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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January 7, 2015

Digital Biscuit 2015

The Screen Directors Guild of Ireland today announced the full line-up for the third annual Digital Biscuit, which will feature a talk by writer/producer David Chase: creator of The Sopranos.

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Inspired by William Wellman’s 1931 James Cagney classic The Public Enemy and his own early years in New Jersey (which he’d previously touched on in The Rockford Files), Chase created the HBO series The Sopranos, the most financially successful series in the history of cable television. Chase will join Digital Biscuit as headline speaker to discuss his career as a director, writer and producer par excellence. Speaking about his forthcoming visit, David Chase said: “I’m delighted to come to Ireland, a place of great storytelling tradition, and look forward to exploring the future of stories at Digital Biscuit.” Chase joins Michel Gondry; director, screenwriter and producer of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Bruno Delbonnel; cinematographer for Amelie, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and Big Eyes; and Franklin Leonard; Film Executive and founder of screenwriting event The Black List; in this year’s line up of Digital Biscuit speakers.

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Digital Biscuit is an international film and technology forum that aims to foster innovation and collaboration in film and television production, and will take over Dublin’s Science Gallery from 28th–30th of January. Speaking about Digital Biscuit, SDGI director, Birch Hamilton said “Making a movie is one of the biggest creative collaborations between people that exists today. To truly be creative is to make connections with the people and world around us. With Digital Biscuit we are trying to enable the Irish film industry to improve its global position as a centre of creative and technological excellence. It is our hope that through Digital Biscuit groundbreaking new works will be made and new relationships formed between people in different disciplines. We are fortunate to have a global Brain Trust of leading experts in film, technology, finance, games, augmented reality, animation, software and hardware that have guided us in what I think is a really exciting line up for 2015.” That Brain Trust, entertainment industry leaders who act as ambassadors for Digital Biscuit, includes Damini Kumar (European Ambassador for Creativity & Innovation), Marie Schmidt Olesen (Commissioning Editor, New Danish Screen), and Nick Meaney (CEO at Epagogix).

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Guests at the Digital Biscuit launch today included Emmy and BAFTA award-winning director, Dearbhla Walsh (Roald Dahl’s Esio Trott), and Mads Damsbo and Lasse Andersen; who brought their innovative virtual reality experience The Doghouse from Denmark for a sneak preview ahead of its Irish Premiere at Digital Biscuit later this month. The launch also featured the latest Hexicam Aerials drone camera. Combining robots, remote control, and HD video, it is an extraordinary new piece of technology, which shoots in full HD whilst in flight. The three-day event will kick off with a special screening of Paul Thomas Anderson’s psychedelic surf noir Inherent Vice at the IFI (28 Jan, 8pm). Digital Biscuit is delighted to present the Irish Premiere of Is the Man who is Tall Happy?; an animated conversation with Noam Chomsky, directed by Michel Gondry (29 Jan, 6.30pm, IFI). Digital Biscuit will present a bigger than ever Kino Play programme of events and live demonstrations, including first-person virtual reality film for Oculus Rift –  The Doghouse, a self taping booth from Bow Street, and an Irish Film Board and Oxford University collaboration on a multi-sensory film and food experiment; led by Charles Spence,experimental psychology scientist at Oxford University.

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One of the most exciting events at Digital Biscuit will be 20 minute first-person virtual reality film installation for Oculus virtual reality headset, The Doghouse. The project uses this gaming technology to allow one story to be told from five different points of view at the same time. Sitting around a dinner table set for five people, you get a view inside the character, via a virtual reality headset, to see and hear what the actor experiences, sees and hears. The film was originally seen in 2014 at the Copenhagen Contemporary Art Centre as part of FOKUS video art festival. Digital Biscuit will be the first time that the film is shown in Ireland and its second European outing. Birch Hamilton said “We’re particularly thrilled to present this preview of The Doghouse, which until now has only been seen in Denmark and Switzerland. It’s like an advanced role playing game, and is an exciting development in the future of the moving image and technology.” The multi point-of-view film installation will be accessible at points over the three-day event. Producer Mads Damsbo and director Johan Knattrup will give talks about the project. The Science Gallery exhibition spaces will play host to many such demos of the latest must-have technology for the film and moving image industry.

For more information on the full programme and to book, visit www.digitalbiscuit.ie

Digital Biscuit | Speakers |

Writer, director and producer David Chase (The Sopranos); Writer, director and producer Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind); Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (Amélie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Big Eyes); Writer, director and novelist Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, The Borgias); Genevieve Dexter (IP financing expert and founder of Serious Lunch); Lizzie Gillett (Producer of climate change blockbuster, The Age Of Stupid); Franklin Leonard (Film Executive and founder of The Black List); Triona Campbell (Director of beActive Entertainment); Bobby Boermans (Creative Director of 2C Films); Sophia Stuart (Digital strategist, director and writer); Mads Damsbo & Johan Knattrup Jenson (Producer and Director of The Dog House – 20min virtual reality multi point-of-view film installation for Oculus Rift); Harry McCann (Founder of the Digital Youth Council); Prof. Charles Spence (Head of Crossmodal Research Laboratory, Oxford University); Mike Cockayne (Director, Writer & Producer of The Hardy Bucks); Dr Brian Vaughan (Lecturer in Digital Media, DIT); Shimmy Marcus (Creative director, Bow Street); Eibhlin Curley (Assistant Head of Enterprise, Local Enterprise Office Dublin); Casting director Maureen Hughes (The Butcher Boy, Love / Hate); Director and animator Anitti Haikala (Niko & The Way To The Stars, Little Brother, Big Trouble); VFX artist Glen Southern (Penny Dreadful); Cinematographer Owen McPolin (Penny Dreadful, Da Vinci’s Demons); VFX supervisor and producer Thomas Horton (Da Vinci’s Demons, The King’s Speech); Supervising visual colourist Peter Doyle (Edge Of Tomorrow, Big Eyes, Inside Llewyn Davis); Vocal coach Gerry Grennell (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Heart of The Sea, Thor: The Dark World). John Maguire (Film Critic, Sunday Business Post); Gavin Burke (Film Critic, Entertainment.ie); Karlin Lillington (Technology Journalist, The Irish Times); Andrew Kavanagh (CEO & Founder, Kavaleer Productions); Damini Kumar, (European Ambassador for Creativity & Innovation); Production designer Tom Conroy (Legend, The Vikings, The Tudors); Previsualisation Vincent Aupetit (Gravity, Thor: The Dark World); Donald Clarke (Chief Film Correspondent, The Irish Times); Tara Brady (Film Critic, The Irish Times).

Find out more at http://www.digitalbiscuit.ie/#!speakers/cee5

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