Thursday, November 30, 2017

TV: The Punisher

Marvel's Netflix series have been hit ("Daredevil," "Luke Cage") and miss ("Iron Fist," "The Defenders"), but basically all of them have been guilty of stretching 6-episode stories into 13-episode seasons, like butter scraped over too much bread. Yet what could have been the most one-note series of them all - "The Punisher" - avoids the trap:

A lot of that has to do with Jon Bernthal. Now, I thought Thomas Jane was a pretty good Punisher, but Bernthal is great. His performance is the comic book character brought to life: at turns raging, melancholy, and dryly ruthless. After 13 episodes, you'll get tired of the constant flashbacks to Frank Castle's dead wife and kids, but you'll never get tired of the lead character.

The rest of the cast does their part. Ebon Moss-Bachrach's Snowden-esque Micro is perhaps the most grounded and sympathetic the character has ever been, and Ben Barnes brings charisma and intelligence to his role as Billy Russo (if you know the comics, the name is a spoiler, but it's still fun to see how Russo's arc plays out). There's room to bring either or both back for Season 2, and I hope they do.

At bottom, though, "The Punisher" works because it has a theme - the scars of war, and the camaraderie, consequences, pride, and problems experienced by our nation's veterans. There are some unflinching takes on serious issues (PTSD, guilt, stolen valor), which is not what you'd expect in a comic book show. Many members of the U.S. military have taken the Punisher symbol as their own, and "The Punisher" honors that back.

Books: Stories of Your Life and Others

I spent much of the Thanksgiving weekend immersed in Ted Chiang's short story collection, "Stories of Your Life and Others." I thought it was a very solid read, though perhaps not quite what I expected. The anthology is marketed as "science fiction," but there are only a few real sci-fi tales here ("Understand," "Division by Zero"). A great deal of the book is pure fantasy ("Tower of Babylon," "Hell Is the Absence of God").

As some reviewers have noted, there is a certain strain of nihilism running through the stories. Whatever you think of that, it's beyond argument that the pieces in the book are well-written and lucid. My favorite was "Story of Your Life," the basis for the movie "Arrival." I found that the source material wasn't saddled with the film's gussied-up stakes and pat conclusion, and felt more realistic as a result. It's safe to say that if aliens ever visited Earth, man would be left with more questions than answers.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Big Brass Balls

Do manfully and be of good heart: fear not, nor be ye dismayed at their sight: for the Lord thy God he himself is thy leader, and will not leave thee nor forsake thee.

- Deuteronomy 31:6