Friday, October 30, 2015

Gotham: Scarification Review


GOTHAM: SCARIFICATION

Perhaps a better title for Scarification, the newest Gotham episode, would be The Satanic Rites of Galavan.  In one hour, we had the mental images of two arms being severed, an eye being forcibly removed, and in perhaps one of the most wild things I've seen on network television, a man literally, and I do mean LITERALLY, blown up.  Scarification introduces a new villain, throws in a little romance, and generally goes crazy.

In short, another fantastic Gotham episode.

Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) is still in the death grip of Theo Galavan (James Frain).  Now he wants to have a series of fires set in various locations and rejects Penguin's offer of being his willing employee in exchange for the return of his mother Gertrude.  Penguin is enraged at his weakness and impotency, but is also puzzled by the strange object Theo and his sister Tabitha (Jessica Lucas) insist he give to his arsonists.

These arsonists are the Pike Brothers, but they are loyal to Fish Mooney, so they won't work for Penguin or his right-hand man, Butch (Drew Powell).  In order to get them to work for Penguin, Butch goes to an intermediary the Pikes trust: Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova).  Selina vouches for Butch, and they soon start getting their material ready.  In what appears to be the COSTCO of crime, MERC, there's a raid by the Alpha Unit Strike Force of the Gotham City P.D., and while he tries to escape, Detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), shoots him when he pulls a gun.  He fires so many rounds that one of them hits the explosive the Pike brother had lifted, and thus, he literally and I do mean LITERALLY, explodes.
 



Penguin is just having a bad time of it.  His mother is being held prisoner, he's being forced to do work he hates, and now, the Strike Force has raided one of his cash bases as part of Captain Barnes' (Michael Chiklis) plan to take Penguin down.  Still, business must come first, and the Pikes agree to burn it down.  However, their much put-upon sister Bridget (Michelle Veintimilla) has to join in the family business.  She has to carry this mysterious box, which to everyone's horror, contains an eye.  This eye allows access via retinal identification to a secret safe, and in that safe is a large knife.  Bridget is almost killed when the Strike Force manages to connect the fires to their common denominator: they all belong to Wayne Enterprises.  However, even though Bridget set a Strike Force member, Garrett, on fire, she manages to escape with Selina's help.

Penguin is most puzzled by why the Galavans have gone insane over this old knife, until Butch digs up an antiques dealer from the old neighborhood, Edwige (Mary Joy), an expert in old Gotham history.  She tells the story of Gotham's Five Families: The Elliots, the Kanes, the Crowns, the Dumas, and the Waynes.  One of the Dumas, Caleb, might or might not have violated Celestina Wayne, and for that, his arm was chopped off...with that knife.  The Dumas were essentially banished and erased from Gotham history, retreating to a monastery and taking on a new name.

Galavan.

Penguin now sees an opportunity to take revenge on Theo and Tabitha with that knife and starts creating a plan of his own.  That plan is to convince them he's gone completely mad, and as part of that plan, it means cutting off Butch's own arm.   Theo at the end receives Father Creel (Ron Rifkin),  the mad monk of Galavans, with the determination to take revenge on the last Wayne in Gotham.

Bruce Wayne.

I don't think anything will ever top the sight of a man literally and I do mean LITERALLY exploding on network television.  I know I repeat this often, but let's take a look at this.
 
A MAN EXPLODED ON
NETWORK TELEVISION!  

And it wasn't just a quick glimpse or an edited scene where we were left with the impression a man exploded.  We pretty much saw it all.  If Gotham were a pay channel program, I think we would have seen even worse (the eye gouging, the two times a person's arm was hacked off).  In terms of what we can see Gotham has clearly pushed the envelope off the table.  Now, given that I'm an adult, this isn't particularly disturbing.  However, it convinces me that despite the Batman connection I would not let my children watch Gotham.  My teens, maybe, but not anyone under 13. 

However, I have to congratulate Gotham for creating a wild episode, and for some really fantastic performances.  I again declare my unrequited love for Robin Lord Taylor as The Penguin.  In his fear, his calculation, his rage, his paranoia (real and faked), RLT just again shows us why he is fast becoming the definitive version of the Waddling Master-Criminal.  He's shrewd but desperate, a most dangerous combination, and RLT now starts taking command of the screen after a few episodes where the fear was that the Galavans would step in.


Scarification also brought the future villain Firefly.  Now, while I understand that the character is traditionally male, but Gotham has cleverly given us a strong backstory to allowing a female to take the role.  Veintimillia is excellent as the beaten-up Bridget, who starts to discover her own strength.  Bridget is still struggling with being a good person, but she is also tasting the first fruits of victory in a male-dominated world. Her scene with Bicondova was a particular highlight, seeing two good actresses argue about the right and wrong actions to take.

In terms of overall story, the Segway into the dark Gothic history of Gotham was fascinating and well-filmed.  It also puts the plot the Galavans have in greater focus (although the targeting of Bruce as part of some age-long rivalry is a bit hackney in my view).  We also did get a chance to see a nicer side to both Gordon and Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), who is entering the cutesy stage with the luscious Miss Kringle (Chelsea Spack).  Their double date (Nygma/Kringle, Gordon/Thompkins) was nice and a nice respite from the overall lunacy of the hour.

Scarification is another strong episode in what is turning out to be a strong second season.  Rise of the Villains is turning out to be leading to even more shocking stories.

Even if the sight of a man literally getting blown up will be tough to top.

 LONG OVERDUE

   

8/10

Next Episode: By Fire


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Chappie: A Review



CHAPPIE

On an episode of Are You Being Served?, there was a tagline used regarding a gift with the purchase of perfume/cologne.  "Keep your chappie happy with something snappy".  Would that co-writer/director Neill Blomkamp had bothered to learn that regarding Chappie, his pseudo-intellectual film about artificial intelligence.

We got plenty of the first and none of the second.  Chappie is a disaster, attempting to be both intellectual and endearing in equal measure and failing in equal measure.

In the near future, Johannesburg, South Africa employs a new addition to its police force: robots that handle all the tough and dangerous aspects of law enforcement.  The weapons manufacturer, Tetravaal, is delighted by the J-burg Police orders, especially its head, Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver).  Not happy is Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), who finds his own mechanized killing machine reduced time and again in funding.  Vincent is also angry at Deon (Dev Patel), who is the genius of the robotic force. 

Deon is secretly working on creating full artificial intelligence, and by luck Robot #22 is about to be scrapped due to extensive damage.  It is the perfect machine to try out his successful AI system.  Unfortunately, the same criminals who damaged #22 are now on Deon's trail.  A super-thug named Hippo (Brandon Auret) has given two minor thugs, Ninja & Yolandi (played by Die Antwoord rappers...Ninja & Yolandi) 7 days to come up with 20 million rand or else.  Yolandi comes up with a great plan: use robots to rob.  Rob...robots...it all works.  They need the genius who came up with the police bots, and Deon is abducted.  They find the robot and decide to use Deon to rework the bot.

Enter "Chappie" (Sharlto Copley).  At first our Robotic Frankenstein is frightened (easy with Ninja, who is too busy acting all thug to notice that he doesn't have as he calls it, "a retarded robot").  With a little love from Yolandi, Chappie starts finding a strange life: part innocent, part gangsta.


To toughen him up, Ninja leaves the sheltered Chappie among a group of thugs, who once realize he's no threat, set him on fire.  Chappie is also tortured and his major chip taken by Victor, who has learned about the AI project.  Chappie struggles to find both his "Mommy" and "Daddy" and/or his "Maker", which gives him contradictory instructions about obeying/breaking the law. 

Victor uses the chip to disarm and disable all the Robo-Cops, causing total chaos on the streets.  No matter, he's got his monster machine that he can control to save the day.  Chappie, who is shocked to find he's been tricked into committing 'the heists', now joins his 'parents' and 'maker' to save the day against Victor and his MOOSE machine.  Deon is injured, Mommy is killed, Hippo I think is also blown away and Chappie is able to transfer Deon's consciousness into another machine.

Near the end of Chappie, I wrote in my notes, "How long is this piece of crap?"  It isn't that Chappie doesn't have some good ideas trying to float upwards, but it got lost in two things: big explosions and a horrible character.  Chappie tries to make its main character endearing, but he just comes across as insipid, with all his talk about "Mommy" and "Daddy", in the child-like sing-song voice Copley adopted.  You don't end up liking Chappie, but end up cheering Victor.

It is hard to take Chappie seriously when you've got this robot speaking in gangsta lingo and wear bling all around his neck.  It comes across as totally comical and illogical, and if the effort with this was to make Chappie more family-friendly, that bombed.  The rather excessive amount of explosions and violence goes against the cheerful, innocent vibe they are trying with Chappie.

Poor Jackman, hamming it up as the villainous Victor and leading to such questions as to why Victor could pull a gun and force Deon's head down on his desk in front of everyone and be allowed to laugh it off as a joke.  I know SA is violent, but this is too much...

Taunting Chappie with a 'Run, Forrest!' line doesn't help.

It also makes me wonder why Ninja and Yolanti played characters named Ninja and Yolanti.  Are they playing themselves?  Are they so untalented as actors that they wouldn't be able to respond to other characters' name?   It's almost sad to see Yolanti, a rapper known only in South Africa, give a better performance than Wolverine.    

Blomkamp I think wanted to try and make another allegory about what makes one human, and the idea that one can transfer their conscious and cheat death is interesting.  However, the hows are a little blank, and worse, all I could think about is not, "Oh, wow, our essence can be moved to a machine", but "Oh, wow, Deon is condemned to live inside a machine, meaning sex will be really, really tough".   How are they really going to procreate after everyone is uploaded?  Who decides who is good enough to be uploaded?  Will this allow a mad scientist or dictator to take over the world?

Well, I found Chappie to be a film that thinks it's saying something, but only succeeds in being funny without meaning to. A gangsta robot wearing bling but still blathering about how "Daddy lies" CAN'T be taken seriously.  Blomkamp has one more shot at redemption to make good the promise of District 9.

Pity that promise is for the new Alien film.  

DECISION: F

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials Review


MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS

Unlike a good number of my fellow critics, I liked The Maze Runner, a film I thought was steady in pacing, generally well-acted, and a departure from many dystopian Young Adult fiction adaptations in that it removes romance from the narrative (and in what might be a twist, returns the lead to a male rather than Hunger Games' Katniss or Insurgent's Tris).  Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, the second part of James Dasher's trilogy (The Death Cure being the third and The Kill Order being a prequel), builds on what came before.  It, I don't think, is better than The Maze Runner.  It's serviceable, with some great visuals and tense moments, good casting, and an interesting story.  It keeps things going to where one does want to see how it all ends.

The Gladers have made it out of The Maze and find themselves rescued by a mysterious figure called "Mr. Janson" (Aidan Gillen).  They find themselves in a special facility where they discover there are many mazes, a few of them the reverse of their maze (mostly women).  The Glader's de facto leader, Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) is suspicious of how things are going on here, as is Aris (Jacob Lofland), the person who has been at the facility the longest.  Despite his seniority, Aris has never been airlifted to a safe place from the wicked WCKD organization, which had put all these kids in their mazes.

Soon it becomes clear why: WCKD and its wicked leader Dr. Paige (Patricia Clarkson) are in cahoots with Janson, and Thomas helps his other Gladers: Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Frypan (Dexter Dardon), and Winston (Alexander Flores), along with Aris and Teresa (Kaya Scoledario), who was separated from them, escape.

That was a rather long sentence, so my apologies for that.



They escape and are now headed to find The Right Arm, a rebel group attempting to overthrow WCKD.  Of course, this means having to go through The Scorch, a desolate place full of Cranks (formerly known as zombies or walking dead).  Poor Winston gets infected, and in order to prevent him going full Crank he is given a gun to take an honorable alternative.  They eventually find an abandoned warehouse, or at least they think it's abandoned.  Instead, it is the home of criminals Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and his henchgirl Brenda (Rosa Salazar), who've been waiting for an opportunity to get on WCKD's good graces.  Until WCKD attacks, at which point Jorge and Brenda spirit the Gladers away before Patsy Cline's Walking After Midnight ends...and sets off major explosions.

Well, Brenda and Thomas are separated from the others, and have to go to find them in the sleazy Zone A, where hedonism in Hell is all around.  Jorge pushes the WCKD informant/den of iniquity manager Marcus (Alan Tudyk) to lead them to The Right Arm.  He does, and they encounter the resistance (some of whom were former prisoners with Aris, thus sparing the group).  They meet Vince (Barry Pepper) and Dr. Mary Cooper (Lily Taylor), who tells them that Thomas was their inside man in WCKD.  She gets a cure for the infected Brenda and tells Thomas she left WCKD due to differences between her and Paige over how to harvest the natural enzymes that immune people had.  However, Teresa, in an effort to stop what has happened to her mother to happen to others, has informed WCKD of their location, and they sweep in full force.  The Scorch Trials ends with Paige, Janson, and Teresa fleeing a revived assault from Thomas and Vince, the group separated or in Dr. Cooper's case, killed, and Thomas determined to make one last stand against WCKD.


I don't think The Scorch Trials is better than The Maze Runner.  However, I think The Scorch Trials has what I imagine its readers and those who enjoyed The Maze Runner want: a lot of action, some new twists, and a lot of action.

I make special note of the action because some of the action pieces in The Scorch Trials were downright amazing.  Yes, I know I sound all fanboy at that, but since I've not read the Dasher books (though I did try with The Maze Runner and found that the film stayed close to the book, at least up to the part I stopped at), I am nonpartisan.  Of particular note is when Brenda and Thomas have to escape the ruined city.  Their escape was THRILLING, and yes, I do require that to be in all caps.

When we find the Cranks the first time, it did make people jump and the Gladers rush to escape, while frenetic, was certainly in line with the tension director Wes Ball was aiming for.  He even managed to get a little artsy at times, like when the group walks away knowing Winston has to shoot himself.  The imagery deliberately evokes the end of The Seventh Seal, and while obviously The Scorch Trials is nowhere, nowhere near Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece it was nice of him to sneak that in.

Again and again The Scorch Trials does push the action factor up as far as it can, even if at times one is left slightly confused by what is going on.  I didn't realize those Cranks were the infected beings the Gladers and their group were producing the cure for.  Truth be told, I just thought they were random zombies (and I don't even remember the name the Cranks used).  How Teresa managed to contact WCKD (as silly and obvious a name as to be almost parody) I don't know either.  All the suggestions about Thomas being more involved in things than even he knows is also just a case of having to introduce it now so that we can get on with The Death Cure next year. 

In terms of directing actors, I wonder whether Ball thought some things through.  For example, Janson is so obviously a bad guy one wonders why the Gladers didn't think he would be menacing.  They seem all too eager to accept things, even if it is obvious that it really is all too good to be true.  I don't know whether Gillen was deliberately directed to play up Janson's wicked nature to where he was a mustache short of twirling or whether he thought he came across as sincere when he clearly didn't.  However, it does make one wonder why the Gladers save Thomas go along with what the adults say.



In other respects, my view of O'Brien have not shifted: he still remains one of the best young actors of his generation and hope that he gets parts equal to his talent.  I think he would have made an ideal Spider-Man (though I have confidence in Tom Holland).  O'Brien's Thomas continues to be a young man of mystery, even to himself, and O'Brien makes him into a reluctant action hero, not eager to do what he must but still with the courage to do it.  O'Brien IS the show, and he makes for compelling viewing.

It almost makes me go and watch Teen Wolf again, where he was the comic relief.  He isn't here, and the fact O'Brien can handle being the goofy Styles and the serious Thomas with equal conviction shows we've yet to dig into the depth of his talent.

As a side note, I'm glad The Scorch Trials opens up the casting.  I don't know many Hispanics named Winston (unless they are really strong Anglophiles), so giving the part to Flores, and this not being an issue, is a positive step.  Winston's end is rather sad and moving, so I reject the idea that there isn't character development in the film. 

This isn't to say that all is good.  The adults are all pretty much wasted (though given this is a teen-oriented franchise, somewhat understandable).  The trippy sequence in Zone A where we get what looks like debauchery is more creepy than titillating, and the suggestion of a love triangle between Teresa, Thomas, and Brenda doesn't seem to fit in there very well.

However, on the whole I think Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials should please those who enjoyed The Maze Runner.  I have no way of knowing whether fans of the series will like it as much as I did, but on the whole, I think The Scorch Trials was both a pretty strong follow-up to The Maze Runner and a strong precursor to The Death Cure.

Let's take Thousand Foot Krutch's advise as I Get Wicked with a little help from Andy Hunter...     



DECISION: B-

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Oscar Is A Many-Splendored Thing

Jo Van Fleet & Jack Lemmon:
Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor
for East of Eden and Mister Roberts


TUESDAYS WITH OSCAR: 1955

The 28th Academy Awards has some good choices, some bad choices, and some choices that just leave one scratching one's head (Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing for Best Picture?).  We had a most curious incident with regards to Best Picture, as the small Marty overtook the major studio releases to win.  Marty also holds the record for being the shortest film to win Best Picture (at 94 minutes long).  We also had first-time Oscar winners in all four categories and each for different films. 

As always this is just for fun and should not be taken as my final decision. I should like to watch all the nominees and winners before making my final, FINAL choice. Now, on to cataloging the official winners (in bold) and my selections (in red). Also, my substitutions (in green).

THE 1955 ACADEMY AWARD WINNERS

BEST ORIGINAL SONG


Something's Gotta Give: Daddy Long Legs
Love is a Many-Splendored Thing: Love is a Many-Splendored Thing
I'll Never Stop Loving You: Love Me or Leave Me
The Tender Trap: The Tender Trap
Unchained Melody: Unchained

If you look at the list of nominees, one is amazed that in a rare turn, all of them are great songs and have become standards.  Certainly Unchained Melody (best remembered by its use in the film Ghost) is more remembered than the film.  I have a special fondness I'll Never Stop Loving You since Doris Day can deliver any song with power and conviction.  Now, Love is A Many-Splendored Thing is pretty, romantic, and well-done.  However, I favor another song that is, in my view, both better and better remembered...



From Daddy Long Legs, Something's Gotta Give, music and lyrics by Johnny Mercer.

Honestly, this year you couldn't go wrong.  That being the case, I'm dumping Love is a Many-Splendored Thing from the list and making just one substitution, but that substitution would be MY choice for Best Original Song of 1955.



Something's Gotta Give: Daddy Long Legs
Bella Notte: Lady & The Tramp
I'll Never Stop Loving You: Love Me or Leave Me
The Tender Trap: The Tender Trap
Unchained Melody: Unchained

From Lady & The Tramp, Bella Notte.  Music by Sonny Burke, lyrics by Peggy Lee.

Peggy Lee found herself an Oscar nominee this year, and while I can't say whether her performance in Pete Kelly's Blues is good or bad, I can say that she should have had two nominations, the second for the beautiful Bella Notte.  In later years, Disney would dominate this category, even with some pretty forgettable tunes.  However, Bella Notte is one of those songs that just stays with you, and I've always found it a highlight of Lady & The Tramp.  How it got ignored is a mystery, but somewhat understandable given how the field had a good slate of nominees. 

BEST DIRECTOR

Elia Kazan: East of Eden
David Lean: Summertime
Joshua Logan: Picnic
Delbert Mann: Marty
John Sturges: Bad Day at Black Rock

I don't have an issue with this group either.  I find that the choice of Mann was a wise one given that Marty is a really small film.  To keep the story going, to bring such heartbreak and ultimate tears of joy is a mark of a great director. 

Douglas Sirk: All That Heaven Allows
Delbert Mann: Marty
Charles Laughton: The Night of the Hunter
Nicholas Ray: Rebel Without a Cause
David Lean: Summertime

At least we didn't get a nomination for Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.  I don't think Douglas Sirk got the credit he deserved for being more insightful about human nature than most directors.  His films were always these very lush, romantic weepers, and All That Heaven Allows is perhaps the quintessential Sirk film.  That being said, I think more people remember that Sirk style in this tale of a May/December romance which was a subtle critique of 1950s morality at the same time.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS



Betsy Blair: Marty
Peggy Lee: Pete Kelly's Blues
Marisa Pavan: The Rose Tattoo
Jo Van Fleet: East of Eden
Natalie Wood: Rebel Without a Cause

I've seen East of Eden about three times, and I still don't understand what made Jo Van Fleet's performance so great.  In fact, I still wonder exactly what East of Eden was about.  I just don't get it. 

From my perspective, it's a battle between Blair's lonely teacher/spinster and Wood's messed-up kid.  I keep going back and forth between them, but for now, I'm going with Wood's now-iconic role of the good girl made bad.



Betsy Blair: Marty
Lillian Gish: The Night of the Hunter
Julie Harris: East of Eden
Agnes Moorehead: All That Heaven Allows
Natalie Wood: Rebel Without a Cause

Lillian Gish proves two things.  First, silent film stars had voices. Second, some actresses, real actresses, never got the credit they deserved. 

Why Gish?  Well, I'm thinking that as the strong old woman who faces evil with a mixture of faith and firepower, she is a standout.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR



Arthur Kennedy: Trial
Jack Lemmon: Mister Roberts
Joe Mantell: Marty
Sal Mineo: Rebel Without a Cause
Arthur O'Connell: Picnic

As these are preliminary choices, I feel good about choosing Mineo's really, REALLY mixed-up kid Plato.  It's certainly one that has stood the test of time while the others save Lemmon are pretty much forgotten.  It also typecast Mineo for pretty much the rest of his career, meaning his role had that much impact, people couldn't see him in or as anything else other than the troubled teen.  Now, I think that perhaps I could revisit this and select Lemmon, but for now, I'm going with Mineo.

And for the record, I think Plato was as openly gay as one could be in 1955.  For goodness sake, he had a picture of Alan Ladd in his locker!  How many straight guys do you remember from high school that had pictures of other guys (other than sports players) in their lockers?



Rosario Brazzi: Summertime
Jack Lemmon: Mister Roberts
Joe Mantell: Marty
Sal Mineo: Rebel Without a Cause
Robert Ryan: Bad Day at Black Rock

Again, another actor who never got his due.  Robert Ryan isn't as well-remembered as perhaps he should be, and it's a shame.  Now, at the moment I can't give a solid answer to picking him in Bad Day at Black Rock apart from instinct. 

BEST ACTRESS



Susan Hayward: I'll Cry Tomorrow
Katharine Hepburn: Summertime
Jennifer Jones: Love is a Many-Splendored Thing
Anna Magnani: The Rose Tattoo
Eleanor Parker: Interrupted Melody

I'm sure I have nothing against Anna Magnani but I have no idea about her performance in The Rose Tattoo (though Tennessee Williams wrote the part specially for her).  A bit of me is scared of Magnani, as if she were going to physically lay the smack down at the mention of the word, "Hello" in her general direction.  I'm also discounting Jones' Eurasian doctor only because the idea of a white actress playing an Asian strikes me as wrong in so many ways.

With that, I'm choosing Hepburn's lonely spinster finding love and loss in Venice.  



Doris Day: Love Me or Leave Me
Susan Hayward: I'll Cry Tomorrow
Katharine Hepburn: Summertime
Grace Kelly: To Catch a Thief
Jane Wyman: All That Heaven Allows

I see it as a two-woman race between Day's tortured cabaret singer and Wyman's lovelorn hausfrau.  However, I'm giving the edge to Day because this is really far from her usual persona of the upbeat girl with a song in her heart.  Whenever Day was given the chance to play straight drama, even with musical numbers in them, she knocked it out of the park.  I never understood why she was so reluctant to go into deeper roles, because she was such a good dramatic actress.   

BEST ACTOR



Ernest Borgnine: Marty
James Cagney: Love Me or Leave Me
James Dean: East of Eden
Frank Sinatra: The Man With the Golden Arm
Spencer Tracy: Bad Day at Black Rock

This was a radical turn for Borgnine, who was usually the heavy (example, From Here to Eternity).  For Marty, he was the complete opposite of his usual persona.  Instead of a villain, he was the hero: a gentle, kind, lonely Bronx butcher who has found a chance at love.  To make us care about this man, not classically good-looking but with a good heart underneath it all, is a beautiful performance.



Ernest Borgnine: Marty
James Dean: East of Eden
Tom Ewell: The Seven Year Itch
Cary Grant: To Catch a Thief
Robert Mitchum: The Night of the Hunter

It's a performance that has become iconic.  Mitchum as the crazed, murderous 'preacher' who is a terror.  I think people who have never seen The Night of the Hunter know Mitchum in the role, and it's a performance that people still talk about.  The failure of The Night of the Hunter doomed any chance for Mitchum to be recognized, sadly.  At the moment, I don't see another performance knocking it off.

BEST PICTURE



Love is a Many-Splendored Thing
Marty
Mister Roberts
Picnic
The Rose Tattoo

Marty is such a beautiful film, heartbreaking but ultimately joyful about two lonely people finding love that it blows the "epic" nature of Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.  Perhaps it is because the people in Marty appear real (despite it being fictional) and the people in Love is a Many-Splendored Thing appear fake (despite it being based on an autobiography).  Curious that.



All That Heaven Allows
Marty
The Night of the Hunter
The Seven Year Itch
Summertime

The Night of the Hunter now is seen as a classic, despite its flop when released.  I love Marty and think highly of All That Heaven Allows, but for the moment I think that I'm going to go with the more critically acclaimed film.

Next time, the 1956 Academy Awards.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

 
THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON


The thrill is gone...
The thrill is gone away...
The thrill is gone, baby...
The thrill is gone away for good...

I can't muster enthusiasm for Age of Ultron.  I am going to try to give something of an explanation as to why I can't give Age of Ultron a high recommendation.  I know my comic-book loving friends, already having their patience with me tested with my dislike of Watchmen and inability to declare The Avengers or Spider-Man 2 masterpieces on the same level as say, Metropolis, will find my lack of enthusiasm for Age of Ultron more trying.  If I said Age of Ultron was better than any version of Fantastic Four, I think I might be met with death threats.  And for the record, yes, Age of Ultron IS better than any version of Fantastic Four.

Still, for me, the thrill IS gone. 

Whatever joy, whatever excitement that I, someone who didn't read comic books as a child, had for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and got from the films is pretty much over now.  I appreciate and can even admire how Marvel keeps creating this massive film series into a decades-long epic.  However, for me, Age of Ultron represents all that is wrong with current filmmaking, all that Birdman in its way spoofed and criticized about current filmmaking, all that is slick and calculated rather than inventive and original.  Age of Ultron is really nothing more than the continued reliance on brand over story, characters, or originality, as methodical and mechanical a film that can be made to hold fans over until the next episode in these feature-length serials the MCU has become.

I didn't hate Age of Ultron, but now, separated by a few weeks from when I saw it, I can say I don't remember much if anything from it.  What I DO remember is not for its good, and if comic-book fatigue has not set in by now, I feel we are at the cusp of either the complete dumbing-down of filmgoers or worse, the beginning of the counter-revolution against this endless parade of these types of movies, having grown more overtly calculated over time.

The Avengers are back: sarcastic billionaire genius Tony Stark aka Iron-Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Asgardian warrior Thor (Chris Hemsworth), loyal patriotic soldier Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans), expert assassin Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), master archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and anger-management failure Hulk/Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo).  They raid a secret HYDRA base where they all learn of two new figures who have unique powers through genetic manipulation (I think): the Wonder Twins...I mean, Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who can run at super-speeds, and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), who can control people's minds.

Sound like a couple of Mutants if you ask me...

Anyway, the Maximoff Twins escape, and I think we end up at a shindig at Stark's lavish building, where in between what might as well be a dick-measuring contest where Thor challenges everyone to lift his hammer Mjolnir (which only the pure can lift, Thor being slightly caught off-guard when Rogers is able to move it slightly), both Banner and Stark have found a way to make Stark's Ultron defense system sentient.  Wouldn't you know it: Ultron (James Spader) becomes alive, kills off the loyal computer system Jarvis (Paul Bettany) and now is going to kill all the humans to save humanity.

For some reason, the Avengers are all angry at Stark (and to a lesser degree, Banner) for creating this mess and trying to keep it secret.

Well, now they have to find Ultron, who has hooked up with the Doublemint Twins, gotten arms from a weapons dealer (Andy Serkis, and no, I don't know or care what the actual character's name is), the Avengers have visions thanks to Wanda, is stopped by Hawkeye of all people, and they take refuge in Hawkeye's secret farm, where we meet his family.

Yes, for some reason we have to get into the domestic drama of the Bartons, whom we didn't even know existed until now because, well...

Well, somewhere in all this Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) comes in, urging the team to keep at destroying Ultron, who is creating his own army for total destruction.  They struggle to stop Ultron from getting a new body, the Twins turn on Ultron after Wanda finds what's inside Ultron's head, and we get a whole city lifted up because Ultron is going to use it as a meteor-type deal to kill all life on the planet.

I think.

Well, in the midst of this, Black Widow & Bruce Banner discover they're in love, Pietro dies, the Vision (Bettany again) emerges from Jarvis (I think) and we get more jazz about the Infinity Stones and a whole group of New Avengers: Cap's associate Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Wanda aka Scarlet Witch, the Vision, and Stark's associate War Machine (Don Cheadle).



Here is something that Age of Ultron doesn't know or realize: I. Just. Don't. Care. Anymore.

As I said, I can't say I remember much if anything of the plot because there was just so much going on, with all the talk of Infinity Stones and Scarlet Witch's visions (which were really just either hints for future Marvel movies or in one case, a chance for Hayley Atwell's Agent Carter to have a cameo despite being in the 1940s...and on a better TV show, Marvel's Agent Carter).   And as I said, what I DO remember isn't good.

I remember how Black Widow was treated in Age of Ultron, and that was badly.  Let's go over what has become of our Russian hitwoman.

She's been sterilized.  She's now Hulk's keeper.  She's the requisite 'love interest', falling for a guy we didn't see her falling for earlier.  She's held prisoner by Ultron at one point.

And she's the ideal representation of female action heroines, right?

I remember the seemingly endless Segway into Clint Barton's family dynamic.  Why?  It isn't because I don't like Hawkeye as a character (or Renner as an actor).  I just kept thinking why there couldn't be some secret base out there, or some hidden lair of Stark's, or why Barton has a wife and kids we never had any hint of, or why we should even care.

I remember Taylor-Johnson and Olsen training at the Boris and Natasha School of Russian Accents to where one wonders why they didn't look for Moose and Squirrel.  Really, they were terrible, terrible accents.

I remember wondering whether Serkis was even necessary to this story.


I remember thinking myself shamelessly manipulated by Joss Whedon by having hints of future films dropped on me in terms of 'visions'.

I don't remember having a good time.  Instead, all through Age of Ultron, I kept thinking that I was essentially watching a long trailer for future coming attractions (The New Avengers!) and how the Marvel Cinematic Universe is now cranking out things like a sausage factory, dispassionate, by rote, uninterested.

I can't recall a particularly good or special performance.  Everyone seems pretty much doing what they've done before (and even the effort to make Hawkeye a family man falls flat, me thinking how such a secret is maintained and whether the Barton children ever get asked what their Dad does for a living). 

I remember suppressing laughter when the city goes up into space, and thinking, what is that thing flying around looking like Paul Bettany.

Again, nothing in Age of Ultron made me feel anything other than a slight chill save for Black Widow (which just disappointed me in how the woman has to be either the romance or damsel-in-distress, undercutting all the good both Black Widow and Johansson had done).  Spader was OK as Ultron, but I didn't care whether his plan worked, or whether all those people died (and I imagine the body count would have been high), or whether the Wonder Twins did anything (at least Hawkeye had the excuse he was under mind control). 

For me, Age of Ultron felt cold and calculated, an exercise in marketing action figures and pretty much nothing more.

Again, I didn't hate it, but I do wonder whether with as low a grade as I can give without counting it as a negative review, I might be overrating it already.

I remember nothing in regards to Age of Ultron.  Worse, I don't care to remember.

The thrill is gone...  

DECISION: C+

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Age of Adaline: A Review



THE AGE OF ADALINE

I was not sold on the idea of Blake Lively as an actress.  Yes, she is very beautiful, but there are many beautiful women in the world (not my world, but in the world in general).  The Age of Adaline, however, makes me think that perhaps, with the right role, Lively could indeed be a good actress.  Perhaps not the greatest, but just by The Age of Adaline itself, I think she has potential. That is more than I thought in the beginning, so that's a plus. 

Adaline Bowman (Lively) is an ordinary person, born in the turn of the century, married, had a child, lost her husband in an accident, and pretty much lived her life until during a snowstorm she has a car accident.  A freak occurrence with her freezing to death in the cold water and being almost simultaneously revived with lighting has left her forever young, looking 29 despite the passing of the years.  She no longer ages.  This complicates matters when she stays looking young while the world passes her by.  It means for her own safety and that of her daughter Flemming she must be on the lamb, changing her identity every few years to stop being traced, her secret known only to Flemming (Ellen Burstyn). 

Currently going by Jenny Larson, Adaline watches the world go on and on, and she has resigned herself to being alone, for if she falls in love, she will be condemned to watch him wither and die.  She has come close to giving in to love, but always must turn back.  That is, until one New Year's, when Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman), a wealthy man who is instantly attracted to Adaline.  She won't commit, but he is gently persistent and manages to woo her successfully.

Flemming is happy for her mother, and Adaline agrees to go meet Ellis' parents.  To Adaline's astonishment, Ellis' father is William Jones (Harrison Ford), whom she had a very serious affair in the 1960s and was close to getting engaged to.  William is also the only man whom she revealed her true name of Adaline.  In an effort to hide the truth, she claims that William's Adaline was "Jenny's" mother.

At first, the rest of the family is astonished by the coincidence that the daughter of their father's first great love is now the girlfriend of their brother/son.  However, William soon realizes that Jenny is not Adaline's daughter, but Adaline herself.  In a panic over the discovery, she flees, despite William pleading to remain for Ellis' sake.  Adaline by now has fallen for Ellis and decides to face the music.  However, as she attempts to return she is involved in another car accident, whereupon she again dies and is revived.  Adaline now reveals the truth to Ellis, and tells Flemming she doesn't have to pretend to be her grandmother.  A few months later, the three of them get ready for another New Year's Eve party, when Adaline notices something strange in the mirror.

It is a grey hair, showing that she now is finally aging again.


By no means am I calling The Age of Adaline a great film, but for what it was, a fantasy-based love story, it works wonderfully.   If you accept the premise and everything that goes with it, The Age of Adaline can almost be as romantic as it wants to be and is working to be.

On a deeper level, I would say that The Age of Adaline is really about the fear that goes with love, fear of being left, fear of not finding that 'forever love' people constantly search for. For Adaline, that fear is not so much of not being able to love, but being able to outlive anyone whom she does love.

One wonders whether J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz would have dared suggest what would have happened to Adaline should she had outlived Flemming, which is a certainty.  What kind of devastation would that have brought about, knowing that the only person who knows the real person is now gone (and while I can't remember, I don't know if Adaline had grandchildren or if she did, they would know the truth).  This idea is never explored, but kind of hangs there for anyone who gave it enough thought.

That being said, I found myself oddly enchanted by The Age of Adaline, and I think this has to do with the performances.  Blake Lively has simply never been better in anything she's done as the slightly ethereal, aloof Adaline, who loves but fears she can never have that love reciprocated.  She has her dogs, but whenever she's had to put one down she knows that immortality is a curse, not a blessing.  There is a scene when after her most recent dog has died, she looks at the photos of all her previous pets, and the sadness and heartbreak of knowing the pain of eternal youth and the grief of death she must constantly experience is so well-done.

In her separation from the world, Lively has made this elegant yet sad figure someone we end up caring about.  Classy, sophisticated, yet approachable and endearing, Lively was wonderful in a part that was a bit hard to believe.

Equaling her is Harrison Ford, who had been a bit lost in such things as Cowboys & Aliens.  Here, he too excels as the man who loved and lost and found love with someone else, who unlike Adaline, was able to move on, only to find the past returning literally to his front door.

Yes, it is a bit implausible that Adaline should find herself having slept with both father and son, and that William is Ellis' father, but just go along with it and don't get hung up on details.

I can't say Huisman gave a great performance, but for what the film was, his role as the love interest was well-played.  Again, his performance doesn't show he is a great actor, but it wasn't a particularly great part either.

It is a bit of a shame though that we had little for either Burstyn or Kathy Baker as William's wife/Ellis' mother Kathy to do.  There were elements of a conflict between Kathy and William about Adaline/Jenny and the ghost Adaline cast over them, but the situation was handled quickly and nothing more was really said about it.   As Flemming, Burstyn was her usual great self, playing this as believably as possible to address someone a good fifty-plus years as your mother.

I really can't fault The Age of Adaline for being overtly romantic in an almost-Somewhere in Time style.  Everything was meant to be pretty (including the actors), everything was meant to be romantic, everything was meant to be a bit fantastical.  I can't really go after a film for setting a particular goal and meeting it, even if it wasn't a particularly lofty goal.

On the whole, The Age of Adaline was trying to be a beautiful love story of an ageless woman who reaches out, and it was pretty successful.  Perhaps not the best variation of this 'timeless love' type-story, but with solid performances by Lively and Ford, The Age of Adaline succeeds in what it wants to do.  The film may not be ageless, but it will do for now.       

DECISION: B+  

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Gotham: Strike Force Review


GOTHAM: STRIKE FORCE

Things are starting to pull themselves together on Gotham with Strike Force.  We're starting to get the thrust of several stories: the rising of Theo Galavan, the threats to The Penguin, the struggle of Detective Jim Gordon to balance his high morals with the darkness of his past, and even the love lives of both Gotham City Police Department forensics officer Edward Nygma and millionaire orphan Bruce Wayne.  That's a lot for an episode to carry, but Strike Force does it well, with perhaps one big flaw.

Theo Galavan (James Frain) is using his killing of Jerome to launch a mayoral bid (the current Mayor having disappeared without a trace apparently).  There are two others officially running to his yet-undeclared candidacy: idealistic Councilwoman Janice Caulfield and union boss Randall Hobbs.  Theo wants them eliminated, and once in power he will bulldoze a major part of Gotham to build his own mass construction plan.  He 'asks' Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) to help him by killing his rivals (and taking a shot at him, missing of course).  Penguin isn't interested, but Theo and his bitch of a sister Tabitha (Jessica Lucas) have an ace up their sleeve: Gertrude Kapelput (Carol Kane), whom they are holding prisoner.  If Penguin doesn't do as he's told, it's kaput for Kapelput.  A frightened/enraged Penguin has no option but to do as he's told.

Meanwhile, new Captain Nathaniel Barnes (Michael Chiklis) storms into the precinct, kicking ass and taking names.  He immediately fires corrupt officers and appoints Gordon (Ben McKenzie) his second in command.  Barnes also gets Gordon to cull new cadets to form Unit Alpha Strike Force, the Gotham version of The Untouchables.  Officers Garrett (Lenny Platt), Josie (Paulina Singer), Pickney (Ian Quinlan) and Martinez (Lucas Salvagno) are the Strike Force, each as idealistic as Gordon.


Penguin kills Councilwoman Caulfield himself and sends his master assassin Victor Zsasz (Anthony Carrigan) to take care of Hobbs, but the Strike Force gets there and stuns Zsasz by actually hitting him (though not killing him, of course).  Gordon is putting things together but can't figure why Penguin is getting into this, for Oswald is keeping quiet in his efforts to save his mother.
    
On other fronts, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) is starting his training from Alfred (Sean Pertwee), who makes him run back to Wayne Manor on his first day back at his prep school.  Alfred also bitch-slaps Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) for what she did to his friend Reggie and warns her to stay away from Bruce.  Bruce does have a new potential love interest in Silver St. Cloud (Natalie Alyn Lind), who happens to be Galavan's step-niece. Ed Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) for his part, finally gets Kristen Kringle (Chelsea Spack) on a date to his house, and it looks like our future Riddler won't remain a virgin for long.

We end with Penguin desperate to find Gertrude and Barnes deciding it's time for the Strike Force to take down The Penguin.

Strike Force has at least one big strike against it (no pun intended).  That is its cinematography.  Normally, one of Gotham's greatest strengths is its visual style, and Strike Force in some places is fantastic (the brutal slaying of Councilwoman Caulfield is shocking yet brilliant in its look).  However, this is the first time when it went too dark visually speaking, to where sometimes I found it hard to see what was going on (the shoot-out between Zsasz and the Strike Force being one of them). 

I also wonder about a big plot point.  So, I'm suppose to believe that Oswald Cobblepot never thought to have Gertrude protected, a secret bodyguard for Mama Kapelput?  I thought that made him rather stupid, the idea he would never realize anyone who wanted to go after him would go to the his one real vulnerable spot.  It also makes me wonder about Galavan's intelligence.  Sure, he could hold Gertrude hostage, maybe even kill her.  However, should he do that, does he think that Penguin would stand quietly by? 



Far from it: he would come at them with an uncontrollable rage and fury, capable of burning down the whole city to get at both of them (particularly Tabitha, whose manner is particular arrogant and condescending to the King of Gotham).  Penguin Unleashed would be a greater terror than the Galavans put together, so in case they don't know it, they are playing with fire.

I also wonder why Galavan wouldn't think others think it odd that the two other candidates end up dead.  I don't think it's a particularly well-thought out plan, but I'm not a master criminal. Other elements (such as the mayoral campaign and the building of a new team) is a little cliché in my view.

However, Strike Force has some positives.  Chiklis comes in storming as Barnes, the equal to Gordon in his integrity.  It's almost as if we have parallels: Gordon working for Barnes, Penguin working for Galavan, with both not just on opposite sides but opposite motives.  It sets up a wonderful dynamic that hopefully will be used more in the future.

It's also good to have Robin Lord Taylor back in the game.  He seemed a bit of a shadow in the first few episodes (and not appearing last week I believe) but now he too is roaring back as Penguin, a man cornered, frightened, but equally enraged at everything.  Again and again RLT proves just how good he is in this part and in general as an actor, and Strike Force looks like the beginning of a comeback.

Mazouz goes from strength to strength, and he and guest star Lind work well together.  Frain was a little campy as Galavan, but the character might be a little campy (the evil 'laugh' he and Lucas shared when watching a powerless Penguin see Gertrude bound, begging that she knows nothing, was a little silly to me).  Lucas is just excellent as the repulsive Tabitha, the woman I love to hate.

In terms of story, Strike Force is building things up well (though oddly, it's a bit of a shame to see Logue's Harvey Bullock almost an afterthought).  Things are setting themselves up nicely, and I worry about Gertrude.  If she's killed or worse, beheaded or some other gruesome act, I will be highly upset.  Something about innocents getting killed strikes me as wrong.   Still, Strike Force continues Gotham's improved season, and with any hope the various elements introduced (including the new Unit Alpha) will be fully used.    


Hell hath no fury like Penguin Unleashed...



8/10

Next Episode: Scarification



Friday, October 16, 2015

Gotham: The Last Laugh Review



GOTHAM: THE LAST LAUGH

Who ever thought it would turn out this way?  After months of teasing, we get a real surprising twist regarding the character of Jerome on Gotham, the Batman prequel series.  Long touted as the potential Joker, the most iconic of Batman villains, The Last Laugh figuratively if not literally brings down the curtain on our redheaded kid with the anarchic mindset and maniacal laugh.  As we are only on our third episode of the second season, the fact that Jerome isn't going to be THE Joker I think left all the viewers pretty much stunned.  There is a certain logic into how all this played out, and perhaps I'm giving the writers/producers of Gotham a bit too much credit into their insights of evil.  However, I can't find much if anything to fault in The Last Laugh, an episode that went all-in and makes no apologies for it.

Detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) has adopted the interrogation style of his returned partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) in his single-minded effort to bring Jerome Valeska (Cameron Monaghan) to justice.  Jerome, along with Jim's ex Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) are now going to take part in a master plan orchestrated by Theo Galavan (James Frain) to return to prominence in our unfair city.  His sister Tabitha (Jessica Lucas) has found Barbara's 'charms' very intoxicating, but that doesn't mean Babs isn't above maybe being equal with both Galavan siblings.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) finds himself the most reluctant of philanthropists when he's dragged to a Children's Hospital Charity event by his manservant, Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee).  The event, hosted by Dr. Lee Thompkins (Morena Baccarin), appears to be going well.  Little does she or anyone know that Jerome and Barbara have crashed the magic act.  Alfred is too busy flirting with Lee, and Bruce is too forlorn regarding Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), who has crashed the party to do a little pickpocketing. 

Jim and Harvey are being led around on a wild goose chase to find Jerome, who has killed his father, the Blind Fortune Teller Paul Cicero (Mark Margolis), who predicts his son will be a curse on Gotham and will bring darkness and death.  Jerome has framed his father as being the brains in the bust-out from Arkham Asylum, but Gordon doesn't believe that.  He DOES believe Lee when she calls, realizing that Barbara is the Magician's Apprentice (a little Doctor Who reference there).



The charity event erupts in chaos when "The Great Rodolfo" reveals himself by killing the Deputy Mayor and holding everyone hostage.  In the confusion and chaos, Bruce chases after Selina, who manages to help him go through a secret passage that allowed her to enter unnoticed.  However, Bruce will not think of his own safety and goes back to try and save Alfred.  Jerome wants to now kill the rich little orphan, but Gordon, having spotted Selina, has entered the ballroom.  Gordon, with help from Alfred, tries to stop the hostage situation, but by now Jerome has a knife to Bruce's neck and is making a cut into it. 

It's now that Galavan, apparently having been knocked out by Bonkers Babs, emerges and stabs Jerome in the neck, leaving our merry murderer seriously stunned at the turn of events.  It was all part of a larger plan which Jerome has played his part in.  Babs manages to make a dramatic escape, but Bruce, Lee, and all the other hostages are safe.  Galavan appears to be heroic...which is all part of the plan. 

Watching all this at home is Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), who bemoans 'chaos for chaos' sake' but wonders if he should adopt a distinct laugh himself.  Bullock goes to him, making it clear he won't stand for anyone doing anything to his partner and mocking Penguin's pretentions of power, telling him that Bullock will always think of him as Fish Mooney's "Umbrella Boy" and watching to see if Penguin does something wrong in order to take his own revenge.  Penguin is understandably enraged by this, but bides his time.

With Jerome dead, we see that the chaos he unleashed has attracted followers, who begin to adopt his laugh and his anarchic killing style, the words of his father ringing out over Jerome's death grin.


Now, my review is a little off because there was a massive thunderstorm in my hometown.  The power didn't go out, but the news interrupted the broadcast at least twice, so some bits (like Theo Galavan's 'courageous' stance against Jerome) were essentially edited out.

Thanks, KFOX.

Still, I got the gist of The Last Laugh, and it certainly left all viewers visibly stunned.  Just when one had settled into the idea that Jerome was going to be the future Joker, we get him killed off.  This leaves the position of the Clown Prince of Crime open.  Could we really get the future Joker be that failed standup comedian who finds the true meaning of 'a bad day' from the legendary graphic novel The Killing Joke?  Has he really yet to emerge?  It was good of Gotham to tease us with some really wild moments with Jerome, who is almost oddly sympathetic when Galavan literally goes for the jugular.

I had in the beginning not been big on Monaghan's take on "the Joker", feeling it was really close to Heath Ledger's iconic take on the role (and for the record, while I've seen The Dark Knight exactly once, I wasn't Team Ledger when it came to his Joker, though again it's been just one viewing).  Did Monaghan take cues from Ledger?  Perhaps, but let's be honest: all interpretations of The Joker will fall under Ledger's immense shadow until we get another actor who moves away from the twisted dark evil of The Joker.

Having said that, I think Monaghan merits serious Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his Jerome, as maniacal and monstrous being as has come along in a while.  I'm sure he won't get nominated (if Robin Lord Taylor's brilliant turn as Oswald Cobblepot in Season One could be so easily ignored, I am hard-pressed to imagine the Television Academy noticing a three-episode arc).  However, the scene where he confronts his father shows the rage, even the hurt, within Jerome, the resentment that created his murderous, amoral being.  The cold manner which he talks to his father, complete with that quiet "Ha, ha, ha" as a counterpoint to the maniacal villain we've seen for all this time is a fine piece of acting.  For most of his time, Monaghan plays what we might think of as The Joker (The Great Rodolfo bit I think being a particular example of this), but when his bloodlust gets the better of him, the shock mixed with disappointment is gripping.



The Last Laugh also has some excellent work from Richards and Baccarin as Bonkers Babs and Lee Thompkins, who finally get to confront each other.  I can't believe that after a season of hating that wimpy WASP Barbara has turned into a fascinating character, embracing her insanity and going full-on bitch mode.  The confrontation between Babs and Thompkins is tense and really weird, and her fast escape was as dramatic and looney as anything she's done.

Is Frain a bit over-the-top as the villainous Galavan? Maybe, but we're seeing how he carries that on in future episodes. Pertwee's flirtatious performance, Mazouz's conflicted one, and the double act of Logue and McKenzie are all also so brilliant.  I don't think there was a bad performance, even in smaller roles like with RLT, whose one scene shows that rage within Penguin, a man who thought briefly he was on top but with just the mention of his humble roots unleashes his insecurity.

In terms of the story, I was surprised that The Last Laugh could serve as commentary on the plague of truly repulsive figures finding fans and imitators.  You think of all these killers who imitate others, of how murderers can have fans, and think, just how real Gotham could be to find that someone as monstrous as Jerome could find people willing to follow his example.

We even get bits of foreshadowing.  When The Great Rodolfo ends his magic bit with Bruce with the sawing-in-half-trick, he makes what appears to be a joke.  "Some people say Bruce has a split personality", the pun of being sliced in half hanging in the air.  Little does he know that he is accurately describing the real dichotomy between millionaire philanthropist playboy Bruce Wayne and his stern, serious alter ego Batman.     

I think Jerome's death and the ending to The Last Laugh has led people to think that perhaps the future Joker will be merely a Jerome copycat.  I don't know if that is what will happen (though at the moment, I doubt it).  It is a loss that what had become a highlight of Gotham is now no more, but The Last Laugh delivered all-around brilliant performances and an excellent story (though granted, the 'hostages at big event' scenario wasn't the most original).  I am still surprised at the violence on Gotham (The Blind Fortune Teller got stabbed in the eye!) but in terms of performances and story, The Last Laugh delivered.



10/10

Next Episode: Strike Force

Franklin & Bash: The Final Thoughts





FRANKLIN & BASH:
THE COMPLETE SERIES

THE FINAL THOUGHTS

Given how much I've written on Franklin & Bash, from its strong beginning to its sad and sorry end, one would be justified to wonder why I'm doing it one last time.  Well, I don't like leaving things open-ended.  I like good solid conclusions.

Sadly, Franklin & Bash failed to give us even that, ending the series on a cliffhanger that left few of us hanging around to see where it would end.   The only thing we were doing was praying it WOULD end, as a fun and breezy show about two friends fighting for the Little Guy while working for The Man ended as a bizarre celebration of arrested development.

I'm not saying that Franklin & Bash was great television.  However, at least in the First Season, Franklin & Bash creators Kevin Falls and Bill Chais knew what it was: a light, frothy, breezy show where we had oddball cases and two likeable leads.  It wasn't meant to be taken seriously, but at least the cases that Jared Franklin (Breckin Meyer) and Peter Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) were involved in, the two of them found solutions that let them win; yes, sometimes the solutions were on the nutty side, but at least there was a certain logic to them.

We also got two character we genuinely liked.  Jared Franklin and Peter Bash may have been 30-somethings who still insisted on a frat-boy lifestyle, but they also cared about their clients and their team: investigator Carmen and fellow lawyer/panophobe Pindar.  Their stuffy counterpart Damien Karp (Reed Diamond) and generally bonkers head Stanton Infeld (Malcolm McDowell) weren't without their merits, and we got genuine story arcs with Peter's mourning of the end of his relationship with ADA Janie (Claire Coffee).

The cases were offbeat, but at least grounded in some kind of reality.


However, it soon got to where even the fanbase started seeing that Falls and Chais were treating them like morons.  The first sign of trouble was the Season Two opener, Strange Brew.  Once I saw Jared and Peter win their case not through their own cleverness, but by an amazing deus ex machina that left me astounded, I sensed something was wrong.

I felt it was a lost opportunity, a chance to see our characters mature, even a bit. Instead, a convenient way out was given to them, and from there, Jared and Peter started showing themselves to be, rather than the carefree but still shrewd lawyers we had in Season One, a couple of himbos with law degrees, two people too genuinely stupid to function.

The cases started getting sillier, and worse, so did Jared and Peter.  It was as if Falls and Chais decided that it wasn't the mix of heart and humor that was Franklin & Bash's strength.  Instead, it was what they perceived to be audience wish fulfillment.  They thought we WANTED to be Jared and Peter, which I never did.  I liked Franklin & Bash not because I wanted to emulate the character's perpetual adolescence, but because at the end of the day, despite their immaturity they were capable attorneys and real friends. 

As the Second, then Third and Fourth Season rolled around, I saw that the characters were becoming more dumb, more infantile, and more overtly ambiguously gay. 



Now that I've gotten to the characters of Jared and Peter, the one thing, the ONE THING, I never understood about Franklin & Bash was why Gosselaar's character was always made the fall guy to all sorts of humiliating acts.  He was the one who was the subject of fat jokes, whose mother was a 'sex surrogate' who also slept with her best friend's son, who got tasered, punched in the eye, made to dress up like a kangaroo, and was made to be afraid of ghosts.  It seemed that every time a humiliating act was required, it was Peter who got the short end of the stick.

Jared, for all his douchiness, never got his comeuppance.  Instead, it was the more rational and sensible Peter who constantly was made the butt of jokes.   

In retrospect, it was a most curious relationship.  In a certain way, Peter really was Jared's bitch.  Not once apparently did it ever occur to Peter to say "No" to Jared.  Instead, Peter, sometimes quite meekly, went along with whatever stupidity Jared planned.  One particular example that has always stayed with me was when in Season Three I think Peter was made late to a staff meeting...because Jared insisted on finishing his breakfast.  Any other person would have either left Jared to get to the meeting on time or essentially dragged Jared out of the diner (given his diminutive size, especially compared to Gosselaar, I don't think Meyer would have stood a chance).

Instead, Peter patiently cools his heels while a willfully arrogant and stubborn Jared calmly keeps eating, knowing that both of them will miss the meeting entirely.  It seemed to me quite horrid of Jared to a.) be so blaze about his job, and b.) think he was that indispensable.

In the real world, Jared and Peter would have been fired.  In the real world, Jared and Peter would not have been put in charge of the firm (especially when the long-touted worldwide reach of Infeld Daniels would have given the firm to someone from another of their many branches).  Even in the nutty world of Franklin & Bash, you have to have some consistency.  Instead, plots, continuity, even characters bounded off with nary a 'how' do'. 



There is a fine line between cocky and arrogance, and Franklin & Bash went over it maliciously from Season One to Season Two.

Again and again, I argued that one reason Franklin & Bash crashed so spectacularly after Season One was because it made the leads dumber at every turn.  Seriously, Peter Bash and Jared Franklin, these 'brilliant' attorneys, didn't know that Franklin Roosevelt was in a wheelchair, that Def Leppard has a one-armed drummer, or that Jesus was a carpenter?  I think the worst one was when Peter Bash stated that Louis Pasteur had invented milk.

I can accept a lot of things, but the idea that ANYONE seriously thinks that Louis Pasteur INVENTED milk is just too much to swallow. 

You couldn't really believe that these guys could function, let alone be seen as these rainmakers at a law firm. 

It also didn't help that for Season Four, the show dumped two of the best characters on Franklin & Bash.  Yes, Kumail Nanjiani's Pindar was divisive (sometimes I liked him, sometimes not), but every fan liked Dana Davis' Carmen.  I know they moved on, but somehow a better way to explain their sudden absence could have been created than just pretend they weren't there just because they weren't there.

Even worse, Falls and Chais opted to create one character out of two in Danny Mundy.  Bless Anthony Ordonez for doing what he could with a character so unbearably awful (a "wacky" investigator who slept with his eyes opened and had no problem bugging his bosses phones and letting them know it) that any chance of the show going on with him was a nonstarter.  From his debut the Mundy character was a disaster, and while it might be tempting to blame Ordonez, I don't think any actor could have done much better with such an awful, awful character.

Bad characters, lousy scripts, nonsensical situations, and two pretty revolting lead characters all killed off Franklin & Bash, turning what could have been a better show into a total fiasco.  Season One showed us what could have been done with the rest of the series with some forethought.  Seasons Two to Four showed us what happens when you treat your audience with contempt. 

Really, you made Jared Franklin's name into "Elmo" but never brought that up again, then for one episode you seriously turned the same character into a Scottish nobleman?  Who possibly believed that the whole His Royal Highness the Duke of Landinshire wasn't stupid even for Franklin & Bash?  That brings to mind another awful moment: when Peter Bash claimed that our "four fathers" brought freedom through the Constitution.  Even Damien Karp, long-suffering and fully aware of the lunacy of Jared and Peter, was aghast at hearing Peter talk about the country's "four fathers".



Truth be told, I think Diamond was the best thing about Franklin & Bash.  As much as Falls and Chais attempted to make Karp into the 'bad guy', the foil to our fun-loving bros, it was Damien Karp whom I ended up liking and caring about.  He was the only one who had any sense of rationality to him.  Yes, he was stuffy, sometimes stuck-up, but he was also capable, with a moral core (he struggled long and hard about dating interns when he was clearly attracted to some of them, and I think sometimes wouldn't) and who had anything close to actual human emotions (hurt, anger, rage, disbelief).

Interestingly, when Karp's presence was downgraded a bit (who knows why), it was Rhea Seehorn's Ellen Swatello who came across as the sane one in the madhouse.  How else to react when you see your bosses, two single men in their 40s still living together, laughing it up surrounded by marijuana smoke?  Swatello was beyond furious, but here we see our heroes still in the grips of adolescence despite being 40.

Seeing two middle-aged men behaving like 20-something fratboys or worse, 14-year-old horny teens is just sad, so sad. 

Bless Malcolm McDowell, but sometimes his Infeld came across as a complete loon who should have been locked up.  Over time what were mere eccentricities devolved, like everything else on the show, into genuine fits of insanity. 


One last thought.

I stand by my assertion that Jared Franklin was actually gay but either in denial about it or at least not fully aware of his true sexual identity.  He would have denied it, but I think he was in love with Peter Bash. In fact, I can honestly imagine Jared Franklin dreaming of becoming Jared Bash.

His own self-loathing about his true sexual identity manifested itself in increasingly bizarre ways: jealousy regarding any woman who came up to Peter, refusing to contemplate a life without Peter, and eventually sleeping with Peter Bash's mother (a classic case of transference).  His jealousy over anyone taking precedence over him in Peter's life is as openly an expression of repressed homosexual desire as has been seen on television.  It didn't matter whether it was a woman Peter slept with (and as a side note, it seems curious how willingly Jared was to interrupt any coitus Peter had) or a dude Peter was hanging out with.  Jared seemed determined to have a world where he was the only person in Peter Bash's life.  Others could be in that world, but with regards to Peter, Jared had to be first among equals. 

Jared rarely had girlfriends, unlike his roomie Peter.  It wasn't until Season Four that Jared had a story arc where he had a romance, unlike Peter, who seemed to have a new girlfriend every season.  Jared simply could not conceive of a life without Peter by his side.  He somehow imagined they would live their lives out together. 

It's almost Brokeback Mountain-esque. 


It's OK Your Royal Highness Elmo, Duke of Landingshire.  We don't judge.  You can even get married now.

Ultimately, Franklin & Bash started out well, only to descend into stupidity.