Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Gotham: Season One - A Review

The first season of the FOX TV show GOTHAM was recently recommended to me along with Agents of SHIELD, and I began watching both. I enjoyed GOTHAM sooo very much that I thought I'd do something I'd never done before - review a TV show on my blog.

The show tells the Batman backstory, laying the foundation for what most of us are familiar with from the Nolan films, as well as whatever each of us has gleaned from the comic books and other forms of media over the years. The primary focus of this series is Detective Jim Gordon, and his one-man mission to clean up Gotham -- not just of the criminal element, but of the corruption that saturates the Gotham City Police Department, from the Commissioner on down. From the beginning, he throws caution to the wind, and refuses to play along with the bribery, coercion, the turning of blind eyes to the various twisted ways that the police and the mob dance together.

Early on, he makes enemies everywhere he turns, as his fellow officers undermine his every move - even his own partner, Harvey Bullock, who is very persistent in his efforts to convince Jim to play along. When Thomas and Martha Wayne are murdered in front of their son Bruce, in a Gotham alleyway, Gordon makes it his mission to find the killer(s) and set it right.

I think that's good, as far as setting the stage for the story arcs.

And now, what I love about the show!

The Cast

I've never watched a show with a cast I absolutely adored as much as this show. In fact, my love for the cast is my main reason for writing this post. There are so many cast members that are vying for the title of My Favorite Cast Member, it's ridiculous. The are so many amazing characters and performances throughout the season's 22 episodes that it boggles my mind - not only the regular characters, but the minor roles as well as those that appear only once, setting the stage for future involvement.

If I was forced at gunpoint to pick my favorite member of the cast, it would be Robin Lord Taylor as The Penguin...

Early on in the season, I felt he was overdoing it a bit, but he settled into the role so well that it wasn't long before he became one of the strongest reasons to watch the show. His portrayal of the Penguin is a fascinating mix of nervousness, quiet cunning, simmering violence and calm confidence. I absolutely love this character and this actor.

Other favorites include both crime bosses:

John Doman as Don Carmine Falcone:  Very classy actor, and the character carries strength and wisdom, even though he knows he's in the cross-hairs of many friends and enemies, as they all see him as having had his day, and now should step aside (or be removed) so that younger, fresher blood can take over his empire. He is Gotham's #1 crime boss.

David Zayas as Don Sal Maroni: Another class act that dominates the screen whenever he is on it, Zayas' portrayal of Falcone's main competitor is explosive and smart and sooo smooth, and the fact that he's given such wonderful dialog is icing on the cake for me.

Sean Pertwee as Alfred Pennyworth: I cannot say enough good things about this actor and what he's done with this character. He is so charismatic and bad-ass (pardon my French) that he swiftly secured a place on my "Oh, Great, We're Going To See Him Again!!!" List. Every time "we" went to Wayne Manor, it was a treat. Talk about class, this guy is so thoroughly legit, he could have his own backstory series. And speaking of Wayne Manor....

David Mazouz as Young Bruce Wayne: He is the man himself, Bruce Wayne - only, you know, the younger version. This little kid has the weight of the entire world on his shoulders, and he pulls it off like a champ. Ultimately, this entire series is about Batman - it's the "elephant in the room" foundation to the whole reason the show exists. He pulls it off incredibly well. I've seen plenty of "child" actors ham their way through performances - the choice of David as Bruce was another stroke of genius for those that cast the show. He is perfect, and better, he is consistently good.

Cory Michael Smith as Edward Nygma: Anyone with even the barest knowledge of Batman lore knows that Edward Nygma is the alias of the villain The Riddler. In this series, he isn't The Riddler yet - he's a crime scene technician that works for the Gotham City Police Department - he's one of the good guys! Granted, it's very plain that seeds are there for his eventual cross-over to the other team - his interactions with his fellow officers is rife with idiosyncrasies and quirks. He's the quintessential nerd, with a Grade-A crush on one of his female coworkers who unwaveringly keeps him friend-zoned, while simultaneously dating other officers, driving Edward nuts. He persistently navigates the ridicule of his fellows officers so that he can weather the repeated rejections of his crush. I'm sure you can see where this is headed... Bottom line, a wonderful character, very well played.

Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock: Jim Gordon's partner at the GCPD is "corrupt cop with a heart of gold" Harvey Bullock. I immediately loved this character, which is more than I can say for Jim Gordon, actually (more on that below). He's honest about his desire to maintain the status quo, and not rock the boat, getting "his" on the side where and when he can. Yet he (almost) always backs up Gordon on his crazy plays, and supports him even when no one else will. And slowly, he comes around. It's a great arc for a terrific character, played by a Grade A actor. Tons of great moments.

Ben McKenzie as Detective Jim Gordon: Here is the One Man Army himself. To be honest, it took a while for him to grow on me - both the character and the actor. The role is so gung-ho clean-cut Dudley Do-Right that initially it was off-putting. But by Episode 7, I was firmly in McKenzie's corner. What did it for me was the actor more than the character. McKenzie is a very subtle actor in the ways that count - which is important when you have a somewhat over-the-top character. He floods the seams with little facial movements, partial smiles, eye-twitches, little head movements - all the things I'm convinced exponentially increases the appeal of acting performances. The way he carries and presents himself makes him well worth watching.

Other characters I enjoyed were Camren Bicondova as Selina Kyle, the wonderful Carol Kane as the Penguin's mother Gertrude Cobblepot, Anthony Carrigan as henchman Victor Zsazs, Nicholas D'Agosto as Harvey Dent, and special mention goes to Cameron Monaghan for his one-off role in Episode 16 The Blind Fortune Teller. His transformation into what I hope will be The Joker was absolutely fantastic and riveting and left me wide-eyed and goofy-grinning with glee. Sooo well done. In fact, watch it here!

As great a job as the casting department did, however, the cast wasn't flawless. There are forgettable filler characters (especially on the GCPD), and even two of the main characters never clicked with me at all, throughout the season. One of them was Fish Mooney, played by Jada Pinkett Smith. It was overdone from the outset, and stayed that way throughout her often-odd storylines. The whole stretch on the Doll Maker's Island (Ep 17-19) was just absurd, and did nothing but solidify my negative opinion of her character. The other one that didn't sit right with me was Barbara Kean, played by Erin Richards. I cannot put my finger on why, exactly, but she got under my skin big time, up until the final episode, when it became fairly clear that she was slated to become a villain. She may grow on me in Season Two.

The Writing

The show creator is a man named Bruno Heller, and he also penned five of the twenty-two scripts for the season. Honestly, that was one thing I learned in researching the show. I don't know why I never realized it, but apparently these types of shows have an army of writers and directors - it isn't like a film, with one or two writers, and a single director. It seems as though each episode is treated like its own individual production, with its own crew, from Director on down.

Of the ten writers that penned the 22 scripts, Bruno Heller wrote five (of the best, in my opinion), and John Stephens and Ken Woodruff each wrote 4. The remaining 7 writers each got one or sometimes two attempts at writing a script - and honestly, it was evident. Now that I'm writing for a serial, I kind of know what to look for in writing, and the episodes that I felt lacked (especially, by far, Episode 11 Rogue's Gallery) were almost always by one of the single-shot authors. I can only assume that reflects the show producers story-telling acumen. Weed out those who don't quite cut it.

You think 10 writers is a lot, try 16 directors!

Yes, 22 episodes, 16 directors. Two of the directors - Danny Cannon and TJ Scott -- each helmed 3 episodes. Almost everyone else had one shot. That being said, I felt the direction was consistently good-to-outstanding, throughout the season. I am open about admitting my naivete when it comes to industry stuff, but apparently this "army of directors" approach is standard. Other shows I've researched prove the same pattern. I suppose it makes sense - I mean, seeing first-hand all of the pieces that Jeff Patton has had to assemble to direct just one hour of Beyond the Impact was a real eye-opener. I can't imagine having to juggle all of that for a dozen or more episodes.

Even shows that create all of the episodes and release them all at once (like House of Cards) has a large team of directors, many of which direct only one - or at the most two - episode(s).


As if making blog history by reviewing a TV series for the first time wasn't indication enough, I think it's safe to say I highly recommend Gotham, occasional warts and all. I'd say 80% of the episodes were excellent, with an occasional sub-par effort thrown in. But for me, those hiccups are easy to overlook, especially since I'm getting a clearer understanding of just what a complex machine it is, running a show like this. And I'm sure I'm only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

Kudos to Bruno Heller and the entire retinue of people involved in this show. I am a big fan. A wonderful cast, and solid writing means excellent entertainment. If you have Netflix, you can stream it, and binge-watch the whole season.

On to Season 2!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Greetings from the Minefield!

Yes, please.

Navigating minefields. I think I can safely add that to my List Of Things I Cannot Do Well.

Not literal minefields, of course... wouldn't take too many failures to bring a swift end to that hobby (although it does remind me of a certain monologue of which I am quite fond). Figurative minefields, however... when it comes to those, apparently I know no fear. I'll just stride out into them as though I have good sense. Which likely means it's less an issue of fearlessness as it is a demonstration of questionable intelligence.

Of course, I'd love to go into detail about the multiple minefields I've lost figurative limbs to this week alone, but alas, the wounds are a bit too fresh, the explosions still ringing in my ears, the dust still settling.

Let's just say the teeter-totter of life continues to dole out its ups and down. At the moment, my self confidence is zero.

Only one thing to do! Well, actually, there are many things to do. But first on my list is (apparently) to update my blog with rambling vagueries. Alas, it is more an exercise in self-therapy than an effort to coherently entertain and/or enlighten you, at the moment. I've been bottomed-out before, many times. I have a cot set up here and everything.

The next thing to do is to go the heck to sleep and hope that tomorrow is a better day than today. I try to take the edge off by reminding myself that, overall, my life is terrific, and these small foxes are more pests than plagues. One of the benefits of being a person prone to mood shifts: tomorrow is likely to be better.

In the interim, I have to get my ramble on! And this ghost town-of-a-blog is my domain, so pardon me as I haunt it for a while...

Ahh, there we go! The sweet aroma of empty platitudes! What a rush!

So there's this juggler, and he's frantically-yet-skillfully keeping a half-dozen balls in the air. It was impressive to watch until, quite suddenly, he just stopped, and all of the balls cascaded to the floor and rolled to a stop around his feet. He stood there, slump-shouldered and a bit dazed. When asked what happened, he said, "Well, I was going along fine, when I asked myself, 'Why am I doing this?' I had no answer."

OK, so there's updating the blog and getting a good night's sleep. What else? Well, Minecraft is one of my go-to's, but it isn't working. I mean, the game is working, in that I can play it, but the usual "fix" isn't there. Neither is it there for Fallout 3, Grim Dawn or Left 4 Dead 2. Trust me, I've tried them all tonight. Plus a new game I got recently, with the rather unorthodox and unappealing name of "Vermintide". Good game, as are all of the titles I mentioned. But nope.

I think it's because, as entertaining as these (and other) games are, the sense of accomplishment they produce is, ultimately, empty and without substance. When bottom-dwelling is on the agenda, emptiness doesn't cut it. It's like starving and only having cotton candy to eat.

So there's this juggler who's eating cotton candy, see, and...

So, game playing isn't working. How about writing? Blog writing, yes. Hence, this post. Fiction writing? Screenplay writing? The sense of accomplishment that accompanies those activities is substantive indeed. However, everything I write in both realms wrings some juice out of me. That's part of the cost, like a gadget using battery power to operate. Right now, my batteries are dead. Trying to wring a few drops out of me when I'm a dry rag is only a recipe for frustration.

There's always food. That can usually take the edge off. But eating at midnight always summons my old friend, acid reflux. That would be counter-productive to a good night's sleep.

There's a story behind this next picture...

Apparently, this kid idolized the garbage men that serviced his neighborhood. He always got sooo excited when they came by. He and his mom would go out and watch them, and he'd be all wide-eyed and happy, waving to them, cheering them on. Well, apparently, one week, they stopped near his house and called him over, giving him a toy garbage truck and posing for a photo with him. This photo. The kid was so overwhelmed with emotion, he couldn't believe it.

There are some great people in the world.

Hey, you know what? That photo kind of worked! I'm feeling a bit better.

Plus, I'm done writing this post, which also has had a positive effect.

Next stop, bed. Or rather, the cot.

Adios from the minefield.

Dave the Juggler

Friday, October 23, 2015

A Little Science Friction Never Hurt...

Greetings, earthling!

Or is that greeting too cliche? What other term should I employ? Terran? Mudman? Hairless Ape?


How about "friend"? Awww, that's more like it! All sweet and saccharine and treacly.... I need to brush my teeth after that greetings!

So, yeah, I've been on a sci-fi binge lately. I thought I'd give y'all a quick run-down...

Saw a pair of films FINALLY! I may be the last person on earth to see these...

Yep, finally saw Interstellar.

Overall, I thought it was very well done, had a great feel to it, and was visually robust. But honestly, it was pretty heavy-handed in the "emotional manipulation" department. And you know, I won't spoil it, but the ending really bugged me. And there were other aspects of the story that really bugged me as well...

Crap, I have to rant about it. OK, fine, I'm going to SPOIL some things here, so if you haven't seen it yet, BE WARNED... skip down to the Prometheus review...

So on the water planet, the whole "7 years of time passes for every hour we're on the surface" thing makes exactly no sense. Period. I don't care how close that planet was to that black hole, it it makes no sense. Their crew mate really stayed on the ship in orbit for 23 years, waiting for them? Nonsense. He would have left and went to the other two planets and then come back, plenty of time. Plus, they really wouldn't have noticed thousand-foot tidal waves sweeping around the planet, on their way in?

When Matt Damon attacks Matthew McConnaghey, that also made exactly zero sense. Why? Unless he was flat-out insane and just did it out of animal rage, it makes no sense. Plus, why rig the robot to blow up? Why falsify all the planet data? Why not just send out a rescue message? It all makes no sense.

And, the ending... the only reason I hesitate to rip the ending is, really, I'm not sure what I would have done differently, to improve it. So I will leave it be.

Bottom line, I give it a 6.5 out of 10. It was worth watching, but I'm not sure I'll ever watch it again.

Which reminds me of another movie...


OK, so I really went into this film wanting to like it. I was eager to enjoy it! It actually scooted along fairly smoothly, until the ship arrived on the planet, LV233 or whatever. Then the entire film toppled into the cinematic commode. This film has next-to-no redeeming qualities. The script is a chocolate mess of insipid dialog, fumbled concepts, sour-note casting choices and a nonstop string of the most retarded decision-making blunders I've seen in a movie of any genre.

When I say "nonstop", I mean literally, from the moment the "team" of "scientists" decided to park next to an alien compound on an unexplored planet, and go waltzing right through the front door. They take their helmets off (because, hey, the air seems breathable!), and then start poking and pushing everything they come in contact with ("Hey, what does this button do?").

"Hey, let's wake up this giant sleeping alien! Maybe he's nice!"

What a bunch of idiots. They deserved everything they got.


Look, I'm actually going easy on this film. I could go scene by scene and ask you what on earth "they" were thinking... but I know how hard it must be to tell a big budget story, when you must have a couple dozen studio yahoos with their hands all over it, pushing it, pulling it, tearing it... so perhaps a lot of it was out of Ridley Scott's hands. But man o man, this was a turd. I can't believe "they" are going to make three more films in this series...

Moving on to books...


So I've things to say about these three titles....

Tuf Voyaging. George RR Martin (of Game of Thrones fame) penned this content back in the mid eighties, as a series of short(er) stories, which were then ultimately gathered into this title. It's creative and entertaining and intelligent, as is Martin's custom. I believe I mentioned this in a recent previous post, but you can imagine the main character Haviland Tuf as a blend of Tyrion Lannister and Ignatius Reilly. Or, if that does nothing for you, he's tall, overweight, without a hair on his body, incredibly intelligent, sharp-witted, yet with zero sense of humor, loves cats and is in charge of an ancient "Seed Ship", which can do and create many, many incredible things.

Reading about Tuf coming into possession of the Seed Ship, and what he travels around using it for, is terrifically entertaining (to me, anyway)....

Leviathan Wakes by J. Corey is predominantly a FANTASTIC sci-fi epic. Up until the end. Man, I don't know what it is about big, awesome, ambitious stories... sometimes they seem to go off the rails at the very end... this is another example. Like Redwolf Conspiracy and City of Stairs before it, I was all set to come in here and trumpet the praises of this book from the rooftops, and strongly urge you to drop everything and read it... but the last two chapters left me crestfallen.

Great characters, a great set of premises, great action, great dialog, a terrifically enjoyable ride... for *almost* the entire story.

I still recommend it, but honestly, I'm not sure I'm going to read the next volume(s)...

And I've started Redshirts, by the prolific John Scalzi, which won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2013. I'm 8 chapters in (30% of the way through - a fast read), and it's... good. It's light reading, humorous (in a mostly unforced way), but nothing to write home about. I was expecting better. I assume it gets really good - I mean, Best Novel? Not so far...

Comic Break. Click to enlarge!

This segues into the Christmas Play...

So believe it or not, the Christmas Play that I wrote this year (called "Out There") is science fiction theme, too! It takes place on the moon...

I kid you not, it takes place on a lunar base. I thought the idea of talking about "peace on earth" while looking at the earth was too rich to pass up. That meant either the International Space Station, or the moon...

Now, hear me out here... you may recall the very first moon landing, back in July 1969, with Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. Do you recall how Buzz Aldrin brought the communion elements with him on the trip? And that after the "Eagle" had landed, but before they got out to walk on the moon, Aldrin read from the Gospel of John and took communion? So there is a precedent for dealing with issues of faith on the moon...

So, yeah, a manned lunar compound, and handful of characters, dealing with "every day" issues that they brought with them (so to speak) to a very unusual place. Is there such a thing as "too far away" from home and/or God? Can God hear you on the moon, be with you on the moon?

The play is a Christmas play, in that it takes place on December 25, and hits the Christmas story. It also deals with other more universal themes of faith and belief, and what it means to be human. Plus a few surprises.

This year, I'm bringing in a couple of my actor friends from the San Diego acting community, to flesh out the cast, and play the lead roles. It's getting harder and harder as the years pass to fill out the cast from within the church. People are uninterested/unavailable, for various reasons, which is depressing but understandable. But this may be a great opportunity in disguise. Maybe I could start producing more elaborate, challenging plays, and bring in skilled veteran stage actors, and really kick things up a notch or three.

Or it could be the last play we do, who knows?


On the TV front, I've been watching the shows Gotham and Agents of SHIELD, with mixed results. In each case, I watched a half-dozen episodes, and thought "meh".... it was a mixed bag. Some great moments, mixed with stretches of clumsy storytelling, pedestrian dialog, and scattershot acting. But in the case of Gotham, the seventh episode was TERRIFIC and 8, 9 and 10 were great as well. I was soundly hooked. The cast and writing seemed to settle into a nice place. But then episode 11 was lame...

I wasn't sure what to make of it, so I dug into the show a bit, and discovered something interesting... the first season on Gotham is 22 episodes long... with 10 writers and 16 directors... I had no idea that was how the big boys made a series! I guess I'm naive, but I figured a writer or two, and one director, like a movie... but it seems as though every episode is treated like an independent feature. Different directors, directors of photography, editors, writers... man, what a machine. I had no idea it was such an involved process.

The cast is a mixed bag as well. I love some of the actors (Penguin, Riddler, Harvey Bullock, Selina Kyle), while others don't agree with me yet (Fish Mooney, Barbara Kean).

Anyway, going to give Agents of SHIELD more of a chance to hook me like Gotham did.

We'll see. Man, there's so much to watch!

So I'm going to be interviewed on Saturday 10/24 for the TGGeeks podcast. Me and Travis. I have no idea what I'll be asked, but I assume it will revolve around BTI and perhaps acting in general. But hey, I'll talk about anything...

Once it goes live, I'll post it here, so y'all can mock me mercilessly.

EDIT: Here is the interview:


We're set to begin filming on the new batch of BTI content in the next couple weeks. Jeff is chomping at the bit to get back on set.

Lots of other stuff going on, which I shall refrain from bombarding you with. Dangling participles and everything...

Good days ahead.

Adios for now,

Dave the Cruisin'

Saturday, October 3, 2015

In Sickness and In Health

If there's one certainty in life, it's that when I'm writing the script for the annual Christmas play, I always seem to find it impossible to resist stopping to update my blog! Thus, here I am!

Yep, it's that time of year again. The holidays approacheth. I'm a dozen pages into the Christmas script, and have stalled out... at the point I'm at, I could take it in any of a number of different directions, toward a pair of different possible endings... and I can't decide how best to proceed... I really want to share the premise with you here, now, but I want it to be a surprise! Let's just say, it's unlike anything we've ever done at Mt. Zion before... as in, radically different.

As is my custom, the play is dialog heavy, loaded with concepts and Christmas tropes... but my hesitance comes from the fact that I could conceivably add a heavy dose of action, which could either enhance or detract from the dialog... it could either be awesome or contrived... can't decide!

But I'm a professional. I'll figure it out... tonight, I hope...

The Christmas play is one of SEVEN different projects I'm currently involved with, in some capacity. 2 web series, a TV pilot, a short film, a full feature, a play and a radio drama. I'm a busy little boy! Over-commit much? Maybe... plus, there's all that Minecraft to play! What's a man to do!?

I'm missing my L.A. acting classes. But I can't go back up again until I either take care of my car problem, or until the illustrious LW decides to go up again, so I can hitch a ride. In the interim, I languish, untrained...

This music video is wonderfully artsy... me likey...

You know what I've been doing a lot of lately? I'll tell you, but I can't tell you why... I started watching videos on YouTube of illusionists and card manipulators (like Ricky Jay) and magicians, and that transitioned into watching videos of high-stakes poker players... man, I had no idea that subculture even existed... for some odd reason, I've been absorbed by it. I have zero interest in gambling of any kind, and don't claim to have any idea whatsoever how to play the game, but the people involved are incredible characters, and watching them interact at a poker table, and banter and bet and bluff and fold and joke and throw tens of thousands of dollars around... something about it fascinates me.

Here, watch this card handling trick by Ricky Jay, and be amazed...

I don't know why I get on these little tangents... magicians and cards? Never really interested me at all... perhaps it's research for some upcoming script I know nothing about yet... I did recently write a short script (15 pages) about a roulette gambler, which went straight into my archive. Ah, the life of a writer!

What else have I been up to? Other than writing, not much. I've been reading a little -- I read Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence (outstanding book) and Tuf Voyaging by George RR Martin (also outstanding)... started reading a fantasy book by Kameron Hurley called The Mirror Empire. I'm on the prologue, so I have no opinion of it yet. Let's see if it makes three outstanding books in a row, eh!

Ah, the life of a reader!

I've been sick of late. Not "sick" sick, like anything contagious or flu-like... it's my annual sinus thing. It starts in my throat, then splits its efforts, going up into my sizable shnozzola, and also settling down into my chest in an annoyingly rattling manner. Usually runs its course in 1 to 2 weeks, which means no workouts for me! All my massive muscle mass is atrophying accordingly.

The only bonus to this sinus things is that if affects my voice. It effectively drops my voice an octave or two, so I get my deeeeep voice going. That means one thing... yep, I get to work on my Sam Elliot impression!

Believe it or not, yes, I can nail that voice, all deep and rich and full. I really wish I had recorded it when it was it's best. I'm almost over my sinus thing, so my voice is almost back to normal, which means my Sam Elliott impression is super weak now.... Next year, I'll record it and post it for you...

I'd say I've diverted my attentions away from the Christmas script for long enough. Gonna dive back in. Ah, the life of a procrastinator!

Take care, y'all!

Dave the Rambling Goofball