Review: Gotham

GothamThree new TV series debuted, this fall, all based on DC comics characters. With all this comic love on TV this season I will be doing early season reviews for all three in the order they debuted, and follow with season wrap up reviews, just as I have done with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Arrow.

The first of these reviews is Gotham.

Even though it has the highest profile of the three new shows (as it is part of the Batman mythos), Gotham has a huge Smallville shaped albatross hanging around its neck. The premise of the show is that it takes place directly after Bruce Wayne’s parents are murdered and follows newly minted police detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) as he investigates the murder and deals with the rampant corruption in Gotham. The show also follows the formative years of Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), along with several other prominent Batman characters, with special focus on Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor).

There is a lot of baggage a series has to deal with when it is a prequel to a well-known story. I have made my feelings about Smallville (and all the things that went wrong there) known previously. It is, however, possible to have a well done prequel (e.g. Hannibal). The challenge is in which parts of the story canon you keep as sacred, and which parts you are willing to change. Above all else, it needs to be a good show, with strong writing and acting.

So how does Gotham do on this front?

The series was created by Bruno Heller, who also created The Mentalist and HBO’s Rome. As such, it does have some decent writing, but it often comes off as uneven; although, to be fair, some of that could also be the acting. Basically, the show is a frustrating mix of wonderful, passable, and awful. On the plus side, you have the Penguin; his storyline is far and away the best thing about the show, and Taylor’s performance is great, showing the Penguin as a grand manipulator – sniveling in one scene and cunning the next, but always with an eye towards getting what he wants. If the show were just about the Penguin, it would be great.

Another of the pluses is Jim Gordon’s partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) who is corrupt, a drunk, and still one of the best cops in the GCPD. Logue is always good in everything he does, and he goes all out here. The best thing about Harvey is that it is clear that Gordon is getting to him and that his story will be one of redemption.

The final gem of the series is Alfred (Sean Pertwee). Unlike previous versions of the character, this Alfred is more of a rough and tumble type, willing to bawl Bruce out, while simultaneously calling him sir. He is portrayed as struggling to figure out how to raise Bruce and help him deal with the death of his parents.

As to the passable parts, sadly we find our lead character Jim Gordon. Gordon is upstanding and unwilling to compromise his principles, but must find a way to navigate the corruption of both the GCPD and Gotham in general. There is nothing wrong with McKenzie’s performance, or how the character is written, it’s that the series seems to just happen to him, rather than him being a driving force.

There’s also Selena Kyle (Camren Bicondova), who is portrayed as a homeless street urchin and thief. She witnesses the murder of the Waynes and becomes somewhat obsessed with Bruce. I really have no problem with Bicondova’s performance, but she has only had dialogue in two of the episodes so far despite appearing in every one. Most of the time we see her silently skulking around either watching Bruce, or tailing Gordon. There is potential for her to be engaging, but they haven’t done anything with her, so far.

And then we have Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) himself. Bruce is portrayed as channeling his grief into an obsession with figuring out why his parents were murdered. They are showing his development as a detective and his scenes do work, with a lot of thanks to support from Pertwee’s Alfred. But he is not the focus of the series and in some episodes only gets one scene.

And then there are the bad parts of the show.

Chief amongst these is Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith), lieutenant to mob boss Carmine Falcone (John Doman). Fish wants to overthrow Falcone and goes through a lot of elaborate steps in her efforts to do so. However, her primary purpose is to be a foil for her former underling, The Penguin, whom she ordered killed in the first episode. His defection to another outfit does not sit well with her. Any scene with Fish just drags on the momentum of each episode. Her outfits are crimes against both fashion and logic and her performance seems to be a bargain basement version of Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman. This is particularly frustrating because we know Jada Pinkett Smith is a good actress, so I have to assume this is how Fish is written and directed and Jada is just going along with it.

Another drag on most episodes is Gordon’s fiancée, Barbara Keen (Erin Richards). She just seems to be someone for him to worry about, or to create complications for him due to his needing to keep a variety of city secrets. She hasn’t been given any real character traits beyond worrying about Gordon, or being upset with him. Her only other arc is that she had a relationship with Detective Rene Montoya (Victoria Cartagena), which has led Montoya to have an obsession with proving that Gordon is dirty. Beyond that, Montoya herself also has no personality.

And this leads to one of the great fanboy complaints about the series. Most of the characters are from the Batman mythos, but other than Selena and Tommy Elliot (who will become Hush), all of the other characters are all roughly Gordon’s age. In the case of Penguin this works fine, but for Montoya, her partner Crispus Allen (Andrew Stewart-Jones), future Riddler Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), Victor Zsasz (Anthony Carrigan), and Harvey Dent (Nicholas D’Agosto), these are characters that are traditionally roughly Batman’s age. Here they are all roughly 15 years older than their usual presentation.

This is where the show falls apart for me. They want to have their Batman villains in a show that does not have Batman himself. And with the rate they are introducing characters, if the show gets multiple seasons I’m afraid they will start advancing arcs that make no sense without Batman’s presence.

This leads me to my final problem. The grade. I am giving Gotham a C – at this time. It is going to drive the long time Batman fans up the wall with its handling of the characters and story arcs. It is actually going to be more enjoyable to non-fans who are not as invested in the mythos, but even they still have to deal with the uneven mix of good and bad performances, writing, and characters.

Universal Horror: The Bride of Frankenstein

brideThe Bride of Frankenstein is a fascinating entry in the Universal Horror universe. Released in 1935, it stands as one of the most iconic films in the Universal Horror library and is one of the rare cases where the sequel is considered a superior film to the original (Frankenstein); each of these films is so ingrained into our pop culture that it is difficult to critique them.

The Bride of Frankenstein starts with a prologue featuring Mary Shelly (Elsa Lancaster) being praised for writing Frankenstein. The story proper begins just moments after the supposed death of the creature (Boris Karloff) in the first film. Its creator, Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), has barely survived the encounter. After being nursed back to health by his fiancé, Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson), he is visited by his former mentor Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger); Pretorius has been experimenting with creating life himself, but feels Henry’s work shows more promise. He strong-arms Henry into creating a female body to house an artificial brain of his creation.

While this is going on, the creature is trying to find its way in the world, each encounter with humanity ending in disaster. His only respite comes when he is befriended by a blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) who teaches him to speak. Even that ends badly when some hunters come to the hermit’s hut and see the creature. Eventually, the creature is found by Pretorius and convinced to help him force Henry to complete the experiment, with the promise of making him a mate.

The climax of the movie is the creation of the Bride (also played by Elsa Lancaster). The creature tries to woo her, but she is repulsed and rejects him. The creature makes Henry and Elizabeth flee the laboratory, but forces Pretorius and the Bride to stay, saying of the three of them “we belong dead”, after which he destroys the lab.

The Bride of Frankenstein works on many levels. While the movie may not seem as scary to modern audiences, it still retains a great deal of the dramatic tension that is the hallmark of Director James Whale. Unlike the first film, much more of the story is spent following the creature; this time around he is very much the main character and we see him trying to find his place in a world that will never accept him. Karloff brings the pain and longing of the creature to life brilliantly. Colin Clive has much less to do this time as Henry Frankenstein, but still exhibits the mood swings that led me to believe he is bi-polar from the first film. Ernest Thesiger chews the scenery as Pretorius and, unlike the creature, he is very much a pure villain.

Elsa Lancaster’s performance as The Bride is what makes this film truly remarkable. This characters unforgettable image is completely ingrained in our pop culture, yet the character is on screen for less than five minutes. In that short span of time, Lancaster creates a vivid and memorable performance, making The Bride come off as cruel and vicious, while never really doing much more than reacting to what happens around her.

For trivia buffs, it should be noted that The Bride is the only Universal Monster not directly responsible for a death. It should also be noted that during a showing I attended in the last year, when Henry says “She’s alive, Alive!”, three of us sung “Weird Science” under our breath.

I give The Bride of Frankenstein a grade of A+. It is a true classic horror film, and fans of classic horror will love it, and non-fans will still be entertained by it.

 

Fall Site Update

It’s time for another site update.

First off I missed recording this weekends podcast. It was a combination of losing the guest I had lined up and losing my voice. My apology.

This weeks update will be on Friday as it is Halloween and will be the last of the October Horror reviews.

After that the next update will be November 10th and starting with that all now content to the site will be posted on Mondays.

Thank you for your time and now I am going back to my tea with honey.

 

Review: Hotel Transylvania

hotel_transylvaniaHotel Transylvania is a deviation from our normal Halloween reviews in that it is not a horror movie, but a comedy using horror tropes. However, I expect it to become a Halloween movie staple in the years to come.

The basic premise of Hotel Transylvania is a bit silly; after losing his wife to an angry mob, Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) is left to raise their daughter alone. He builds a five star hotel to serve as both a refuge for the world’s monsters from the human world and a safe haven in which to raise his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez).

On Mavis’ 118th birthday Dracula holds a huge party with all the monsters coming to celebrate. These include Dracula’s best friends Frankenstein (Kevin James) and his wife Eunice (Fran Drescher), Wayne Werewolf (Steve Buscemi), His wife Wanda (Molly Shannon), and their horde of children, Murray the mummy (CeeLo Green), and Griffin the Invisible Man (David Spade).

Two things complicate Dracula’s plans for the event. One is that Mavis is tired of being confined to the hotel and wants to explore the world. The other is that a human, Johnny (Andy Samberg), has stumbled upon the hotel. Dracula needs to keep the monsters from finding out Johnny is human or they will flee the hotel in terror. Adding additional stress is that Mavis is attracted to Johnny. Disguising Johnny as a monster, Dracula tries to find a way to safely get him out of the hotel, deal with Mavis’ wish to spread her wings, and keep his hotel a safe home for the monsters.

On the surface, Hotel Transylvania is a concept that should not work. It is an animated horror comedy starring Adam Sandler. But it does work. A lot of the credit goes to the script writers (Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel) but the most credit goes to the director (Genndy Tartakovsky, who worked on Powerpuff Girls and created Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack).

Hotel Transylvania is a very fast paced and kinetic movie, but does slow down for some well-done emotional scenes. There is never a scene that drags. The character designs are expressive and inviting, even when they are monstrous. Many of the character designs bear a resemblance to the voice actors playing them.

On the voice acting front there is not a single dud amongst them. Having a cast of comedy veterans and SNL alumni was an excellent decision. Sandler stands out in this group, not only as the main character, but doing some of the best work of his career, even if there is an occasional accent slippage.

Music also plays an important role in the film, even with it not being a musical. There are several occasions where characters, especially Johnny, are performing as part of Mavis’ birthday. The music in the film is done by Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo) and works well in the film, even if it is not particularly memorable.

Hotel Transylvania is a charming movie that can easily be enjoyed by both children and adults. I give Hotel Transylvania a grade of B. Genre fans should enjoy it, and even non-fans should be ok with watching it with their kids.

Side note: This year my five year old god daughter has decided to be Mavis for Halloween, and so the whole family is going as characters from the film. She decided I would be Frankenstein, and who am I to argue with a determined five year old on Halloween.

 

Fanboy News Network Episode 18

Fanboy logo

Fanboy News Network Episode 18

Creepypasta

Jeff is joined by Michael Montoure from Don’t Read the Latin to talk about creepypastas, including their history, what counts as a creepypasta and what their favorites of the genre are.

Horror Review: You’re Next

Youre-Next-posterIt’s time, once again, for our annual Halloween celebration, where everything on the site relates to Halloween or horror for the month of October.

And let’s kick things off with one of the hidden gems of horror films, You’re Next.

You’re Next is from the team of director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett, and is part of the mumblegore subgenre, which strives for naturalism in both performance and dialogue.

The plot set up plays like a lot of standard home invasion films; the main characters are in their isolated home when masked intruders suddenly attack and start killing them off. But unlike most of the films in this genre, there is a significant twist (which I am loathe to spoil) that makes this film stand out from other home invasion films.

This film did not do as well in the box office as it deserved. Once again we have a film let down by its marketing campaign (or as I like to call it, the John Carter Syndrome) it was marketed as a standard home invasion film, with no hint of the twist. And while that makes a certain amount of sense, it is the twist that makes the film worthwhile. I will say this much about it, by the half-way point of the film the invaders are every bit as terrified as the remaining victims.

There is also a very significant focus on the family dynamic at play. The set-up has Paul and Aubrey Davidson hosting a family reunion, in honor of Paul’s birthday, at their vacation house with their adult children. The four children bring their significant others. During dinner on the first night, the bickering and passive-aggressive attacks on each other get so bad that when the first murder happens it comes as a relief.

Wingard sets a great mood by having the family feel trapped, long before the attacks, and giving an increasing sense of claustrophobia as events spiral on.

Sharni Vinson gives a stand-out performance as Erin, the girlfriend of the oldest son Crispian (A.J. Bowen). Erin has a childhood trauma she is trying to get past that informs how she deals with the attack. Her performance forms the through-line of the movie. Another pair of performances that are noteworthy are Nicholas Tucci and Wendy Glenn as middle son Felix and his girlfriend Zee. They are the source of much of the family discord, and this comes into play as the attack commences. One other performance worth pointing out is Barbara Crampton as Aubrey. Crampton is a former Scream Queen, best known as the female lead in Re-Animator. Aubrey’s goal is to have a happy family gathering, and her pain from this not happening is clear even before the attacks begin.

One particularly nice touch is that the entire sound track is variations of the song “Looking for the Magic” by the Dwight Twilley Band.

I give You’re Next a grade of B on the Fanboy News Network Scale. Horror fans should really enjoy the twist on the clichéd Home Invasion story and non-fans should like it for how the twist is carried out.

Site Update

As you may have noticed there has not been an update for a while.

I have been dealing with some health issues that kept me from working on anything. I am fine now, but as a result I am behind on several things.

I’ve decided to take a short sabbatical from updating the site to get caught up. I will return in October with out annual Halloween/Horror month.

Fanboy News Network Episode 17

Fanboy News Network Episode 17

Crossover with Don’t Read the Latin

Jeff gets together with Michael Montoure and Jennifer Lovely of the Podcast Don’t Read the Latin to discuss the year in horror so far, when not being derailed by side tangents.

Jeff would also like to apologize to Josh Harnett from Penny Dreadful for calling him Ethan Hawke throughout the episode.

SDCC 2014: The Aftermath

comiccon-150x150

In years past when I have done my post San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) article, I usually latch onto an issue the show highlighted which I feel affects the entire convention scene. I even had a subject all lined up to cover, the effect of exclusives on the convention scene

And then news started coming out that has changed this from a look at exclusives, to a follow up on a previous column about the SDCC harassment policy. I guess I’ll look at exclusives another time.

You can go here to read my previous column. For quick review there was a petition to have SDCC adopt a more comprehensive anti-harassment policy. SDCC’s director of marketing (Daniel Glanzer) rejected the idea as he said it would suggest to the media that SDCC had a harassment problem.

So how did the event go?

Well there was a major incident that has been reported that suggests that Glanzer will need to rethink his position.

Adrianne Curry, a Model and Actress who is also a well-known cosplayer, was attending the event with friends. One of Curry’s friends was dressed as the Marvel character Tigra. A man approached the friend from behind and tried to put his hands in the bottom of her costume. When that failed he yanked the bottom of the costume down.

Curry, who was dressed as Catwoman complete with a bullwhip, immediately went after the man. Using the whip as a weapon she drove him off. One point to be made here: this incident happened in a crowded area, but not one person stepped forward to help Curry or her friend. In fact, the only thing most did were pull out phones to take pictures

This was, of course, not the only incident reported.

So what now?

It would be easy to say that this would have happened anyway, and maybe it would have, but then again maybe not.

San Diego Comic Con is not just an event, it has its own culture. To fight against harassment, it helps to make that fight part of the culture. We’ve seen other conventions adopt detailed policies that have led to the culture of those shows embracing anti-harassment and helping police themselves.

But step one is that the convention needs to make it clear what is and is not acceptable. The vague policy of SDCC is clearly not cutting it. My hope is the Glanzer and the rest of the governing body of SDCC will wake up to the fact that they need to address this.

Until then, it is our job to keep expressing the need for these changes and doing everything in our power to move the culture in the right direction.

 

Fanboy News Network Episode 16

Fanboy News Network Episode 16

Comic movie and TV News

This episode

What Andy Serkis is doing on the set of the Avenger: Age of Ultron

Pre-buzz on Guardians of the Galaxy

What Dave Bautista did to get ready to play Drax

The Batman v Superman trailer at SDCC

The picture of Gal Godot as Wonder Woman

Why Gotham may not be that good an idea.

Buzz for the coming seasons of Arrow and The Flash.