. It's also hard to find a good print, unfortunately, as it's fallen into the public domain and has yet to get the Criterion treatment. Luckily this story of a policeman's wife and a writer on the run - the latter is accused of committing the crime of a murder (a woman who is found on a beach right near the waves, an evocative image as any).

Two things really stand out here, years after seeing the film: first are the performances from Nova Pilbeam and Derek DeMarney. They're not any kind of marquee names from the period like Robert Donat or Vivien Leigh, but they get into these characters the best they can and make themselves a charismatic couple with chemistry and good timing. The other thing is a particular reveal during a ballroom dance sequence. It's sometimes very hard to ever get particular shots that Hitchcock pulls off out of your mind, and there's one in this film for sure: as people dance and the band plays on, Hitch and his DP fly over the audience - not so high ala the shot in The Birds or something, but high enough that we can view over the people dancing - and we suddenly see that there is a character in the line of sight: a band member (the drummer, I believe) who is the actual culprit! If one wasn't sure who it exactly was at this place, the clues being what they are, now we know.

How Hitchcock uses his camera to create a visual grammar for that moment - in words for the audience to really go "Oh!" in a moment - is a testament to his cunning and clever abilities as a storyteller. That's a moment of pure cinema that stands out in this very good (if not totally great) effort.

a major short work from this director, 22 April 2015

All you need to know about this episode of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents show going in are these three things: 1) Hitchcock directed it, 2) Joseph Cotten is the star (formerly of Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt), and 3) most of this episode takes place after a car crash, which has left Cotten's character for all intents and purposes dead... but not really. What happens in this tale of mortal desperation is that Cotten's character - kind of unlikable at the start but not an awful person - is in a tight spot inasmuch that he's paralyzed, but not dead. Hitchcock and his editor make great use of narration here, which is a tricky aspect in a visual medium but works here because it's all about the intensity of this man's thoughts, which are lucid. It's a really tragic tale, when you think about it, but made absolutely gripping by the stakes and danger of life vs death.

How it finally gets resolved is kind of touching, if, for some, may seem kind of sappy. But Cotten really sells it with his voice and even his face and eyes, frozen as they are, because of how his character is set up and the follow-up happens. This is the kind of material that the Twilight Zone would go for years later, and I mean that as a compliment. It's among Hitch's best work in the 50's, for TV or film.

Murder! (1930)
at times creaky - it was 1930 - but at other times absorbing and exhilarating, 22 April 2015

It's easy to forget that when synchronized sound was first introduced into world cinema, it changed so much and yet for a short period of time made things difficult for filmmakers in ways they couldn't have perceived. Whereas in the silent era filmmakers had the freedom to move their cameras any which way they pleased (and Hitchcock was one of those, as seen in his first classic, The Lodger, with shots such as taken from under a glass floor to see a man walking by), in those first years of sound filmmakers had to be at the whim of the microphone that recorded right there in the studio or in close proximity - quickly, there would be innovations to record sound better, location-wise, but it was slow - and thus we have a picture like MURDER! in that mold.

One will likely come to see Hitchcock's Murder! after devouring many of his other films, some may even have that name in the title (Dial M for example), so it may come as a shock that we don't really get to see a murder take place. Oh, there is a dead body, and we see that pretty early on as the "Bobbys" and other on-lookers see a woman has been killed in a house. This is actually more of a 'whodunit', which the director did really on occasion actually - the norm was really about the 'Wrong Man/Woman' situation - and the first act, and sort of what follows, is closer to that of 12 Angry Men: a jury is practically unanimous for the guilt of murder for poor Diana Baring (Norah Baring, curious they have the same last name, she's fine by the way if under-used). All, except that is, for Sir John (Herbert Marshall, the best actor in this cast with maybe exception one other), who sees too many questions and reasonable doubt.

But Ms Baring is convicted as Sir John can't muster enough defense, and yet it eats away at him; here we get to see and hear cinema's first first-person narration. It's actually not that bad in terms of the words, though, again, it has dated ridiculously due to the fact that they had to have his audio recorded voice going on stage, along with an accompanied orchestra, so the delivery is creaky as hell. What we get from then on, as Ms Baring awaits her death sentence, is Sir John tracing down more of the facts that the police seem to have just let pass - forensics wasn't really that much of a commonality, one assumes, in 1930 England - and it leads all the way to another actor, currently working in the circus, played by Esme Percy in his screen debut.

Percy doesn't have much screen-time, but what he does have - in the last 25 minutes or so of the film - makes things pick up and become really interesting. It should be said that Murder! may be a disappointment for those looking for more chock-a-block Hitchcock razzle-dazzle with his camera. He does try to inject some movement here and there, to be sure, and it's really worth your while to check out the full director's cut if possible (Amazon video has the 104 minute version, other prints vary), and sometimes it's just in quick cuts like in the jury-room scenes, or in how a close-up of a clock or the timing of a noose being put together in Baring's cell another.

Thankfully, along with Percy's eerie, kind of over-the-top but winning performance, and Hitchcock's direction in this meeting between this actor and this writer Sir John (who has a scenario based on the Baring case, albeit with one page "missing" as to the details after a certain point, dot-dot-dot), Murder! has a smashing third act and climax. it suddenly becomes apparent that the movie's strength is in looking at the difference between the theatricality of the stage (and the circus) and real life, which is full of pressure to conform and dreary "facts" without any imagination to look deeper and further.

When one thinks about it, a lot of this movie may be kind of brilliant. But it takes some time to get there, and there's stretches of the film that drag, such as a scene with Sir John waking up in the morning, surrounded by, um, kids and a crying baby and a "pussy" cat, and an older woman delivering a LOT of exposition in the kind of English that needs subtitles. Some of the flaws can't be helped due to stone-age cinematic techniques, while others are just more due to a young filmmaker still trying to find his footing into what he "does". Still, Murder! is worth a watch if you dig this man's work, and there's glimpses (sometimes more) into what would become his signature moves.

maybe THE bittersweet love story of all time? One of them anyway, 20 April 2015

It's not difficult to see why one who only really knows David Lean from 1957 onward - from River Kwai onward he seemed to only make lush, epic films of romance and adventure, only four to be exact - to come to a film like Brief Encounter. Of course Lean made other films, like Dickens adaptations, but this is so very intimate, mostly about two characters (maybe two other ones are supporting, but that's it) and the relationship they have, an emotional affair that never really, far as we can see, develop into sex. But Lean was at his best when he made his epics intimate, when it was just about two characters in a room or a place trying to figure things out - those are the scenes that made Kwai and Lawrence so compelling, was taking the high stakes of human beings amid the large vistas. Here, the locations are set in gloomy old England, immediately post-war, and is simply about two adults - Celia Johnson as Laura and Trevor Howard as Alex - who know they've made a connection, and know they have to move on. How can they?

One of those tremendously dramatic scenes in films, the kind that one may take for granted, happens not too soon after the film begins. We see the couple together about to separate - for good, it seems - as the sort of "End at the beginning" style of non-linear storytelling. At a café one of Laura's friends, played by Everly Gregg, comes in and won't.. stop.. talking. A stream of words, perfectly friendly, but without any shred of a sense of what's going on in front of her unless it's spelled out. The two women get on the train after the couple separates, and she continues to talk. Laura narrates, but it's more about the immediate thoughts in her head, as Lean cuts between close-ups of Gregg's non-stop mouth, and Johnson's face, sullen, distant, and her thoughts shift between "I wish you were dead. No, that is wrong, I didn't mean that. But I wish you would stop talking." It's one of those moments that made me sit up and take notice.

Brief Encounter isn't about to make these characters, just because they're in their 30's (verging on 40's) with marriages and kids, not have thoughts and feelings that drift into how people think and feel. But so much of what this film is about is repression, how one must stuff real feelings underneath for responsibility. Of course, Laura loves her kids and, to a large extent even, her husband, who also talks and talks, though isn't as unpleasant to listen to as the chatterbox Dolly. But she still has thoughts - more narration, but the kind that is a rarity in intelligent movies, that reveals about character instead of spelling things out - and we feel for her even as she is doing something "wrong" in the eyes of many.

The theme of Brief Encounter is universal, love that cannot be, going back to Shakespeare. But somehow this story spoke more to me - maybe as I'm an adult and not a teenager anymore - than, say, Romeo & Juliet. Laura and Alec, and as played by these two magnificent actors, mostly due to their restraint, but also in how warm and kind and generous they are as actors for their characters, are people who become so raw and moving that they become embedded in the audience's consciousness long after it's all over. There's also a nice contrast with a working class couple, who we see from time to time at the café the middle class couple regularly meets at. It's interesting to see how their relationship develops in contrast to the main couple (perhaps obviously so, the only nitpick about the movie). But it makes Coward's play richer too; not all hope is lost for everyone, and, as usual, life goes on - until it doesn't.

This is a small triumph about love in the face of all odds, and how mature people deal with it. Few tales of infidelity have ever been this rich, and though it may be aped by others it's hard to come close to its purity. And amid the ultimate sadness, there are still many moments of happiness between this couple. Hell, we even get a scene where they go to a Donald Duck cartoon! Perhaps today it might not work as well due to modern audiences expecting more passion, more sex. That might be fine for today. For 1945, its sense of showing love develop like this is never less than touching, and it holds up due to its sharp dialog, class distinctions, and the richness of Johnson's character and performance (Howard, too, is quite good, though is in a way kind of a supporting character too despite the length of screen time: it's Laura's story, ultimately).

Along with Allen's Manhattan (which name-checked Coward at one point by the way), this is maybe the most simple but incisive film about love-loss in the 20th century.

Unfriended (2014)
3 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
A "Compsploitation" movie that is abhorrent on multiple levels, 19 April 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Nearly every horror movie in this day and age has people being haunted or chased or beguiled by ghosts and demonic possessors and the like. We live in a world where we can get the likes of It Follows, which takes the slasher movie and innovates it with a fresh approach but, outside of this, takes the time out to give the audience characters who are relatable and likable or, at the least, make the people on screen seem like PEOPLE who are not terrible or awful and, to a point, unrealistic. It takes a combination of those two things to reach for greatness, but a horror movie can still be effective if it has one or the other: believable characters - even if it's just one or two - who have some dimension, or an approach that is cinematic. Found footage movies may be questionable at times for how the characters use the form of cinema itself - why not put down the camera during a particular moment, but I'll get back to that later - but there is a recognizable format for seeing characters on a screen doing things.

Can there be a movie that pulls off the "gimmick" of multiple characters on a computer screen, via Skype, in real time? Maybe. I don't doubt any kind of innovation can work. But is Unfriended "innovative"? No, it's not. With cinema, you can have moments of text on a screen. But to this extent? Half of this movie is AIM-style messaging and facebook back-and-forth. That is not, to my perspective, very cinematic. What is there about all of that text to be much engaging? At times we're simply watching the faces of these teenagers as they type. Only once or twice does anyone even, I don't know, pick up a PHONE to call someone. There were times, many of them, where I wondered to myself: 'Can this even really be called a MOVIE'?

And I get it, sort of. The filmmakers' point is that this is a time where 'Millennials' are living their lives online. But this could still be made compelling IF there were people to care about or fuller stakes or actual, you know, scares. What we get with Unfriended as anything close to a story is that Lauren Barns killed herself following cyber-bullying, and a year later as her former friends are chatting on Skype Lauren messages the main girl, Blaire, who's computer-screen we are seeing throughout. It's akin to I Know What You Did Last Summer, only instead of a man with a hook in a raincoat, it's an un-seen "Ghost" of some sort who, over the course of a real-time 80 minutes, takes out the characters one by one via "Games". It's an approach that makes Haneke's Funny Games subtle by comparison.

Unfriended is bad news from minute one. First and foremost, there is not a single identifiable character in the movie, not one. And just when you think you're on a character's side - just due to the usual of 'This is the "Main" character' - that rug is pulled out as well by film's end. These teenagers... there is a tradition of stupid, mindless and obnoxious teenagers killed off for reasons in horror movies for decades. But rarely have I seen one where the characters a) show so little dimension, being navel-gazing bores and worse, and b) when the "secrets" start coming out are even worse than they were before. And can you root for a computer-ghost to kill characters? Do we know enough really about her to care? Or about anyone? Little hints of the pasts of these people are shown, some relationships, but by the time it gets to that it doesn't matter - just get to the next character after that Countdown Clock BS, and show the gruesome carnage.

It's unpleasant to watch not because it's difficult to take the violence, but it's difficult to take the experience as a whole. Because the story and characters are wretched and boring and monotonous, one notices the flaws in the gimmick more and more. And unlike other found footage movies, this one strains credibility even further than before: what is stopping them from just, I dunno, turning off their computers? Would the problem be solved? No, then it would become just another generic ghost-revenge movie that we've already seen. But, and I can't stress this enough, the director and writer (who I believe are in their 40's), seem to have a kind of contempt for these teenagers, and by proxy the audience themselves. And moments where tension could be built up - like when Blaire contacts someone via Chat Roulette (!) to contact the police - it feels like padding, and idiotic at that. Why can't you call the police yourself? Oh, yes, that would require logic.

There are a few moments where I laughed - not for anything exactly genuine, but at characters' actions ("CLICK THE (BLEEP) LINK!") or one death involving a, no kidding, blender. But overall, Unfriended is presented in the guise of being innovative and terrifying, and is actually a pretentious, offensive-to-the-senses experience in "Modern" horror (in air quotes). It's deep down a nasty piece of work (and I don't mean in any kind of complimentary sense) in the ways that a movie should usually matter, even for a shallow horror trip for teens. And it uses cyber-bullying, a real and terrible thing, for exploitative results. It made me feel hateful for everything about technology and teenagers and the world, and myself for having sat through it. Bottom of the barrel stuff.

Can hardly go wrong with these three lookers, 18 April 2015

The Philadelphia Story, about an upper class woman about to get married and the two men - one her ex and the other a writer who may get a 'scoop' on a scandal unfolding - gets better as it goes along, even as its still a 'light' Rom-com. Stewart probably didn't deserve his Oscar for his role as Mike Connor, but he is so much fun here it makes the movie. I also liked and appreciated, which I don't get to see in Rom com's today, how other people call out Hepburns character for being a "prig" upper class socialite type. actually compared to the sociopaths who made Rom com's so insufferable in the past 25 years, she's almost positively delightful and human.

Grant is funny too, though kind of more of the 'straight' guy in comedic moments. Its a frothy Hollywood romance with skill and grace and drunken shenanigans, and even kids get eloquent quips. I may personally prefer when these actors are in screwball mode in other films (Hawks jumps to mind), but it's respectable, quality stuff, and it takes its characters seriously - Hepburn especially deepens and has a sophistication with the character that's surprising when it starts off seeming like it could dip into pre sitcom territory (and some may argue it's what that is).

But Mankiewicz and Cukor have fun with them in what is not great but very good, and that's enough.

"Anything can be great... if he knows what he's doing and why", 18 April 2015

I almost don't know where to begin with Robert Rossen's The Hustler, about the ups and downs (mostly downs) for "Fast" Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) as he faces off against Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleeson), meets and falls in love with a "lame" girl (Piper Laurie), and gets attached to a gambler/manager (Scott) who may run him ragged. The simplest thing is that this is a cool, expressive, massively engaging drama that treats its audience like they're adults. The script not only never fails the actors, but Rossen and his co-writer give them scene after scene to showcase pain and anguish and trying to find a way through the dark corners of life... but also that RUSH for going for "it" - the thrill of the game, win or lose.

Paul Newman is electrifying, no two ways about it - and one can firmly argue, as I might, his finest work on screen. I have to seriously wonder if one extra speech, which was apparently cut though I couldn't tell from where, would've bumped him up to full Oscar status (this was by the way) where Scott's animosity to the AMPAS began with his loss to Riff from West Side Story) - and the main cast is uniformly excellent.

But I'm tempted to say that Piper Laurie may be my favorite performance of the bunch. Sarah has been used and doesn't always like that, but she is always in constant conflict about it; amid the trials Eddie goes through, she seems to go through her own, while falling in serious, non-kidding love with this guy. She has all of the layers to play here, and there are a few moments where I wondered if it would become less a "Sports" movie (and this is as much a sports movie as Raging Bull, Jake LaMotta connection) than Days of Wine and Roses - and this is, if "About" anything, addiction and personality disorders. She makes such a tormented character feel raw and real and vulnerable and strong and charming and just everything that you want out of a movie character. Her final scene is also shocking, though I still didn't expect what would happen next.

And Jackie Gleeson. I half expected him at one or two points, following a Fast Eddie clip, to go "We got a Weisenheimer, Alice!" He was part of the 'coolness' of this picture of me, super tough, possibly dangerous but, in his way, kind of like that old-bad*ss knight (or gunslinger, and when Eddie re-enters the bar for the climax it has that feel too of a saloon in the Old West) who gets challenged and goes toe-to-toe with another upstart knight or something.

George C. Scott... When he exclaims in that final scene "You owe me MONEY!" I let out a laugh, not as it was funny exactly but it was so unexpected and charged. He the tough, a-hole Capitalistic shark of the movie, as Eddie (yes even as Newman was 35 when this was made) is young with that go-gettem spirit but with heart and all that jazz. Scott plays this guy as someone who, in other hands, could be the hammy villain of the movie, whereas with him he also makes him almost a tragic character. Almost.

Oh, and the filmmaking is crisp and innovative in parts - those montages, so captivating - and knowing, along with Dede Allen, when to leave the camera going without a cut, or to keep the cuts smooth and good for a conversation (Sarah's breakdown at the party the former, when she and Eddie meet at the bar the latter).

Bottom line, a sort of "guy" movie that owes more to film-noir than sport movie clichés. I'm not sure what I was expecting - the Color of Money is the good but still, it-can't-be-helped, inferior follow-up - but I got a minor masterpiece.

a gem in a few respects, if slightly flawed, 17 April 2015

I have to wonder if I'd think differently of this film had I seen it before the 1956 film. But, such is the course that life can take, I saw the one with Morroco, James Stewart and Doris Day, and Que Sera Sera first. Though that film may have more of the polish of a seasoned professional in 1956 (in contrast to the young upstart proving himself all over after a string of flops in 1934), it benefits greatly from a longer run-time to give more meat on the bones of the story, and a tighter grip on the suspense.

Nevertheless, the original film that one could argue got the career of Alfred Hitchcock much on a roll in the 1930's has much to recommend it for. In this story that starts off in Switzerland - "Brotherly Love" except for certain foreign travelers - and a surprise bullet during a dinner party that kills a French spy (with the final words spoken to Jill (Edna Best), on holiday with her husband Lawrence (Leslie Banks) and child and sets a chain of events that leads to kidnapping, an assassination attempt during classical music concert and "Sun Worshipers", it's usually never less than riveting.

The director keeps the pace fast - maybe too fast, one could argue. For filmmaking that is so rich and tightly edited and composed with a rhythm that feels just right when Hitchcock and company get into the set pieces, such as the dentist office or the Sun Church, or that final stretch in the gun battle, certain other scenes just feel... flat. All of the main actors are adequate, but it's hard to argue if one prefers this version Banks over Stewart, or even Best over Day. They aren't bad actors in the slightest, but there's little in the way of any personality about them. Best is at her best, so to speak, during that Albert Hall number - actually, I'll give it, she is up to everything else in that sequence and is great.

If the plot doesn't leave much room to breathe or anything in the way of character development (different than bits of behavioral humor, which do connect more often than not), there is one ace in the hole for Hitchcock: Peter Lorre. After seeing him in M, he knew he found his Abbot (yeah yeah, odd name, but whatever, this ain't a comedy in THAT way). It's astonishing to read that Lorre didn't know English very well at the time and did the performance phonetically; the way he speaks is cutting at every turn, and he sets the tone for his group of criminals out to wreak havoc on spies and diplomats. He's... cool for such an evil bastard: when the father is anxiously hurling chairs in the church at the other bad guys to get his daughter back, Lorre just leans back on a wall and watches as it happens, knowing it'll play itself out in its way. When things cool down just a bit, he goes face to face with the hero. Close-ups, so intense, with a cigarette always dangling just a little.

This is such iconic work for this actor - among his very best, and making it a memorable heel in the Hitchcock canon - that one can (almost) forgive any other flaws in the script, such as rushed exposition, or kind of dropping doing anything with the daughter after a set up with her in Switzerland that made her seem fairly interesting for a minute or two. There's a reason Lorre is on the poster and not Leslie Banks: by the end, it's not like we exactly *want* him to get away, but... the guy's a force of nature, let's put it that way. The Man Who Knew Too Much, both versions, are crackerjack pieces of suspense (with occasional surprise, and there's a difference between the two) and it's admirable how coiled the suspense gets for when it pops.

This Hitch guy, watching this, he's going places...

absorbing in parts, but not the whole, 15 April 2015

Hitchcock and Selznick's Paradine Case is a pretty basic nut to crack in terms of the premise - a woman accused of murder (in Hitchcock, no way!) and in this case it becomes a law & order scenario with the defense attorney doing the detective work.

There are some excellently written and directed courtroom scenes, when it actually gets to the courtroom mostly. Ironic, of course, that the story is really about the characters more than the plot; somehow the details of the story, how the characters talk about them (or don't, leaving things out or floating in the air) brought me in more than anything of the "love" portions.

But the main core of the melodrama is that Anthony Keane (supposedly) falls in love with Mrs Paradine, and I just don't buy it. We're told by the character that he's fallen in love with her. Why? After so short a time? It may be because there's so little chemistry between the two actors - Alida Valdi is playing a cold femme fatale, and within her own dimensions does a decent job, especially in her early scenes, while Peck varies between not so much stiff but bland and trying to reach up to a certain dramatic height that he only gets to occasionally in the courtroom. The spark just isn't there with the actors; if there was just the hint of danger between the two, of temptation, it might work. But there isn't.

Ann Todd - who, unlike, Peck and Valdi, was Hitchcock's first choice - actually has more chemistry with Peck as husband and wife together, though only gets one meaty monologue (which is cleverly pointed out by the character as to be a 'speech'), though it only goes so far and still makes her a 'type'. Still, there's enough to make it engaging for the points of a mystery whodunit, and a little Charles Laughton goes a long way (he has two memorable scenes, and one where he kinda sorta has a friendly chat with Todd is maybe the most darkly funny and weird scene of the movie, the most 'Hitch' in his way).

All the same, it shouldn't seem mysterious as to who really 'dun' it, and that's not here or there. At the same time, it's not hard to see where Selznick likely meddled in the director's attempts to make this more compelling and curious - he stifles several scenes potential for the easy way out, including the music score (why oh why couldn't they get Herrmann) and that ending scene. To be sure, there are some shots that work and break out of the stodgy story beats, and some that don't (and most baffling is seeing filmmakers like this break the 180 rule with the camera at one point, and for no reason other than incompetence).

What's missing from the Paradine Case seems to be some sense of general levity to offset how (melo)dramatic the rest of the story is, a key trait to the gift of Hitchcock's ENTERTAINMENT. Whether that was also lost by Selznick it's hard to say. The most crippling thing to an otherwise good movie is a somewhat by the numbers feel, though I still recommend it (slightly) for the watchable second half, and oddly dark Louis Jordan performance.

1 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
The Man Without Fear, 13 April 2015

Frank Miller and John Romita went back and made the 5-issue 'origin' of Matt Murdock's vigilantism with The Man Without Fear - that's where the black costume comes from, which he wears primarily through this first season of the Netflix show and where a reader could find out how he went into the depths of Hell's Kitchen to fight the forces of evil in New York city. It was brooding, hardcore, for adults really even as it was under the Marvel banner, which people usually associate with kid-friendly product. Perhaps a child could start watching this new series from showrunner Drew Goddard... until it gets violent. Really violent. Grisly, like elements out of a horror movie come up. How grisly can it really get? Well, there's an episode involving putting cutting up a dead body into parts to dispose of (one by one) in a river. David Fincher would look at Daredevil and go 'Wow, I wish I'd tried that in a movie'.

Daredevil is for adults, but it doesn't mean it's going to be dark and ultra-violent and harrowing for no reason. The story of Matt Murdock is one of Catholic troubles - he goes to church and confesses, though mostly informally, and that's where his head and conscience really lie - and what it means to "save" a city. Because it's not just Murdock - it's also the 'Kingpin', Wilson Fisk (note, I don't remember him being called Kingpin in this series, but that's fine, a card from a deck says it all at one point). Fisk also comes from Hell's Kitchen, and sees that a good part of his city needs saving. The problem comes in perspective for these two characters: one is going after the criminals in a black mask who can't be put in or are evading the law, and other one is a wealthy magnate who uses intimidation and thuggish tactics.

It was the right and wise decision to start with Kingpin, as he's a reverse of Matt Murdock; everything that Murdock is trying to do to protect his city (and of course he calls it "my city", why not), Fisk feels like he as well. The best villains are those who think of themselves as the Hero of the story, but of course are so delusional, awful and misguided (at best) that they know what's best for everybody, and by any (fearful) means necessary. D'Onofrio plays Fisk in multi-dimensions as someone who actually does know what he's doing - he admits to people like his love Vanessa that he will be doing terrible things - but that's fine for him if it justifies the means. What makes Murdock so compelling is that he is without fear, but will only put it back into the right(wrong) people.

This is film noir comic book filmmaking. This is the world that has ninjas and martial arts training, but it's also a world where a character like Matt Murdock gets into courtroom drama, and where, get this, he can get hurt. A lot. In ways that require a nurse and meditation to heal (how that works, don't ask), this is someone who gets hurt much more than even Batman. Part of that can be chalked up to the suit - the fanboy in us wants to know when the suit is coming, but the black mask does make it properly mysterious and fits the crime-drug-rape-murder environment. When the hero goes out to fight people, there's a very good chance he could be killed. That makes the stakes much higher and more tumultuous than, say, Wolverine or Superman ever could.

All of this goes into a series that moves with bravura, cinematic direction. Sometimes you watch a TV show, even one that has solid production values like Arrow, and know that it's meant for TV. This is a case where Marvel steps up their game and tries to make it a situation where you could easily see this in a movie theater. An extended hallway fight where Daredevil goes into a building to save a kid is in one take, inspired very likely by Oldboy, but has its own rhythm and intensity that makes it unique. There's a series of montages where Fisk puts together his breakfast and it has the eerie intensity of an A-class horror film or thriller. An actor like Charlie Cox is usually seen in films (i.e. Theory of Everything) and here he's perfect for the control, humor (yes, sometimes humor, if light), inner- turmoil and tragedy needed for this Murdock. And actresses like Rosario Dawson and Deborah Ann Woll add considerable talent to the settings. But it comes back to the direction and writing, how much this looks and feels and THINKS with a degree of intelligence that acts more like a self-contained movie than a series.

Not that I can't wait for season 2. But what Daredevil accomplishes is carrying over that feeling Frank Miller got when he quasi-rebooted the series in the early 80's, then made iconic in Born Again and The Man Without Fear, and how the recent run of comics have tried to rise above the usual conventions and expectations of comic-book-crime books. This is not fake-posturing comic book stuff like the 2003 movie. Considering how much it tackles things like gentrification and corporate malfeasance, the drug war and familial trauma that leaves people like Wilson Fisk as understandable (though not sympathetic) monsters, this is Marvel taking things to another level. Iron Man was one step into that, and this is a whole other. With some minor gripes (mostly involving characters like Stick, albeit still wonderfully played by Scott Glenn), this is a masterpiece of long-form storytelling.

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