Gotham (2014) a pilot review

So I finally got to sit down and see the pilot episode of Gotham, the TV series whose focus is on a young detective James Gordon as he starts working for the Gotham City P.D. and, concurrently, Thomas and Martha Wayne are murdered and future Batman Bruce Wayne is left an orphan…

…and I thought it was “ok”.

Prequels to very popular works, in my opinion, are a tricky thing.  Let’s face it, audiences don’t want to see a young James Gordon going up against the crime syndicates, they want to see BATMAN.  They want to see the Dark Knight go up against the colorful villains.  If they want to see James Gordon, they’re perfectly happy to have him appear here and there and give Batman back up.  Otherwise, give us MORE BATMAN.

So that’s, in my opinion, what Gotham is up against.  Will audiences ultimately feel the story of Batman’s police sidekick in his “early years” be interesting enough to make us forget the fact that we’re not going to see Batman himself?  (Unless, of course, there’s a “very special” Halloween episode of Gotham the young Bruce Wayne dresses up in a costume eerily similar to the one he will wear as an adult)

In lieu of Batman, will we be interested in seeing the rise of the Penguin, the Riddler, and Catwoman?  Those three, along with a couple of other potential future Bat-villains (we did see a candidate for the role of the Joker, right?!) all appear in this pilot.  It is clear the writers behind this series scrutinized the comic book stories as there are plenty of very familiar names/characters to be seen, including the show’s co-star, one slovenly -and corrupt- detective Harvey Bullock.

As much as I admire the writers’ diligence in getting all these characters to the screen, I can’t help but wonder if there’s enough “there” there to keep me interested in watching.

Mind you, I believe it can be done, but perhaps the producers and writers should ignore the obvious path of exploring the “early” years of all those Batman villains and instead go for stories that feature unique and new characters.  After all, we know what’s eventually going to become of the Penguin, the Riddler, and Catwoman.  How about instead of dealing with them we’re shown interesting new villains.  Villains who in some ways are the prototypes for the better known Batman villains?

This way Detective Gordon could be shown succeeding in “cleaning up” the streets of Gotham, yet when he’s older a new wave of villains show up and these have to be dealt with by different means…

That could be interesting.

Regardless, I can’t say the single hour I spent with Gotham was a bust.  I’m certainly intrigued enough with what I saw to give it a little more time.  For now, we’ll see…

You know you’re curious…!

5 Things You Probably Never Knew About The Brady Bunch:

At this point in time, you probably have to be someone in and around my age to understand the whole “Brady Bunch” thing.  Like Star Trek and Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch was one of those shows that seemed to always be on in reruns somewhere and gaining popularity as time went on.

I suspect that now, with the overflow of new and interesting (and some not so interesting) TV shows and the relative dearth of actual TV broadcasted reruns (thanks to their availability through Netflix, Amazon, or DVD), shows like The Brady Bunch may be or will lose their cult status at some point in the future.

Still, it was interesting to see this list.  I wasn’t all that surprised to find that the show was originally at best a moderate ratings success, reaching only #34 in the Nielsen Ratings of programs on at the time (remember, back then you had only three main networks, PBS, and maybe another local station on the tube).  After all, the original Star Trek was a ratings loser as well, requiring considerable fan mail to even have a third season before being cancelled.

By the way, one thing that always intrigued me: What happened to the original spouses of Mike and Carol?

I’m thinking wood chipper.

Tipping point…

Driving home this morning under the threat of heavy rains -they arrived halfway to my destination- had me, for whatever reason, thinking about books I’ve read and authors I’ve enjoyed.

For someone who fancies himself an author, its funny to realize that I don’t tend to “follow” any authors out there, at least not slavishly.  I read what interests me and don’t what doesn’t.  Yet there was a time, up to even quite recently, that there were authors whose works I followed.

The first such author, really a ghost author, was “Franklin W. Dixon”, the pseudonym for the many writers of The Hardy Boys series of books.

These were the first actual “novels” I ever read as up to that time my primary source of reading entertainment was comic books, particularly those written by either Len Wein or Denny O’Neil.

After a few years of devouring every Hardy Boys novel I could get my hand on -and essentially reading the entire line!-, I turned to Nancy Drew and even The Bobbsey Twins books.

It was very shortly after I did so I grew tired of the sameness of the type of story presented in these three series.  I had reached a tipping point and no longer cared to follow what was until that point something so beloved.  (A few years back and if I were talking about TV series, we might have called it the “jump the shark” moment).

Part of what got me off the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew carousel was Vixen O3 by Clive Cussler.

I loved, loved, loved that book when I first read it.  So much so that I searched for and quickly read almost all the other books then available and written by Clive Cussler: Raise The Titanic!, The Mediterranean Caper, and Iceberg.  (I never found a copy of Pacific Vortex and therefore didn’t read it)  I found these books just as intriguing, though not quite as good, as Vixen 03.  I continued following Mr. Cussler’s output, but with diminishing interest.  Night Probe was only “ok” to my mind.  Same with Deep Six and Cyclops.  There was a fundamental “sameness” in the plots of these books, a feeling that Mr. Cussler was re-telling the almost exact same story but with a few minor differences.

And then came Treasure.

Ye Gods…

If I suspected a sameness in terms of plot in Mr. Cussler’s books, Treasure confirmed it.  Mr. Cussler’s novels, I realized, started in some distant (or not so distant) past, where a airplane/ship/train/whathaveyou is on what will turn out to be its final journey.  The doomed vessel’s cargo is something incredibly valuable…and dangerous.  The vessel sinks (usually) and is lost for a number of years.  We then fast forward to the very near future where intrepid Dirk Pitt and his crew uncover the lost item(s) in the lost vessel while battling bad guys intent on getting said cargo for their own nefarious reasons.

After Treasure, all interest in the works of Clive Cussler was gone.  Many, many years have passed since then and I know he’s written (and co-written) a number of books since that time so maybe he’s created some different types of stories.  If he has, I wouldn’t know as I’ve not given any of his books another look.

More recently, I found myself entranced with the works of author Michael Connelly.  His first several novels focused on L.A. detective and Vietnam veteran Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch.  The stories were fascinating in that there was an interesting continuity built in each new book.  We met recurring characters, lovers, and friends all the while our protagonist aged in real time.

Soon other major characters appeared and were featured in their own books.  I was particularly floored with the character of Terry McCaleb, featured in the novel (and Clint Eastwood movie) Blood Work, as well as Harry Bosch’s half brother Mick Haller, featured in several novels including The Lincoln Lawyer.

I was having a grand time reading each and every one of Mr. Connelly’s books until I reached his 2009 novel 9 Dragons.  After producing so many good to great novels, a bad one was to be expected, but 9 Dragons proved to be such a bad novel, in my mind, that it quite literally turned me off of Connelly and I haven’t read a book of his since.

I suppose if there’s a point to all the above it’s obvious: We can tire from things we once enjoyed, sometimes quite abruptly.

I suppose that thought came into my mind because as an author, I’m always trying my best to make sure my next work is as unique and interesting as I can make it.  I try not to stick to story “patterns” yet constantly worry that this could indeed happen.

It’s a balancing act and, despite losing interest in the works of the two people I mention above, I have no doubt they go through similar worries when they write their books.  Despite the romance associated with it, writing is not easy.

New David Bowie album…?

According to longtime David Bowie producer Tony Visconti we’re not all that far away from having another album from the legendary artist:

The article has a link to another article that is about a new “Best of” package being released by Mr. Bowie which will include, apparently, at least 2 new songs (depending on which version you get) and some songs from the aborted Toys album:

Interesting stuff.

So too is this debate published at between Simon Critchley and Rick Moody regarding Mr. Bowie’s 1979 album Lodger:

I like the title of their article, regarding the “Maddening” brilliance of Lodger.  This was/is a wild album, even for Mr. Bowie.  It was the last of the so-called Berlin Trilogy and many felt it was the weakest of the three albums (the other two being Low and Heroes).

Yet as with many David Bowie works, what at first may seem like a misfire or a lesser piece can, over time, grow in your estimation.  Apparently, this is what happened to the two debating the album.  They were big time Bowie fans who were let down with Lodger when it was first released.  Now, many, many years later, they find themselves enjoying the work and “understanding” it better than they did before.

Interesting stuff, if you’re into David Bowie!

Getaway (2013) a (mildly) belated film

I’ve noted before that as the years have passed, I’ve grown far more mellow regarding my opinion of films.  There used to be a time I was a ruthless critic and would search for, and find, the least little problem with any given film and expose it to the world (well, my friends), as if doing so somehow proved the “wonderful” film was anything but.

Yet today, I cut films a hell of a lot more slack.  I liked R.I.P.D., for christsakes!!!

But then along comes a movie that so misses its mark and so pisses me off that I can’t help but be enraged by the wasted opportunity, especially when said film starts off so well before going off the rails so completely.

Getaway is just such a film.

During its opening fifteen to twenty five minutes, this movie worked.  Having heard all kinds of bad things about this film, I was optimistic.  Perhaps the critics were wrong, and this film might turn out to be good.

And then Selena Gomez appeared and it all went downhill from there.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking Ms. Gomez as an actress.  Its just that she was horribly -and I mean horribly– miscast in this film.  There isn’t one second that passes where she looks like she belongs here.  For that matter, Ethan Hawke, who plays the movie’s protagonist, didn’t look all that great, either.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The film opens, as I said before, quite well.  We see a shadowy individual (it turns out to be Ethan Hawke) entering his apartment and realizing that a mighty struggle has occurred and that his wife is missing.  This man, we come to find, is named Brent Magma.


Brent -or should I call him Magma (come on, that name is a joke, right?!)- is to do what the caller says or his wife dies.  Magma (giggle) is sent to a parking garage and there he finds a super sweet silver colored Shelby Super Snake Mustang.  It is loaded with cameras and the mysterious caller tells Magma (really, that’s his name) that he is to steal this car and drive around and do what he tells him to.

Magma starts tearing through Bulgaria (did I mention that for some reason *coughcheaperfilmingexpensescough* he lives there?) with the police hot on his tail.  Turns out Magma was a professional circuit driver who washed out, so riding around in this screaming Mustang isn’t entirely out of his *ahem* wheelhouse.

So far, other than the weird setting and Magma’s name, all is well enough.

And then, during a stop from the mayhem, Selena Gomez’s “The Kid” appears.  That’s her character’s name.  Perhaps the film makes felt they had come up with such an awesome, senses shattering name with Brent Magma that there was no need to give Ms. Gomez’s character a name at all.

Anyway, The Kid opens the Mustang’s passenger door (Magma foolishly left it unlocked) waving a gun and demanding he give her back her car.

You read that right (oh, and by the way, SPOILERS!), this screaming Mustang is The Kid’s car!

Now, this is where the whole plausibility thing starts to really go out the window.  Again, I have no animus against Ms. Gomez, and I know she was roughly twenty years old when this movie was made…but she looks like she’s fourteen.  It was just as impossible to view her as a threat to Magma, even while awkwardly waving her gun, and even more impossible to accept that she is the owner of this super car.

Anyway, Magma’s caller insist he take The Kid along with him and the two, of course, form your typical movie “odd couple”.  They bicker, they insult each other, yet you know they’ll eventually work together to free Magma’s wife while destroying the lovely streets of Bulgaria.

I could go on, but reliving this film is starting to depress me.  Just how lazily scripted is this thing?  At one point the duo take out -and by take out I mean nuke– a power plant yet for the remainder of this film as they drive through the city at night and there isn’t any section they pass through that doesn’t have lights!  And don’t get me started on how much damage this Mustang takes yet keeps going, or that idiotic “twist” at the end of the film…oh and…

Did I mention I was getting depressed?

If you do find yourself watching this film, check out the extended one take shot toward the very end of the film.  It is a front mounted camera that is supposed to represent a POV from Magma’s Mustang as he chases after a Mercedes van.  This shot goes on for something like two minutes and delivers more thrills in that time than the rest of the film did in its other 88 minutes.

As bad as the film is -and it is quite bad- that scene alone almost makes what came before bearable.

Harper (1966) a (very) belated review

The 1960’s was a very, very good decade for actor Paul Newman.  Not that he didn’t appear in great films in other decades (he most certainly did), but he just seemed to be on a great roll during that decade, beginning with 1961’s The Hustler and ending with 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Along the way, he would also appear in such classics as Hud, Hombre, Cool Hand Luke, and, of course, Harper.

Based on the very first Lew Archer detective novel The Moving Target by Ross MacDonald, Harper featured Mr. Newman in the title role of Lew Harper (at the time, Mr. Newman was having so much success with movies that started with the letter “H” that he insisted Archer’s name be changed to Harper!).

Lew Harper, as played by Mr. Newman, is a deeply moral yet sarcastic man who is well aware he works and lives in a very amoral world.  As the movie starts, he’s on his way to the Sampson estate to meet Mrs. Sampson (Lauren Bacall echoing roles she used to play in her early noir days).  Her husband, Mr. Sampson, flew in from Las Vegas to L.A. the day before but is now missing and she wants Harper to find him.  Mrs. Sampson does little to hide her contempt for her husband, noting she’s certain he’s out on a drinking binge and/or shacked up with yet another of his mistresses.  All Mrs. Sampson wants is to get him back with a minimum of fuss.

After talking with Mrs. Sampson, Harper heads out to the estate’s pool area where he meets up with Miranda Simpson (the absolutely stunning Pamela Tiffin), a very hot to trot youngster, and Allan Taggert (Robert Wagner), the seemingly shallow “pretty boy” who drove/flew Mr. Simpson around and was the last to see him before his disappearance.

This is but the introduction to a labyrinth plot that involves…well, I don’t want to spoil it.  Suffice it to say that Mr. Simpson’s disappearance is anything but a drunken binge or a fling with a mistress and that by the time the film is done Harper will have exposed a host of sordid affairs…including murder.

When I first saw this film many years before, I was astonished by what I saw.  The film had me from the very beginning, with Newman’s Harper a real treat.  While he isn’t entirely true to the Archer character from the novels (I don’t recall him being quite that sarcastic), like the novels his character is a next generational Phillip Marlowe.  Indeed, if there is one critique that can be leveled on the Archer novels of Ross MacDonald it is that they are awfully similar to the works of Raymond Chandler.

Having said that, I still love almost all the novels I’ve read and Harper does a pretty damn good job of translating that particular novel to film.

Yet seeing it now, I came away aware of at least two negatives.  These negatives don’t torpedo the film, but they are things to consider.

The first problem the film has is that it is clearly of its time.  There are scenes in clubs which featuring some pretty godawful “hip” music that the young kids are dancing to.  These scenes scream 1960’s…and not in a terribly good way.

Another problem I have, a far smaller problem, is the inclusion of the great Janet Leigh in this film.  She plays Harper’s estranged wife and appears a total of three times in this movie (her role, it could be said, is nothing more than an extended cameo).  As much as I like Janet Leigh and especially like the scene where she and Harper have a phone conversation, I couldn’t help but feel her inclusion was unnecessary.  In the novels, Archer is described as having an ex-wife that he thinks about, but to my memory (and my memory being what it is, I could be completely wrong here), I don’t believe she ever appeared in any of the books.

That doesn’t mean she has no reason to appear in this movie.  Indeed, I’m guessing she was included here to try to “humanize” the character of Harper, to give us a look at him outside of the case itself.  But given the movie’s very robust plot and lengthy run time (the film clocks in at two hours and a minute), her scenes could easily have been cut without being terribly missed.  In my opinion a viewer will come away with a good understanding of what makes Harper even without the scenes featuring his wife.

As I said, these two points aren’t dealbreakers.  Harper remains an intriguing mystery which features a fun cast of characters.  If you enjoyed The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon, you should get a kick out of a 1960’s era attempt at recreating those classics.

Non-Stop (2014) a (mildly) belated review

It isn’t often a male actor gets beyond his fiftieth year of age only to quite suddenly find himself a leading action star.  Yet this is precisely what happened to actor Liam Neeson following his 2008 starring role in Taken.  True, he had appeared in plenty of action films before this, but it was his success in Taken that elevated him into this particular stratospheric level.

His roles since then have varied, some being more successful than others, but clearly Mr. Neeson has his eyes on scripts which feature “Taken“-like roles, including that movie’s sequel. Well, add to that particular list 2014’s Non-Stop, a film that finds Mr. Neeson playing Bill Marks, a burnt out, alcoholic U.S. Marshall assigned to flight duty who suddenly finds himself in the middle of all kinds of danger…all while traveling *ahem* non-stop from New York to London.

So, was the movie *ahem part deux* worth the ride?

Yes.  And no.

If you don’t have anything better to do and can put your brain in neutral while seeing Mr. Neeson in a leading action role…you should enjoy Non-Stop.  However, you have a low tolerance for a story that features waaaaay too many coincidences for it to work, then you may want to stay away.

The story goes as follows: We’re introduced to Mr. Neeson’s Bill Marks and an assortment of potential “suspects” in what is about to follow (very Agatha Christie of them).  Once the airplane he’s on departs, Marks receives text messages from someone claiming to be on board the plane.  That person tells Marks he will kill a passenger ever twenty minutes until $150 Million is wired to their account.

Naturally, Marks shows the messages to the crew, pilots, and a second Marshall (a backup who’s seated in the business class) but the various individual’s levels of concern vary.  Because of the route taken and the timing of the first message, the pilot informs Marks their first landing site is in Iceland and at least an hour away.

To say more would give away plot points, but suffice it to say that doubts start creeping into both the crew and the passengers as to Marks’ mental state.  Again, those coincidences I mentioned before play a role in some of what’s to come and soon people are wondering if there even is a hijacker…or if Marks is behind everything.

It gets awfully silly at times but on the plus side you have Mr. Nesson at the center of it all giving another pretty good performance.  Not his greatest (check out the way he delivers the movie’s final line to actress Julianne Moore.  He looked like he was having a hard time keeping a straight face at that point!), but not bad.

Anyway, there are far worse films out there, but the bottom line is that Non-Stop is yet another case of a movie that might have benefited tremendously from a little more work to its script.

U2 and Apple, redux

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18, King James Bible)

So its been a few days since Apple’s “big” event and the unveiling of the Samsung sized iPhones and the iWatch…er… Apple Watch and the thing that had me most interested, the free U2 album Songs of Innocence.

It is that latter part of the event that has many people -for the most part very amusingly- up in arms.  Witness, for example, the fact that the “uproar” from the free album’s release and auto-download to iTunes now has Apple offering instructions on how to remove it from your iTunes que:

According to Heather Kelly, the author of the above article, the lesson Apple learned was that not everyone likes U2 or wants their album, even if it is given away to them free.

The second point she makes, though, is the more salient one: even those who do (like U2) really don’t like it when you put music in their libraries without asking.

The Biblical quote offered at the beginning of this entry is somewhat appropriate to this situation, though I’ll be the first to say Apple’s “sin” is far from biblical in its importance.

A week or two ago one of the biggest tech issues involved the hacking of many very famous actress/models’ phones (iPhones all, it would appear) and the subsequent releases of their private, nude pictures.  Apple’s security took a big hit with this invasion of privacy, yet only days later the company decides it’s a good idea to release a free U2 album (I agree with them there) and an equally great idea to have it automatically download onto everyone’s iTunes (here comes trouble!).

For in “automatically” downloading this particular album to your computer, it feels like Apple, this time on its own and without the aid of a hacker, decided to intrude into your computer and give you a piece of entertainment, whether you wanted it or not.  In effect, they went one extra step too far and have suffered considerable derision for it.

It is astonishing that Apple took what should have been a huge positive (look, kids, we’re giving away a free album from a very big and popular band!) and made it a negative by delivering that content without your consent.

Weird times we live in!