Lessons From…Gotham (SE3 “The Last Laugh”)

Admittedly, season one of the Gotham series was a bit lackluster for me. It just didn’t seem to really know what it wanted to be and was basically all over the place. Frankly, I wasn’t sure that I was going to keep up with the show, but I am a Batman fan, so slap that bat logo on something and I will watch. Season two seems to be more concise and sure of itself. It is still far too early to tell if it is actually a good show, but so far it appears to be better than its previous season. Part of this improvement, in my humble opinion, has to do with upping the insanity and quality of the villains. There were several prominent villainous figures up to the third episode of the current season, “The Last Laugh,” and the emerging villains and few heroes all share one common element which is the focus of this post. As always SPOILERS ahead.

The episode centered on the next phase of Theo Galavan’s, the newest big bad of Gotham, master plan for controlling the city of Gotham. After breaking free six demented psychopaths from Arkham Asylum and allowing them free reign and destruction to their black hearts’ content. He has already lost a few of his make shift crew, but the plan keeps chugging along with the de facto leader of the self prescribed and named MANIAX, Jerome Valeska (Gotham‘s proto-Joker) taking center stage of a hostage situation. All the key players of Gotham end up involved: Jim Gordon, Jerome, Bruce Wayne, and Theo Galvan. The ultimate result is expected and, honestly, not entirely necessary because the real meaning is what happens after the hostage situation is resolved and what these four central figures have in common; legacy.

Basic Oedipus rule: You want to achieve greatness, kill your dad.

Basic Oedipus rule: You want to achieve greatness, kill your dad.

Jerome wants to be famous. He wants Gotham, and the world, to know his name and to fear him. He will do anything and everything to achieve this singular goal. Jerome breaks into Gotham Police’s Headquarters and kills the commissioner along with several officers. He murders his own father in cold blood to further Galvan’s agenda. And he has no issue with killing an innocent child, Bruce Wayne, simply because of boredom and orders. Jerome is insane, but he basically wants to leave a legacy behind him. He wants to be remembered beyond his years so that generations say his name. And according to the episode’s end, his wish may actually be granted. He is not the only one who is concerned with how history will remember him.

Theo Galvan believes that the city and citizens of Gotham have done him and his family a great disservice and insult. His family, according to him, built Gotham, yet they have no recognition for their efforts. Galvan feels that his family should stand alongside the great families of Gotham like the Waynes and Keans. Like Jerome, Theo has no qualms about getting his hands dirty to achieve his family’s redemption and secure his own legacy as savior, protector, and creator of Gotham. Hell, he broke out crazy murderers and is responsible for the capture, detainment, and murder of several prominent political and social leaders. Galvan’s want his name to be in the minds and memories of Gotham’s citizens forever. He wants to etch his name into its skyline alongside Wayne. Really, he wants to eradicate every other prominent family and rise above them. It is the only thing that matters to him. The world can crumble as long as he gets to stand on the ashes, or at the very least his name is whispered and revered by the survivors.

Yup that's the face of comic book villain. I can just here him monologuing...

Yup that’s the face of comic book villain. I can just here him monologuing…

James “Jim” Gordon is the only police respondent to the hostage situation orchestrated by Theo and Jerome. He is also, at this point, the only positive force in the Gotham Police. Gordon is a former soldier who just wants to do a good job and have a positive impact on his city. He (in this continuity) was born and raised in Gotham and believes that it can be a great and safe city again. This is his driving mission. He will risk his life, love, safety, and sanity to make his vision of a safe and thriving Gotham a reality.

These three individuals all have different, and at times conflicting, but interconnected goals. Most of all, they are simply concerned with their individual legacies. One wants infamy, one wants power, and one wants salvation, but all want nothing more than to leave something behind that masses will remember.  However, the world and path they walk is not a secure one and will most likely end in death, so like all great individuals they need to create a legacy that will survive them. It is the most any of us can hope for, but we also need to ensure that our legacies are worth remembering. In this respect, James is the only one that can truly succeed because his vision is concerned with people while Galvan’s and Jerome’s are concerned with buildings and fear. People will always live on and through them it will be how we continue on and perhaps achieve a sense of immortality and legacy.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

 

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On Critiques

I have written about this before, but seems like it bears repeating/reexamination. YOU CAN CRITIQUE THE SHIT YOU SEE/HEAR/READ WITHOUT HATING, CONDEMNING, OR SUGGESTING ITS INFERIORITY. IN FACT, AS A GROWN ASS ADULT, YOU SHOULD DO THIS WITH EVERYTHING!!!!!!!

Seriously, WHAT THE EVER LOVING FUCK is wrong with people?!? When did fandom and attachment to the media we consume become this huge defining fixture that must be guarded and defended at all costs? And this is coming from a media obsesses nerd who has hour long debates as to the best Batman representation…on multiple occasions. And I am aware that even so, someone disagreeing with my opinion or saying something, legitimately negative or critical, about  my preferred media is not that big a deal or issue, especially if their criticism is valid.

Why is that so difficult to understand and accept?! Critiques of stuff you like have no bearing on you as a person/individual. Hell, your reaction to someone criticizing your preferred media says far more about you than the critique itself.

Look enjoy what you watch/hear/read and if someone criticizes it, either ignore it or come up with a better rebuttal. Otherwise, shut up and just keep enjoying your shit. It’s not that hard. Later dayz.

Lessons From…Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird On the Internet (Almost)

So, if you are reading this, there is 99.99% chance you know who Felicia Day is. If not, here. Now that that is taken care of, I recently finished her stellar book You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). There isn’t any specific section that can be removed and examined more closely since it is all necessary to understanding the narrative and intended message of the text.

Accordingly, I will recommend that you read the entire book and gleam what you can and must. I will however leave this small excerpt in hopes of enticing you further:

feliciadaybookexcerpt

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

Lessons From…Batman: The Animated Series

A few years ago, my friends gifted me seasons 1 & 2 of Batman: The Animated Series for my birthday. They know me very well because this television show is, in my honest opinion, quite frankly one of the best programs ever to have been put on television.

Yeah, it was the 90’s, so maybe the animation isn’t up to your modern standards, but trust me when I emphasize the amazing awesomeness of this show. It was a great Batman iteration with legitimately well crafted, fully realized characters and interesting, complex narratives. You must see this program before you die, and after re-watching a few episodes this weekend felt like writing on it. As always SPOILERS ahead.

Almost wish I could do this to myself to rewatch the incredible Batman: Animated Series again with no info.

Almost wish I could do this to myself to rewatch the incredible Batman: Animated Series again with no info.

So modern pop culture has been inundated of late with various variations of Batman, most notable the blockbuster Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy. But most of the interpretations tend to be hyperbolic and utterly without nuance focusing on the violence, toys, or seeming insanity of the character. For some reason, the animated series have always done a better job of truly exploring the Batman and his world than the films or live action franchises.

Not a lot of nuance in Christian *gravely voice "Swear to Me"* Bale.

Not a lot of nuance in Christian *gravely voice “Swear to Me”* Bale.

The best part of any superhero is the rogue’s gallery, aka the villains that are truly considered the greatest enemies that the hero faces. For Superman his rogue’s gallery consists of Darkseid, Lex Luthor, etc. For Wonder Woman, Morgana, Ares, etc. would make up her arch nemeses. For Batman, the obvious choices are the Joker, Bane, Two-Face, Catwoman, etc. However, what really makes worthy villains and enemies is when they go beyond simple caricatures and inform the audience and public about the true nature of the hero. This is never more apparent than when examining the villains and rogues of the Batman: Animated Series universe.

They look dorky, but they are really bad ass.

They look dorky, but they are really bad ass.

Batman is not supposed to be a near invincible brute who can pummel any foe into submission or acquire a new toy for when the occasion calls for it; he is supposed to be a force of hope and salvation for the down trodden and weak, a victim of unfortunate circumstances who wants nothing more than to ensure his tragedy is no one else’s. His charity and goodwill does not stop at the people of Gotham as he extends himself unto his enemies as well. Pretty much every episode involves one of Batman’s nemesis at the forefront with the narrative revolving around them. However, it is not some foolish story about money or simple vengeance. Instead, we, through Batman, are encouraged to empathize with and understand the villain’s motivations and true nature. There are never excuses for their actions, but there are reasons for them. In essence, villains and enemies, basically anyone, are fully realized individuals worthy of empathy, understanding, and dignity. Honestly, look at virtually any episode and you will see this; from Mr. Freeze to Catwoman to Penguin to Harley Quinn to even Joker, they all have intrigue and humanity.

Seriously, watch Heart of Ice and try to not shed a tear. It's only possible if you're a monster!

Seriously, watch Heart of Ice and try to not shed a tear. It’s only possible if you’re a monster!

Beyond the villains, Batman himself is treated like an actual person and not some poor excuse for a plot device. He legitimately struggles with the notion of living a dual life and trying to genuinely find a balance between the two. As well, he actually uses his money for charitable and scientific endeavors that would in theory benefit the people of Gotham instead of, you know, blowing up the major railway system and never fixing it *cough* Fuck you, Batman Begins *cough*. Early in the series, there is an episode where Bruce Wayne, under the influence of fear gas by Scarecrow, worries over the legacy of the Wayne name and whether his family would approve of the trajectory of his life. It is a great episode because we see more than just the mask but the man beneath it who at times suffers at the cost of wearing it. Superheroes are both the hero and the human underneath the costume; ignore one and you lose half a character along with intrigue and possibility. Most of us are more than one thing and we risk our happiness and sanity; ironically, much like Batman.

Truthfully, I could go on and on about this amazing show, but frankly you should explore its awesomeness on your own because it really is the best presentation of Batman, his enemies, and the true core psychology and heart of the Batman mythos and universe I have ever seen.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

P.S. For one last taste:

 

On Memory & Forgetting

I swear this was not the post I was intending to write today. In fact, I had two completely different ideas and themes I wanted to analyze and discuss, but I forgot what they were. Yeah that tends to happen…a lot. In all probability, I will most likely remember both those original thoughts half an hour after I post this blog. Or maybe if I close my eyes and relax, it will come back to me…

DAMMIT! Was really hoping that would actually work. Anyhow, I forget things quite often. I’ll have a random notion pop into my head and unless I talk about it with someone or write it down, it will just as easily evaporate from my mind. It genuinely sucks. I cannot imagine how many story ideas, characters, plot points, etc. I have lost this way. You would think I would have learned my lesson and actually write some of them down, right?

Perhaps there is a reason I didn’t make those random thoughts permanent. Maybe my recollection of them and their potential is far better than what they actually were. Yes those story ideas could have been pretty good, but they also could just as easily been utter garbage. Memory is funny that way.

I wonder how many experiences and possibilities I look fondly on from my past that were really horrendous and vice versa. How has my brain and ego shaped my past to fit a model and path that I unconsciously chose? It seems baffling and weird to think about memory and experience in that way, but it is the most honest analysis of how recollection functions. All of my past is slightly skewed to fit a preconceived model because it is filtered and limited through my perspective.

Which is probably why we forget things in the first place; we need to. In order to grow and evolve as individuals and a society, the ability to forget our pasts is crucial. I cannot imagine who I would be if I was still influenced by the ideas and events I experienced in elementary school. I mean, to be fair, a few (both good and bad) still linger in my head, but those were the highlights and not the full play by play. However, my current opinions, emotions, and thought process are informed by what I learned and felt during college and the few years following, and not by my memories of high school.

Forgetting is good. It frees up space for new experiences and emotions. And it works as a cleanse giving us the opportunity to become different from what we were; maybe better, maybe worse, but still different. When I was younger, the concept of complete voluntary recall seemed like such an awesome idea. Now, it’s nothing more than terrifying. I want to forget about that girl I had a crush on in middle school in order to focus on and make memories with someone new. And while I will still remember that class I failed a few years back, the feelings of despair and anxiety are thankfully in the past.

I most likely won’t remember everything I want to or forget every experience I rather not recall, but that’s how my brain works and so far I am satisfied with the highlights.

So anything you wish you could forget? Or remember? Or maybe you actually want total voluntary recall. Tell me in the comments.

Lessons From…American Ultra

Alright, so this post is going to be a little different from the standard Monday/’Lessons” post. Normally, I mention seeing, reading, or playing something and then analyze a few possible takeaway morals or ideas from the overall work. This time around, the “lessons” won’t be concerning the narrative but more the actual film and how it worked, or more accurately how it didn’t. However, as always there will still be SPOILERS ahead.

Should I get a new image?

Should I get a new image?

So before we really dive into the issues I had with American Ultra, I think you will need to see the trailer at the very least for any of this to make sense.

Doesn’t that pretty much scream stoner action comedy? It did to me, so when I went to see the movie that was pretty much what I was expecting. Unfortunately, that is not what I got in the theater. Now, that is not to say that a film cannot subvert expectations for entertainment or social commentary. Many great films (both big budget and indie) have in the past to great results. Some random examples, and quality movies you should see, of such a thing are Tucker & Dale vs Evil, Cabin in the Woods, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Dot the I, and many more. Had this film attempted some form of subversion, I think I could have forgiven a few more aspects and enjoyed it more, but it didn’t even try that. Instead, what I was treated to was a jumbled mess of intriguing possibilities but ultimately unfinished and underdeveloped ideas and tangents.

So much damn potential...

So much damn potential…

Okay, before I get accused of trashing this film without cause, let’s get down to the finer points. First off, let this film be a lesson to all future productions in marketing. By that, I mean studios/distributors need to learn how to market the product they have and not the one they wish they could deliver. This film, based on the trailer, posters, and many of the interviews, was marketed as a stoner action comedy a la Pineapple Express for a younger generation. The problem is the film was never really any of those things. Yes, the two lead characters smoked pot, but were hardly stoners/potheads and weed had little impact on their overall lives. There were a few action sequences throughout the film, but they were all relatively short except for the final one near the end of the movie. And finally the comedic bits were few and far between within the film.

In all honesty, the movie was more of a romantic drama/coming of age story between the two main protagonists, Mike and Phoebe (Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart). Had the promos and marketing strategy revolved around that aspect, it would have been better done and possibly better received. Yeah, it might not have been seen as the stoner comedy of the summer, but isn’t it better to be more honest with your audience than to deliver a flop. Though, to be fair, the romantic subplot had its own major issues that will be discussed later. Overall, when your stoner action comedy has little action with a few comedic bits thrown in while one dude occasionally smokes weed, you have some issues with your film.

This promo banner has more smoke than the movie.

This promo banner has more smoke than the movie.

Beyond the marketing, which directors, actors, or writers rarely get a vote on, the actual narrative of the film was full of inconsistencies, incomplete tangents, and underdeveloped ideas. Seriously, I saw this movie about two weeks ago and still have questions/concerns about it.

Basic synopsis is Mike Howell is a burnt/forgotten/former CIA asset who lives in bumpkin town in Virginia with his girlfriend Phoebe and no memory of his past as the sole survivor/”success” of the ULTRA project. For some unknown (no seriously, the film never really bothers to explain why) reason, a new CIA sub-director decides that he needs to be killed, so he sends assassins, top secret (recently trained) TOUGHGUY  (again, not joking that is the code designation) assets, and essentially an army battalion against this one guy in a “covert” mission to end Mike’s life. Along the way, Mike is “activated” by his handler but still manages to be an ignorant nuisance while also being a fighting badass. We also learn that Mike’s entire life as he knows it has been a lie and that his girlfriend is actually also a former CIA asset. Eventually (rather quickly actually), Mike gets over this betrayal and takes down all the CIA assets that were sent against him. He then becomes a top secret Bond/Bourne style agent at the end.

Also, maybe Jesse Eisenberg is not the best action star material...

Also, maybe Jesse Eisenberg is not the best action star material…

Seems like a pretty good movie, or at least interesting, movie from that pitch right? Well, movies are longer than two minutes and that is where a lot of the problems come into play. The story just doesn’t make a lot of sense. To begin, the movie states that certain aspects of Mike’s brain were altered to ensure his safety, e.g. his crippling panic attacks whenever he tries to leave the town and all knowledge of his former life. Sure that makes sense to a degree, but did the CIA also deprive him of desire, passion, and basic common sense? Just because someone smokes pot doesn’t mean they want nothing out of life, but that is essentially the best way to describe Mike’s character. Lazy, impotent slacker who smokes pot and is mildly obsessed with his girlfriend. There was never a singly point in the film when I empathized or really cared about Mike’s story or progression/evolution (though there really wasn’t any on that front either). You can have stoner characters. You can write slacker characters. You can create pure evil or even ambivalent nuisances, but you must still make the audience care about them in some way or for some reason. If you don’t, you failed at your job.

Moving on to the character of Phoebe. Unlike Mike, she is fully aware of both her and Mike’s CIA past. She knows that he cannot physically leave the town without dire consequences beyond his panic attacks. Still she has, on multiple occasions, attempted to do so and then has the gall to be angry that he is unable to do so. If she loved him, wouldn’t she try to dissuade him from leaving since there would probably be a CIA death squad waiting for them at whatever their final destination happened to be? Secondly, the audience is supposed to believe that Phoebe was so in love with Mike that she literally gave up her life to be with him, but there is no evidence to suggest this. The movie begins with her being angry and disappointed with him about their inability to go to Hawaii (even though she knows they can’t go) and criticizing his slacker actions and ambitions. At no given point in the film, do we get the notion that they share a bond worth the sacrifices she made. In fact, half the time I wasn’t even sure she liked him so much as tolerated his actions.

This was about two to five minutes in and is the only time I thought they were a loving couple.

This was about two to five minutes in and is the only time I thought they were a loving couple.

Then the CIA comes into play. The lead antagonist, Adrian (played by Topher Grace), is characterized as a cowardly, narcissistic, brown-noser who got his high position on a technicality and through kissassery. Fine, I can see that. I have known several people like that throughout my life. Here’s the thing. Those type of people are not risk takers. They are not proactive go-getters. They are at best opportunistic scavengers. They would wait for the perfect easy win to impress their superiors. What they wouldn’t do is send their brand new assets to cause a lot of destruction and attention. They also would never act without their superior’s knowledge for fear of repercussion. More importantly, once failure kicked in, they would most certainly never double down on their bet as they would flee immediately and find the nearest scapegoat to pin it on. Basically, hardly any of the actions taken by the character of Adrian align with the type of character the film has developed. Also, it was never really clear why he wanted Phoebe taken in alive since she was, at that point, a major liability. I thought the movie was alluding to some sort of romantic triangle between Mike, Phoebe, and Adrian as the unrequited/scorned ex or something but if it was, again it was way underdeveloped.

Add to this a bunch of underwhelming secondary characters and unclear moral lessons and notions and you get a messy, incomplete story which is the major issue I had with the film. The tagline pitch sounded amazing. Stoner action comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg as a pothead who learns he is actually a CIA super killing machine. But here’s the issue, what’s the rest of the film? A two minute elevator pitch is great but a solid 90+ minute story is infinitely better.

It probably seems like I bagged on the writing a bit before, right? The reason it might seem that way is because I tend to focus on the writing (given my background) and because the screenwriter is what prompted me to consider this film. So, the screenwriter of American Ultra is Max Landis. Let me be perfectly clear: I don’t know the guy. I have never met him before. I don’t follow him on any social media site. And any opinion I have of him is completely informed and based upon interviews and social media retweeted/tumbled/etc. by someone else. If you want to get a glimpse of that, Google him yourself.

This guy.

This guy.

Now, I really liked his last major screenwriting project (that was actually made because, with my limited understanding of Hollywood, a few of his scripts have probably never seen the light of day much less actually created) Chronicle. Again, another solid elevator pitch. Three friends find this thing in the woods and develop super powers. Yeah, sounds cool. I’d go see that. However, that is just the weird add on because the core of the film is really the story of three friends from very different backgrounds/situations growing up and figuring out who they are and what they want out of life. Might not be the best elevator pitch, but it is a relateable, universal story. The whole superpower thing just makes it more interesting and gives it an edge. In comparison, the underlying story of American Ultra, slacker trying to get the guts to marry his girlfriend, is not quite as good because the end goal is too easy with the resolution being kind of unearned. Why? Well, simply because the slacker in question is not really trying to be or do anything other than the girl and has no real moment of change. Yeah, he finally goes and saves her from the CIA at the end, but 1. it felt too easy, 2. already had the skills built into him so no real development of abilities, and 3. for Mike saving the girl was the endgame. He would have seemingly been content to go back to working at the corner store and smoking pot for the rest of his life.

Anyhow, the reason I was focused on this film in particular is because of Landis’s criticism during the opening weekend of the film. Once more, you can Google it yourself, but essentially he was lamenting about the American movie going audience concerning their tastes. He could not understand how an original [emphasis mine] movie with two high caliber stars could do so poorly in theaters. His guess was that the current public is only interested in superhero movies or sequels. Now, I agree that there is definitely a deluge of superhero films, sequels, and movies with built in franchises and a severe lack of original IP. However, you don’t get brownie points for just being original. You actually need to deliver a wanted, quality product.

During the week leading up to the release of the film, a few people who had seen an early release or screening were hyping up the film as usually happens. Looking back, on the other hand, I noticed that almost all the positive praise was concerning the fact that the film was an original movie. Honestly, that was almost all that was positively said on social media (maybe I follow the wrong people).  Not much was said about the story, acting, cinematography, style, humor, characters, etc. It was about how they were glad there was an original film competing against the sequels. Which, once more, is great that original films can still get made, but if it does not do well (and if you have only had one prior ‘success’) maybe the audience is not the issue.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

(As an aside for the sake of discussion, maybe I am in the wrong here (though box office numbers and criticisms do not suggest it) and this will end up being a sleeper hit or cult movie. What do you think? Tell me below.)

On Memoir & Self Stories

Lately, I have been reading memoirs and advice books by celebrities, activists, academics, and experts on a variety of subjects. Seriously, my last major haul of literature involved autobiographical memoirs and advice books by Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Ronda Rousey, Felicia Day, Bruce Lee, and a random assortment of others. Not on my usual big fiction kick for some reason.

So, an obvious question comes to mind. Why the hell am I reading so many books about self-help, opportunity, and general self improvement? The apparent answer would probably be because they are written by people I like, follow (through social media; not in a creepy stalker way), and admire. While this is very true, it doesn’t seem to fully satisfy the query.

Beyond my admiration for the authors and interest in the subject matter, I honestly think my recent literary interests have more to do with my innate desire to change my circumstances and life in general. The texts I am reading don’t offer a plan or even a real ‘how-to’ of doing things; instead, they offer more a life story of how someone succeeded and some general advice as to how maybe you can have some success.

That’s the unfortunate truth: if you find someone’s success and life that you want to emulate, chances are that you won’t be able to because no one’s path is ever really the same. I can’t do the same things as my favorite author and expect to be like him mainly due to the fact that he has already done it. Essentially, the books have been more inspirational than instructional and to some degree they have actually been useful.

I am currently studying for a major test that I will be taking in October to apply for graduate programs. As well, I am beefing up my skills and resume to get a different job. Whatever happens, I know that I will not be in the same place (physically, emotionally, etc.) by next August because I just can’t for my own well being.

So, thanks to all the random writers and books that I have read for that. It was necessary and long coming. Any book or film or piece of media that has inspired you recently? Would actually be curious to know what it was and how it helped.