Tuesday, May 24, 2016

It's A Jolly Holiday With Oscar

Lila Kedrova:
Best Supporting Actress for
Zorba the Greek
 
TUESDAYS WITH OSCAR: 1964
 
The 37th Academy Awards boiled down to The War of The English Musicals. In one corner, the veddy proper British nanny Mary Poppins.  In the other corner, the Cockney sweetheart of My Fair LadyMary Poppins came in with 13 nominations, while My Fair Lady was hot on its heels with 12.

This war was made particularly vicious given the circumstances involving Julie Andrews.  Andrews had originated the role of Eliza Doolittle on Broadway and it was perhaps assumed she would recreate her role in the film adaptation of My Fair Lady as her costar, Rex Harrison was going to do.  Warner Brothers, however, was not about to cast an unknown in the lead of their film.  Therefore, they passed Andrews over for a bonafide box office draw: Audrey Hepburn.  The fact that Hepburn did not sing was irrelevant to Jack Warner.  Hepburn desperately wanted to sing in the film, and there are surviving audio tracks of her actual voice singing Wouldn't It Be Loverly?.  HOWEVER, Jack Warner (again) thought he knew better...and had professional singer Marni Nixon come in a dub Hepburn.

This dubbing (and the openness about it) always rankled Hepburn, who felt humiliated by it all.  This was compounded by the fact that she was compared to Andrews (or worse, endured the suggestion that she had 'stolen' the part). 

Another movie mogul, Walt Disney, saw an opportunity in Warner's decision to not cast Andrews and scooped her up for his own musical film based on P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins books.  Travers was a nightmare to deal with (Mary Poppins' musical writer Robert Sherman, decades after the fact, referred to her bitterly as 'a witch', though you sensed he wanted to use a similar-sounding word for her).  However, the film itself was highly impressive, and come Oscar-time, Andrews received an Oscar for Mary Poppins...and Audrey Hepburn did NOT receive so much as a nomination for My Fair Lady.  Was it payback for Hepburn 'stealing' Andrews' role?  Was it blowback from the fact that Hepburn didn't sing while Andrews did?  It just added to the bad perception Hepburn was receiving, which given her illustrious career and extensive charitable work, was one of the few times she ran afoul of Hollywood and the public.

The war came to a dramatic conclusion the night of the ceremony.  My Fair Lady, in terms of actual wins, was the winner (8 wins out of 12 nominations).  Mary Poppins, despite being the most nominated, went home with a mere five.
 
As always this is just for fun and should not be taken as my final decision. I should like to watch all the nominees and winners before making my final, FINAL choice. Now, on to cataloging the official winners (in bold) and my selections (in red). Also, my substitutions (in green).

THE 1964 ACADEMY AWARD WINNERS

BEST ORIGINAL SONG



Chim Chim Cher-ee: Mary Poppins
Dear Heart: Dear Heart
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte: Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte
My Kind of Town: Robin and the 7 Hoods
Where Love Has Gone: Where Love Has Gone

Can it be that with two exceptions, none of this year's nominees naturally roll off the tongue?  I find Chim Chim Cher-ee a perfectly delightful song...though I confess a near-blinding hatred of Dick Van Dyke.  Not as a person, but as a person.  I've seen Mary Poppins exactly once...precisely because of Van Dyke, with that damn grin and horrendous Cockney accent.  He drives me so crazy that I cannot bring myself to watch The Dick Van Dyke Show or even Diagnosis Murder BECAUSE of that damn goofy grin and incessantly cheerful demeanor.  There's one Golden Girls episode where he guest starred which I find an ordeal to sit through.  Still, as a song, Chim Chim Cher-ee has stood the test of time and in its way, the Sherman Brothers created a beautiful number.

However, my choice is different, and I choose another nominee.



From Robin and the 7 Hoods, My Kind of Town, music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics by Sammy Cahn. 

Robin and the 7 Hoods isn't well-remembered, but Ol' Blue Eyes ode to the Windy City certainly is.  It's become a standard and I think a better song than Chim Chim Cher-ee

HOWEVER, here in 1964, we have TWO much superior songs to Dear Heart and Where Love Has Gone.  Sorry. 



Goldfinger: Goldfinger
Feed the Birds: Mary Poppins
My Kind of Town: Robin and the Seven Hoods
Send Me No Flowers: Send Me No Flowers
Viva Las Vegas: Viva Las Vegas      

From Goldfinger, Goldfinger, music by John Barry, lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.

Screw Adele.  Screw Sam Smith.  Goldfinger is THE Bond Song of ALL Bond Songs, not just the Greatest Bond Song of All Time but one of the Greatest Songs Ever Written for Film.  Goldfinger is the standard by which all other Bond Songs are measured to (even with those dreadful back-to-back Bond Themes of Skyfall and Writing's on the Wall, which will fade away within five years from memory.  Quick, how does the bridge to Skyfall go...no peeking).

I put it to the snobbishness of the Academy's music branch that something as contemporary and popular as Goldfinger was overlooked come nominating time in favor over the very square and safe Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte or Where Love Has Gone.  How else to explain not only no nomination for Goldfinger but for another now-classic, Viva Las Vegas

BEST DIRECTOR

George Cukor: My Fair Lady
Peter Glenville: Becket
Stanley Kubrick: Dr. Strangelove
Robert Stevenson: Mary Poppins
Michael Cacoyannis: Zorba the Greek

Thank Heavens for the Best Adapted Screenplay category.  Otherwise, Becket would have the record for the most losses in Oscar history and loses in all the categories it was nominated for.  Out of 12 nominations, Becket managed one win, which is a shame since it is a very good film about the conflict between Church and State (personified by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Henry II, former friends turned bitter enemies). 

I think even the most passionate Cukor lover would be hard-pressed to say My Fair Lady was his best film (though by no means a bad one).  Methinks his win here was more of a de facto Honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, having been overlooked so many times before (four previous nominations dating from as far back as the 6th Academy Awards) and for films he wasn't nominated for (such as Dinner at Eight, The Women, Gaslight, A Star is Born, Camille, and/or Adam's Rib). 

This brought about the sad case of making Stanley Kubrick a perennial also-ran.  My Fair Lady is a nice, charming film, but Dr. Strangelove is iconic, a Cold War comedy about the end of the world.  History, I think, has decided that the young Turk Kubrick outdid the old master Cukor, but for the Academy, stodginess is the order of the day.

William Castle: Strait-Jacket
George Cukor: My Fair Lady
John Huston: The Night of the Iguana
Stanley Kubrick: Dr. Strangelove
Richard Lester: A Hard Day's Night

Certainly, innovation was not high on the Academy's list.  Otherwise, why leave out Lester's almost avant-garde directing for A Hard Day's Night?  It also wasn't going to reward someone like Castle, who was independent long before independent film was the in thing.   I really see nothing to alter my view that Kubrick was the best director for his wild comedy of terrors.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS




Gladys Cooper: My Fair Lady
Edith Evans: The Chalk Garden
Grayson Hall: The Night of the Iguana
Lila Kedrova: Zorba the Greek
Agnes Moorehead: Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Well, at the moment I really can't find much to argue with when it comes to this category.  I just can't.



Diane Baker: Strait-Jacket
Honor Blackman: Goldfinger
Ava Gardner: The Night of the Iguana
Lila Kedrova: Zorba the Greek
Agnes Moorehead: Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte

For some time I had put Blackman as my winner for her Pussy Galore.  However, my instincts kicked in and thought, maybe that while iconic, in terms of acting, maybe we ought to go with Kedrova, and thus I switched my vote at the last minute.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR



John Gielgud: Becket
Stanley Holloway: My Fair Lady
Edmond O'Brien: Seven Days in May
Lee Tracy: The Best Man
Peter Ustinov: Topkapi

Ustinov is an interesting actor in my view.  Sometimes I think he's brilliant, sometimes I think he's just a bit on the campy side, hamming it up for all its worth and letting his distinctive voice and diction carry him (Luther is a good example, though in fairness he was already rather elderly at the time).  I suppose that when Ustinov was good, he was very, very good, so I'm going to put him here.



Alan Bates: Zorba the Greek
Gert Frobe: Goldfinger
Herbert Lom: A Shot in the Dark
George C. Scott: Dr. Strangelove
Peter Ustinov: Topkapi

That being said, what has become more iconic than Frobe's turn as probably the Greatest Bond Villain, Auric Goldfinger?  Perhaps the fact that he was dubbed might make people question this decision, but a.) he didn't dub his acting, and b.) the dubbing has never been an issue for me.  Frobe is almost always listed among the Great Bond Villains and with apologies to all the other nominees, he is the one we remember.

BEST ACTRESS



Julie Andrews: Mary Poppins
Anne Bancroft: The Pumpkin Eater
Sophia Loren: Marriage Italian Style
Debbie Reynolds: The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Kim Stanley: Séance on a Wet Afternoon

When Julie Andrews won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy for Mary Poppins, she made the somewhat cheeky comment (in her most gracious British accent) by saying she'd like to thank the man who made all this possible...Mr. Jack Warner.  As mentioned earlier, Jack Warner had infamously passed Andrews over to recreate her Broadway/West End role of Eliza Doolittle in the film version of My Fair Lady (while simultaneously bringing Rex Harrison to recreate his).  This allowed Andrews to make Mary Poppins.  Whether Andrews won because the members thought she gave the best performance or were striking back at Warner's idiocy I cannot say.   I will say that out of the five nominated performances, hers is the one that sticks out and is best remembered.



Julie Andrews: Mary Poppins
Joan Crawford: Strait-Jacket
Audrey Hepburn: My Fair Lady
Deborah Kerr: The Night of the Iguana
Kim Stanley: Séance on a Wet Afternoon

Say what you will about Crawford's parenting skills, when it came to her on-screen work, few people have been as committed to any project as she.  Even in her more outlandish roles, Crawford went all-in.  I have always enjoyed Strait-Jacket, and her performance as the ax murderess who is attempting to keep her sanity and protect her daughter despite a series of recent ax murders is one that is strong and confident.  Joan Crawford gave it her all and I think delivered the goods. 

BEST ACTOR



Richard Burton: Becket
Rex Harrison: My Fair Lady
Peter O'Toole: Becket
Anthony Quinn: Zorba the Greek
Peter Sellers: Dr. Strangelove

Once again we see two actors from the same film cancelling each other out.  There is a strange and sad irony that Burton and O'Toole should find themselves competing against each other since both of them would go on to be among Oscar's greatest losers (O'Toole being the most nominated actor without a win with eight nominations, Burton close behind with seven, but at least O'Toole got one of those Honorary ones as an apology).

I have never found Rex Harrison's work in My Fair Lady to be particularly spectacular.  He seemed to be playing himself.  Worse, while Hepburn was dragged through the coals for not singing, Harrison was rewarded for essentially the same thing.  He, unlike Hepburn, wasn't dubbed, and he, unlike Andrews, recreated his original stage role of Professor Henry Higgins (soon to be played, I'm sure, by that great American thespian, Channing Tatum).  However, Harrison was not a singer by any stretch, and Lerner & Lowe had to cater their songs to his non-singing voice by having him 'talk on pitch'.  If you watch My Fair Lady, you can see (or perhaps, hear) that he doesn't actually sing, but talks within a melody.

You see this versus Sellers, who plays three different characters: the title role of the mad German (read, Nazi) scientist, the ineffectual American President, and the flustered British officer attempting to stop General Jack D. Ripper from blowing up the world to protect his precious bodily fluids.  Interestingly, Sellers was to have played a fourth character, the crazed "King" Kong who drops the bomb while whooping it up (Sellers suffered an injury while shooting and the role went to Slim Pickens).  Each character was so well-performed it is a real acting feat. 

Again, the Academy went for safe.   

Richard Burton: Becket
Sean Connery: Goldfinger
Peter O'Toole: Becket
Anthony Quinn: Zorba the Greek
Peter Sellers: Dr. Strangelove

At the moment, I really don't see anyone topping Sellers, Rex Harrison least of all.  At least Rex Harrison wasn't nominated for Dr. Doolittle...talk about bizarre turns.

BEST PICTURE



Becket
Dr. Strangelove
Mary Poppins
My Fair Lady
Zorba the Greek

Well, the Academy shows that it sure loves its old-school musicals.  I'm pretty sure Dr. Strangelove, with its wild take on the Cold War and mutually assured destruction, probably shocked some of the older Academy members (some of whom, I suspect, are STILL voting).  As a result, they went for the squarest of square choices, the film adaptation of a highly successful and brilliant musical.  I figure that perhaps giving the Best Picture Oscar to Walt Disney, who holds the record for the most Oscar wins of anyone (22 wins), would have been too much for members who were loyal to their own studios. 

Still, while I like My Fair Lady, I think that when you match the films, Dr. Strangelove is by far the more original and extraordinary work of the two.

With that, I select Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, as the Best Picture of 1964.



Becket
Dr. Strangelove
A Hard Day's Night
Mary Poppins
Zorba the Greek

Again, not a hard choice (though the equally innovate A Hard Day's Night is a tough act to follow).  With that, I keep Dr. Strangelove as the Best Picture of 1964.

Next Time, the 1965 Academy Awards.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Crimson Peak: A Review


CRIMSON PEAK

I think many people might have gone into Crimson Peak thinking it was some sort of horror film.  Instead, we got something closer to Gothic romance with ghosts in it, a bit of a supernatural-tinged Jane Eyre.  It's by no means bad, and it has mostly good performances.  It might a bit too grand for my tastes and a bit heavy-handed with the symbolism of things, but on the whole, I could live with it.

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska aka The Great Love of My Life) lives in Baltimore with her long-widowed father, Carter (Jim Beaver).   Shortly after her mother's death when she was young, Edith saw her mother's specter, warning her to 'beware of Crimson Peak' (which I think is as vague a warning as the undead have given any fair maiden).

Edith is a frustrated authoress, a bit bookish and trying desperately to break into publishing like her heroine, Mary Shelley.  Her only champion apart from her father is her childhood friend, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), whose own hero is another eye-doctor, Arthur Conan Doyle.  Enter into Baltimore society Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an English baronet come to Baltimore for finances from Carter to fund Sir Thomas' invention to save his fortune.  Carter points out to Sir Thomas that he's gone to several places for finances, and has been turned down.  Baltimore will be no different.

However, Edith is drawn to the mysterious baronet, and he to her.  Only Sir Thomas' balmy sister, Lady Lucille (Jessica Chastain) appears to be displeased by the potential for romance.  And romance there is, though Sir Thomas is not above getting paid off by Carter to break Edith's heart.  Fortunately for the thwarted lovers, Carter dies at his club just as Sir Thomas defies Carter to return for Edith.  It isn't long before Edith becomes Lady Sharpe.



It isn't long also before things at the decrepit Sharpe home, Allerdale Hall, show themselves to be bonkers.  Edith feels trapped in the isolation of Allerdale Hall, and Thomas & Lucille are very clearly hiding a lot of somethings.  Dr. McMichael is also wary, discovering that Carter had put an investigator on the Sharpes and investigating Carter's death.  Despite what appears to be genuine romantic, even sexual, interest by Thomas to the virginal Edith, he still has not deflowered his bride.  Lucille, for her part, appears to permanently hover without actual levitation.

Edith is helping fund Thomas' machine that will bring out red clay from the earth around Allerdale Hall, and McMichael makes some shocking discoveries about the truth involving Carter and the Sharpes.  On a rare visit to town, Sir Thomas and Lady Sharpe are snowed in and forced to stay the night, where at last, they indulge in the pleasures of the flesh.  Lucille appears enraged at the mere thought that someone was intimate with her brother...wonder why.

Edith, who is slowly getting weaker, sees her dead mother again, along with other ghosts, and now Edith makes a shocking discovery of her own.  Allerdale Hall's nickname among the population is...CRIMSON PEAK!

McMichael goes to Crimson Peak to reveal what Edith has already put together...Sir Thomas has been married at least three times, with all three Lady Sharpes dying in ugly circumstances.  All three Lady Sharpes were also wealthy daughters who had no other relations and thus, would not be missed.  In what could have been the most shocking discovery of all, Lucille the older of the two has been carrying on a long-term affair with her brother Thomas, going so far as to murdering her mother for the crime (and spending time in the Victorian-era version of a psycho ward too).  Lucille tries to murder McMichael and tries to get Thomas to commit his first murder, but Thomas appears to have a change of heart and merely injuries the good doctor.  Lucille murders Thomas, had earlier tried to kill Edith, and finally meets her end at Edith's hand (with a little help from Thomas' ghost). 

In the end, the widow Lady Sharpe has written her book, called Crimson Peak.

I figure that Crimson Peak was director/co-writer Guillermo Del Toro's homage to Gothic horror films.  Just the name "Cushing" for our heroine suggests Del Toro looked to Hammer Films for inspiration.  The Gothic settings, the deliberately ornate costumes, the dilapidated, isolated mansion (complete with a hole in the roof that allowed for gentle snow to cascade down), the weird siblings...it all adds up to a film that clearly wants people to pay attention to surroundings and be lost in the decaying splendor of it all.

Even the performances are I would argue deliberately stagey.  I point out that we a most fascinating circle of acting here.  We have an Australian (Wasikowska) playing an American, an American (Chastain) playing an Englishwoman, and an Englishman (Hunnam) playing an American.  Only Loki gets to play his native nationality.  Perhaps because the acting is, I hope, deliberately stagey and grandiose I will forgive the oddball nature and posing by Hiddleston and Chastain.  They were MEANT to be really, really weird...so I figure when you play incestuous siblings you can be a bit mannered.

Wasikowska, who I think is just one of our great young actresses today (dare I call her this generation's Meryl Streep?) played the part of the somewhat frightened Edith beautifully.  Oh yes...she played Jane Eyre in one of my favorite versions of the Bronte novel, so she's pretty adept at channeling harried maidens.  Hunnam really had little to do, but he was effective as the platonic friend who wants to be more than the platonic friend.

I personally found the story a bit clichéd, and moreover what was supposed to be shocking was rather predictable.  It's obvious that Thomas and Lucille were excessively close (put that up to the style of acting they performed) and sometimes things were just a bit too much to make things serious.  When Lucille stabs McMichael, the fireplace bursts into flames (which is way over the top). 

The talk Lucille and Edith have about butterflies and moths is again extremely overt, with the dark-clothed Lucille hovering over the bright-colored Edith like the dark moths over the bright butterflies, with the former devouring the latter.

When we discover Lucille and Thomas not quite in an intimate moment, the audience really should be expecting that (and when Lucille tells Edith that they ARE brother and sister, it isn't shocking, but actually boring).  Besides, the script (co-authored with Matthew Robbins) is a bit unfair.

How was Edith to know Allerdale Hall was Crimson Peak?  It isn't like she learned this until late into the film.  WE knew because...that's the name of the movie, but the characters?

Crimson Peak knows what it is: a variation of Jane Eyre with ghosts rather than with crazy wives locked in the attic.  Less horror film than off-kilter Gothic romance, the film is OK, but don't go in thinking it's a horror film.  If you accept it for what it is (even in its obvious nature), Crimson Peak is a way to pass a couple of hours.  Then again, I'll gladly spend a few hours with My Mia.

DECISION: C+

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Straight Outta Compton: A Review


STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON

I am in no way a hip-hop expert.  Therefore, I cannot say how good or bad Straight Outta Compton is in regards to the accuracy of the N.W.A. story or their impact on music in general.  I can say thought that Straight Outta Compton is a fine film, in equal parts the telling of the rise of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees and the story of how friends became enemies and full circle.

Growing up in the tough streets of Compton, our five young men all had various talents and abilities.  O'Shea Jackson, better known as Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson, Jr.) is the poet, a master lyricist who expresses the world he sees.  Andre Young (Corey Hawkins), who is better known as Dr. Dre,  is the genius producer, who loves the beats and can bring about any melody into shape.  Eric Wright is the money man with the nom de guerre of Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), the money coming from less than honorable sources.  Dre and Cube know Eazy-E can finance them, but they also know he has skills on the rap mike too (even if the voice at times seems a bit high).

Soon, with DJ Yella and MC Ren, the group N.W.A. comes to life (for those NOT in the know, N.W.A. stands for N*****s With Attitude).  They rap about what they see, what their world is like, and it's not a pretty picture.  Still, their style becomes highly popular, so much so that producer Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) offers to produce them.

This is not an easy alliance, as Heller is white and N.W.A. is black, which means Heller isn't harassed by the police but the rap group is.  As a result of another ugly incident where the LAPD goes overboard, the song F*** the Police is recorded and released.  Police groups and the FBI are outraged by this, but the band (and its fans) find catharsis in its call of fury.


Soon, things start going wrong.  Heller and Eazy-E are forming an odd alliance and Ice Cube is not getting the respect or financial rewards he knows he is entitled to.  In fact, Heller wants him to apparently take less money (especially compared to Eazy).  Cube finds this whole 'Godfather' business unpleasant and decides to go solo.  This in turn infuriates the double-act of Eazy and Heller (who holds some sort of Svengali-like power over Eazy).  Soon, they both take to the mikes to trash each other.

Dre also grows suspicious about Heller, but Eazy won't quit him...so Dre goes his own way and forms Death Row Records, with the obviously above-board Suge Knight (R. Marcus Taylor).  Dre, for his part, finds Suge a bit too hard for his tastes (especially after Suge goes after Eazy). 

The divisions between the N.W.A. members soon start to dissolve after the Rodney King riots (where F*** the Police receives a revival and Bloods & Crypts form a unity pact against their mutual enemy...the LAPD).  Things also improve for Eazy when he finally fires Heller after discovering his duplicity, realizing his bandmates were true. As things start coming together for the various members both individually (Dre becomes THE producer of producers and mentor to such figures as Snoop Dogg and Tupac), Eazy-E takes a turn for the worse physically.  Eazy-E is shocked to discover he has AIDS.

Sorry, E, AIDS isn't just for gays.

Eazy-E's death brings N.W.A. to an end, but for Cube and Dre, things are only beginning.  Dre has gone on to mentor not just Snoop and Tupac, but such figures as Eminem, while Cube has carved a successful acting career.

Who knew that the guy behind those Are We There Yet? movies was once considered a hard-core gangsta?

Oh, and for DJ Yella and MC Ren, well, they were just there.


I think that's perhaps one of Straight Outta Compton's flaws.  The story is so focused around the stories and personalities of Cube, Eazy, and Dre that the other two members of N.W.A. are pretty much there for decorative purposes.  Not that the struggles between the trio does not make for good drama (it certainly does), but one wonders what Yella and Ren were doing while all this was going on.

Another, I think fair, complaint is that Straight Outta Compton can be a bit of a whitewashing of N.W.A. itself.  The group lived very indulgent lives on the road, and whatever misogyny they had both as individuals or within their lyrics the film won't ever touch.  Straight Outta Compton may want to be a 'warts and all' portrayal of N.W.A., but to a certain degree, the film wasn't going to bite the hand that feeds it (since Cube, Dre, and Eazy's family all participated in the making, down to having Cube's son play his father).  If one takes a look at the film, women played virtually no part in their lives except as things for pleasure (apart from Dre and Cube's mothers).

Not having seen any of the Friday films, I had to have the "Bye, Felicia" bit explained...and I still don't quite get it.  I put that up to my WASP upbringing.

In terms of performances, however, Straight Outta Compton does an amazing job.  O'Shea Jackson, Jr. bears such a striking resemblance to his father that it does genuinely appear that a younger Ice Cube is taking the stage.  Putting aside the resemblance, Jackson, Jr. does an excellent job bringing the conflict of Cube with his other members and his struggles with Heller to life.  We see how Cube grew into his hatred for the police (the only real gang around here, as he wryly observes).

Is there an irony that the man who penned F*** the Police has now gained greater fame by playing policemen in comedies?

Hawkins and Mitchell were also excellent as Dre and Eazy-E respectively, with Mitchell in particular making Eazy a figure who thought himself clever but who had fallen under the spell of Heller which almost nothing would take away from.  Giamatti seems to have cornered the market on questionable, sleazy figures/managers (Cinderella Man being the exception, though there he was still a bit of the bundle of nerves Giamatti seems to play often), and the interplay between Giamatti and Mitchell made the film almost a tragedy in how blind Eazy was to Heller's duplicity.

Even in smaller roles, Lakieth Lee Stanfield and Marcc Rose as Snoop Dogg and Tupac respectively looked and sounded so like their counterparts Straight Outta Compton could almost be a documentary.   

The credit goes to director F. Gary Gray and Jonathan Herman & Andrea Berloff's screenplay (with a story by S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus, and Berloff), sadly the only Oscar nomination the film received.   Perhaps because we have so many figures to work with, and so many stories to follow, Straight Outta Compton can be a little unwieldy.  After all, MC Ren and DJ Yella were virtually cameos in the film, so much attention paid to the triumvirate of Eazy/Cube/Dre. 

Still, despite these flaws, as a film and a chronicle of this influential group (for good or bad, depending on where you stand on gangsta rap), Straight Outta Compton is a great achievement and worth seeing regardless of what you think of the music. 




DECISION: B+

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Rather Questionable: Truth (2015) Review


TRUTH

Sometimes truth can be fiction.  Truth, the film based on a news scandal that cost veteran CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather his post, is a well-made, well-acted film, though whether it is a whitewashing and historic revision of what actually occurred is a subject of debate.  Truth proves that films are not documentaries (which themselves can be if not flat-out deceiving at least capable of being geared to reach a foregone conclusion).   How much truth there is in Truth, therefore, depends greatly on what you believe to be true.

CBS News producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) has done great work exposing the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal, and now she has a hot tip for another potentially great story.  There are documents that purport to reveal that then-President George W. Bush, deep in his reelection bid, may have received preferential treatment whilst in the Texas Air National Guard.  They appear to show that the future President had been basically allowed to go AWOL and not finish his service in a unit filled with the scions of Texas' rich and powerful.  This has all the earmarks of a great investigative piece.

Unfortunately, Mapes discovers that the documents are not the genuine ones but photocopies, handed to her by Lt. Colonel Bill Burkett (Stacey Keach), who is ill, and who in turn received them in what appear to be very cloak-and-dagger circumstances.  Into this comes Mapes' mentor, Dan Rather (Robert Redford), who is eager about a story involving the past military experience of the President, especially since his Democratic opponent, John Kerry, has built his entire career on his own Vietnam War experiences (and those were being questioned at the time of the campaign).

This story is investigated, found to be accurate, but scheduling conflicts at CBS make it nearly impossible to fully vet everything.  They have to either get this story on the air in five days...or wait until perhaps after the election.  This is too great a story to have wait, and CBS' 60 Minutes II goes on air with it.



Once the news crew stops congratulating itself for a job well done, the real scandal begins.  Within hours of the 'Killian Documents' story broadcast, right-wing blogs begin to poke holes in the story.  Chief among the accusations is that the documents are forgeries, having been made recently and made to look like they were thirty-plus years old.  CBS, Mapes, and Rather all stood by their story, but soon other media outlets and partisans began finding that there was too much doubt as to whether the documents were genuine (in particular the fact that it was copies, not the originals said to have been burned, that were the documents establishing this story).  Mapes, Rather, and her two producing assistants, Lt. Col. Charles Rogers (Dennis Quaid) and Mike Smith (Topher Grace) kept insisting their story was accurate.

However, their competition and the organizations with vested interest continued to question the authenticity of the documents, finding evidence that perhaps they were forgeries (or at the very least, CBS had done a slapdash job of authentication to get a story on air prior to the election...with political motives perhaps at play).  The ensuing scandal brought about an investigation at "Black Rock" (the CBS Corporate headquarters).  It is here that Mary Mapes, a very harassed woman finding herself under siege on all fronts (even from her abusive father who denounces her as a left-wing harpy), is sacrificed to save CBS more embarrassment.  She loses her job, and Dan Rather is essentially forced out, his journalistic career brought to ruin.


It takes a particular type of film to call itself Truth when the story involves potential lies and deception.  It is not my place to decide whether the events in Truth are wholly accurate.  Director/writer James Vanderbilt based the film on Mapes' memoir on the whole affair: Truth and Duty: The Press, The President, and the Privilege of Power.  As a result, we start from the perspective that Mapes is the heroine of the story and as such, Truth is already biased in favor of one side.  In short, Truth already starts with a handicap in that the story is going to be not a story about what actually happened, but about perhaps Mapes attempting to restore her reputation.

As a side note, I love the alliteration of Mapes' book. 

This desire to paint Mapes as a journalistic Joan of Arc takes its lowest point when she confronts the nefarious (and all-male) investigative commission.  Here, her accusers are asking if her 'liberalism', real or perceived, influenced her decision to air the Bush story.  I would say that this is a legitimate question, especially when there is a brief mention that Mapes helped facilitate contact between Burkett and the Kerry campaign.  Mapes takes umbrage at this suggestion, then confronts her accusers by asking if what they want to ask her is, "Am I now or have I ever been a liberal?"

It was at this moment that I felt Truth went overboard.  Clearly Mapes was attempting to equate her 'trial' with the House Un-American Activities Committee that would ask those it dragged, "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?"  I would argue that there is a marked difference between those who were persecuted for their former/current leftist views...and someone who appeared never to wonder whether she was rushing to broadcast a story that had not been as well-vetted as perhaps it should have. 

In the film, no one questions whether the Killian Documents story needed to air with such a brief timeframe to investigate every aspect, to make sure the whole thing was locked down.  It seems in retrospect almost amusing to see how the same press that went after the Bush Administration for rushing into war in Iraq with questionable evidence would then feel that they could rush into a news-story that would clearly have an effect on an election with questionable evidence.

Furthermore, in some respects Mapes and Rather came off a bit bad in this.  They had a strong defensiveness bordering on arrogance when other outlets (legitimate and otherwise) began to question whether at best CBS had been duped, at worst was flat-out lying in its 60 Minutes II segment.  Mapes in particular appears to be infuriated that she would be questioned, let alone questioned by people who were her inferiors. 

Now, this isn't to say Truth is a bad film (Topher Grace notwithstanding).  Blanchett makes Mapes a flawed but ultimately strong woman, one who stands by her acts no matter what.  Redford makes Rather into the loyal friend (though at times he does come across as slightly unaware of things).  Pity for Quaid, whom I last remember as a Bush-like idiot President from American Dreamz (which I'm sure was not meant to be in any way/shape/form a dig at the former Commander-in-Chief).

I found Truth well-acted though a bit heavy-handed and one-sided.  A film that discussed the mad rush to get a story for ratings or a film about how financial considerations affect editorial content would make for a fascinating feature film.

Pity they made one already...called Network.   



DECISION: C+

Monday, May 16, 2016

Gotham: Into the Woods Review



GOTHAM: INTO THE WOODS

What is amazing about Into the Woods, the seventeenth Gotham episode of Season Two, is that it plays like a series finale even though it has five more episodes to go.   You end Into the Woods wondering how they can possibly top this brilliant episode that throws so much at you. You get shocking revelations, the end of the beginning of a future super-villain, the growth of the future Batman, and one wild storyline that manages to mix Cinderella with Medea...and Bonkers Babs is Back!

Kind of makes the upcoming return of Mr. Freeze almost anti-climatic (though given Nathan Darrow is playing our favorite frozen figure, that is practically impossible).  Into the Woods continues to smash all expectations and makes for a brilliant Gotham episode.

Detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is still on the lam, determined to clear his name and find out who framed him for the murder of a fellow officer.  Little does he know that the man behind the frame-up is a secret frenemy: GCPD Forensics Officer Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith).  Gordon is now essentially The Fugitive, though he still cannot help being the moral figure he is: saving a woman from a mugging though she isn't exactly thankful for the favor.

Eventually, he goes to Edward for help, but Ed's suspicious behavior (and Ed's ego about being oh so clever) give him away.  The tape that Gordon's partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) got from Internal Affairs through methods too horrible to describe confirm it is Nygma.  "I knew that you knew that I knew," Nygma tells him before shocking Gordon, Nygma planning the detective's demise.  Gordon, however, manages an effective escape.

To help entrap Nygma, Gordon turns to his old friends, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) and Bruce's valet, Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee).  He even gets another frenemy, Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) to help in this dastardly scheme.  As can be expected, into the woods goes Ed, where he does the unthinkable...monologuing. 

In other stories, Bruce and Selina have been working together in petty crimes, though Bruce, too honest, more often than not gives the stolen money away (always keeping just enough for burgers).  He even sews Selina's coat, explaining that Alfred has shown him that sewing is an important skill for a bachelor.  Once he helps Gordon, and learns that Lucius Fox has repaired the computer in the "not" Bat-Cave, Wayne abandons the streets, angering Selina.


The other major storyline is that of poor Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor).  Mourning the death of his father, he is adrift.  His stepmother, Grace (Melinda Clarke) has no interest in Oswald, since Elijah Van Dahl never had a change the will and Oswald is illegitimate.  However, he IS Elijah's biological son and Grace fears he could make a play for the Van Dahl fortune, a clever enough lawyer being able to make a case to his rightful inheritance.  Fearing the sweet, naïve Oswald may finally wake up, Grace decides the best thing to do is to keep him on...as the family servant.

Grace and her children Sasha (Kaley Ronayne) and Charles (Justin Mark) delight in torturing Penguin-Ella, abusing him physically and emotionally.  The poor Oswald is at a loss about how to react, given all the evil has been taken out of him thanks to the weird experiments of Dr. Hugo Strange.  However, Oswald discovers that Grace murdered his beloved father when he accidentally comes across the poison, giving it to the dog to verify his suspicions.

At the next family meal, Oswald serves two types of pot roast to a disinterested Grace, who thinks both taste the same.  He assures her that one of them is more tender than the other.  Grace first notes something is slightly amiss when Oswald makes the sarcastic crack that the pot roast beats "my slut-mother's goulash" (the exact term Grace had used to describe both Penguin's food and his beloved mother).  She becomes more alarmed when Oswald confronts her about Elijah's murder, calling frantically for her children. A gleeful, vengeful, and enraged Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot then tells Grace that the second pot roast is more tender...because it is her daughter. 

Grace is horrified to learn that she has literally eaten her own children...and more horrified to see Penguin take out a knife and stab her to death.  The last we see of Penguin is of him, caked in blood, with the dead Grace still sitting at the other end, the two pot roasts of Charles and Sasha cooling at the table.

Now, Selina, Bruce, Edward, and Oswald now are firmly set on their paths as the future Catwoman, Batman, Riddler, and Penguin...and throw in Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) showing up at Gordon's door, released from Arkham and allegedly sane.

Who here thinks she actually IS sane?

My goodness but is Robin Lord Taylor BRILLIANT!  The entire arc of his character from the criminal mastermind to sweet innocent to now sadistic horror has been a purely fascinating, incredible, and astonishingly perfect performance.  RLT had to go through a whole range this hour: from the devastated son to the put-upon servant to the vengeful Fury out to avenge his father's death.  Into the Woods with Penguin's story draws from Greek mythology in both having him pursue the wicked until they meet their appropriate fate and in the horror of a parent literally eating the flesh of her own children.

Into the Woods doesn't have to tell us specifically that Charles and Sasha are now cooked, and maybe he lied to Grace as a form of psychological torture.  However, the mere suggestion that there was cannibalism going on is shocking enough.  Given how brutal they all were to Oswald, and how devastated he was to bury the father he barely knew after seeing his mother killed before his own eyes, it would not surprise me that this act drove Penguin so insane that he probably did kill his stepsiblings and cook them.

It is to RLT's extraordinary range that he, even as one who committed such a horrifying act, can make him almost sympathetic.  It isn't as if Grace, Sasha, and/or Charles didn't deserve a particularly brutal form of punishment for their own barbarism.  However, one is left astounded by this act.  One is also left astounded as to how RLT made all this believable, and the evolution of Penguin in general.



I also have to give credit to the other villain in tonight's episode.  CMS made the Riddler's revelation into a sharp and frightening one.  CMS is aided by Gotham's cinematography.  When he begins to pursue Gordon in the factory, the cinematography makes it look like Edward Nygma is emerging from Hell itself.  It's a frightening, apocalyptic vision that feeds off CMS' performance as the deranged yet oddly decent Nygma (when the GCPD sweep in to arrest Nygma in the woods, CMS has him run off in a non-criminal attempt, clumsy and inept, ending with him saying, "Oh, crud", when he falls on his face and is arrested. 

Credit also has to go to every performance.  Clarke has that 'bitch virtuosity' so well-honed in The O.C. as the wicked stepmother, Mazouz and Bicondova work well together in that double-act that is Batman and Catwoman, and Logue puts in the comic relief as Bullock, who makes the ultimate sacrifice for his good friend Jim...sleeping with a very large woman at the IA office to get the tape that will help find who set Gordon up.

About the only flaw in Into the Woods was the idea of turning at least part of the episode into Penguin-Ella.  I thought that part was a bit cliché and overdone, almost something to expect.  Minus that, however, Into the Woods astounds in the story and in the performances (particularly by Taylor and Smith as the Penguin and future Riddler).  Into the Woods was a knockout of an episode, and now the pressure is on to wrap up Gotham Season Two into another successful effort. 

9/10

Next Episode: Pinewood

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Walk: A Review


THE WALK

People were surprised at the failure of The Walk, the true story of how French tightrope walker Phillipe Petit made a daring walk between the Twin Towers back in 1974.  It got royal reviews and has a sure-fire fascinating story.

Well, allow me to be a lone negative voice when it comes to The Walk.  It is not a terrible film (the final walk between the Towers a beautifully-realized sequence).  The problem with The Walk is that it is slow, and worse, really thinks that its audience is dumb.

I'll explain in a moment.

Phillipe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) loves to challenge himself, whether it is in learning the art of tightrope walking or romancing a beautiful street chanteuse named Annie (Charlotte Le Bon).  His greatest ambition, a dream that would consume him for at least a year if not more, came about thanks to a dental visit.  While waiting impatiently at the office, he spots an article about the rising of the World Trade Center Towers in New York City.  Instantly, he sees the greatness and glory of walking between them, suspended in midair, with nothing but his skill to keep him floating above the heavens.

Into his venture he ropes in various figures to help him.  He first attempts a daring walk across the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral, which draws some media attention (though not the amount he thinks he deserves) and the arrest of the Paris police.  This effort, which Petit calls his 'coup', will require all these various 'accomplices', including his mentor, Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley),  all of whom either fully support or tell him he is bonkers (mostly the former).  He gets more accomplices in New York, and the driven, perhaps insane figure finally gets things going by going to the yet-incomplete tower to do his daring act.

That Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze meets many but many obstacles, but finally, after overcoming many but many obstacles, Petit finally walks across the Towers.  He does draw a crowd of shocked/delighted onlookers, and the fear and ire of the NYPD.  He crosses several times, once even lying down on the high-wire, until a vision tells him to go and end his taunting of the sky.  He is promptly arrested, but the NYPD and construction crew cannot help but admire the chutzpah of this 'frog'.  As we end The Walk, Petit tells us that the pass he received to go to the observation area had the expiration date scratched off by the builders.  In its place was written, "Forever"...which we all know ended on a clear September day.

With such a fascinating story sure to pull at our heart, why then did I find it such a horror?  It goes back to that 'Zemeckis thinks the audience is dumb' business.  One of the things that I have found exceptionally irritating in movies is when you get voice-over narration telling you what it should be showing you.

That in itself is already bad enough because few films manage to pull off that feat (Sunset Boulevard and Blade Runner being two good exceptions).  What makes The Walk worse is that Petit not only narrates what is going on but the film SHOWS us what he is narrating at the same time.  That to me was simply infuriating.

It tells me that Zemeckis and Company simply did not trust the story to reveal itself to us, to let the audience in on the magic and wonder of this daring feat.  Instead, we are treated to a nearly endless running commentary by Petit about how things were going when we SEE exactly what he is talking about. 

It might just be better to watch Man on Wire, the documentary about Petit's act of (brave/foolishness) if one wanted to get a virtual play-by-play.

Add to this the fact that JGL, one of finest actors in his failed Oscar bid via biopic, apparently sounding like he was dubbed by Pepe Le Pew and it makes things more disastrous.  I love Gordon-Levitt, and it's nice to hear him speak his flawless French, and yes, there is a logic to his accent (many times he asks people to speak English to practice it when he gets to New York), but it still comes across as too forced, as if Gordon-Levitt felt he needed to show how much of an actor he is by employing this strong (I'd call it forced) accent.

In other matters, The Walk really does not make the case as to why we should even care for Petit and his group of 'conspirators', particularly because they don't have any outstanding personalities, any sense of who they are or why they would go along with this simply insane idea.  As far as I can make out, none of these people existed outside Petit.  They almost seem to be there just to serve him, not to be part of a greater plan.

In truth, the only redeeming quality to The Walk is when we actually get to THE walk across the Towers.  Up to the moment Petit shifts his foot off the safety of the tower and onto the wire, the film kind of slogs through.  Once we get to the actual event itself, The Walk lifts itself into a breathtaking moment of wonder.  Acrophobics should hold on to something when we get to this moment, because it is at this point that The Walk suddenly comes alive in full and terrific and terrifying glory.

Even that, however, is wrecked by Zemeckis' decision to go a little mystical, suggesting that Petit decided to finally end his act of daring-do because a dove (perhaps the Spirit of the Towers) was beginning to show its anger at being taunted so.  Rephrasing a line from Auntie Mame, couldn't he have simply said it started to rain?

Despite JGL's best efforts, Petit came across as annoying and obnoxious rather than possessed and joyful.  His crew came across as so many idiots willing to do The Master's bidding (even Papa Rudy, who as a mentor appeared to be working for Petit rather than the other way round). Zemeckis took too many flights of fancy (pun unintended), and what should have been a fascinating and thrilling story became instead a dull exercise.

Yes, that whole "voice-over while simultaneously showing what voice-over is describing" was for me a disastrous decision.  There was no sense of drama or tension or anxiety thanks to Zemeckis' awful pacing and calls to silliness (did he really have to pick I Want To Take You Higher when they arrive in New York)? I know it was the 1970s, but still...

At a certain point, when we see a fantasy of one of his accomplices, who happens to suffer from acrophobia, falling to his death, I was officially done with The Walk.  Mercifully, I finished the film and was rewarded with a great visual feast of Petit's feat.  My recommendation is to either watch Man on Wire or skip onto the final walk of The Walk to get a great film about this amazing moment.    

Born 1949

DECISION: D+

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Gotham: Prisoners Review



GOTHAM: PRISONERS

It feels like it's been a while since Detective Jim Gordon has been the actual center of a story rather than just an excuse to bring in other characters from the Batman mythos.  It might be that it's been a few weeks since I've seen Gotham too.  Prisoners gives us a Gordon-centered storyline that puts in a few elements that might be a bit cutesy.  It also gives the breakout star of Gotham, Robin Lord Taylor and his take on Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin, a chance to show us his range and give us a moving image of a man trying so hard to be good and finding no reward for it.

Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) has been taken out of protective custody at Blackgate Penitentiary and now is shifted towards the general population in the area called World's End.  There, Warden Bellamy (Ned Bellamy) wants Gordon dead within the week.  Prisoner/enforcer Wilson Bishop (Marc Damon Johnson) is just the man for the job.  Gordon, however, has some secret allies at Blackgate, and some not-so-secret allies.  One prisoner, Puck (Peter Mark Kendall) looks up to Gordon.  Despite his act of teenage foolishness that got him locked up, Puck has never forgotten how Gordon helped capture the man who assaulted his sister. 

Meanwhile, Gordon's partner Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) is determined to get his buddy out of the clink.  For that, he goes to a very old friend, none other than Don Falcone himself (John Doman).  Don Falcone does help, inadvertently helping Puck escape too (Gordon refusing to leave without him).  Puck, however, cannot survive the injuries he suffered thanks to his open association with Gordon and dies outside prison.  Gordon has the option to find his love, Dr. Thompkins (who sadly lost their baby due to the stress of the situation) and escape out of the country, or go back to Gotham to clear his name.

Guess which he chooses.

In the other story, Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) is continuing to bond with his father, Elijah Van Dahl (Paul Reubens).  The sweetness of the new Oswald struggles with the sins of his past, and he tearfully admits all his crimes to his father.  Far from rejecting him, Elijah embraces Oswald, thankful that he has been so open and forgiving him for all his trespasses.

Good thing too, as Oswald's stepmother Grace (Melinda Clarke) attempts to wreck their relationship by revealing Oswald is the notorious criminal The Penguin.  Their isolation from the rest of Gotham society kept this from being known immediately, but her plan backfires due to Oswald having confessed sooner.  Oswald attempts to convince his stepmother and stepsiblings that he is not the same man anymore, but only Elijah can protect him.

The fact that Elijah has a blood heir to give his fortune to, and that he is planning to change his will to have him be the sole inheritor sends Grace and her two children, Charles (Justin Mark) and Sasha (Kaley Ronayne) into a panic.  Drastic action must be taken to stop this.  As father and son continue bonding (down to Oswald starting his own apprenticeship of tailoring, a Van Dahl tradition handed from father to son), Grace sets her own plans.  First, she sends Sasha to attempt and seduce the innocent if not downright virginal Oswald (and when that fails, Charles offers to give it a try, an idea Grace rejects).  Next comes a more drastic idea: a little poisoned drink would do the trick.

As is the case in these things however, despite the doctor's orders Elijah takes the drink...and dies in Penguin's arms.  Grace is shocked at this turn of events, and Oswald is emotionally wrecked.

Prisoners has these two stories going back and forth, and it does so beautifully.  Moreover, it keeps a strange symmetry between Gordon and Cobblepot, the two of them living out eerie similar lives.  Both of them are surrounded by people trying to kill them.  Both of them lose through violence the only people who care for them despite what they've done.  Both of them now face a greater threat than the ones they left.

Prisoners also has some really intense, emotionally powerful acting.  Oh, Robin Lord Taylor...why are you so good?  It is difficult to think which episode he should submit for Emmy consideration, because each of his episodes have pretty much been a goldmine in acting.  Here, we see a whole new side of Oswald Cobblepot: that of a sincerely sweet person, perhaps what he would have been if not for his criminal bent and, in a warning from his biological father, a curse within the male bloodline (Oswald's grandfather having committed suicide and not dying of an accident as was reported). 

RLT made his fear and regret when his past was revealed so powerful, and when his father dies...boy do you feel for Penguin.  That kind of acting, that kind of real, solid acting, does not come around much, and we should appreciate it for the sheer brilliance that it is.

I simply cannot say strongly enough just how good Robin Lord Taylor is on Gotham: both as villain and as flawed anti-hero.

He even manages to make the fear he has when Sasha attempts to all but rape him believable...and slightly funny.  "Restrain yourself, WOMAN!" he yells when he manages to wriggle his way out of her grasp.  "I'm practically your BROTHER!"  Whether it is the shock of a woman grinding on him (Penguin has never had a romantic partner or even expressed any sexual or romantic desires on Gotham), the fact that is was his stepsister, or the fear and uncomfortableness of a sexually aggressive woman we do not know (there is no way to confirm whether Penguin is gay, straight, or bisexual, again because Penguin has been thoroughly asexual since we first met him).  RLT plays all facets of Penguin brilliantly, and you feel for a man who has lost both parents within a year (and both times dying violently in his arms).

McKenzie's take on Gordon as the perpetually gruff and closed-in man gets a nice and soft touch with his relationship with Puck.  He still urges the youngster to stay away from him, but despite himself Gordon cares for the lad.  McKenzie's silent but still conflicted reaction when he learns of his child's death (a mixture of anger and pain and inability to do anything) is a breath of fresh air given how sometimes Gordon comes across as a bit of a stiff.

The guest stars are also almost all good.  Reubens gentle take on the dying Van Dahl is so wonderful, particularly when he has RLT to act against.  Kendall's Puck, while to my mind a bit cliché in regards to the 'young naïve kid', has wonderful interplay with McKenzie. 

It is also nice to see Doman return, if only briefly, as Don Falcone, a twist that was highly welcome.  It makes one believe that perhaps we have yet to see the last of the notorious Don so integral to Season One.

Perhaps the 'evil stepmother plotting to kill the opposition' bit (coupled with the whole 'accidentally poisoned' bit) and the 'plucky kid' bit didn't sit too well with me.  Also, despite the best efforts of the show what was suppose to be Detective Gordon's death did not have any impact on me emotionally.  I rather was left cold by what was suppose to be Gordon's death.  I also wonder if Gordon wasn't in on it, how did he get the fake side wound. 

Again, minor bits to yet another strong Gotham episode (particularly lifted by Robin Lord Taylor's amazing performance).  Prisoners is another strong episode in Season Two, and Gotham (if not strictly Batman) continues to rise.  



8/10

Next Episode: Into the Woods