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Can We All Agree?

July 26, 2016 — 1 Comment

It’s a tense time. I think that is fairly self-evident. In all honesty, things have been tense within the country and really the world for a long time but it probably just seems more so every now and then with now being one of those.

I was thinking there has to be a way to get people on the same, or at least, an even page with each other. To that point I feel like Will Ferrell in those old SNL House of Commons sketches where he starts out his ridiculous lines with “Can we all agree…?”

So here goes:

Can we all agree that..

-Police have a difficult job?

-Difficult does not excuse incompetence, prejudice or an unwillingness to hold those who abuse their power accountable?

-Not every situation where an officer or officers interact with someone is automatically suspect and most of them are doing their best?

-There are some systematic things that still harm minorities in this country?

-The average person probably wouldn’t want anyone being at a disadvantage because of their race/religion/gender etc.. and that most of those issues are bigger than any one person you might meet?

-Neither the DNC or GOP are offering great options for POTUS this election?

-The system is really problematic and that primaries are the biggest way this can be helped or made worse in the future?

-That uninformed people voting may not be the best thing?

-That misinformed people voting is not any better?

-That people blinded by bias/hatred is worse?

-That it’s very difficult to have honest, reasonable, discussions in the public sphere about race, religion, sexuality?

-That part of the difficulty is that the media we entrust to facilitate are too often biased one way or the other?

-That they are that way because the market tells them there’s a big enough audience who wants that (see FoxNews and MSNBC)?

-That some people who disagree with you aren’t evil?

-That some people who agree with you might be?

-That its possible to have an opinion on matters regarding sexuality, race, immigration, war, economics, culture and not hate a single person?

-That sadly some people do hate others and that does inform their opinion?

-That we shouldn’t assume hatred by someone simply based on a conclusion they might have?

-That many of our systems, institutions work and that is why so many want to live in this country and why America has been so prosperous?

-That at the same time, there are institutions, systems and people in power who have failed us and need to be fixed?

-That it is possible to want to secure our borders and at the same time care and respect the dignity of people wanting to come to this country?

-That the best rule of thumb for being Politically Correct should be for people to try and not be a jerk as best they can?

-That if they accidentally offend someone, its just that, an accident?

-That people who purposefully offend others aren’t really helping anyone and just kind of being a jerk?

-That there are times when two parties might offend each other regardless of how much they try not to but their views are just that opposite?

-That kind of situation is really unfortunate and not one we should strive for?

That’s what I have for now. We have a culture right now built on being combative because frankly, there’s money and power in that as opposed to people getting along even if they disagree. Stop being manipulated.

 

 

 

Our Culture of Expectations or How We Keep Ourselves From Really Appreciating Anything

In about a week’s time, I will enter a movie theater with a ridiculously large screen, into a seat I reserved online, to watch a movie announced almost (if not quite) three years ago. This will be a film that conceptually many people have always kind of dreamed of happening but never thought it would for one reason or another. That movie is Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice.

Ever since the announcement, I have been giddy with excitement to see the film. However, I noticed ever since said announcement, quite a few many people just assuming it will be a terrible piece of work or at the least just having negative things to say (or speculate) about it.  In 2014, this article was published over at WhatCulture. Now many will roll their eyes at the site but for my purposes I feel this kind of generalizing and assuming about the movie was and is rather prevalent.

The fact is, the movie has not been released, so we don’t know if it will be good or bad. People who haven’t seen it are merely assuming  its quality based on the director, actor, studio, characters or  something else. Is it fair? I don’t know. What I do believe is it points to a problem I’ve tended to notice. Often times we build up something so much before it ever happens or is released that we strip away the ability for us to really appreciate it for what it is.

Don’t believe me? Watch what invariably happens whenever news breaks when Apple announces when they will unveil their latest product. Almost right away, in the comments of any article about the unveiling will be comments just assuming whatever will be shown will be terrible, overpriced and lacking technology in existing products. Those people would point to the fact that they believe other Apple products have been “terrible, overpriced and lacking technology in existing products”. That might be true of the past and COULD be the case for the future but truthfully people don’t know and the assumptions only color our judgement.

Who knows what we have missed out on by just having unfair expectations and lazy assumptions? While not the exact thing, it always reminds me of this scene from Parks and Rec:

We live in a wonderful time. Batman and Superman are going to be in a movie, together! Oh and Wonder Woman is gonna be there too being all awesome and whatnot. Yet, going in assuming it will be a terrible, or at best — disappointing is setting your own self up for failure. Why bother if you’re going to sabotage yourself from enjoying what could be something pretty neat? Not everything has to be the BEST thing, sometimes they just need to be fun, or kinda good, or simply worth the time to let yourself live a bit.

I get it. It’s easy to be down on someone or somethings based on the past. Honestly though, it’s a lot less enjoyable.

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

(Note: This post originally appeared at Ken MoreField’s 1MoreFimBlog. My Recaps appear there every other week)

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The Video-Game player in me perked way up when I learned this week’s episode was titled “Arkham”. One of the most well-reviewed franchises in games of the last decade, Arkham Asylum/City/Origins and the to be released Arkham Knight have done much to bring a whole new generation of people into the world of Batman. I was incredibly interested to see how Gotham would portray this institution as well if any of the franchise’s canon would be brought into the show or at least used as an Easter-Egg. While not much of that happened (aside from a reference to “Arkham City” on a map) the episode did not leave me disappointed.

As always, let’s get the negative out of the way:

Bad

-I can’t quite put my finger on it but the Gordon/Barbara/Montoya storyline just really brings the show to a halt. In all honesty, it doesn’t have much of anything to do with the lesbian angle to Barbara and Montoya as much as the fact that relationship issues just do not seem in place in a show like this. If anything, I think it would have been better for Gordon and Barbara to already be married and for the show to explore how a marriage deals with the life Gordon must lead as a man trying to be an honest cop in a crazy city.

-I’ll get to Cobblepot a bit more later, but for now I’ll just say that it’s becoming a bit hard to believe he can commit so many murders that never come back to him. He’s now poisoned three people with food from the restaurant (presumably) that he works at. Maybe Oswald is assuming that Gordon wouldn’t want any attention brought to him as a suspect but still the rest of the universe within this show still operates and someone is going to stumble upon those three guys in that apartment right?

-I wanted to celebrate the fact that Barbara and Fish Mooney both seemed to get out of their respective purgatories of the apartment and the night club, but each scene featuring them out of their usual element almost seemed forced as those scenes could’ve happened in the apartment and nightclub anyway. The idea in moving the characters around, environment-wise, is to give them specific things to do that require them to be at those places. At this point, it just comes across as weak writing.

-I liked Gladwell as the villain of the week, if only because a hit-man is a plausible character in a world like this, but his weapon of choice had me thinking more about how creepy and sinister Anton Chigur was than Gladwell himself.

Good

-I haven’t read a ton about this, yet anyway, but I enjoyed how ferocious Ben Mackenzie was as Gordon in the first scene with Cobblepot. The yelling/growling was very Batman like and while this might seem odd to people I think it make sense. Gordon will come to have a unique relationship with Batman, that begins as suspicious, if not hostile, turn into one of trust and support. I’ve always thought that while Gordon stuck to working through the law to serve people, he sees something in Batman that reminds him of his younger self as well as some representation of who he wished he could’ve been or become.

-So far, Oswald Cobblepot is working circles around everyone else. When he says he can see things a way others can’t he is actually right. The reveal at the end of the episode shows how adapt Oswald’s mind can be at playing parties against one another for his own purpose.

-I’m really enjoying what Gotham is doing with young Bruce Wayne. I get that some people’s main point against the show is that it is Batman without Batman. However, I think that complaint just fails to understand what this show is all together. As much as Gotham City is changing and the power players are making their plays, a young boy is grieving the death of his parents and also changing into a person who hates what the city is, hates injustice and is trying to figure out what can be done about it all. The exchange at the end of the episode between Bruce and Gordon was spot on:

Bruce: So do you really think Gotham is worth saving?

Gordon: I think it’s worth trying…

This idea is so central to the heart of Batman that it really cannot be overstated. Batman/Superman #87 has the following exchange, which is one of my favorite pages in all comics and I believe demonstrates Batman’s philosophy quite well:

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Credit DC Comics

I know that Batman has been portrayed as someone who thinks he can eradicate crime in Gotham, but I think the best characterization is that Bruce knows he can’t, but that he’s going to try anyway. Seeing the genesis of this idea in his mind is really neat and I thought it was well done. I think more moments like this are the key to this show gaining any kind of longevity, not that they have to involve Bruce and Gordon but that we begin to see the motivation for characters  at a deeper level. As much as I complained to anyone who would listen about Lost, I truly did enjoy the back-stories presented just as much as the mystery.

Things seem to be heating up on Gotham and if these events are given great background this show could begin to find a more appreciative audience in die-hard comic fans as well as fans of great television in general.

One of the most important things a brand new television series can show is growth. Plots moving forward, characters being developed and the promise of that to continue in the future. Gotham‘s third episode “The Balloonman” took a very positive step in that this week. However that doesn’t mean the episode was perfect or that it didn’t even have a little bit of cringe at times but when it was all over, the episode delivered. Let’s take a look at the good and bad of this week.

The Bad

-Is it just me or is anyone else expecting Fish Mooney to reveal that she actually has a curse placed on her that prevents her from leaving the club? Correct me if I am wrong, but I think through 3 episodes, she has only ever been at the nightclub. Fish Mooney can be a great character, and it seems like Gotham wants her to be central to the show’s narrative arcs. However, we will need to see her do more than purring like Eartha Kitt from a table at her own place.

-A montage of Gordon and Bullock chasing down leads…followed by a walk up some old apartment building stairs…followed by a knock on a suspect’s door followed by said suspect immediately making a run for it as soon as they see the detectives. Am I describing a sequence from “Pilot” or “The Balloonman”? I think you get my drift, which is that both episodes featured the same police procedural cliche. I don’t mind the cliche, but the issue here is that it was an almost beat for beat rehash and just came off as lazy.

-The Barbara Kean/Montoya storyline might ruffle some feathers, but my complain with it is that the show has so much else going on, I’m just not sure it just doesn’t make the show feel a bit too cluttered. The Gordon/Barbara relationship actually makes me think of the relationship between Detective Mills (Brad Pitt) and his wife Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow) in David Fincher’s Se7en. There is drama involved with Tracy, but it never feels out of place with the rest of the film and never comes across as a moment where the viewer can  mentally check out. Right now, these scenes just aren’t as interesting as everything else that is happening, especially when it seems like this plot might take a while to payoff.

The Good

-Alfred and Bruce’s sword fight was a great big breath of fresh air. Their relationship is the longest  of Bruce’s life and in many ways the most important.  How so? Much of the origin of superheroes and villains is how they each react to something awful happening to them. Bruce Wayne, with the loss of his parents and all the money he inherited could easily have wound up as the world’s biggest super-villain but instead turns out to be one of its biggest heroes. Why? Bruce had a nurturing support system with Alfred. The butler may not be Bruce’s father, but he cares for Bruce and much like Jim Gordon, reminds the boy that there are decent people in the world and not all is lost.

-Speaking of the future mustached commissioner, “The Balloonman” was important for Gordon who seems to be understanding what Gotham is. He has seen the crime and corruption, but he finally is seeing Gotham City as “sick”. Even more important than what that means to him, seeing Jim realize that is important for the viewer and eventually for Bruce as we both see the young detective work valiantly to fix the city’s problems.

-The titular character of the episode was a great villain of the week. I’ve seen people call both the physic of his modus operandi into question as well as his very existence as campy. However, killing people by slowly launching them into the sky is sinister and his vigilante motivation plays directly into how broken Gotham City is. Crime and corruption are breeding people like this and creating not just a cycle of violence and crime, but a snowball effect spiraling Gotham into a city that needs a dark knight one day.

-While I could use Oswald Cobblepot stabbing people less (after all, at what point does the surprise element the show creates each time he does wear thin?), I love the march of this penguin so far this season. Robin Lord Taylor is terrific and its fun to see how cunning he can be. As far as we have to go to see Bruce become Batman, we have just as far to see Oswald become a crime kingpin and so far its been really fun to watch.

– “He killed people, it made him a criminal too”. While I don’t want too fast of a development into the larger established Batman mythos, this moment of  Bruce’s reflection of  The Balloonman was pitch-perfect. We see the early stage of Bruce’s moral code and also his experience with vigilantes. As much as he has to one day decide who and what he wants to be he also needs the moments where he realizes who and what he does not want to be as well.

In most courtroom dramas, there is a scene where an attorney begins a line of questioning followed by the judge warning them, “this better be going somewhere!” Viewers of new shows often have the same attitude and “The Balloonman” should have been enough to let things proceed.

What did you think, is there enough positive progress so far or is the show in need of a different direction?

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“Tell me the story I’ve heard before for the first time ever.”

That sounds quite impossible but in many ways is exactly what the folks at Gotham have been tasked with. Batman is celebrating his 75th birthday this year and his origin story has been told every one of those 75 years. Normally, in the story a young Bruce Wayne witnesses the gruesome murder of his parents and then flash forwards to Bruce Wayne coming back to his home-town after traveling the world learning to become a crime-fighter.

But what if the story didn’t flash forward? What if it stayed with young Bruce and the city that both saw and birthed the murder of his parents? This is how Gotham seeks to do something new while living in the borrowed clothes of the “Bat”verse.

My initial reaction to the announcement of the show being produced was to immediately think of Smallville, which is one of my favorite shows of all time. That being said, those comparisons can lead to loft expectations. Can Gotham deliver? Time will tell, how successful the show will be, but it’s clear from the pilot that they are moving in the right direction but that they also can improve.

The first test for Gotham to pass was to get the right “feel”. This show “feels” like the Gotham City DC fans will recognize, as well as the more casual viewers can get immersed in and in that way they have passed this test. This will be one of the show’s biggest strengths, fans of the police-procedural will find familiar tone and tropes while at the same time be able to enjoy an environment rich in mythology. It is just that, mythology, as the biggest area Gotham will have to tread lightly and improve as the series continues.

I think the producers of the show have rightfully realized that the “Bat”verse is rich in mythology and that it can be a fun sandbox to play in, however it can also be a mine-field. It is one thing to add to the beloved mythology (think Paul Dini’s creation go Harley Quinn in Batman: The Animated Series) it is another thing to alter existing and closely held canon. For example, within 10 minutes of the pilot, Gotham begins its tinkering by having a young Selina Kyle witness the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. This event has traditionally only had young Bruce Wayne as the only eye-witness, a fact that plays into the isolation Bruce carries with him. I’m not ready to say that this is a good or bad creative decision, but the reality is that it is one that is full of potential, but positive and perilous. Clearly, Gotham wants to pave its own way, but must do so at its own risk.

Gotham has also helped itself in their casting of Ben Mackenzie as Jim Gordon. Mackenzie is no stranger to Batman, previously voicing the Caped Crusader in the animated adaption of Batman: Year One. Mackenzie seems a natural fit as a young, perhaps naive, detective in a place where morally ambiguous decision must be made. His experience on Southland seems invaluable in this regard and should serve to help him carry much of this show. In the pilot, Gordon is faced with a dilemma, execute Oswald Cobblepot for the mob, or let him go and face danger for himself, his girlfriend Barbara and his partner Harvey Bullock? Mackenzie plays this moment with as much intensity as needed but he also shows the other side of Gordon when later meeting with Bruce Wayne. In this meeting, Gordon counsels Bruce about the nature of fear and has to ask Bruce to keep silent about the truth of his parent’s killer. Both scenes needed a strong performance, but with different pacing and tone and both delivered.

Perhaps the biggest success of the pilot is that it gives me confidence in the series. Beyond making me want to “see what happens next” it gives me hope that it will be so well made and received that it is worth investing my time into amidst an often frustrating landscape of television where shows that need time for satisfying payoffs never get to see that light. “There will be light” Gordon says to the distraught Bruce, it seems he was saying that to us as well.