Talking Movies

September 28, 2016

So long, and unthanks for all the Fish

It’s been a very long wait for RTE 2 to screen season 2 of Gotham, and that might say much about the state of popular opinion towards the misfiring show.

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The first season of Gotham arrived with much more fanfare in January 2015, down to the WB organising a cinema screening of the pilot which I covered for HeadStuff.org. On the big screen Gotham’s cold open was undeniably arresting, tracking a teenage Selina Kyle (Carmen Bicondova) across the rooftops of the absurdly begargoyled city until she happened upon a certain dark alleyway just in time for murder of the Waynes. Catwoman’s presence intriguingly made Batman’s formative trauma a random incident in someone else’s life. But showrunner/writer Bruno Heller and director Danny Cannon also upped the gore, and salvaged the now-pardoic crane swoop by young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) not giving the expected “NOOOOO!!!” but an ear-splitting pre-pubescent shriek.

It would be cruel to say it was all downhill from there, but not entirely untrue. Danny Cannon and director of photography David Stockton had previously brought Nikita to TV on the CW, but Gotham is on Fox, and from the beginning lacked the slick coherence of a CW show. The pilot was all about the young James Gordon (Ben McKenzie), starting work at Gotham PD as the new partner of corrupt Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). They bungled investigating the Waynes’ murder, and got investigated by Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) and Crispus Allen (Andrew Stewart-Jones), who already disliked Bullock because of his deal-making friendship with mobster Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith). Gordon felt compelled (perhaps by the dramatic imperative) to promise Bruce and his guardian Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) that he would throw away his badge if he didn’t solve the case. But with the squirrelly behaviour of his fiancé Barbara Kean (Erin Richards), the obvious madness of his CSI Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), and the menacing warnings of his father’s old acquaintance Don Carmine Falcone (John Doman), it was questionable if Gordon would live long enough to throw away his badge a la Dirty Harry…

But that set-up promised a clear path of plot that Heller simply did not possess. Montoya’s presence on the show became increasingly sporadic and tokenistic until eventually she and Allen simply disappeared from the story, while Barbara’s lost little rich girl antics were worthy of Smallville at its very worst, and eventually an extended hiatus produced the desperate gambit of bringing in Milo Ventimiglia as a serial killer for a short and trumpeted mini-arc to give the show some semblance of purpose as it staggered toward the finishing line. Reviewing Gotham‘s pilot I said there was to much to like: specifically the look of Nolan’s Gotham having Gothic elements added to it, Pertwee’s tough Alfred, Logue’s amiably shady Bullock, and Doman’s revelatory avuncular Falcone – the force for order against the chaos enveloping Gotham. There were further praiseworthy elements as the season progressed, the outre villainy of the Balloon Man serial killer felt like it stepped from the pages of early 1990s Batman comics, a flashback heavy episode in which Bullock faced off against the same possibly supernatural murderer at either end of a decade felt like late 1980s Grant Morrison Batman material, and the siege of GCPD in which Gordon was left alone to face off against a team of assassins led by Victor Zsasz was stirring enough to be Nolan-worthy.

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But this is not a show about Gordon and Bullock fighting weird crime, and more’s the loss. It’s a show about…

Well, what is it about?

The adventures of the young Bruce becoming Batman at the unusually young age of say 15 at the end of season 3? No.

Well, maybe, after all don’t forget the cliffhanger finale of Bruce discovering, deep sigh, his father’s Batcave; in a transparent riff on the LOST season 1 finale, despite the fact that finale enraged people.

The adventures of young Bruce meeting literally everyone he will meet again ‘for the first time’ 17 years later when he dons the cape at the age of 29? No.

Well, sort of. I accused Heller of having a veritable ‘Where’s Wally?’ of future super-villains: Riddler, Penguin, Catwoman, Ivy. He then added in Joker for good measure, and Colm Feore’s Dollmaker, as well as lumbering under the lamentable weight of Fish Mooney, a placeholder original villain, twirling her extravagant nails to hide lack of actual character.

The adventures of all of Batman’s supervillains sans the Bat but with Gordon, in a move worthy of Hamlet without the Dane? No.

Well, yes, that’s sort of where this is all heading. But as ever, only sort of. Gotham’s split focus has been its downfall. Gordon and Bullock are never allowed to do their thing, instead we have to head off and agonise over Barbara’s latest idiocy, or check in on the budding romance of Bruce and Selina; mixing tortured romance with grittier crime procedural as if Heller is confused as to both genre and what network he’s on. But this problem; that Gotham is trying to be about four different shows at once, failing in its whirling dervish act to dance between four stools, and giving everyone a nosebleed into the bargain; is in the ha’penny place to the real flaw bedevilling the show – some of the very worst writing since Smallville‘s lowest points.

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It was hard reviewing Anthropoid a few weeks ago not to make a connection between it, Green Room, and Gotham. The connection to be traced between them goes to the heart of why Gotham rapidly became a chore to watch. Anthropoid saw Nazis take a hammer to a violinist’s hand to break him in interrogation; they’re Nazis, that sort of cruelty is their way. Green Room saw Neo-Nazis take a machete to a guitarist’s hand to break a siege; they’re Neo-Nazis, they want their gun back so they can kill the band. Gotham saw The Penguin take charge of breaking up a romance to curry favour with a possible crime partner. The problem was a musician. As soon as the word ‘musician’ was mentioned you knew what was coming next. A beating doesn’t work on the guy, so Penguin steps in with some handy hedge-clippers, “He’s a musician, lose the fingers.” And the director obliged with a huge close-up of a bejewelled severed finger hitting the ground as the editors debated which to make louder, the scream of agony or the satisfying plop sound. It’s not just that it’s part of a wider problem with the violence on Gotham, which we’ll get to, but as with so much of Penguin’s psychopathy it doesn’t really make any sense. What exactly happened next? Something like this?

INT.ITALIAN PIZZA PLACE-NIGHT.

THE GIRL is looking at her watch, and looking out the window. Where is her boyfriend musician already? Her cellphone rings.

GIRL: Where the hell are you?

MUSICIAN: (O/S) (muffled voices in background) We should break up.

GIRL: What? Why? What’s that sound?

MUSICIAN: (O/S) I’m in the hospital.

GIRL: Oh my God! That’s horrible. Which one? Gotham General? I’ll come now. Why are you in the hospital?

MUSICIAN: (O/S) Someone cut off my fingers.

GIRL: Oh my God! Oh my GOD! Will you still be able to play the guitar?

MUSICIAN: (O/S) Of course I won’t be f****** able to play the f******guitar! THEY CUT OFF MY F****** FINGERS!!

GIRL: (sobbing) Oh God! Who? Why? Baby, why would anyone do such a horrible thing to you?

MUSICIAN: (O/S) I don’t know. I forgot to ask them as they took away my identity and career with a hedge clippers. But in totally unrelated news, babe, totally unrelated, I think we should break up.

This is the kind of nonsense that drove Smallville into inanity; that you could watch Lex bump someone off, and just wonder ‘Why on earth did he do that?!’ Gotham has fallen into the LOST trap of inserting Quentin Tarantino’s ‘really bitching torture scene’ whenever they run out of dramatic oomph and can’t be bothered to let conflict grow organically from characters. A sort of amped-up version of Raymond Chandler’s dictum that you have a guy with a gun walk into the room whenever you get stuck in your writing. It is of course, if done week after week, scene after scene, incredibly lazy writing. It makes things predictable despite the aim being to make things unpredictable: ‘psychopaths be crazy’ and all that. When you just ping pong from hideous double-cross to hideous double-cross, with bodies and eyeballs flying everywhere it actually becomes tiresome, and the cumulative effect is to make the whole show faintly ridiculous. All the maneuvering between Penguin, Fish, and Falcone to be King of Gotham Crime seemed like a pantomime via the Grand Guignol. At times, such as Fish’s imprisonment on Dollmaker’s island laboratory, you could literally fast-forward through the action without missing anything so poor was the dialogue and telegraphed the action. And that is to say nothing of the outrageous gore that Heller seemed in love with; Catwoman gouging out a goon’s eyes in the 2nd episode, Penguin maiming and killing half Gotham and environs, Fish gouging out her own eye to spite Dollmaker, and, in a Smallville moment, Dollmaker responding to that by giving his inept henchman an unwanted sex change and granting Fish a new eye because… Um, because that’s what was written down in the script.

The exhausted retirement of Falcone in the finale almost serves as a metaphor for the audience. We did at least get to see Fish being dropped off a large building to allow Penguin have his “Made it Ma! Top of the World!” moment, but how a show run by experienced people could’ve misjudged everything that led to the point quite so hugely is baffling. I don’t know if a radical shake-up like James Cameron and Charles H Eglee gave Dark Angel season 2 can redeem Gotham, but let’s see if having got rid of its most annoying original character it can start to become a bit more sensible.

Gotham season 2 starts on RTE 2 at the less than desirable time-slot of 10.55pm today.

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May 11, 2016

Green Room

Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier follows up the succes d’estime of his second feature, 2013 revenge thriller Blue Ruin, with an equally visceral assault on mainstream horror.

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The Ain’t Rights wake up in their tour van to find they’re out of gas and off the road. Pat (Anton Yelchin) and Sam (Alia Shawkat) cycle to a parking lot to siphon gas. Rescuing the stranded Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner) they head to a disastrous afternoon gig after which apologetic DJ Tad (David W Thompson) sets them up with a backwoods gig for gas money. They are troubled to find a certain neo-Nazi vibe there, and so naturally lead off with a provocative Dead Kennedys number. But when they walk offstage to find Amber (Imogen Poots) and Werm (Brent Werzner) standing over the dead body of Emily (Taylor Tunes) in the green room, provoking neo-Nazis goes from a risky proposition to a lethal one as Gabe (Macon Blair) imprisons them, waiting for supremo Darcy (Patrick Stewart)…

Green Room recalls 2008’s Eden Lake. Saulnier’s writing and directing are spare and taut and the shlock horror practical FX are exemplary. Eden Lake was an equally superb technical achievement that belied its small budget and announced James Watkins as a notable talent. Reviewing Eden Lake, however, I couldn’t think of a single reason to recommend watching it. It was horror without humour, without the supernatural, without hope or relief; horror that could actually happen, and to you. Green Room is an equally plausible nightmare. You are stapled to your chair by dread and tension, even though there is humour in Macon’s nice guy thug, and the band’s agonising over their Desert Island Discs picks. Stewart is a gruff presence but Poots steals the film with the best lines (“Madonna. … And Slayer”) and a casual facility with extreme violence.

Green Room is not an easy watch. Once Big Justin (Eric Edelstein) is insinuated into the green room to guard the band the clever edits, memorable imagery, and character moments of touring musicians become a distant memory. Dogs rip out throats, box-cutters slice open stomachs, heads explode with shotgun blasts, arms are broken asunder, and a Gotham-aping mutilation occurs. This is where the lack of supernatural or glee becomes a problem. The Kingslayer losing his sword-hand for acting morally in Games of Thrones horrifies in a way that Ash losing his hand in Evil Dead 2 does not, not only because of differences in overall tone but also because it’s his self-definition. Saulnier goes grand guignol gross-out on the mutilation, then backpedals on its life-altering horror by visually covering it up, as if belatedly concerned it’s excessive enough to distract.

Green Room is undeniably an indelible cinematic experience, but not one that will leave fond memories. We await Saulnier’s impending MR James adaptation Red Rune with an awed anticipation.

3/5

January 28, 2016

ADIFF: 2016

The Audi Dublin International Film Festival launched an impressive 14th programme today, featuring over 80 films from 27 countries, which will welcome over 40 guests to the capital over this 11 day celebration of film.

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Bookended by highly anticipated Irish films, the Festival will open on Thursday 18th February with the European premiere of Sing Street, attended by director John Carney and cast members Jack Reynor, Ferdia Walsh Peelo and Lucy Boynton, and closes on Sunday 28th February with director Paddy Breathnach’s stunning Viva. Stars Dublin bound this February for the days in between include Richard Gere, Rebecca Miller, Angela Lansbury, Claudia Cardinale, Neil Jordan, Ben Wheatley, Killian Scott, and  David Hare.

 Speaking at the Programme Launch, Festival Director Gráinne Humphreys said:

“This year’s Festival is a Valentine to Cinema, celebrating world and Irish film, and championing the work of both established and emerging talent. With a guest list that includes Richard Gere, Angela Lansbury, Claudia Cardinale, David Hare, Ben Wheatley, Serge Bromberg, Joachim Trier, Margarethe Von Trotta, Rebecca Miller and many, many more. It’s a programme to savour and I hope that our audiences find much to enjoy and love.”

 

Humanitarian and screen icon Richard Gere will attend the Arnotts Gala screening of Time Out of Mind, joining a host of stellar guests including legendary acting talents Claudia Cardinale, who will attend the Italian Gala with Peroni Nastro Azzurro, and Angela Lansbury, alongside acclaimed directors Rebecca Miller with her comedy Maggie’s Plan, Ben Wheatley with his JG Ballard adaptation High Rise, Joachim Trier with Louder than Bombs, and Neil Jordan for the 20th anniversary celebration of Michael Collins.

The Festival is delighted to announce a brand new Fantastic Flicks season of family films, featuring classics such as Beauty and the Beast, exciting studio animations Kung Fu Panda 3 and Zootropolis, the hilarious live action Antboy films from Denmark, Norwegian drama Brothers, and Simon Fitzmaurice’s life-affirming My Name is Emily.

ADIFF will showcase international award-winning cinema including Golden Globe winner Mustang, Cannes Grand Prix winner Son of Saul, London Film Festival Best Film winner Desierto, Berlin International Film Festival Best Feature winner Nasty Baby, and Miguel Gomes’ multi-award-winning Arabian Nights trilogy. In addition there are Irish premieres of the Coen brothers’ Hail Caesar!, Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa, Toronto International Film Festival opener Demolition, Jaco Van Dormael’s hilarious Brand New Testament, and the soon to be cult crime/horror Green Room.

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The strength of Irish film is evident throughout the programme: Irish premieres of Rebecca Daly’s Mammal, Declan Recks’ The Truth Commissioner, and debut features Staid, and Traders starring Killian Scott. Thought provoking Irish documentaries will investigate people and place – Johnny Gogan’s Hubert Butler: Witness to the Future, Atlantic from the makers of The Pipe, an exploration of Irish poetry Fís na Fuiseoige, the story of Irish missionary ‘deserters’ The Judas Iscariot Lunch, and Reel Art documentaries Further Beyond and We Are Moving – Memories of Miss Moriarty. The Festival continues to champion Irish filmmakers with the Discovery Award, which seeks to encourage new and emerging talent by selecting 15 filmmakers from actors to directors, producers and writers to profile and support.

The marriage of film and music runs throughout the Festival, from Miles Ahead, the documentary celebrating the legendary Miles Davis, to Agnieszka Smoczynska’s genre defying ‘musical horror’ The Lure. There are also a number of special events: Oscar winning composer Jan A. P. Kaczmarek presents a seminar on Composing for Film, while film preservationist Serge Bromberg returns to the Festival with a new live score to accompany a screening of Buster Keaton.

One of the Festival strengths is discovering exciting new films from around the world and bringing the filmmakers to Dublin to discuss their work. This year there are gems from Romania with guests director Tudor Giurgiu in Dublin with his legal thriller Why Me, and Lucile Hadžihalilovic with her beautiful Évolution, Margarethe Von Trotta’s meditation on sisterhood The Misplaced World, and Michal Rogalski to discuss his coming-of-age drama Summer Solstice.

Special events throughout the Festival include industry masterclasses, seminars on wide ranging topics from scriptwriting to adapting texts, capturing history on film to festival programming. The Festival literally goes global this year with an innovative and very special outreach programme, Dublin Here, Dublin There, that will see the Festival short film programme screened in towns and villages in the US that share the name Dublin! Audi Dublin International Film Festival will celebrate Stills photography with a fascinating exhibition by Festival photographer Pat Redmond in the beautiful setting of the Irish Georgian Society.  Pat Redmond, 25 Years is a captivating gallery of the many world-class filmmakers who have attended the Festival. There will also be a #SetLife exhibition in The Light House Cinema, illuminating images of the inner workings and special moments that happen behind the camera.

Richard Molloy, Head of Marketing at Audi Ireland, said:

“It’s fantastic to launch the Audi Dublin International Film Festival programme. The depth, variety and diverse nature of the 2016 programme demonstrate why this festival is one of the most important cultural events in Ireland. The programme encourages visitors to experience the best in film-making. We’re really excited to bring ADIFF, and the Audi brand, to a wider audience and engage with some of the world’s most talented actors and filmmakers. Both Audi and the Dublin International Film Festival share a drive for creativity and innovation, as well as an enduring passion for the art and craft of filmmaking.”

 

Audi Dublin International Film Festival Box Office

DIFF House

13 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1

Opening Hours: Mon to Sat 10am–6pm, Sun (from 18th Feb) 12pm–6pm

There will be pop-up box offices in place at each venue from 30 minutes prior to each screening

Phone: 01 687 7974

Email: info@diff.ie

Website: www.diff.ie

 

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