TV Review: Gotham (2014-2019)

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, Anthony Carrigan, 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, Peyton List, Crystal Reed, Alexander Siddig

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.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: ‘The Evil Dead’ Film Series (1981-2013)

The Evil Dead film series is something I watch quite a lot. I probably have a mini-marathon about once a year or so. With the Evil Dead revival TV series making waves at Starz, I figured I’d rewatch the films again. I have had a strenuous few weeks with work, travel and helping people move. So I needed a nice relaxing weekend to veg out and soak in some good film watching. Well, what’s better than a series of classic horror comedies to get lost in for several hours?

The Evil Dead (1981):

Release Date: October 15th, 1981
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi
Music by: Joseph LoDuca
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker, Sarah York

Renaissance Pictures, New Line Cinema, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Thank you. I don’t know what I would have done if I had remained on those hot coals, burning my pretty flesh.” – Shelly

If you have never seen the original The Evil Dead, then you have done yourself a disservice.

First off, this film introduced the world to Bruce Campbell – one of the greatest horror icons of all-time and a good actor who has the comedic timing and presence of some of Hollywood’s greatest comedians.

Secondly, it introduced the world to director Sam Raimi – a man who has gone on to make some pretty amazing films, the most notable (after the Evil Dead trilogy) being Spider-Man 2. We’ll ignore Spider-Man 3.

The Evil Dead follows some friends who go to a cabin in the woods, a formula that wasn’t redundant at the time. There they discover an evil book and some tape recordings that release some demonic evil on the group. Their horrible misfortune becomes our violent, frightening yet very hilarious entertainment. Never has a film offered up so much disturbing dread and still nailed it with comedy. Well, except Evil Dead II.

The most amazing thing about this film is that it was well below even being low budget. I don’t think there was really any budget at all and that is where the filmmaking skill of the young Raimi came through. He was able to create a world full of high quality practical effects for next to nothing. Filmmaking like this is truly a lost art for the most part. The Evil Dead is a standard bearer of what can be done when money is non-existent but passion far exceeds limitations.

Rating: 8/10

Evil Dead II (1987):

Release Date: March 13th, 1987
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi, Scott Spiegel
Music by: Joseph LoDuca
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley, Richard Domeier

Renaissance Pictures, Rosebud Releasing, Embassy Communications, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, Palace Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Groovy” – Ash Williams

Evil Dead II is an interesting follow-up to the original. The first ten minutes are a condensed loose remake of the first film while the following hour and fifteen minutes continue where that story left off.

This film is superior to the first in that there is a slightly higher production value and that allowed Sam Raimi’s ingenuity to be that much better. They still had a shoestring budget but that extra cash improved the look of the practical effects, as well as the sets, costumes and overall use of gore. Everything was more refined and cleaner than its predecessor.

From a story standpoint, this is the strongest of the films. It is also the fan favorite, as it is the quintessential Evil Dead movie. It is bookended with a rehash of the first film and the introduction to the world of the third film. It is a perfect bridge, tying the trilogy together. As the centerpiece of the three films and adapting elements of each chapter, this one also allows the tale to evolve the most and it plays like The Empire Strikes Back of this gore-filled, hilarious horror trilogy.

Evil Dead II is everything that made the first film great but done more masterfully. It is an amped-up successor that is one hell of an insane ride.

Rating: 9.25/10

Army of Darkness (1992):

Release Date: October 9th, 1992
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi
Music by: Joseph LoDuca, Danny Elfman
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz

Renaissance Pictures, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, Universal Pictures, 81 Minutes (US), 88 Minutes (International)

Review:

“Alright you Primitive Screwheads, listen up! You see this? This… is my boomstick! The twelve-gauge double-barreled Remington. S-Mart’s top of the line. You can find this in the sporting goods department. That’s right, this sweet baby was made in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Retails for about a hundred and nine, ninety five. It’s got a walnut stock, cobalt blue steel, and a hair trigger. That’s right. Shop smart. Shop S-Mart. You got that?” – Ash Williams

The third film isn’t even called Evil Dead. It also takes the most liberty of all three of the original films, as it deviates from the environment established over the course of the first two chapters – bringing our hero into the Middle Ages where he must find a way back home while combating the evil forces once again unlocked by the evil book, the Necronomicon.

This film is the least terrifying and has the most comedy. Although, it is still dark, twisted and can be frightening at times. It is also the only one that I saw in the theater when it came out, as I was too young and unaware of these films when the previous ones were released.

Where Evil Dead II is the quintessential Evil Dead movie, Army of Darkness is the quintessential Bruce Campbell movie. Never has he been better and more bad ass. By this point, Campbell was really comfortable with the role and played it so naturally, that he and Ash Williams have become one. He’s tough as nails, even more hilarious and this is probably where audiences most fell in love with him.

The Middle Ages setting is refreshing and gave this series a much needed curveball while still being true to the heart and spirit of the great films before it.

Rating: 7.5/10

Evil Dead (2013 remake):

Release Date: March 8th, 2013 (SXSW)
Directed by: Fede Álvarez
Written by: Fede Álvarez, Rodo Sayagues
Based on: The Evil Dead by Sam Raimi
Music by: Roque Baños
Cast: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore, Bruce Campbell (post-credits cameo)

Ghost House Pictures, FilmDistrict, TriStar Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Mia’s not here, you fucking idiot! Your little sister’s being raped in Hell!” – Mia

The remake isn’t really a remake but more of a retelling that happens in the same universe to a different group of people. While it takes certain liberties to differentiate itself from the original films, each film in the original series also found ways to deviate from the established plot. It may be hard to figure out where this fits exactly but that isn’t much different from how the second film fits with the first, as it treads the same water but alters the original’s back story.

This film is the first to not be directed by Sam Raimi, although he produced it, oversaw its production and gave it his blessing. Also, the addition of Bruce Campbell in a cameo after the credits adds credence to the film.

Evil Dead is different in tone in that it focuses a lot more on horror and is truly terrifying from start-to-finish. The cinematography is top notch, the acting is better than one would typically get in a horror film and the characters are mostly likable. Plus, this film had a nice budget.

Compared to the original trilogy, this film isn’t as good. Compared to modern horror, it could very well be a masterpiece. It isn’t some PG-13 CGI fest with nothing but jump scares and irritating teenagers. In a sea of “found footage” horror schlock, this movie is refreshing and kind of groundbreaking. It doesn’t really give anything new to the genre, it just reinvigorates it and reminds us of what true cinematic terror can be.

I like this film a lot, as I have been a huge horror fan my entire life and this, at least, sets itself apart from the mediocre shit that modern horror has become.

Rating: 7/10