Film Review: Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017)

Release Date: March 31st, 2017 (WonderCon)
Directed by: Sam Liu
Written by: Ernie Altbacker
Based on: The Judas Contract by Marv Wolfman, George Perez
Music by: Frederik Wiedmann
Cast: Stuart Allan, Taissa Farmiga, Brandon Soo Hoo, Jake T. Austin, Kari Wahlgren, Sean Maher, Christina Ricci, Miguel Ferrer, Gregg Henry, Meg Foster, David Zayas, Kevin Smith (cameo as himself)

Warner Bros. Animation, DC Entertainment, 84 Minutes

Review:

“They prepared well. Their reaction time is much better.” – Robin, “Robin, stop complimenting the bad guys.” – Nightwing

I don’t watch a lot of the animated films that DC Comics puts out but it was hard for me to not check out an adaptation of The Judas Contract, as it was a story I loved when I was reading Teen Titans as a kid in the ’80s. Granted, I haven’t read it since the ’80s but it was my introduction to one of my all-time favorite characters, Deathstroke.

And yes, Deathstroke is a big part of this, which was a big selling point for me.

This film starts with a sequence that sees Starfire meet the Titans for the first time. It then fast forwards to a time where she is in charge and Dick Grayson has been off being Nightwing for awhile. Dick comes back and works with this new version of the team. However, one team member is a spy for the villains of the story, one of which is Deathstroke.

I love how all of the characters were used in this and I also loved that there was a bit of profanity and a level of violence that lets you know that this isn’t a cartoon for kids. I guess this is the norm with a lot of the DC animated feature films now, which is kind of cool considering that I’m an adult that has grown up watching these characters for decades but am too old to really dig a Saturday morning cartoon at my age.

The voice acting was well done, the action was solid and the script was really good. You felt for these characters and their struggles.

You also get to see a cameo by Kevin Smith playing himself in the animated DC universe.

I was happy with this and am glad that I gave it a shot. Honestly, it’s made me want to check out some of the other animated features by DC.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Other recent DC Comics animated features.

TV Review: Bloodline (2015-2017)

Original Run: March 20th, 2015 – May 26th, 2017
Created by: Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, Daniel Zelman
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Tony Morales, Edward Rogers, James S. Levine
Cast: Kyle Chandler, Ben Mendelsohn, Linda Cardellini, Norbert Leo Butz, Jacinda Barrett, Jamie McShane, Enrique Murciano, Sam Shepard, Sissy Spacek, Katie Finneran, John Leguizamo, Andrea Riseborough, Chloë Sevigny, David Zayas, Beau Bridges, Mario Van Peebles, Mia Kirshner

KZK Productions, Sony Pictures Television, Netflix, 33 Episodes, 48-68 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This is a show that came highly recommended by several people. I put it off until now but picked it up just in time to binge through it and catch the final season as it debuted.

Bloodline is a show that is really up and down. It starts out a bit slow but builds towards something strong, compelling and powerful as the first season comes to an end.

The second season isn’t as good as the first and it is tough to sit through some of it, as it loses its pacing and doesn’t really seem all that interesting in resolving anything or bringing any sort of balance to the characters’ situations or them spiraling crazily out of control.

The third season suffers from multiple personality disorder. A big portion of the season deals with a trial where you expect there to be some real closure but there is none. Then the season ends and the show ends with still… no friggin’ closure.

Bloodline had the tagline of “We’re not bad people, but we did a bad thing.” In reality, they are all horrible people. There are a few good and innocent characters but they are all dragged down into the murky shit that is the lives and personalities of the main characters. The Rayburns are an awful family of awful people who are willing to do anything to anyone in an effort to play up appearances because the Rayburn name is apparently the equivalent to royalty in the Florida Keys.

The only really good character is the only one that actually starts out as a criminal. Danny, played by Ben Mendelsohn (most famous for being the baddie in Star Wars: Rogue One), is a great and dynamic character. You are never sure of what his motivations are but there is something redeeming about him, even if he does despicable things. By the end of the show, however, he is the least despicable member of his shitty family of fuck ups.

The big problem with the show is that you don’t like anyone and it makes it hard to care about any of them. Truthfully, I wanted to see justice for everything that they did but it never comes. The show ends in the most unsatisfying way and all the innocent people effected by these self-important assholes are left with nothing.

The show also ends on a cliffhanger but it is a weak cliffhanger because even though you are left guessing, after three seasons you know that truth and justice won’t prevail. With the Rayburns, self-preservation is their disease, even though all their attempts at it have disastrous results that ultimately ruin their lives anyway. This is a long drawn out story where no one learns anything or really evolves other than getting worse and worse.

To be fair, the acting is stellar and the cinematography is amazing as hell. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make a show all on its own. The writing dissolves as this show rolls on past its first season. Frankly, its a story that seems to be designed to torture the viewer, unless the viewer doesn’t have a moral compass or a burning desire to see justice prevail in the end.

It sounds like I’m coming down hard on the show but I didn’t hate it. I was mostly just annoyed by it and in the end, it all seemed pointless.

TV Review: Gotham (2014- )

Original Run: September 22nd, 2014 – current
Created by: Bruno Heller, Danny Cannon
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz, Zabryna Guevara, Sean Pertwee, Robin Lord Taylor, Erin Richards, Camren Bicondova, Cory Michael Smith, Victoria Cartagena, Andrew Stewart-Jones, John Doman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Morena Baccarin, BD Wong, James Frain, Jessica Lucas, Chris Chalk, Drew Powell, Nicholas D’Agosto, Michael Chiklis, Maggie Geha, Benedict Samuel, David Zayas, Cameron Monaghan, Richard Kind, Natalie Alyn Lind

Primrose Hill Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television, 66 Episodes (thus far), 42 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*originally written in 2015, near the end of season 1, plus additional updates written later.

I was going to wait until the end of the first season before reviewing this show, as I do with most new shows. I just can’t get that far and don’t think that waiting till the season ends will change my assessment. I’ve tried desperately to get this to work for me. I’ve tried a hell of a lot harder than most of my friends and Batman fans, who all gave up on this a long time ago. I saw some promise here and there but this show fails in just about every way. In short: it is pretty goddamned awful (*note: I no longer feel this way as revealed in the final update).

There are actually only a few things that this show has going for it but I’ll get to those shortly.

If you barely know anything about the Batman mythos and you find pleasure in watching mediocre cookie cutter detective shows, I can see where you might find this watchable. However, if you are a Batman fan and love and respect the franchise, this is a very painful experience.

On one hand, the producers are trying to spoon feed the audience with fan service in every episode but it is forced, poorly executed and unnecessary. In fact, it feels as if the producers read a couple Wikipedia articles about Batman and thought they had an intimate grasp. And the way they handle certain characters, goes to show that they don’t understand them at all.  At times it just feels like a cruel joke and it is Fox trolling the shit out of their audience.

For instance, Edward Nygma doesn’t need to speak in riddles every scene, Harvey Dent doesn’t need to display a split personality every other appearance, you don’t need to have constant Joker teases across multiple unrelated scenarios, you don’t need to show a little ginger girl playing with plants every time she’s on screen and Selina Kyle doesn’t need to parkour off of every object whenever she makes an entrance. I also don’t need to be reminded every five minutes about how Jim Gordon is a good cop and every other cop on the force is tainted by something. It is fucking overkill.

The acting is questionable, the writing is more often than not atrocious and despite the over abundance of horribly executed fan service, the show is just plain stupid on its own. It is an obvious attempt at being a cash cow and a ratings grabber and somehow it has worked in that regard, as it is coming back for a second season.

The whole premise of the show makes it a failure from the get-go.

To start, the worst part about most live-action superhero adaptations is the origin. The audience usually finds themselves roughing it through the early bits in an effort to get to the comic book action. Also, how many times has Batman’s origin been told? Now we are given a show that is an overly extended version of the lamest part of Batman’s tale. Who knows how long this could stretch: ten seasons, maybe? Hell, one has been enough.

The other main part of the show, is Jim Gordon trying to “save the city” and destroy corruption. Well, he’s doomed to fail because if he were to succeed, why would Gotham City need the Batman?

As far as characters, Bruce Wayne is okay and I like him being a little shit challenging authority and taking on the evil adults of his world but it isn’t enough to anchor a need for him on this show. Selina Kyle is awful and pretty much a caricature that just happens to look like a young Michelle Pfeiffer. The Poison Ivy character is unimportant and so far useless. All the villains who show up are poorly done and easily defeated. Barbara Kean is the worst character on television. Where did Renee Montoya go? Fish Mooney is sometimes great but mostly terrible. However, I don’t blame these actors, I blame the atrocious writing.

When it comes to positives, Robin Lord Taylor is amazing as the Penguin. In fact, at first, I hated that he was way too skinny to be the Penguin but he’s so good in the role that I don’t care. He is by far, the most interesting part of the show. Almost as good as Taylor is Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock. Then again, when isn’t Logue anything short of great? Ben McKenzie does a solid job as Jim Gordon and I do like Cory Michael Smith as Nygma, the man who will become the Riddler – even though the writers force riddles into every situation he finds himself in. Lastly, Sean Pertwee makes a fine Alfred Pennyworth and is my favorite live action incarnation of the character. Pertwee also looks a lot like his father in his older age and seeing him in action reminds me of the Third Doctor from the classic Doctor Who series.

The show is often times too distracted by its own mess and diverts away from characters with potential to focus on too many small parts in a machine that is too large for its own good. When the show is at its strongest is when the Penguin is on screen, Alfred is kicking ass or when it focuses more heavily on the crime families of Gotham City. The episodes pitting Sal Maroni against Carmine Falcone with a little Fish Mooney and the Penguin mixed in are the best that this series has offered up so far.

I still watch this show because I want to buy into it, I just can’t. The good parts keep me engaged but they are too far and few between. I don’t believe that the show will get better but there is enough good stuff to expand on and save it from being the generally uninteresting mess it is currently. But I probably won’t watch the second season on a weekly basis, as I do now. I’ll wait a year for it to be over with and then binge watch it over a weekend. If it picks up steam and corrects itself, consider me reinvested. If not, I’ll find better ways to spend my time.

Update:

Season 2 of Gotham has been infinitely better than the first. The shows is finding its footing and it now knows what it is trying to be. I like that it is creating its own world and veering away from being trapped by the expectations from an already established Batman mythos. The show is doing its own thing and honestly, at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce Wayne is killed off before even becoming Batman.

Update 2:

At the end of Season 3, the show has corrected a lot of its early mistakes.

Cameron Monaghan, who plays Jerome Valeska, who may or may not be the Joker but is probably the Joker, is the best version of Batman’s greatest villain I have ever seen in a live-action story. The kid is magnificent and really captures the magic of the comic book version of the legendary character better than anyone I have ever seen. Yes, he’s better than Heath Ledger and he has the same spirit as Mark Hamill who has voiced the character for decades.

Additionally, the show just becomes more interesting as it rolls on, even though it has some dumb plot threads. But when you don’t take this show seriously and just embrace its insanity, it works.

Most of the villains have evolved solidly, especially the Penguin and the Riddler. I also really liked the Mad Hatter story, as well as the plots that focus on Hugo Strange.

Gotham is far from a perfect show but it bounced back, in my opinion. It also works if you just take it for what it is and don’t try to force it into the box that is the already established comic book mythos. I see it now as an Elseworlds Tale, which is a title DC Comics gives to their stories that take place in different realities.

I’m glad I stuck with it as long as I did. For others who have, their dedication has paid off.