Monday, April 13, 2015

Russia’s Ace in the Hole: a Super-Missile It Can Sell to Iran

Marvel’s Netflix series, which starts streaming Friday, is miles away from its failed predecessor—and filled with the grittiness of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy.
Daredevil, the 13-episode Netflix series that brings the famed “Man with No Fear” to the small screen, is a gritty superhero drama that takes a far darker tone than its Marvel predecessors—and, for that matter, Ben Affleck’s 2003 flop. Set in perpetual gloom and awash in bloody violence, it’s a sharp departure from the colorful, jokey Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor films, as well as the ABC hit Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. That isn’t, however, to say Daredevil is unique, since in a twist fit for a comic book, Marvel’s latest does something unexpected—it channels the spirit of its competitor’s most famous property.
I’m referring to DC’s Batman, specifically to Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, whose influence seeps into just about every corner of the new Daredevil. In a sense, the similarity between the two is no surprise, as blind lawyer-turned-crime fighter Matt Murdock has long been likened to Bruce Wayne’s cowled do-gooder. The two share a fondness for broodingly (if not angrily) doling out vigilante justice under the cover of night in gutters and back alleys. And Frank Miller, who was responsible for Daredevil’s definitive comic book run in the early ’80s, also wrote perhaps the most revered Batman series ever, 1986’s The Dark Knight Returns. Miller’s work on the respective characters turned them into something like kindred spirits: driven by duty and rage, and wielding their fists as well as their cunning, to serve as nocturnal protectors of their city’s inhabitants. Both strengthened and hampered by their twisted pasts and impulses, they’re heroes on the verge of becoming antiheroes.

VINCENT D'ONOFRIO as WILSON FISK in the Netflix Original Series “Marvel’s Daredevil” 
Photo: Barry Wetcher
© 2014 Netflix, Inc. All rights reserved.
Factor in that both Batman and Daredevil bear lingering scars from their parents’ deaths and it’s not hard to see why the new series is closer in spirit to Nolan’s movies than to its Marvel brethren. By adopting that bleaker mood, Daredevil showrunner Steven S. DeKnight, who replaced Drew Goddard shortly after production began, has found a way to inject some diversity into Marvel’s ever-expanding roster.
But DeKnight still makes sure to integrate the program into the fabric of what is quickly becoming one gigantic, connected TV-film universe. The show is set in a Hell’s Kitchen rebuilding itself after the chaotic destruction of The Avengers, whose finale is obliquely—or, for anyone in the know, quite clearly—referred to at regular intervals. The Midtown Manhattan of Daredevil is all grimy streets, barren offices, sparsely decorated apartments, and rainy alleyways. In this jet-black environment, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and his wisecracking, self-deprecating partner and best friend, Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), set out to make a difference by starting their own law firm. Unbeknownst to Foggy, however, Murdock balances his courtroom crime fighting with after-hours ass-kicking as Daredevil, wearing a cloth mask pulled down over his eyes and using his extraordinarily heightened other senses, which were altered by radioactive material in the same childhood accident that cost him his sight.
Murdock’s preliminary targets are some human-trafficking scumbags but soon come to include Russian gangsters affiliated with underworld boss Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), who’s so intimidating that even his minions don’t refer to him by name, much less his other moniker, Kingpin. As embodied by D’Onofrio with a tremulousness that can suddenly give way to vicious cruelty, Fisk is a socially uncomfortable monster, an ambitious businessman struggling to suppress his more violent urges. As such, he’s the shadowy twin of Murdock. In the premiere, Murdock tells a priest during confession—Daredevil being a character, and series, steeped in issues of Catholic guilt, duty, and redemption—that his boxer dad, when trapped in a corner, would unleash an unholy fury. And later, he admits to his personal nurse and potential love interest Claire (Rosario Dawson) that he hurts bad guys because he likes it.
When Daredevil takes on his enemies, he does so using a variety of punches and flip-kicks that resound with a crunching force. Anything but polished, his skirmishes feel brutal.
Claire refuses to believe that Murdock is merely a sadist looking for some thug-bashing thrills, and Cox’s sturdy headlining turn makes plain that, deep down, she’s right. Nonetheless, Daredevil consistently, and shrewdly, keeps its protagonist walking a tightrope between nobility and savagery. The notion that Murdock might go too far fills his story with constant tension, in addition to giving the show’s fight sequences a raw energy most big-screen Marvel adventures lack. When Daredevil takes on his enemies, he does so using a variety of punches and flip-kicks that resound with a crunching force. Anything but polished, his skirmishes feel brutal, never more so than during the climactic scene of the second episode (“Cut Man”), in which Daredevil, to rescue a kidnapped young boy, lays siege to an apartment full of armed men, the camera rarely cutting away as he pummels his way through one adversary after another, taking a severe beating in the process.
Daredevil’s first five episodes, which were all the press was provided before Friday’s full-season debut, nicely establish Murdock’s duality, his rapport with Foggy, the integration of secretary Karen Page (True Blood’s Deborah Ann Woll) into Murdock and Foggy’s practice. The episodes also fill in the overarching scheme of Fisk, who plans to use his contracting industry ties to rebuild—and thus reshape, for his benefit—the Avengers-decimated city. Some of the show’s episode-by-episode plot threads do come across as perfunctory filler. And Daredevil has a tendency to stretch out its conversational scenes to the point of enervation, especially with regard to Fisk’s attempts to romance an art gallery owner (played by Man of Steel’s Ayelet Zurer). However, the show makes up for those missteps with its clear and compelling voice, which interjects a welcome dose of bruised-and-bloodied malice to the sometimes too-cartoony Marvel universe.
More promising still, Daredevil is a confident show with a solid foundation on which it can build. And Marvel will reap the benefits, since the studio plans to use Daredevil as the first step—to be followed by Netflix series about Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage—on a path to a small-screen Avengers-style team-up spectacular called The Defenders. Which ultimately means that, as entertaining as it is, Daredevil is merely a promising prelude of things to come.

U.S. television personality Kim Kardashian (C) and her sister Khloe Kardashian attend a flower laying ceremony at the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Museum in Yerevan April 10, 2015. Kim Kardashian, visiting her ancestors' homeland of Armenia, placed flowers on Friday at a memorial to the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman soldiers. REUTERS/Hayk Baghdasaryan/Photolure TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTR4WUQ5

On a Mission

04.13.156:30 PM ET

The Kardashians Take Jerusalem

With its 100th anniversary later this month, both Pope Francis and Kim Kardashian have memorialized the Armenian Genocide. Is anyone watching?
When Pope Francis and Kim Kardashian agree with each other, you know something is up.
Well, that’s what happened this week: the pontiff doubled down on his statement that the Ottoman Turks’ 1915 massacres of 1.5 million Armenians was a genocide—calling it the “first genocide of the 20th century”—and Kim and Khloe Kardashian, together with Kim’s husband Kanye West, visited a memorial to the massacre in the Armenian capital of Yerevan. They all then met with Armenia’s prime minister.
Will 2015, the centenary of the massacres, be the year when the Armenian Genocide finally becomes openly acknowledged by the world? It is telling that Pope Francis, who often acts like the conscience of the West, and Kardashian, who often acts like its libido, both cast a bright light on this dark period of history.
Interestingly, shortly after their visit to Yerevan, Kimye made their way to Jerusalem, where they had their daughter North baptized at a twelfth century Armenian church. As such, the high-profile pilgrimage—political and religious at once—would be a kind of “coming out” for the whole Kardashian clan.
The Kardashians have never hidden their Armenian ancestry, of course. It’s right there in their distinctive last name. But they’ve not exactly been Armenian activists either, and this is the daughters’ first-ever trip to Armenia.
In fairness, the Kardashians are not exactly immigrants: their father was a third-generation American. But they are uniquely 21st century American celebrities: their mother may have married a white star athlete, but Kim married an outspoken hip-hop artist. The Kardashians themselves are white, but as one sociologist has remarked about American Jews, they are “off white.” As with other ethnic groups who choose to pass as white or not, the question is how “Other” they want to present themselves.
“The same sight met our view on every side; a man lying, his breast pierced by a bullet; a woman torn open by lead; a child sleeping his last sleep beside his mother.”
To be sure, the crowds that mobbed the Kardashians in Armenia and Jerusalem seemed more interested in celebrity-spotting than in calling attention to genocide and the nuances of multiculturalism.
But who cares? Celebrity culture being what it is, it’s possible that Kim and Khloe’s visit to Yerevan made more people aware of the Armenian Genocide than any single act in the century since it took place.
Interestingly, the Kardashians are not the only Armenian celebrities to recently take up the cause. Actor and writer Eric Bogosian—a beloved New York monologist best known to the wider public from roles in “Law and Order” and Under Siege 2—has just published a new, nonfiction account of a plot to exact revenge against those responsible for the genocide. Obviously, Bogosian has nowhere near the star wattage of a single Kardashian, but the attention is striking nonetheless.
Add to these celebrity efforts the remarkable long-form New Yorker piece by Raffi Khatchadourian, which, at 14,000 words, is somewhere between an article and novella.
It’s possible that this unprecedented level of attention will increase in the coming days. The official day for recognizing the genocide’s hundredth anniversary is April 24th. The United States has long tried to have it both ways, reassuring Turkey while making ambiguous public comments about the massacres. But with Samantha Power—who wrote a 2002 book on the subject—now a U.N. Ambassador and trusted confidante of a lame-duck president, perhaps the Obama administration will join the chorus.
There is little dispute, among non-Turkish scholars anyway, that what Armenians call Medz Yeghern—the Great Crime—was what we would today call a genocide, replete with incitements from officials that Christians do not belong in Turkey, mass roundups and executions, even concentration camps.
As Khatchadourian observed in his article, our knowledge of the exact details remains hindered by Turkey’s refusal to open its archives to scholars. There had been anti-Christian violence before, but in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the First World War, heavy losses on the Russian Front, and the ascendancy of the Young Turks and their “Turkish” identity politics, the stars aligned. On April 24, 1915, two-hundred Armenian intellectuals were rounded up and killed.
The gruesome mechanisms of genocide followed in short order: deportations, camps, executions. Astonishingly, thousands of Armenians were literally sent down the Tigris River on rafts. Others were expelled to Syria. Others were massacred. In a book quoted by Khatchadourian, one survivor wrote, “The same sight met our view on every side; a man lying, his breast pierced by a bullet; a woman torn open by lead; a child sleeping his last sleep beside his mother; a girl in the flower of her age, in a posture which told its own story. Such was our journey until we arrived at a canal, called Kara Pounâr, near Diyarbakir, and here we found a change in the method of murder and savagery. We saw here bodies burned to ashes.”
Will attention from the Pope and the Kardashians bring these century-old atrocities to light?
For its part, Turkey has hewed closely to its decades-old script, denouncing the pope’s statement as “far from historic and legal truths.” Unlike in Germany, where Holocaust denial is a crime, in Turkey, Genocide denial is official policy. Prime Minister Recip Erdogan has acknowledged that Armenians suffered, but only “just like every other citizen of the Ottoman empire.” He has denied that Turkey has any responsibility to apologize.
Turkey can argue with the Pope, but it may have more trouble arguing with the leading stars of reality television. If the Kardashians are serious about making the memory of the Armenian Genocide part of their “brand,” they could become the most powerful spokespeople in the world for an under-remembered tragedy in which a million of their people were murdered.

03 Nov 2005, Berlin, Germany --- 55-year-old mother Annegret Raunigk poses with her daughter Lelia on the 3rd of November in 2005. It is her 13th child and was fathered and born naturally, but unexpectedly. --- Image by © Patrick Lux/dpa/Corbis
Patrick Lux/dpa/Corbis

Mazel tov

04.13.155:40 PM ET

65 Years Old and Pregnant With Quads

Annegret Raunigk will become the oldest mother of quadruplets ever when the children are born this summer. She already has 13 children and seven grandchildren.
Annegret Raunigk is 65 years old and pregnant with quadruplets, according to German publication Bild.
If all goes well during the pregnancy, Raunigk will become the oldest mother of quadruplets ever when the children are born this summer.
“After the doctor discovered there were four, I had to give it some thought to begin with,” Raunigk is quoted saying in Bild.
Raunigk already has 13 children, which range from 44 years old to nine, and seven grandchildren. She decided to attempt artificial insemination after her nine year-old daughter wanted a sibling, according to Germany’s broadcast channel RTL.
Also according to RTL, Raunigk has been going through in vitro fertilization treatments for the past year and a half. The network hopes to follow her through the pregnancy plans to air an interview with her Monday night.
This not Raunigk’s first time in the spotlight. She made headlines at age 55 for the pregnancy of her 13th child.
“At first, I only wanted one child. Not all were planned. But then things happen. I'm not a planner but rather spontaneous. And children keep me young,” Bild quoted Raugnik saying.
Though the average age for menopause is 51, women having children over the age of 50 have become more common over time. In 2013, about 13 children a week were born to women over 50. The oldest woman to ever give birth is Rajo Devi Lohan of India who was 69 at the time of her daughter’s birth. Her pregnancy, like Raunigk’s, was made possible through in vitro fertilization.
According to a study by Columbia University Medical Center, there are some risks with having children over the age of 50 with invitro fertilization. They found that the rate Caesarean delivery is high after the age of 50, and those mothers are also at a high risk for maternal complications such as hypertensive disorders. However, they found that the results were similar to those of their control group of women ages 42 and younger.
So far Raugnik’s pregnancy has not had any issues, and she hopes to remain fit and healthy.

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