Gotham is Stupid
I watched Gotham and all I saw was a string of missed opportunities and failures.
It’s been said by a great many people that Batman is the least important/interesting element in the Batman mythos. Where I don’t entirely agree with this sentiment, it’s hard to watch things like Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ (where Heath Ledger stole the show) and not believe that it’s true at least some of the time.
Let’s pause and reflect on that for a moment; there was a whole series of movies where Christian Bale butchered his Batman performance by basing his bat-voice on an impersonation of a lawnmower. These movies not only survived a shite performance from the eponymous lead (a Dark Knight who refused to be taken remotely seriously), but thrived and became some of the highest grossing movies of all time… all because of the villains.
'RrrrRRRRRrrrrrrrrr.' - Batman
For a large section of the Batman fanbase, Batman isn’t the draw; his villains are. It makes sense. With characters like The Joker, The Riddler, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Catwoman and The Penguin (to name but a handful of the Arkham Asylum irregulars), few people would disagree with the assertion that Batman has the very best and most iconic supervillains in comics.
This is probably why the comic book series ‘Gotham Central’ was met with such critical acclaim. It was a Batman book where Batman only featured in rare cameos. The stars of the story were the Gotham police, who struggled with everything from the realistic issues of institutional corruption and homophobic prejudice to run-ins with the likes of The Mad Hatter, a twisted murderer who utilizes mind-controlling technology and might just be a paedophile.
Gotham Central also came at a time when the majority of the most recognizable faces associated with the GCPD had been cycled out of the comic book continuity. Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Bullock had moved on, and Renee Montoya was probably the only name on the roster I recognized. Most of the characters were either brand new or little known. That didn’t matter. If you can have Batman without Batman, you can have Batman without Jim Gordon.
Without spoiling anything of grand importance; in the opening issue of Gotham Central, Mr. Freeze makes an appearance. What starts out as a police procedural akin to any other that you might find on TV quickly escalates into a superb urban sci-fi when it is established (in the very first issue) that this is taking place in a world where Freeze Rays exist. The writers (Brubaker and Rucka) brilliantly interwove those two disparate genres into one fantastic comic about normal human police trying to keep their heads above the water in a sea of superhuman crime.
The currently running TV series ‘Gotham’ seems to have partially been born out of attempts to bring that comic to the small screen. Gotham Central was being considered for television for some time, as was a concept about a young Bruce Wayne on his path to becoming Batman (that idea wound up being nixed and replaced with ‘Smallville’). I can only assume that the ‘Gotham’ we see today is a sort of unholy hybrid of those two pitches. Independently either of these shows might have worked very well, but together?
Well, now the focus is divided between an incredibly young Bruce Wayne, whom we’re expected to watch self-harming and moping around to death metal for *at least* five years (unless they pull out some kind of a continuity jump forward and recast him)… and a lame version of Gotham Central set in the most boring era of Batman history; before any of the best villains in comics even existed.
Besides the quite awfully conceived Balloonatic (that was his name, right?) in the last episode, the real threat seems to be ‘The Mob’ (OK, and an unrecognizable skinny version of the Penguin whose most noteworthy eccentricity is that he… eats… a lot of… fish…).
Oh fuck this.
Don’t get me wrong, 'Batman versus The Mob’, is a fine story to tell… but 'The GCPD versus The Mob’, set in a version of Gotham where Batman doesn’t exist? That may as well just be any other police procedural show on television.
You may as well be watching Low Winter Sun. Who knows? Maybe people WOULD have given Low Winter Sun a chance if the network told the audience that one of the kids in it was Peter Parker and that Lenny James could eventually become Doctor Octopus if the show could only manage to last seven seasons.
The question that drove the production of Gotham seems to have been, ‘What was Gotham like before Batman?’ My answer is; ‘who gives a shit about what a fictional city was like before it was interesting?’
If they needed to deviate from the source material, I would much rather have seen a version of ‘Gotham’ where the elevator pitch was; ‘What would Gotham city be like in a world where Batman doesn’t exist?’ That’s actually a very different approach.
Imagine a police force that has to deal with the Bat villains and can’t flip on the big old bat-signal whenever they’re stumped? In episode one we could have seen a hardboiled, gritty detective drama about police trying to stop the Riddler by beating him at his own demented game.
That would have been CONSIDERABLY better than an episode about corrupt cops trying to capture the ordinary street-thug killer of two rich people, in a city where the Riddler is just some socially awkward guy who works at the station.
And maybe that’s the kind of thing that they’re slowly building up to, but we really didn’t need a slow build up (especially not one where 'The Baloonatic' is the best they can do in the interim). Not only do we not need it, but Gotham can’t afford to drag their heels. They’re airing on FOX. If they can’t garner and maintain ridiculously high ratings, then they’re going to get canceled quicker than a character on Gotham can foreshadow something from the comics. Which is really. fucking. fast.
This show’s biggest unforgivable failure isn’t just that it’s bad, it’s that it actively deprives us of something great. The existence of ‘Gotham’ practically ensures us that the Gotham Central show smart fans really wanted to see will never exist. This show was created to fail and when it does, I don’t think we can expect a reboot that corrects its stupid flaws.
I’m Anti-Anti-Smoking PSAs
Over the weekend, I watched every episode of the Adult Swim show ‘Rick and Morty’, which I loved, but I don’t want to talk about that right now. I want to talk about the fucking commercials.
I’m not pro-smoking. People can do whatever they want as far as I’m concerned, but smoking is an ultimately self-destructive pursuit that I don’t encourage. I’ve known people who have died of lung cancer as a direct result of it. It’s a devastating way to go.
The first ad I saw during the Rick and Morty-thon (one of two in the series) was of a man going to buy a pack of cigarettes with money, the cashier tells him it’s not enough, the guy pulls a tooth out and puts it on the counter and the cashier says ‘see you again.’ Later I saw the same basic add with a woman peeling off her skin instead. ‘What’s a packet of cigarettes cost,’ asks the announcer obnoxiously, ‘only your TEETH/SKIN!’
The ads alternated and popped up about twice per episode, but the Adult Swim player kept messing up and muting the volume so I needed to start over at least one time per episode so I’d see an anti-smoking ad again. In total, I think I saw those ads at least 40 times, but even without the faulty player, it would have been almost 30 times.
The first nine or so times I saw it, I shrugged it off, but by the tenth or thirteenth iteration, I started to feel intensely disgusted by it. For some reason the ads got successively more disgusting with each viewing, to the point where I tried to avert my eyes when it was on. It’s not like I found it scary, but I did start to find the self-mutilation particularly gross and didn’t want to see it. Which, I get it, is the point of the ad. Smokers are meant to see this and be grossed out by it and maybe they’ll quit, right? What a fantastic plan!
The downside of this is that I have to fucking watch the thing more times than I can count and I don’t actually smoke. I’ve not smoked in years. I’m part of the 82% majority of the country who don’t smoke and I have to sit through these ads on a regular fucking basis. If it’s not THESE specific ones, it’s something else from the human freak show they wheel out to shock and appall viewers into not smoking.
That may sound harsh, saying that PSAs depict a human freak show, but that’s their tactic. The whole point of showing us the tracheotomy guy trying to take a shower or the woman who had to have 18 amputations isn’t for us to empathise with them, it’s for people to go; ‘Urrrgh! That’s disgusting! I don’t want to end up like that guy!’
Maybe there was a time where this was actually valuable, but today we ALREADY live in an anti-smoking culture. Look at all of the many ways in which our society encourages people not to smoke.
Companies aren’t allowed to advertise cigarettes through conventional means. A great many movie companies and TV stations won’t depict smoking. Even Wolverine had to replace his trademark cigars for toothpicks in comic books because we don’t want any kids to think smoking is cool. In many (if not most) states, smoking isn’t legally condoned in places like bars or restaurants any more. Pharmacies are slowly being pressured to stop selling cigarettes and within about ten years you’ll probably need to go to a specialist smoke shop to buy them in most states. EVEN if you ignore all common sense and buy a packet of smokes, the box itself tries to warn you off by telling you that your dick might fall off (or some other horrible factoid).
Hell, it’s even become commonplace for people to ostracize smokers and talk down to them for making a bad decision and getting addicted to one of the last legal drugs.
SMOKING KILLS! EVERYBODY KNOWS. The biggest thing non-smokers have in common with smokers is that we ALL know it’s not healthy. People who never smoked know. Casual smokers know. Hardcore smoker’s know. People dying of cancer know. You have to be willfully deluded or a total moron NOT to know that cigarettes are bad for people.
People who smoke aren’t smoking because they don’t realize it’s fucked up, they smoke because it’s addictive, or because they don’t care.
Guess what? Back in the mid-eighties (when we probably DID need these kinds of PSAs) around 38% of adults smoked in the USA. Currently about 18% of the adult population smokes and that number drops with every new census. Cigarettes are a big, fat bogeyman that people are raised to be frightened of. The non-smokers have already won! The world is just catching up.
Why should members of the 82% of the US population be subjected to ads like these up to 40 times over the space of 6 hours of television? Not to mention all of the posters on public transit and so forth, all designed to gross everyone out.
Does this seem at all disproportionate to anyone else?
Why the hell do we need PSAs to tell us what we already know? Why do I need to watch people tearing the skin off of their cheeks in seedy-looking convenience stores, when I have no intention of smoking?
By all means, keep targeting the SMOKERS, make anyone selling cigarettes clearly display this shit all over their stores, but most of us… an overwhelming majority, got the fucking message already.
#Walrusno Spoilers Ahead
Tusk is a movie that has been referred to by its director Kevin Smith as ‘a cuddly version of the Human Centipede’. Justin Long plays an arrogant podcaster who, on a trip to Canada, travels to meet an old man (played by Michael Parks, whose naked ass will be shown in this movie) who wants to share his life’s stories in exchange for a free room at his large house. Long’s character isn’t interested in the room, he wants the stories for his podcast and Parks starts to share them. He talks of meeting Ernest Hemingway and of being stranded on an island where he was rescued by a Walrus. Things take a turn then as Long passes out, having been drugged by Parks, who intends to transform his captive house guest into a replacement for his lost Walrus friend.
I think it was when SDCC videos were circulating after the con that I first saw the trailer for Tusk. I thought it looked kooky and like an interesting departure for Smith and I was beyond curious about what the finished Human Walrus (notably absent from the trailer along with the movie’s biggest star, Johnny Depp) would actually look like. However, I didn’t intend to see it at the cinema, because it didn’t particularly seem like my kind of flick. I figured I’d just watch it when it hit Netflix or something.
The next I heard about it was probably last week when I was listening to Kumail Nanjiani’s X-Files podcast, the X-Files Files, in which Smith was a guest. They talked about Tusk and Kevin Smith seemed more excited about it than anything I’d heard him talk about in a very long time. He said this was the best movie he’d ever written or made. He referenced the episode of his own podcast that inspired the movie, which I then went and listened to (I’m very, very interested in other peoples’ artistic process). He and Scott Mosier effectively plotted the whole movie based on a real British craigslist ad he found about an old man who would give a free room to anyone who was willing to impersonate a Walrus for up to two hours a day. Something about that backstory and Smith’s contagious enthusiasm piqued my interest.
I don’t want to be too hard on Kevin Smith here. The man’s movies got me through my teenage years. His comedy inspired me and helped to define the sense of humour I have today. Kevin Smith hasn’t made a movie that has genuinely resonated with me in at least a decade now, but he is still tops as far as I’m concerned. I like Kevin Smith.
All in all, I was interested more in how it was done than what was done and my expectations were not exactly raised particularly high for this movie. I bought my ticket on Saturday, before reviews started to trickle in, but by Monday I’d seen enough of the negative response to it that I figured it’d soften the blow. Hoo boy.
Last night I watched Tusk, and it was not a funny movie. You may think; ‘I saw the trailer, clearly it’s meant to be more of a horror movie than a comedy,’ but believe me, it tries very hard to be funny. It just isn’t. Even the two jokes that sort of land in the trailer did not work in the context of this film.
Kevin Smith seemed especially excited about Johnny Depp’s involvement in the film. I knew going in that Depp would be playing the cop character, but what I didn’t suspect was that he’d also be the comic relief. Or at least, he was INTENDED to be the comic relief. He played a French Canadian homicide detective with a silly voice who took what seemed like an eternity to utter his every line. The performance was so bad as to form a vacuum into which any tiny shred of goodwill this movie had managed to muster thus far was sucked. His introductory scene seemed to last forever and I very nearly walked out of the movie.
Evidently Smith believed in this abominable creation of his and Depp’s so much that he has already filmed 75% of a spin-off movie featuring him called ‘Yoga Hosers’.
Even Depp’s make-up was awful. I’m reasonably sure I could see mustache glue, which might have been cocaine residue in hindsight, but I could CERTAINLY see the seam from his fake nose whenever they showed him in close-up. Which brings me to my next point about the visual aspect of the movie…
The Human Walrus looked fucking pathetic.
There was nothing remotely frightening about it, because it didn’t look remotely real. Oh lord, how I wish I could find a photo of it right now so that you could see just HOW bad it was. Picture a rubbery flesh-coloured patchwork balloon with Justin Long’s eyes poking out over some ridiculous tusks. The suit is so poorly made that the supposedly surgically implanted tusks bent backwards at points, and in one cringe-worthy scene that showed up just how little effort went into the costume or the movie, Justin Long’s entire head got sucked into the body of the Walrus and then sprang back out.
(EDIT: found a shot;
Although I think my words described it pretty much perfectly.)
It says something that I would rather look at this thing for four hours than I would want to see Johnny Depp’s character on screen for another 20 minutes. That’s the real curve-ball of this movie, it’s not about the horror of a man being turned into a rubber balloon with flippers, it’s a movie about the horror of seeing Johnny Depp’s rock bottom.
It’s actually very unclear how much (if any of it) was meant to be a Walrus costume that the character was wearing and how much was meant to be Justin Long’s character (whose name is fucking Wallace, by the way) in his transformed state. If not for one line earlier in the movie, I would have assumed it was all Wallace.
In fact, I find it hard to believe that any of Wallace’s Human Walrus form could be a costume. At the end of the movie, Wallace is rescued, but he has apparently lost his humanity. He is shown living as a Walrus at an animal sanctuary (because apparently this is the Canadian approach to mental illness) and he looks exactly the same as he did when he was first ‘transformed’.
Early in the movie though, Michael Parks SAYS he intends to make modifications so that Wallace will fit a realistic Walrus suit he’s been making… so the psychiatric care officials didn’t think to take him out of the Walrus costume made of butchered human skin before they decided to dump him in an animal sanctuary?
That line is just one of many inconsistencies that proved we were watching a movie based on a rough first draft. In the same conversation, Michael Parks tells Justin Long that he’s not allowed to speak in a human voice when in the costume, later it is made clear that Long’s tongue was removed prior to his becoming a Human Walrus.
This was a big missed opportunity for comedy. Dialogue between Wallace as a Walrus and the Michael Parks character might have made the film worth seeing.
The jokes fail entirely. I don’t remember finding one line of it funny. It’s like Kevin marked out places to put the funny and forgot to write it in. Just like he made a space for romance and a love triangle that was cliched and entirely unbelievable.
The weirdest part for me is that this could have been a good film, there are a surprising number of ways that it could have worked. Here are a few alternate takes that would have made for better viewing:
1) Ditch the awkward humour, make it about body horror, with a more gradual transformation. Make it less clear what Michael Park’s intention is.
2) Make it a black comedy. Use dark humour to establish a tone and then stick with it throughout.
3) Make it like Dusk ‘til Dawn, have the first half of the movie be a stoner comedy in America, and then shift tone dramatically to a balls-to-the wall horror movie after Wallace crosses the border into Canada.
4) DROP the whole ‘surgically changed into a walrus’ part entirely and make it about Wallace’s psychological breakdown as some lonely kook drugs him and makes him wear a Walrus costume under the threat of death. There’s plenty of room for humour there, and perhaps the ending would have been more tragic and real if it had ever felt like this was something Wallace could actually have ever come back from.
5) Fuck it, a full on spoof of the Human Centipede. About a fucking Walrus.
Generally speaking, if I leave a movie before the end of the credits, I get a terrible nosebleed and pains in my lower abdomen. Last night? I was out of there like a bullet the very moment that the credits started rolling and I don’t regret it. For all I know the entire cast popped up during the credits to sing ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ over the outtakes as the cast names floated down.
I resented the film and regretted spending money to see it throughout the screening. However, in the light of a new day and with the help of some Vicodin, I don’t feel so bad about it. I would never recommend anyone pay to see this movie, or watch it without full control of the fast-forward option. In fact, I don’t think anyone should see it, there are better ways to spend your time. It’s barely a movie… I mean I didn’t even scrape the surface… you could make a better movie about how bad this movie is.
In fact, would anyone like to get drunk on a podcast with me and help me plot out a movie where a strange old man played by Michael Parks kidnaps Kevin Smith and makes him watch Tusk until he goes insane? I think it’s got potential. We’d call it ‘Tusked’.
Over all, I think it has value for me, simply because I think I might have learned something from Smith’s mistakes here; Don’t get stoned whilst making a movie with the first draft of a script based on a hoax by some British asshole.
That Noddy Holder looking, mutton-chopping asshole.
Here endeth the lesson.
Edit: AHA! Found it;
See, not scary and-AAAGH!