Saturday, December 24, 2016


I'm watching Gotham on Netflix, a prequel to Batman, a re-telling where we see familiar comic characters as children and as young adults. A girl living on the streets is named Cat and we expect her to develop eventually to Cat Woman, but presently she's a street-wise waif who seems to know the underground and rooftops, air vents and water ducts of the city. She steals small valuables and she appears at most all the key locations at the precise moment. Here she is a friend of Bruce Wayne.

The Penguin is a compelling character. He's lame and his associates call him Penguin for fun. He's both obsequious and murderous and a natty dresser besides but with deplorable Goth hair that streaks across his face and always appears to be wet. He's subject to a lot of abuse and dishes it out with a pathologic mean streak, a madness, a combination of extreme masochism and sadism. He switches loyalty several times and has too many close calls with death to be plausible. It's a comic book, after all. His aquiline nose is made up to be purple when cold and wet and abused. He is a plausible penguin, a real man with penguin-like aspects.

The movie has a ridiculous amount of violence, but the thing that gets me about this series is its richness in its settings, it's convincing, the producers do a fine job, and the range of expensive interior design and contrived location, ranging from interiors of great wealth, and imaginative  public spaces, art museum, police station, clubs and bars, expensive apartments, contrasted with fine depictions of the grime of the streets. The costumes are amazing. The imagination never stops. A black woman named Fish is seen in an outrageously imaginative ensemble each scene she appears, and she appears a lot. She is a key character. She too has multiple lives. She actually dies and is brought back to life by another sinister character. Gordon's first girlfriend is wealthy and the interior of her apartment is impressively designed. Beautifully furnished and imaginatively appointed with art. And what is interior design if not a movie set? This same character later shows up with Gordon's enemies wearing a wedding dress that she resented never wearing for a real wedding with Gordon and I must say I've never seen such a beautiful dress. It's perfect. It really is stunning. Penguin's wardrobe is amazing throughout.

But the thing that kills me is miniature models of Gotham that they tease here and there usually only once sometimes twice per episode, each time a different time of day or night and a different section of the city. They're astounding. On the screen they all have a certain tilt-shift quality but without the out-of-focus edges to them. They are the most outstanding models I've seen. The buildings have realistic multiple colors as real building do, age and city grime in the daytime, layers of additional pipes, fire escapes, water towers, air conditioning, wires, and so forth, atmosphere, fog rolling through, vapor flowing out of pipes, while nighttime buildings are lit and glittering extravagantly. One of the elements that arrested my attention is the gorgeous weather occurring in the background. You only get a few seconds of the overview of the city before being taken down to street level and into the action. The combination of matt and model in each of these vignettes is astounding.

What follows is a near portfolio of photos taken of the television screen. It's edited severely with more left out than included. I'm certain I missed some of the best ones. This had to do for a sampling.

A young actor named David Mazouz plays Bruce Wayne. This is Mazouz in Google images (does not open to images in Safari)

The thing is, the actor is fourteen years of age at the beginning of the series, now in the third season, not yet available on Netflix, he's aged two years to sixteen, a significant spurt at a critical growth phase so we see him grow right before our eyes. I wondered at first if they used different actors so I looked online. One page I read reported that he now has a trainer to bulk out. Presently he is a skinny slight young man. 

The first shot shows the actor in the first season. Shown for comparison. The rest are from season two.

I didn't notice this until near the end. One of the three directors is acutely concerned with outlining the contours of the actor's face with light. Other faces are lit from the side too so that half the face is more fully lit than the other, while in group scenes, even with girls and with women, it is this actors face that is illuminated, and usually contoured. Obvious emphasis is placed on illuminating Mazouz's face so he glows beyond the illumination of all other actors. 

Below is the scene where I noticed. It is a beautiful scene, a short scene shot in the morning or late afternoon. Nothing gold can stay. The girl's face is never illuminated so much as Mazouz's face. Her hair, shoulder, and arm are outlined with light, but in this scene never her face. The light is flat on her face and never flat on Mazouz's face. The light is always chiaroscuro. Here the light shows the contour of his under chin. The rest show a side of his face. The director takes great care to have light crawl around his face. He's always positioned just so. Just so the light is perfect for his face. The whole scene is like this, from whichever camera angle, a line of light draws the shape of his face. Once I noticed that then I noticed the same and similar care in each subsequent scene. 

And that tells me how to get a great portrait photograph. 

Later near the end of season two, Penguin, who's a serious mama's boy, has undergone a personality adjustment in a mental institution run by another sinister batman comic book character. He visits her grave where he encounters his father who his mother told him had died. A coincidence so unlikely that it can only be drawn from a comic book, while the actor playing the father is left to make that improbability seem plausible. And he does. It's a wonderful scene. 

They end up at the Father's house, he's overjoyed to learn that he has a son. He feels completed near the end of his own life. The two actors play this touchingly, tenderly. And I'm thinking, man, that guy's mannerisms sure are familiar. Is that Brent Spiner? It does look like Brent Spiner. I check Wiki fan pages but nothing comes up. I rephrase my search and learn immediately that the actor is actually Paul Reubens! Apparently he's played Penguin's father before in a previous Batman film. He is wonderful in this series. 

I'm eager to watch this all the way through again. Five stars. I missed quite a lot the first time. It's rich with appreciable detail, even if you don't care for comics with their impossible characters and convoluted interwoven plot that requires unsustainable suspension of disbelief. Even as you go, "Okay, someone comes in the last moment and saves you. Okay, someone comes in the last moment and saves you. Over and over and over, someone comes in and saves you and always right at the very last moment. In real life characters would have died a hundred times. The bomb ticks down to the last second. In meta terms, the comic book predictability eases the tension amusingly. That is, comically, and you're reminded constantly that it's a comic book. For kids. There is still so much to appreciate. It is a fine series, done very well and extravagantly.


deborah said...

What an excellent review. A cool concept, exploring the early lives of the characters. Your note of the differing cityscapes is intriguing. Will def check out.

I checked out about 45 minutes of Dexter, with its ridiculous premise (his foster father channeling Dexter's tendencies) and disturbing that this kind of thing has taken hold of the American imagination. I can only hope that this sends people away from sadistic murder by satisfying any tendencies, rather than inflaming them.

My best guess is there is the story arc develops with Dexter developing feelings and having a relationship with a woman?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

But the thing that kills me is miniature models of Gotham that they tease here and there usually only once sometimes twice per episode, each time a different time of day or night and a different section of the city. They're astounding.

We are also watching Gotham. Into the second season now. I agree with everything Chip has written. The miniature city scenes are incredible. We often pause the screen to admire the craftsmanship and sheer artistry.

What I find especially intriguing is the blend of old and new. Gotham, the setting as a Film Noir type of vibe. The scenery, clothing, some of the cars, decor all have a feeling of being older...Maltese Falcon type of gumshoe characters. Dark, noir, mysterious,semi black and white. THEN...suddenly there in an intrusion of modern technology and color. The ringing of a cell phone, computers on the desks where there would be old manual Underwoods. Technology that shouldn't exist in a Film Noir genre. It is jarring and very effective. What that juxtaposition does, in my mind, is to make the setting of the show timeless...out of a particular time and floating somewhere between the old and the new.

A very good show and we will be saddened when we reach the end of the series.

edutcher said...

The Bat saga has almost always been a fusion of contemporary and 30s vibes

Trooper York said...

What an excellent post. Perhaps the longest and also most enjoyable that you ever put up Chip.


Trooper York said...

Gotham is the work of Bruno Heller who was the mastermind behind the long running show "The Menatlist" and the blood and guts HBO series "Rome."

Trooper York said...

The role of the Penguins father was indeed played by Pee Wee Herman. What is very interesting is that the role of his son "The Penguin" was played by his real life son. Stunt casting.

Trooper York said...

It is a imaginative retelling of the Batman story from a different angle. It is very well done. Perhaps the best episodic show on TV right now.

The only problem is that it is very gory and exploitative.

rhhardin said...

I rewatched Dinner for Schmucks (Paul Rudd and Steve Carell) and it's pretty good.

Especially good is the gag reel, for some ad-libs, after watching the main.

It's what all those barrel of laughs films ought to be instead of what they are.

rhhardin said...

I don't get batman.

Dark Knight Rises Again was good only for Anne Hathaway last scene.

10 Cloverfield Lane has a surprise genre. Not that it's good, just a surprise.

Sort of like Rudderless has a surprise middle. Also not that it's good.

deborah said...

I'll look at Dinner for Schmucks...hadn't heard of it.

I watched Whiskey Tango Foxtrot today. It's pretty funny. Bored news copy chick goes to Afghanistan as an embed.