Sunday, September 30, 2018

Titanic (1997): A Review (Review #1103)

TITANIC (1997)

When The Love Boat Met The Poseidon Adventure...

I was not fond of Titanic when it premiered.  I thought it was long, slow, boring and devoid of anything good apart from the actual sinking.  Now, twenty-one years later, I revisit Titanic to see if time has either softened or hardened my views.

To my surprise, I have softened when it comes to Titanic. Unlike the last two times I saw it (when it was first released and maybe ten years later), I didn't shout, "JUST DIE ALREADY!" as our leads are floating in the water. I also was more moved by certain things in it. However, I also noticed more flaws within it that I hadn't seen before.

Arrogant underwater explorer/treasure hunter/scavenger Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) is searching the wreckage of the RMS Titanic for a legendary blue diamond thought lost in the sinking: The Heart of the Ocean. So far the search has come up empty, but he hits a surprising clue when he discovers the safe of its last recorded owner. He finds a drawing of a nude woman wearing The Heart of the Ocean, and the drawing is dated April 15, 1912, the date the ship sank.

A news report on the drawing's discovery attracts the attention of one Rose Dawson Calvert (Gloria Stewart), who contacts Lovett and asks, "I was just wondering if you had found 'The Heart of the Ocean' yet, Mr. Lovett". Lovett, astonished that this 100-year-old woman knows about the diamond, asks how she knows about it.  Simple, she replies: the woman in the drawing is her.

Over the doubts and objections of Lovett's second-in-command Lewis (Lewis Abernathy), Mrs. Calvert, accompanied by her granddaughter Lizzy (Suzy Amis), comes aboard their ship to give more information. After a lengthy explanation about how Titanic sank, we get to Rose's memories around 20 minutes into Titanic.

Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) is among the first-class passengers making the maiden voyage on Titanic. She's accompanied by her Mother Ruth (Frances Fisher) and her fiancee Calcion 'Cal' Hockley (Billy Zane). Rose does not love Cal, who in turn does not appreciate her elegant manner or taste in art, remarking that the paintings she bought by 'something Picasso' won't amount to much.

Last-minute passengers onto Titanic are Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his Italian buddy Fabrizio (Danny Nucci), having won tickets in a poker game and rushing to get aboard. These third-class or steerage passengers are just happy to be aboard. However, just one look by Jack onto Rose is enough to have him fall smashingly in love with this beauty, though his fellow steerage passenger, Irishman Tommy (Jason Berry) tells him she's way out of his league.

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Jack is laying about the deck when Rose rushes to the stern to attempt suicide. Jack talks her out of it but are discovered by Cal and his valet, Lovejoy (David Warner). She lies and says she slipped while trying to get a look at the propellers and that Jack managed to rescue her from falling overboard. As thanks, Cal agrees to have Jack dine with them in first class.

Jack and Rose start spending time together, where she marvels at his artistic talent and independence. With a little help from nouveau riche Margaret "Molly" Brown (Kathy Bates), whom Ruth and Cal look down on but can't ignore since she is a very wealthy woman, Jack manages to show himself well dining in first class. Rose, despondent over how boring her life will be, manages to slip into steerage, where everyone is dancing to wild Irish jigs, even managing to show off her own dancing skills.

The attraction between Jack and Rose grows, but class still gets in the way. Ruth reminds Rose that she needs to marry Cal as they are essentially destitute. Rose, Ruth and Cal among others also get an informal tour of Titanic by its designer, Thomas Andrews (Victor Garber). Ruth realizes that there are not enough lifeboats for every passenger on Titanic, but as the ship is billed as 'unsinkable', this is not of much concern to anyone save Rose.

Jack urges Rose to come away with him when they dock in New York, and Rose struggles with this. That fateful night, she and Jack go to her stateroom, where she asks Jack to paint her like his French girls, wearing the Heart of the Ocean...and only the Heart of the Ocean.

After he does his illustration, they run around the ship, culminating in a tryst in the back seat of a car. After they consummate their love and go back on deck do we get to the ship striking the iceberg.

Amid the chaos of the slow-sinking ship, Cal manages to frame Jack for theft of the Heart of the Ocean. Jack is placed in the master-at-arms office and essentially left to die. Rose, realizing that half of the passengers are doomed, is determined to find Jack, even if it means not getting on a lifeboat with her mother and Molly Brown.

The rest of Titanic is of Jack and Rose attempting to survive A Night to Remember, with the growing chaos and horror of the sinking interfering in their lives along with that of Cal, still determined to kill them.

At last, after hearing her story and being moved to tears, the true horror and tragedy of the Titanic sinking hits Brock.  Old Rose then goes to the stern of the exploration ship and there, drops The Heart of the Ocean above where Titanic rests, she having had the diamond all these decades. As she either drifts off to sleep or dies, we see her as that young girl, where she is greeted by Jack, reunited to the cheers of the others who died on that awful night.

Image result for titanic movieAs I said, time has softened somewhat my views on a film I thoroughly hated on first sight. I did find myself more emotional once the ship started sinking, which takes up the last hour of this three-hour-plus film.

I have to give writer/director James Cameron credit for the good he did.  The sinking of Titanic is in turns terrifying and tragic, especially when we hear the ship's quartet play Nearer, My God to Thee as we see the doomed passengers and crew die, attempt to save themselves or calmly accept their impending deaths. The juxtaposition is heartbreaking, effective and powerfully moving.

It is impossible not to react emotionally at this part of Titanic, and I did get a little misty-eyed.

On the technical side of things Titanic excels. Cameron not only put much effort into attention to detail in terms of production design but also in visual effects.  The sinking is a spectacular sequence that would have made Cecil B. DeMille proud. Although time has made the animation more obvious, particularly when we get wide shots of the 'people' roaming the ship (and can tell they are not real), on the whole the visual effects are still first-rate.

Pity that Cameron's script is lousy.

One thing I noticed here that I had not noticed before is the total lack of complexity in his characters. There is no shading with any character. They are either all good (Jack, Rose, Molly, Andrews) or all evil (Cal, Lovejoy, Ruth, or White Star Line executive J. Bruce Ismay, played by Jonathan Hyde). There is nothing in the characters that gives them variety.

Cameron also wants us to feel for characters we meet but never get to know.  We see Tommy and Fabrizio exactly three times, so despite the film's best efforts we don't know them long enough to invest any interest or emotion when they die.

As a side note, each time I've seen Titanic, I either laugh or cheer when one of the smoke stacks falls on Fabrizio, as I found him to be the most annoying and useless character, with nothing to do or add to the proceedings. 

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It's a competition to see who can give the worst performance in Titanic, and there are several candidates. Lewis Abernathy's Lewis comes to mind. I guess intended as 'comic relief', he is horrendously self-consciously annoying. One wonders if when he calls Rose Calvert a fraud, "like that Russian babe, Anesthesia", he was serious or making a joke. Either way, it was awful.

Danny Nucci has a good chance of being the worst too, his Fabrizio saddle with an Italian accent The Simpsons would find too much of a parody and with only one expression: an almost perpetually idiotic grin.  Farmer and Paxton were all one-note, reflective of their characters.

However, the worst performance has to be Zane's Cal.

He was genuinely in need of a mustache to twirl as he was irredeemably EVIL. Even in the few times it appeared the script wanted him to be remotely human, he failed. His performance consisted of nothing but looking haughty, and worse, he never expressed any desire for Rose. One wonders why he was so determined to marry someone he genuinely didn't like.

Despite how praised she was, I found Winslet rather mannered and theatrical as Rose. Granted, she was saddled with some awful dialogue ("I'd rather be HIS whore than YOUR wife!", and "I want you to paint my like your French girls, Jack, wearing this.  Wearing ONLY this") but she didn't seem all the trouble. DiCaprio became a teen idol with Titanic, but I never found Jack endearing or worth all the trouble either.

The only real performances were Bates as the unsinkable brassy broad Molly Brown and Gloria Stuart as the older Rose.

Note they also cheated: Rose specifically asks if they had found The Heart of the Ocean, which is impossible since she had it all the time.

Finally, as to the 'love theme', I will always hate My Heart Will Go On, as I find it bombastic and nonsensical. "Love was when I loved you". Really, people think those lyrics are logical?

I kept thinking how well the film would have been if Cameron had made changes.  They could have all been first or third-class passengers. Rose could have been remembering at a Titanic exhibition. We could have dropped the entire present-day scenes, even if they were there merely as exposition to tell us how Titanic sank.

Titanic is too big to ignore, and many people love the film.  It's not my place or desire to take their love for it away. For my part, I found it all a bit tawdry and melodramatic. There are some films I love revisiting, that still thrill me and move me: Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Seven Samurai, All Quiet on the Western Front, It's A Wonderful Life, Some Like It Hot.

I am just so thankful that after today, I will never have to revisit Titanic again.

DECISION: C-

1998 Best Picture Winner: Shakespeare In Love

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Life Itself (2018): A Review


LIFE ITSELF

A Rolling Stone review for Bob Dylan's 1970 album Self Portrait began with the infamous line, "What is this s-hit?" Given how the film Life Itself is fixated on Dylan, particularly his autumn masterpiece Time Out of Mind, to ask the same question about this film is I believe very apropos.

What is this s-hit?

Life Itself jumps through time and space more than a Doctor Who episode, so my synopsis is actually more coherent than the film itself, which is divided into 'chapters': The Hero, Dylan Dempsey, The Gonzalez Family, Rodrigo Gonzalez, and Elena Dempsey-Gonzalez.  It covers three generations and two continents to tell essentially the oddest 'This Is How My Parents Met' story I can remember.

Abby (Olivia Wilde) meets and falls in love with Will (Oscar Isaac). She gets pregnant, which delights Will's parents Irwin (Mandy Patinkin) and especially Linda (Jean Smart), who happily tells her future daughter-in-law how happy she is that Abby's parents are dead so that she can have no competition for her future grandchild.

This comment, by the way, causes Abby to laugh and Will to just roll his eyes.

Abby is a total Dylan fan, trying to convert Will by having Time Out of Mind essentially on repeat. She lets slip that she is going to have a daughter, and Will knows what she wants to name their child. The fact that 'Dylan' can work for both females and males seems to escape them.

Abby is three weeks from giving birth, but she gets hit by a bus. This accident is essentially the Crash moment in Life Itself, tying all our stories together. 

Will is devastated to where he's institutionalized in an asylum and is barely out, forced to daily sessions with Dr. Cait Morris (Annette Bening). In the end, Will blows his brains out in her office.

Image result for life itself movie 2018We then move on to Dylan Dempsey (Olivia Cooke), Will and Abby's daughter, who has grown up to be a surly punk rocker fronting the band PB&J and doing the worst cover of Make You Feel My Love in human history (and I say this as someone who dislikes the Garth Brooks version). She's still struggling with the deaths of both her parents and her grandmother, and even sees visions of the accident that killed her mother.

She also sees what her father saw but which would be hard for her to verify: a little boy on the bus staring at the accident.  This ties in to the rest of the movie, and that takes us to sunny Spain.

Olive oil impresario Saccione (Antonio Banderas) notices that one of his olive pickers not only picks by hand versus raking the olives, but also whistles while he works. This employee, Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) attracts Saccione's attention, but surprisingly it is not sexual. Instead, he asks Javy to be the overseer, which he agrees to on the condition that he get no money and can keep whistling.

Javy now can marry Isabel (Laia Costa) and they have a son, Rodrigo, nicknamed 'Rigo'. Soon Javier gets antsy about all the attention Saccione pays to both Rigo and Isabel, so Javier does what he has never done in his life: take a vacation, and he takes them to the one place Rigo has dreamed of going: New York.  They get on the bus, and cheerful, friendly Rigo starts going around the bus saying 'Hola' to everyone, including the bus driver, who is distracted enough to not notice a pregnant woman standing in the middle of the street who herself does not notice the bus heading her way.

Rodrigo is traumatized by all this, but his parents can't afford therapy. Saccione, however, can. Javier and Isabel, whom he calls 'Bella', soon start drifting apart and Javy becomes an alcoholic who abandons his family in exchange for Saccione taking care of Bella and Rigo.  No mention of whether Javy doesn't mind Saccione sleeping with his wife.

Rigo (Alex Monner) grows up and despite his mother's cancer goes reluctantly to New York University. Here he finds a casual girlfriend, the airhead Shari Dickstein (Isabel Durant) who constantly confuses him with American culture, culminating in her 'April Fools joke' about being pregnant. To Shari's surprise, Rodrigo dumps her.

As he runs at night after learning of his mother's death, he encounters Dylan on the bus bench.

Eventually we learn that this story is narrated by their daughter, Elena Dempsey-Gonzalez (Lorenza Izzo) as she reads from her book, Life Itself.


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Life Itself comes from writer/director Dan Fogelman, creator of the television show This Is Us.  I have not seen This Is Us but I understand that it is very popular. It also has what I understand are some common This Is Us tropes: dead parents and time-shifting from past to present.

Judging from Life Itself (and probably This Is Us), Fogelman has a serious fixation on dead parents. Let's run the list:

Abby's parents are dead. We are told that in the accident that killed them, the seven-year-old Abby had to stare at her father's decapitated head for an hour before she was rescued.
Dylan's parents are dead: Abby got hit by a bus, Will blew his brains out in his therapist's office.
Saccione's parents are dead. He goes into a long and rambling story about how his Italian father essentially hated his Spanish wife but died before he could formally divorce her.
Rodrigo's mother is dead due to cancer. Technically his father Javier is alive, but having abandoned the family he in a sense had no parents either.

I know that Life Itself made people cry: the couple next to me were moved to where I gave one of the men my napkins so he could dry his eyes from the tears at the end of Isabel's death monologue. As such, I little part of me felt guilty afterwards given how often I burst out laughing at what was meant to be serious drama.

I couldn't help laughing because the parts that were meant to be 'moving' or 'sorrowful' were so overwrought as to come across as comical. Take for example when Will 'tearfully' asked Abby to 'come back' (as part of his delusions, he kept saying 'she left him' rather than 'she died').  Isaac's performance was so over-the-top that it came across as almost a spoof than real. Even his suicide was almost comical, more for Bening's reactions than the actual suicide itself.

Image result for life itself movie 2018Life Itself is like if someone made a Wes Anderson movie and treated it as a serious drama rather than a comedy. The seriousness of Life Itself ironically makes everything more hilarious. This is a wildly misguided film: smug, pretentious, self-important. Its use of various tracks from Time Out of Mind seems to enhance Life Itself's pomposity, trying to piggyback from the darkness, despair and forlorn nature of the songs to make Life Itself the meditation on life and loss it so desperately wants to be and so desperately fails to be.

All of the performances are universally awful because none of the characters appear remotely human. They come across as caricatures, and I return to the same word: smug. Rather than elicit sympathy or romance, they elicit contempt, as if everyone involved in Life Itself thought they or their characters were much smarter than they really were.

It's awful to see talented people make fools out of themselves, but fools out of themselves they did make themselves. Isaac, I don't think, has given a worse performance in the entirety of his career: Will being in turns pathetic and unsympathetic, even when declaring his eternal, undying love for Abby. Wilde was equal to the task of matching Isaac, spouting gibberish about the 'unreliable narrator' as if desperate to get off this looney train. Her death scene is actually pretty hilarious because it's so obvious: she's standing in the middle of the street talking to Will, so we're waiting for her to get slammed by a bus. The actual accident, far from tragic, plays like a similar scene from The Spy Who Dumped Me.

Bening was wasted in a role that at least she tried to make real, though her reaction to Will's suicide was pretty funny. Cooke did nothing as the 'angry punk rocker who is really hurt inside', but at least her time was the smallest, so she was spared much humiliation. Monner just had to look confused about things, and Costa just had to look either happy or sad, depending on the situation.

Worse, Fogelman made a very bizarre choice with Banderas and Peris-Mencheta.  The scene where Saccione asks Javier to be the foreman plays as if Saccione wants Javier to be his mistress. I genuinely thought Saccione was hitting on him. Having Javy end the scene by telling him, "My whistling is for me, and my big mouth is for the men" just makes things more unintentionally homoerotic.

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Fogelman made perhaps his most disastrous choice with the voiceover. Repeatedly he shows and tells, and worse, returns to some awful moments. There's little Dylan spouting words far greater than her vocabulary via Elena Dempsey-Gonzalez' narration only to have our voiceover say, "What she really said was...". There is the time travel where Will and Dr. Morris literally see and almost interact with the younger Will and Abby, smacking of pretentiousness.

The story ultimately tries to tie everything together, but ends up looking more hilarious: the idea that Rodrigo, the little boy who caused the accident would somehow end up marrying the child whose mother was killed by his unintentional actions is too outlandish and simultaneously predictable. We were waiting for Rodrigo and Dylan to interact even if it defies logic.

Life Itself is just so pretentious, self-important, and unintentionally comical. Perhaps it's greatest sin is abusing Time Out of Mind, even treating us to a Spanish version of Not Dark Yet.

Let's just be thankful we didn't get a Urdu cover of Highlands: all fifteen minutes of it.

DECISION: F

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Gotham: The Complete Fourth Season. An Overview



GOTHAM: THE COMPLETE 
FOURTH SEASON

As I remember the fourth season of the Batman prequel Gotham, my one dominant memory is not a good one despite my genuine fondness for the show.

It is the violence, an issue that I have written about many times.

It's hard to know what exactly has been the nadir of this graphic violence. This season we've seen beheadings, mass executions, people literally blown up and set on fire, numerous people shot in the head, stabbed in the hand (and I think the eye too), had their hands smashed with hammers, torture and even some cannibalism.

I also saw that children, or at least young adults, were not spared this gruesomeness.  You had a teenager's throat slashed, and there is something about seeing kids killed, or at least the idea of it, that greatly troubles me.

It's fair to ask, 'why doesn't the killing of adults bother you then?' Up to a point it does, if it is shown to a level that is much more graphic than I think necessary. I understand a crime show, particularly one that deals with rather dark material will be at times hard to brutal. However, it is not the violence itself that bothers me so much as the graphic nature of it.

I think it also has to do with the idea that adults, for the most part, are responsible for their own actions.  I'm not talking about people caught in the crossfire.  If people like The Penguin or Riddler or even Sofia Falcone get shot, tortured or dismembered, it is the result of their own actions. Even then, however, I don't think we need to see it to the detailed level that Gotham at times indulges in.

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However, the idea that kids are killed, even in fiction, for entertainment simply does not sit well with me.  It never has.  There is something to my mind sadistic and cruel about such things. I feel a strong negative reaction.

It is bad enough when I see adults having their heads blown up.  The idea of kids getting their throat slashed and being murdered, even if it furthers the plot, just makes me recoil.

Gotham has never shied away from being very violent.  I just at times watch in horror and sadness that it feels the need to show so much detail in these acts when they could pull back.

This issue about the graphic violence, not the violence per se, is what has always kept my enjoyment of Gotham from being total.

I can find some good things in Gotham Season Four.  We've seen some really strong acting from both regular and guest cast.  David Mazouz has done what perhaps should have been done from the get-go: become more dominant as Bruce Wayne. His evolution from the frightened child down to the growing young man eventually coming to embrace his fate has been a fascinating thing to watch; even his brief turn as a 'bad boy' was effective albeit curious.

We saw Bruce in bed with pretty young things, but how can you assume Bruce Wayne had a lost weekend when everyone wakes up fully clothed?

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Mazouz was also matched by Camren Bicondova as Selina Kyle. Their work together is excellent, this duo of the future Batman and the (potentially) future Catwoman beginning their curious cat-and-bat game.  On her own, Bicondova has excelled, making Selina less a true villain and more an anti-heroine, one who has a conscience and struggles between her own desires for wealth and power and her basic goodness.

The push-pull between Wayne and Kyle is a highlight of Gotham.

Also included in the performances is Robin Lord Taylor, who to my mind is a definitive Penguin.  Gone is the crazed Danny DeVito version and the campy Burgess Meredith version.  Taylor's Penguin is an evil man: generally heartless, ruthless, vindictive, and totally about self-preservation. Even within all that though, Taylor can make Pengy almost sympathetic, even comical.  When he rages however, despite his small frame, he is frightening.

A couple of guest characters have always been highlights for me too.  One is Anthony Carrigan's Victor Zsasz, who brings a wry almost innocent humor to his interpretation of the master assassin.  Usually teamed up with Taylor's Penguin, Carrigan is able to make Zsasz menacing but also oddly endearing.  His form of comedy is never forced or jarring, and he brought a lightness that was most welcome.

I also thought well of Nathan Darrow's Mr. Freeze to where I would have liked him to have done more.  One can't have everything, I guess.

I give credit to Cameron Monaghan as the (maybe) Joker, especially since he played multiple characters.  Granted, the twin business was not to my liking and this fan-dance of whether he was or was not The Joker was grating, but I can't fault Monaghan for that.

Perhaps he won't be the definitive Riddler (I think Frank Gorshin will take that post), but Cory Michael Smith too had to play two parts: Edward Nygma and The Riddler, and he kept it believable.

As I look back at Gotham Season Four, again I return to the issue of the graphic violence on the show, not so much the violence itself.  Perhaps if the focus had been more on Bruce Wayne than Jim Gordon things might have turned out better.  On the whole though, while not terrible I am hard-pressed to think I was wowed by this series.   

Next Episode: Year Zero

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Gotham: No Man's Land Review


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GOTHAM: NO MAN'S LAND

No Man's Land concludes this, the fourth season of Gotham.  On the plus side, I didn't hate it and it seems to set up a very strong albeit abbreviated Season Five.

On the other, some elements seem to border on the absurd.

It looks like Jeremiah Valeska (Cameron Monaghan) aka the (maybe) Joker is down for the count.  However, like all criminal masterminds, he has a few tricks up his sleeve.  It looks like he might have a few more bombs to wreak havoc.  This is already bad enough for Captain Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), but add to that the interference of Major Harlan (Malik Yoba), ordered by the Governor to take over things.

That means Gordon is arrested for insisting on following his instinct rather than Harlan's orders. Naturally, just before he's arrested he's taken hostage by The Riddler (Cory Michael Smith).  His plan is to kill Gordon so as to remove him from Dr. Leslie 'Lee' Thompkins' (Morena Baccarin) life.  Lee, however, cajoles Riddler into letting Gordon live.  In the ultimate battle for Lee's heart, she seems to lean Gordon, but no matter, she and Riddler manage to stab each other to the apparent death.

In all this Jeremiah seems to be under the control of someone else, and he manages to escape GCPD HQ, taking Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) with him.  Bruce would rather stay with Selina (Camren Bicondova) as she fights for her life. However, Bruce is needed by Ra's al Ghul (Alexander Siddig) to become Gotham's 'dark knight'.

Meanwhile, our other criminals Barbara Kean (Erin Richards), Tabitha Galavan (Jessica Lucas) and Butch Gilzean (Drew Powell) find themselves not only in alliance with Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), but now Alfred (Sean Pertwee).  Agendas all around: Butch is mostly out of commission as he is being restored by Dr. Hugo Strange (B.D. Wong), but Barbara wants to kill Ra's, Jessica wants to kill Jeremiah for Selina, and Alfred wants to save Bruce.

Image result for gotham no man's landIt's a battle royale between all of them.  Ra's is convinced Bonkers Babs is no threat, as only Bruce can kill him.  She, however, has a trick up her sleeve: she thrusts the dagger into Ra's al Ghul while holding Bruce's hand, thus technically having Bruce kill him while not actually doing the killing.

No matter: the bombs have gone off, blowing up the bridges and forcing whoever is inside Gotham itself to remain there.

Wonder if there are any suburbs in Gotham.

Anyway, Bruce has a choice: either go with Selina and Alfred as they are ferried out in an ambulance or stay in Gotham and fight for the city.  Bruce, with regret, opts for the latter.

The city in total darkness and chaos soon starts getting carved up in territories by our Rogues Gallery: one for Pengy, one for Mr. Freeze (Nathan Darrow), one for Firefly (Michelle Veintimilla), one for Scarecrow (David W. Thompson), and one for the newly-dubbed Sirens Barbara & Tabitha.

The latter is a result of Penguin's actions.  Strange did restore Butch to life, but in the ultimate act of revenge, Penguin kills Butch in front of Tabitha as retribution for her killing his beloved mother. When Barbara learns what Penguin did to Tabitha, she becomes so enraged that she decides to kill the men who have pledged loyalty to her because they are men.

Gordon, his partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) and a few other GCPD cops stay inside, determined to fight for the city.  To his surprise, Bruce is there too, and Gordon and Bruce look up at the spotlight the police have placed above Gotham, a sign of hope as the darkness invades.

Image result for gotham no man's landFor good or ill, that's an awful lot to pack into one hour, and No Man's Land mostly held. However, that it has so much also is a bit of a detriment, given how at times things seemed to be spinning in circles in the past.

Among the moments that would cause groaning is one awful cliched scene when Gordon rushes to the bridge to save a little girl lost.

Seriously?

I don't expect Gotham to rewrite the book on having the hero do something heroic but this is so old hat it again borders on the absurd. It isn't that I want children to die. It's that we've seen that before.

I also wonder about Major Harlan.  His main role was to be a plot device to get Gordon out of the way, since apart from this and the end when he pretty much has to give in he adds nothing to things.  One wonders why not just have Riddler come in, grab Gordon in the chaos of when Jeremiah uses magic to spirit himself and Bruce out, and be done with it.

I also do not like the suggestion that Selina's injuries are permanent and that she may never walk again.  I don't want Catwoman to become Oracle. It seems a terrible disservice to both Selina Kyle and the future Commissioner Gordon's daughter to have the two melded into one. Yes, we don't know if that will be Selina's fate, but it seems a horrible one to inflict on her.

Then again, the level of violence on No Man's Land is sometimes overwhelming.  I can accept Ra's al Ghul disintegrating, but I don't want to see Scarecrow behead someone.

As a side note, we got hints of other villains in the closing montage, or at least of some very weird acts by crazed people.

Acting-wise, you had fine work from people like Mazouz, who has come to embody the darkness within Bruce Wayne. It's a bit hard to see him be the bon vivant playboy yet, but it is extremely possible to see how he will become The Dark Knight.

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Another side note: given their conversation at the end, it is hard to imagine that Gordon does not know who Batman is, but that's getting ahead of ourselves.

We also had standout work from Taylor as Pengy, where we got to see apparent moments of humanity that sank when his chance to avenge poor Mama Kappelput came round.  Baccarin played Lee extremely well too, making one wonder whether she had gone over to the dark side or not.  Wong relished playing the evil Dr. Strange, and Richards was downright frightening as Bonkers Babs, down to her last moment of feminist fury.

The scene between Mazouz and Monaghan at the GCPD had a very strong Silence of the Lambs feel, which was enhanced by their performances.

It looks like I ended up liking No Man's Land more than I first thought. I think it was due to the battle between Ra's al Ghul/Maybe Joker and the unlikely team of The Sirens, The Penguin, The Butler and the Billionaire along with some good performances.  Not without some issues and a sometimes frantic feel, No Man's Land was not a bad way to end this season.

6/10

Next: The Complete Fourth Season

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Gotham: One Bad Day Review

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GOTHAM: ONE BAD DAY

I wish I could say One Bad Day reignited my love for Gotham.  Sadly, it didn't. Maybe it was the 'mad bomber' business.  Maybe it's the deliberate shout-outs to a Joker origin story while Gotham continues this fan-dance about whether Jerome/Jeremiah is our most infamous villain.  Maybe it's the surprising amount of violence again.

With one more episode to go before the season wraps up, Gotham has seen better days figuratively and literally.

Jeremiah Valeska (Cameron Monaghan) has taken over his late brother's racket as the villain du jour, taking Jerome's minions and making them more disciplined. He threatens the city with major explosions and orders everyone to evacuate Gotham in a 'we must destroy the city to save it' mindset.  Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) does his best to keep the GCPD going, especially after it is believed that Captain Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is dead.

He is not, having barely escaped Jeremiah's plans.  Now in the hands of Leslie 'Lee' Thompkins (Morena Baccarin) and her on/off partner Edward Nygma/The Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), he is determined to stop the bombs from going off.  He finds himself in a temporary alliance with them, but being the moral cop that he is, soon outwits Riddler and returns to the Police.

Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) feels guilt about over all this, something that his own on/off partner Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) insists is unfair to him.  Bruce now has to rescue Alfred (Sean Pertwee), held prisoner by Jeremiah.  It's all part of a plot to kill Bruce, but with Selina's help he does manage to both rescue Alfred and not break down.

In the middle of all this are another pair of strange bedfellows: The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) and Barbara Kean (Erin Richards). This is a way to get the money needed to restore Butch (Drew Powell), which Bonkers Babs doesn't care about but who agrees only to please her on/off partner Tabitha (Jessica Lucas).  As it goes, their plan goes awry, and Butch, finally having had enough, turns on Pengy.

The day, however, is not over, for Jeremiah breaks into Wayne Manor and shoots Selina in front of Bruce.

Image result for gotham one bad dayGone are the trappings of Jerome's Heath Ledger-like (non) Joker and in come Jeremiah's more subdued (non) Joker in his Jack Nicholson-type ensemble. Monaghan should be credited for being able to play many facets of multiple characters, bringing a cool menace to Jeremiah versus Jerome's wild antics.

It's a pity then, that much of One Bad Day seems if not tired at least a trite stale.

The title, in fact it appears much of the plot, comes from the graphic novel The Killing Joke, with a few changes.  Instead of Batgirl getting shot, it's Selina who should grow to become Catwoman. Instead of Commissioner Gordon being forced to witness the torture of his daughter, it is Bruce who has to witness the torture of his 'father-figure' Alfred.

Add to that my own discomfort and displeasure at what I consider excessive violence apart from Selina's shooting. The torture scenes of Alfred, albeit cinematic, seemed far too cruel, particularly when he slashes his face to force a grin. The fact that it was an illusion caused by The Scarecrow does not give it a pass.

That and we saw yet another man blown up.  That's at least the third time I've seen that on Gotham and now it just seems insulting than horrifying.  Then there's the mass incineration. A bit much.

This is not to say that I didn't find good things in One Bad Day.  The scene between Smith and McKenzie is well-acted, and Taylor brings a surprising touch of humor in his brief scenes as Pengy, though he and The Sirens/Butch seem almost incidental to the goings-on.

Still, I was if not bored at least unenthusiastic about One Bad Day.  I did not like how Bullock managed to pick the right device to disarm the bomb. I disliked the torture and sadism it seemed to derive from it. I disliked the similarities to The Killing Joke.

I'm almost glad Gotham is ending.

3/10

Next Episode: No Man's Land

Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Star Is Born (1937): A Review



A STAR IS BORN (1937)

A Star Is Born, curiously, has been eclipsed by its successive versions.  It is a bit of a shame given that this version, the original, is quite good, with some strong performances and an engaging story.

Esther Blogett (Janet Gaynor) yearns to 'be somebody'.  For her, to be an actress in Hollywood is her way to be something more than just a country girl.  Her Granny (May Robson), a pioneer, gives Esther the money to go to Hollywood to follow her dreams, warning her that it is wonderful but not easy to pursue a dream.

Esther arrives in Hollywood and soon finds discouragement everywhere.  She can't find a job even as an extra, and soon she gets discouraged with everyone suggesting that she perhaps ought to return home.  However, things take an unexpected turn when she meets Danny Maguire (Andy Devine), a second assistant director who becomes her best guy-pal.

At a Hollywood Bowl concert, they see film star Norman Maine (Fredric March), sloshed almost out of his mind and making a spectacle of himself.  Esther and Norman meet again when she reluctantly agrees to be a waitress at a Hollywood party. Norman takes an interest in Esther and believes she has what it takes to be a star.

With that, he convinces/cajoles studio head Oliver Niles (Adolphe Menjou) to cast her opposite Norman in The Enchanted Hour, a costume picture.  Niles also gives Esther a new name: Vicki Lester. 

Vicki becomes a star overnight, and she and Norman fall in love.  They elope and appear to have an idyllic marriage, until Norman starts seeing his own career fading.  His popularity is waning, and his alcoholism, mostly kept in check, is not helping.

Image result for a star is born 1937Eventually, Norman falls off the wagon, and at the worst time. Just as Vicki accepts an Oscar for Dream Without End, Norman, bombed out of his mind, shows up and interrupts her speech.  He tells the audience he's won an Oscar himself, but now wants an award for giving the worst performance of the year.

In other words, he demands a Razzie before they existed!

In his stumbling, he accidentally slaps Esther, but she loves him all the same. 

Norman continues his downward slide, eventually arrested for drunk driving under his real name, Alfred Hinkle. Vicki offers to take responsibility for him, and he overhears her and Niles discussing Vicki's retirement from the screen to care for Norman.  Devastated, he swims out to his death to spare her and save her career.

Now, the Widow Maine decides to leave Hollywood permanently, but a visit from Granny reminds her that she didn't come to Hollywood to leave it.  Rallying, she attends a premiere, where she introduces herself to the radio audience with, "This is Mrs. Norman Maine".

A Star is Born is perhaps too economical in its telling (it should be noted that out of the four versions of this story, this version at one hour and fifty-one minutes is the shortest).   As such, Esther's rise to stardom is remarkably rapid.  Curiously, the only time we see 'Vicki Lester' actually perform is in a brief clip of The Enchanted Hour, which shows Gaynor looking very lovely but not particularly so extraordinary as to believe this one performance made people rave for her.

That does not take away from Gaynor's performance, where she is winning and disarming as Esther/Vicki.  Of particular note is when she and Robson say goodbye at the train station, a very tender and moving scene.  Gaynor is extremely strong in conveying Esther's naivete and strength.  She even manages to have a little fun when attempting to attract film producers' attention by doing impersonations of Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn and Mae West.

It does make one wonder why Esther asking someone to 'come up and see me sometime' would convince anyone to cast her in a film, but why ask such questions.

Image result for a star is born 1937March, curiously, came across less as the drunk and troubled Norman Maine and more like a little boy: sweet and self-indulgent.  He does have a fantastic moment when he overhears Esther's plans, acting with just his eyes the pain and sadness of seeing her sacrifice her career for him.

However, in what is meant to be his big scene at the Academy Awards, he does not come off as being drunk but just angry.  In fact, it seems that his career falters due less to a losing battle with alcoholism and more due to just plain public disinterest.

In smaller roles, Menjou played Niles in a very sympathetic light, someone who genuinely cared about his stable of stars and wanted to do right by them.  Devine added some moments of humor, though for long stretches he pretty much was forgotten.  A good part was done by Lionel Stander as Matt Libby, the angry publicity agent who is delighted when he hears of Maine's death.

"Where do I send congratulations to the Pacific Ocean?" he cackles, and while Stander can match Devine in unique voices, it seems curious that given how early on he seems to be a comic figure, he ends up being one filled with rage.

Max Steiner's score at times signals things, particularly as the music swells when Maine takes his big swim.  Still, it is quite effective.

If there is a flaw in A Star Is Born, it is that we begin and end with a shot of the shooting script for A Star Is Born, as if reminding us that 'this is just a movie'.  It takes us out of the film, and I don't think it was necessary.

Minor quibbles, however, as William Wellman got strong performances out of his cast and kept the story moving, even adding nice bits such as when the hotel owner leaves a note for Esther threatening to throw her out for back rent only to tear it up.

There were things I was puzzled about in A Star Is Born.  When Vicki looks at her Oscar, she begins to cry, but I wondered whether she cried for what it cost her in terms of her personal life or because she decided her career was over.  Perhaps it was a mixture of both. 

Still, the 1937 A Star Is Born is a fine picture, a credit to all involved.

Next Version: 1954 

DECISION: A-

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. A Review (Review #1100)


JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM

Many have bashed Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, but I will not.  I freely and openly admit that I had a great time watching this film.  Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the feel-good comedy of the year, one of the most hilarious films I've seen in a long time.

After the events in Jurassic World, the island where the dinosaurs roamed has been abandoned.  A previously-dormant volcano has reawakened, threatening the reextinction of these terrible lizards.  The world is fiercely debating whether or not to let them die.  Those in the 'let them die' side include Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). Those on the opposite side include Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who has switched her view since she was the cold Jurassic World lackey.

Claire finds an unlikely ally in Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), who works for Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the hereto secret/silent partner to the late John Hammond.  Eli tells Claire that he and Lockwood are going to spirit the dinos away to another island, a true secret sanctuary where they can live in peace.

However, they really want to rescue 'Blue', the Velociraptor trained by her former lover, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). She eventually ropes him in to return to Isla Nublar to attempt a rescue, accompanied by paleovetenarian Zia (Daniella Rivera) and tech guru Franklin Webb (Justice Smith).  On the island, they meet 'white hunter' Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine), who is meant to help.

Image result for jurassic world fallen kingdom rafe spallObviously, he doesn't, because the whole thing is a rouse. In reality, Mills plans two nefarious schemes.  The first is to auction off the dinos with the help of mad auctioneer Eversoll (Toby Jones) to various evil figures.  The second is to use 'Blue' to create a new and more fierce dinosaur named 'The Indoraptor'.  This will be done with the help of 'mad scientist' Dr. Wu (B.D. Wong).

What could possibly go wrong?

It's up to Claire, Owen, and the rest of our Scooby Gang, as well with Lockwood's 'granddaughter' Maisie (Isabella Sermon) to stop this madness. 

I haven't laughed so hard at a movie in a long time, not even at comedies, so Fallen Kingdom was a great deal of fun for me in that it almost plays as a spoof of these action films and sequels to unintended franchises.  I kept writing 'hilarious' in my notes, because Fallen Kingdom seems dead-set on making a spectacle of itself.

The thing is, the moments that made me burst out laughing repeatedly were meant to be serious or moving or frightening.  Instead, under the direction of J.A. Bayona from Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly's script, these moments were just so wildly tone-deaf in how they ended up looking.

My fellow reviewer Sarah pointed out one of the (most unintended) funniest scenes, which also had me burst out laughing despite my first effort to keep my laughs from being audible. I even did a little wave and said, "Bye-bye!" at this moment, but there is a cacophony of hilarity coursing through Fallen Kingdom.

Right from the beginning when there's a raid on the island to take a bone involving a 'dino-fish', Fallen Kingdom just keeps building up the hilarity factor. 

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There's when Claire sadly says, "They're going to die and no one cares". 
There's where Zia looks at a giant brontosaurus and says, with tears welling up in her eyes, "I never thought I'd see one in real life". 
There's when during Claire and Franklin's desperate escape from both lava and a dinosaur, Claire shouts "CHAIR!" to scaredy-cat Franklin. 
There's Owen rolling away from the fast-flowing lava.
There's the entire 'escape from exploding island'.

But WAIT! There's MORE!

Toby Jones is a laugh-riot from his first appearance; apparently Bayona directed him to have a permanent sneer that screamed "EVIL".  From the moment his sleazy auctioneer showed up to his death at the hands of the Indoraptor, I simply could not stop laughing at how hilarious he was.

Same goes for Levine, who played his 'white hunter' bit as if he meant it to be a parody.  It makes his end, as his cap gets blown off by a dinosaur's snort & him screaming like Maisie all the more hilarious.

Even Spall, an actor I genuinely like and who was about the only good thing in Founding Fathers Assemble (aka History's miniseries Sons of Liberty) couldn't help hamming it up as the EVIL aide.

Goldblum was on auto-pilot, but at least was spared the embarrassment of having to share scenes with a weak Howard. I think Pratt is a great action star, but am not convinced he's an actor yet.  I think he did his best, but when he rolls away from the lava or outruns dinosaurs and not just survives a 90+-foot fall off a cliff but looks more beautiful than when he leaped...it's hard not to laugh.

Pineda and Smith were essentially nonentities in this, though to be fair Smith was the worst of the two.  I figure his thin character was meant to be either actual comic relief or the 'everyman' caught in this, but his constant frights came across as annoying.  I would have preferred he be the one eaten than Mills.

Image result for jurassic world fallen kingdom exploding islandThe story is total nonsense. The idea that Lockwood's estate could hold this 'mad auction' is already daft, but the idea that these dinosaurs could sell for a mere $4 million to $37 million for this 'Indoraptor' is just idiotic.

For comparison, Salvator Mundi, reputed to be a 'lost' DaVinci painting, sold for $450 million.  Am I seriously expected to believe that a painting whose origin is still in dispute would sell for more than a living dinosaur?

Michael Giacchino's score does what no score should do: announce itself and the moods.  It thunders 'danger' when they arrive on the island or 'menace' when we conveniently overhear Mills and Wu discuss their plans for Maisie's ears.  While many have commented positively on the extended dino-chase in the Lockwood mansion, I just wondered why Maisie thought literally hiding under the covers would save her from a dinosaur that could track her down (or how such a large creature could fit in there).

Despite how awful to silly Fallen Kingdom is, and it is, I still found myself enjoying it for its sheer awfulness, one of those 'so bad it's good' films.  It tries so hard to be exciting, even moving, when it ends up being a spoof in all but name. I loved that it made me laugh without meaning to.  That being the case, how I can bash Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom when its so wacky and wonderful in its sheer inanity?

I digress to point out that Chris Pratt was 14 years old when Jurassic Park was released, and I'm sure neither of us thought he would be part of this expansive cinematic universe.  I look forward to seeing this film played repeatedly on FX or TNT, hopefully finding more things to laugh at.

DECISION: C-

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Gotham: That Old Corpse Review

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GOTHAM: THAT OLD CORPSE

I guess when it comes to That Old Corpse, it is not so much the suspension of disbelief that blocks me from thinking well of this Gotham episode. It is the fact that a lot of it involves a lot of cliches, particularly the evil masterplan that requires everything to go exactly right, down to the variables.

That and yet another siege/takeover of the Gotham City Police Department Headquarters.  It's almost by now a parody of Gotham: the GCPD HQ is routinely attacked or besieged to where one wonders why it is the least defended place in all Gotham.

The followers of Jerome Valeska, the self-dubbed 'Clowns', have received a message from their leader from the Beyond, ordering them to attack the Gotham City Police Department Headquarters.  Captain Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) by now sees that anytime Jerome has some plan, it is really just cover for something else.  All he needs to do is find what that 'other' is.

As expected, the Clowns' assault happens, but this time the GCPD takes a more defensive posture, allowing for them to ransack the place in a strategic retreat.  Gordon soon puts together that the real targets are Jerome's twin brother Jeremiah (Cameron Monaghan) and Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz).

Bruce has funded Jeremiah's new self-contained power source, but Jeremiah also reveals to Bruce about the toxin he's infected.  Bruce attempts to convince Jeremiah that Jerome really is dead, but it looks like Jeremiah is having a breakdown.

As it happens, it is all a rouse, for now Jeremiah is the insane one and with Bruce's unwitting help, he has created a set of bombs.  Jeremiah, it seems, is taking on Joker-like manners.


Image result for gotham that old corpseThe (latest) siege of the GCPD HQ comes at a bad time for Edward Nygma/The Riddler (Cory Michael Smith). His plan to rescue his frenemy Dr. Leslie 'Lee' Thompkins (Morena Baccarin) from there meet this unexpected battle.  Mindful that Lee is opposed to killing, Nygma cooks up a new scheme to rescue her.

It appears that Lee does return Ed's affection, but in the initial chaos of the attack, she hits her head on a fire extinguisher.  What effect this has on her remains to be seen.

In all this madness the buddy team of Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) and Butch Gilzean (Drew Powell) smell an opportunity, though an opportunity for what is unclear.  All that is known is that Penguin is desperate for money to get back in power and for Butch to return to normal.

I have always been wary of plots where the criminal mastermind plans things so perfectly that everything goes according to what he/she plots, even down to the actions others will take.  Such things, I find, really are beyond any villain's control no matter how well-planned and thought out the plans are.

It simply requires far too much to have everything go exactly right, for I find that little things, right down to a few minutes' delay or a wrong turn or someone not reacting a certain way can happen.

That Old Corpse is one of those stories where Jeremiah planned everything exactly right, down to how others far outside his sphere would react.  I just reject such things as too unbelievable.

I guess I would have liked it if Jeremiah had gone bonkers through his own initiative rather than through Jerome's powers, the mental collapse being more terrifying and the twist more shocking.  Here, you were waiting for it.

Image result for gotham that old corpseAs the Clowns used Jerome's coffin as a battering ram to storm the GCPD HQ, all I kept thinking is, 'what if Jerome had been cremated or buried at sea (or the Gotham River)?'  How then would Jeremiah's masterplan work? What if Bruce didn't come alone, or Gordon focus on the siege?

I get antsy when I see a plan that has so many variables that still goes exactly as one wants them to.  I don't accept the premise, or at least that it all go so perfectly.

That took away some of my enjoyment of That Old Corpse, but there were other aspects too.

One was the comedy.  Unlike the last episode, That Old Corpse was more blunt in its use of humor which while still somewhat amusing didn't seem to flow well.  There are two scenes where both The Riddler and The Penguin open a paddy wagon to look for Lee and the Head Clown Jongleur (Christian Rozakis) respectively.

One of the criminals looks up to see them and exclaims, "The Riddler/The Penguin! We're saved!" only to find both leave the lot of them there.  After Penguin slams the doors on them, another criminal looks at the first and deadpans, "Aren't you tired of being wrong?"

The scenes made me chuckle, but they also made me roll my eyes a bit.

I also wondered how many sieges of the GCPD HQ this makes.  Seriously, I wish the Gotham writers would stop resorting to bands of crazed villains constantly attacking the Police Department Headquarters.

It's pretty much been done to death.

Acting-wise, That Old Corpse did well.  There was more comedy from RLT and Powell that made them a very odd couple.  The drama came from Monaghan and Mazouz, especially when the former appeared to be terrified his twin was still alive.  Their work lifted the episode, as did Baccarin, who showed her sultry side that might be merely teasing Riddler.

CMS had a good line when he cracks that he'd rather debate people on a semantics point than allow Lee to be in the hands of "that overgrown Boy Scout (Jim Gordon)".

That Old Corpse was by no means horrible, but so much of it was predictable and repetitive.

3/10

Next Episode: One Bad Day

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Gotham: To Our Deaths and Beyond Review

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GOTHAM: TO OUR DEATHS AND BEYOND

To Our Deaths and Beyond is a surprising Gotham episode in that it does what few Gotham episodes manage to do: have an element of comedy in them.  There was a good amount of natural humor in the proceedings that had nothing to do with the pretty bonkers Barbara plotline, at least which was intentional.

Edward Nygma/The Riddler (Cory Michael Smith) is showing his stuff in more ways than one.  Hitting five banks in one night is just a start, and a way to impress Dr. Leslie 'Lee' Thompkins (Morena Baccarin).  One of the two personalities is in love with her, though I'm not sure which.  Knowing the loot they can have, Edward's frenemy Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) and Butch (Drew Powell) force their way onto Edward's really big score: the heist of one location where the Gotham Savings & Loan has put in all their money to protect themselves.

As it stands though, Penguin's original idea that The Riddler would betray Thompkins does not work out.  There is betrayal all right, but it's Riddler's betrayal of an enraged Pengy and Butch, who were planning to use their split to hire Dr. Hugo Strange to help Butch return to his old self.

What kind of game is Lee playing?  Whose side is she really on?  Is she finally embracing her dark side with Riddler, or is there still some moral to her that Captain Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) can use?

Gordon would probably be in fits if he knew what else was going on.  His ex, Bonkers Babs (Erin Richards) is still trying out her powers, but Tabitha (Juessica Lucas) has thrown her lot in with a renegade group of League of Shadows assassins who want to remove Barbara and restore Ra's al Ghul (Alexander Siddig) to power.

Only thing is, Ra's is dead.  For him to make a comeback, that requires the blood of the one who killed him: Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz). Bruce and Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) are tricked into participating in these satanic rites, and Ra's isn't thrilled to be back.  However, he senses that Babs is not living up to her potential.

A war between the men and women of the League of Shadows commences, one that see Barbara finally give up her powers to save Tabitha.  Ra's, however, is not finished with Bruce, whom he insists can be a 'dark knight' for Gotham. For their part, the female assassins are not done with Barbara either, pledging their loyalty to her for being a worthy warrior.

Image result for gotham to our deaths and beyondTo Our Deaths and Beyond has a surprisingly wry sense of humor, as if they finally realized that it is all right to have a few quips outside Harvey Bullock. The humor comes all around from some unexpected sources.

Bonkers Babs, for example, is a perfect set-up for laughter: the small-time criminal convinced she's some kind of reincarnated goddess.  When Ra's al Ghul comes back in his condition, he asks for his powers back.

"Try it, Zombie Boy," she tells him before beginning a fight.

Selina manages a wisecrack at Bonkers Babs' expense too.  After hearing her plan to take on Ra's, involving a 'stabby-stab' with the dagger, our 'Kitty Cat' scoffs at it.  She'd have more confidence in Babs if she used her Demon's Head powers for "something other than a flashlight".

Even Ra's al Ghul gets in on the act.  After Barbara stabs him and she finds it has no effect on him (since it has to be Bruce to do the stabbing), Siddig's Ra's just looks at a stunned Barbara and quips, "Ouch", before flinging her out a glass window.

It's as if everyone agreed that what Gotham needed was a bit of levity without slipping into farce. Granted, they came close to farce when Alfred (Sean Pertwee) and Tabitha pretended to be man and wife as part of a plan to steal the dagger without killing anyone, but the entire scene was set up for laughs. At least it was set up for chuckles.

There were two standout performances, and they are Smith and Bicondova. The former has essentially a dual role, and while 'Ed' was the smaller one, it is nice to see CMS play it so cool as the nefarious Riddler.  Bicondova showcases the internal struggle between her 'affection' for Bruce and her loyalty to the Sirens.  This internal war allows Selina to be seen in a different light: not evil like Barbara but as one fighting between her ideal and actual self.

Gotham is an all-around well-acted show, allowing for the talented cast to display their skills, especially when they can have a little humor thrown in. Perhaps Barbara's ability to see the future played fast-and-loose with getting out of two deaths, but that is how things roll in this crazy town.

We even get nice bits, such as the prototype for the Batmobile.  The violence too was curtailed to where it doesn't seem insane and almost sadistic.

To Our Deaths and Beyond feels more free from what we've seen in the past, partially since we don't have Jerome and the Legion of Horribles to drag us down.  And they have at least some fun with things while keeping things real.

At least as real as Gotham can get.

8/10

Next Episode: That Old Corpse

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Gotham: That's Entertainment Review

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GOTHAM: THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT

Well, in the eternal dance of whether Jerome Valeska is or is not The Joker, we seem to have come up with a definitive answer.

Maybe.

And that's with Jerome's apparent end.

That's Entertainment, like Jerome's plan, seems a stall for time before moving on to hopefully bigger and better things.  It also seems a weird rehash of the 1989 Batman film to where one wonders if anyone in the production wasn't aware of it.

Jerome the "not" Joker (Cameron Monaghan) has abducted the interim Mayor, the Commissioner, the Catholic archbishop and the head of a 'good society' organization as part of a major plan.  That plan involves blowing the heads off each of these hostages until his demands are met.

Those demands are that his twin brother Jeremiah (Monaghan in a dual role) and Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) be brought to him.  Captain Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is reluctant to do that.  For once, Bruce's valet Alfred (Sean Pertwee) and his on/off gal-pal Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) agree that Bruce shouldn't do it.  Bruce, however, believes it is the right thing to do.

All this is actually just one part of an even larger scheme that Jerome has cooked up with his Legion of Horribles: Mr. Freeze (Nathan Darrow), The Mad Hatter (Benedict Samuel), Scarecrow (David W. Thompson) and Firefly (Michelle Ventimilla).  Their plan is to unleash Scarecrow's madness gas on the citizens.

For once, however, one of the criminal masterminds, Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) is horrified when he finds out the entire scheme.  He does not want anything to do with all this madness, but Jerome already knew he was wavering.  He has Pengy put on the blimp that will release the gas to see them all die.

Gordon, however, with help from Lucius Fox (Chris Chalk) and even from Pengy manages to stop the slaughter.  However, at long last, Jerome appears to die from a combination of getting shot and falling off a building.

Image result for gotham that's entertainmentIn our subplot, Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) is still feeling her way with her powers as the Demon's Head. Power, along with her League of Assassins' Amazonian Guard, goes to her head.  Bonkers Babs now has convinced herself she is a virtual goddess, but she wants to use her powers to merely enrich herself.

This does not sit well with Tabitha (Jessica Lucas), who thinks the whole thing is deranged, even for Bonkers Babs.  As befits a goddess with a private army, Babs dumps Tabitha and has her thrown out.

However, there is hope on the horizon, for a renegade group of League of Shadows group want to remove Barbara, and take Tabitha with them as part of a secret plan.

As I mentioned, I said the answer to whether Jerome is 'the Joker' is definitely maybe only because in what is meant as a surprise, Jeremiah has been given a special brand of Scarecrow's toxin that seems to have made him bonkers too.  As such, it seems that the entire character of Jerome was just one long con, and the 'twin' a convenient way to keep things going.

I don't think it is particularly original to have the twin essentially take on the other's role, especially since Monaghan was playing a variation on Heath Ledger's iconic take on the Joker.

I have stated many times how no actor following Ledger in the role of The Joker can ever escape his shadow, and while Monaghan has done a great job as the proto-Joker, he still faces that daunting task of following in Ledger's footsteps.

Monaghan has shown his range with playing these dual roles, but it is interesting that for the idea that this is a Legion of Horribles, there was really room for only two of them: Jerome and Penguin.

Image result for gotham that's entertainmentNothing shakes my belief that Robin Lord Taylor is among the very best things in Gotham, and That's Entertainment shows what mastery he has on the role of Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin.

We see something we haven't seen from Pengy: actual human emotion divorced from his drive for power or revenge.  He's willing to go along with any crime that gets him either, but the wholesale slaughter of people just for the 'joy' of killing is one bridge he cannot cross.

In his fear of this madness down to the comedy of seeing Pengy attempt to fly a blimp and frustration of being stuck on it after all this has happened, RLT shows he can handle both drama and comedy so well.

Let's face it: what can be funnier than seeing that Penguins CAN Fly!

It's a shame that the other members of the Legion had smaller roles, though they did them well.  I do wish Darrow's Mr. Freeze had a larger role, but one can't top his entrance to the Wayne Enterprises' lab.

Fair warning: the cinematic nature of the raid was fantastic, but it could cause epileptic seizures with all the flashing lights to where I think a warning should have been made.

Another warning should have occurred with regards to a longstanding issue: the violence.  Even with the shaky-cam and quick cuts, we can see people's heads explode, and I still am highly troubled by this.

We still see a strong group of performances: McKenzie's steely Gordon, Bicondova's Selina, our anti-heroine, Donal Logue's quippy Bullock, Mazouz's moral Bruce.  He and Bicondova make such a wonderful pairing that I'd be happy with a show about Bat-Cat separate from everything else.

As for the subplot, Richards has not failed ever since she went from bland Barbara to Bonkers Babs.  It isn't her fault that the subplot itself is pretty wild even for Gotham.

There were other issues apart from the violence in That's Entertainment.  The plot bears a striking similarity to Batman (the poisoned gas, the 'Joker' falling to his death, even the gift).  The gift itself is so obviously in Jerome's taste that Jeremiah must be stupid to not think his twin would not be behind it.

That's Entertainment had some good performances that lifted it slightly from the story that seemed filler for a larger plan.  I can't fault it for that, although it is still troubling in its graphic nature.



6/10

Next Episode: To Our Deaths and Beyond