Saturday, July 1, 2017

BatKid Begins

I'd like to take a long while, say a few days, to discuss a short film.

Yesterday Ace wrote about a movie he likes called "The Lego Batman Movie." He likes it well enough to watch it three times. I've seen something like that in Netflix results but I was never interested, and the one that is available right now and that I watched per his suggestion is called "Lego DC Comics: Batman Be-Leagured. It's crap.

Next to that on Netflix search results is another called "BatKid Begins."  I resisted. I had no idea what it is about. I watched anyway and liked it enough to watch twice.

The story is about the the boy diagnosed with leukemia, Miles, whose mother made a request to Make-A-Wish foundation for her son to be Batman. The film is told from the point of view of Patricia Wilson, a coordinator at Make-A-Wish.

We're familiar with this story from the news three years ago. We already know that San Francisco put on a big bash to fulfill the boy's wish, and we've seen videos of a few of the stunts. It looks big, but not all that impressive. The boy didn't look particularly into it. The clips that we've seen and what we can imagine of the rest do not give the event its full justice.

At the time the boy was of the age that when he puts on a costume he transforms completely into the costume. A natural method actor. His mother explaining this reminds me of an incident at the Denver Museum of Natural History as I had just parked my car and was on the sidewalk going inside. Suddenly a school bus pulled up, the doors flew open and children his age poured out. It was Halloween time and all of the kids had on masks. Half of the masks were mere faces of animals Xeroxed in quantity and colored by the children themselves and held on by loosely tied strings. Calling them rudimentary would overstate their production value. They were trashy masks but enough to spark the imagination of the children who were all characterizing their make believe animals, roaring like tigers, clawing like bears, darting like deer, and the like. I was instantly transported to childhood myself. I recalled being like that.

Uncharacteristically, for presents, Miles asks for costumes, for themed pajamas, for clothes. He likes to become something else. After discovering Batman, Miles like to pretend that he's actually Batman. He's been exposed to other comic book super heroes but he keeps returning to Batman. Why? His parents, a farming family living in a small town, think they have the answer. It was his first super hero. Because Batman is a normal person who made himself super hero. Because Batman always helps other people.

When Patricia Wilson was presented with Miles' case she didn't know exactly where to start. Meeting Batman would be one thing, while being Batman quite another different wish altogether. What does that even mean? What does becoming Batman mean to Miles? What type of child is Miles? What does Miles have on his mind for his wish. What will it entail?

Patricia did similar wish projects before. One girl wanted to be an opera singer. Make-A-Wish provided an auditorium filled with 200 volunteers. Another similar wish was a boy who wanted to design a video game that turned out to be a massive and expensive and long project. This is the wish that put Patricia in contact with Eric Johnstone who worked for a year with the boy. The boy wanted to give the game based on fighting the disease that he had to other children with the same disease. The selflessness of this wish and the solid work involved in bringing it to fruition provoked the Dali Lama to present both Erick Johnstone and the boy with an award.

Patricia thought up a plan to have Eric Johnstone be Batman to Miles Mini-Me type BatKid.

Her plan was conceived modestly. She'd need two motorcycle cops and two parking spaces. The project would be moved to San Francisco as Gotham. The action will start in the hotel room.

In the hotel room the family will watch a DVD showing a breaking news story featuring the chief of police.

Batman will knock on their door. This will be the first time that Miles sees Batman who hands over to Miles his own costume and report for duty.

They'll go down together to the loading dock, a makeshift Batcave and get into the Batmobile and leave Union station dramatically in puffs of smoke and drive to the corner of Hyde and Green.

They'll rescue a damsel in distress tied to the cable car tracks and defuse the bomb just in time before being run over by the cable car.

Right then they receive another message from the chief of police saying the Riddler is holding up a bank and he needs Batman's help again.

They hop into the Batmobile again and race to the Wingtip clothing store, a onetime Bank of Italy so still looks like an actual bank. Except with an awful lot of clothing all over the place.

They'll get another message from the chief of police congratulating them on a job well done and instructions to go to Burger Bar for lunch paid for by the chief of police.

Just as they're finishing lunch they'll get another call from the chief of police saying the Penguin has kidnapped Lou Seal, the mascot for the San Francisco Giants. The Penguin has Lou Seal tied up in the back seat of a convertible seen driving off.

Batman and BatKid will chase them to AT&T Park where the duo will rescue Lou Seal and capture the Penguin.

Another message will appear on the Park's Jumbotron congratulating them for a job well done and thanking them for their service and instructing them to go to City Hall immediately to meet the Mayor and receive the key to the city. (Made of chocolate)

Pleased with her modest straightforward plan, the Make-A-Wish project assistants were delighted but nonetheless spooked by it breadth and complexity. They anticipated small groups of some twenty or so volunteers positioned at key points and culminating with a larger group of two hundred or so outside City Hall with the mayor, recalling the size of the group that worked very well for the girl's opera singer wish.

They practiced to see how all this might be pulled off. They'd have to close down a street. During practice the principals collaborated more extensively. One of the San Francisco contacts remarked, "This is the coolest wish ever!" Another cut and pasted one of their email notifications to their Facebook status and that is the point where things took a sharp change.

Suddenly other Facebook members reposted the notification, then Instagram and Twitter and Reddit.

“Make A Wish Foundation will transform S.F into Gotham City for Adorable Batman-themed wish" with a picture of BatKid in his costume was reposted so much that circled back to Patricia Wilson who saw it posted again by somebody else back to her own Facebook page, “Do you know about this?”

“Yeah, I know about it. This is my own wish.”

It was an ordinary Make-A-Wish fulfillment that became a blog post, then became a phone call from the East Coast, then a phone call from Norway, then radio call from Australia which had a BatKid t-shirt campaign, and with everyone asking the same thing, “what can I do?”

It was Batman that got them. They had all grown up with the comic book character. And it was the boy fighting a dreadfully debilitating disease.

At this point the Mayor of San Francisco was notified that project is beginning to grow beyond its original planning. The thing he had agreed to had changed dramatically.

Stefania Pomponi  founder or a social media with offices in San Francisco read on Reddit and volunteered her service for a social media plan #SFBatKid, to get local community excited and to show up and support Miles. They wanted to make sure a crowd showed up cheering him on.

With their network of 6,500 women influencers, women who blog, women who are on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, Pinterest, and any social channel all set to work on communicating the project.

They needed a way to get some handle on how many people are going to show up. Immediately the numbers of RSVP on their Facebook page began adding up by the thousands. Alarmingly. They had 7,000 reservations for lunch at the Burger Bar, in the article as part of the itinerary. At this point Make-A-Wish realized they were in trouble. This had grown beyond their ability to manage it. They’d have tens of thousands of people at City Hall.

Jennifer Wilson, market director at Make-A-Wish in San Francisco  tried to think of an angle that would appeal to the press. They hadn’t done a press release for this wish. The News Room at San Francisco Chronicle were talking about the BatKid wish independently among themselves, posting it to their own Facebook accounts.

This bit I found funny. Before you see him, the male voice of Chris Taylor, deputy editor at Mashable, with an affected accent says, “It’s interesting being a journalist. On the one hand you have this desire to cover things in a very neutral way, but on the other hand you realy wanna use your megaphone for good."

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. We know that, Chris. Oh how we know.

Reporters became aggressive to the point of intrusion. Actually frightening Patricia Wilson who knows the vulnerabilities of the Make-A-Wish children who have already suffered more than most adults do in their lifetime. While the reporters are interested singularly in copy.  One female reporter threatened to hunt them down and not stop until  she is  granted an interview before the action begins.And this is where Patricia Wilson began freaking out seriously knowing how that can ruin the whole project, scare the family, even terrify Miles.

Meanwhile people actually flew into San Francisco to participate.

The parents back at home began receiving continuous calls, relatives telling them they read about them on Huffington Post. They became a bit frightened by the thought of 13,000 people there watching their boy's wish acted out. They were not ready for any of that. They know their son to be shy. They know he’ll close down at the sight of so many people. He won’t be able to act out his wish.

Two week out the Make-A-Wish crew were panicked. None of them got any sleep. They ran on adrenaline and in survival mode. They began simply assigning people to specific functions, “You’re in charge of the gifts coming in.” And, “You’re in charge of fielding requests for more Batmobiles.” Fourteen cars were offered including a Lamborghini. The whole project had them unnerved. They had a huge stage production at hand with no experience in pulling off such an event and where the lead character doesn’t know he is in it, has never been to rehearsal, and is five years old. They knew that they were completely out of their league.

Here is where I fell in love with the women’s voices throughout this film.

Katie Cotton, VP Worldwide Communications at Apple speaks before she is shown and I literally swoon and realize that all along all of the women’s voices all of their speaking is reasoned and sensible and logical utterly unlike all other female voices that I hear through media recently, demanding, emotional, concentrated on their immediate relationships, concerned with sex almost entirely, their bodies, their pregnancies, uncomfortable with their own authority, difficult — roles and fictional dialogue written by men. Here in real life and speaking for themselves they are calming and focused and acutely alert and exceedingly capable while still being feminine. Listening to them speak through this eighty minute documentary restored to balance everything else that surrounds it that I’ve watched on Netflix and Hulu and Amazon and videos and news and that has irritated me so gravely, NCSI, Bones, Longmire, for three immediate examples. Their voices in this film are the corrective to all that, all along in this short film, now especially Katie Cotton got me. She got me good.

Katie Cotton gave Make-A-Wish her whole team for the week to manage the chaos that developed to Make-A-Wish's vast relief.

Another corrective to all that I learn online. Mike De Jesus with Twitter contacted the foundation saying he cried when he read the story. He offered his service to keep a running update of activities as they occur during the day. Now for the first time Make-A-Wish can have people see the child's wish activated as it occurs in real time. Make-A-Wish is not good at Twitter and now they have an expert volunteer his time, and the time of his entire crew.

Make-A-Wish thought if enough people can watch it then less people will feel the need to come directly to San Francisco and reduce the number of people coming into the city.

All the previous Batman actors called.

Then Hans Zimmer the composer of Batman Trilogy of nine years called and wrote a tune for it.

The San Francisco Opera redesigned and adjusted off the shelf costumes and designed others from their own stock. They designed the Penguin costume.

Gumstix computer sent a new projector overnight when Eric Johnstone's broke.

Eric Johnstone thought of San Francisco Circus School to practice a few gymnastic feats with Miles. They trained with other students who dressed as super heroes, costume provided by a costume shop nearby who donated costumes to fake out Miles into thinking that it’s natural for people to train to be super heroes. This is period that Eric Johnston and Miles developed a relationship and now Miles thinks, and says so, he honestly believed that Eric Johnson is the real Batman and all those other Batmen are actors for movies and for television.

Super heros fly. Would Miles dare to swing on the trapeze there at the school? His mum was against it. He climbed the ladder and swung. Dropped down to the net and the circus trainees costumed as super heroes applauded him. Miles raises his arms triumphantly standing on the net, still rather high off the ground, and grinning ear to ear.

At this point Eric says that if all else fails the next day then this whole effort is still a success. Wish completed right here. Although not in costume himself. Miles had successfully  trained with super heroes and actually became Batman.

The next day did not go as planned precisely. Mostly due to the intense crowd. Right from the start though things were messed up and delayed. Traffic jams led to further delays. The damsel in distress sat for forty five minutes. The actual mayor of San Francisco waited over an hour along with a crowd of thousands.

Three news helicopters covered the activity. Masses of thousand upon thousands collected just to see the Batmobile emerge from a garage. An airplane flew low beyond dragging a congratulatory sign. The crowd cooperated with police to hold themselves back. Originally one street was to be closed off but now it’s become an entire parade route. Spectators were dressed in costumes and people were holding up encouraging signs. Reporters couldn’t get close.

“BatKid Help us!”
“Batkid We need you!”
“BatKid we love you”
“BatKid, Thank you.”

These San Francisco citizens are very good with signs. You'd imagine them all professionals.

At lunch time BatKid poops out. “Daddy, I’m done saving people today.” He wanted to sleep.

But the whole city needed to see BatKid. Eric Johnson dressed as Batman encourages him to press on. But BatKid’s energy has waned, nearly spent. They press on with diminished energy.

This is a real look into the real heroism shown by these children collectively who have mustered the fight to deal with their debilitating disease. The final episode involves climbing a very long concrete staircase at AT&T Park to the top to rescue Lou Seal mascot and capture the Penguin. One's heart sinks just looking at it. This at the end!

That staircase looks daunting to a healthy person and Miles is sick and exhausted. Batman really should have carried him up to finish the project, looking up from the bottom the challenge of getting to the top does look impossible. But Miles took the steps himself. And That concrete staircase is excellent metaphor for Miles’ entire experience. For our own life’s challenge. All those thousands of San Franciscans  holding signs “Save Us” really mean it. In real life they assembled to have Miles save them from their own life snuffing out imagination and hope. They really do need Miles to help save their own souls. They need to see this child do this. To give themselves hope. When you see Miles take that challenging stairway, exhausted and in need of sleep, your own life is brought into focus.

Eric Johnstone is breathing heavily himself at the top. The obstacle course that was practiced at the Circus School is all brought to the top, at this point a ridiculously unnecessary meaningless extra set of tasks for Miles to perform as super hero not anticipating that Miles shut down at lunch, but Miles gathers his last energy and does them all, but rather poorly sapped of his last energy. The Penguin so amusing and charming to adults at street level is actually rather frightening on the Park platform. Miles chooses to untie Lou Seal instead of chasing the Penguin. "Do you want me to untie you?" Batman captures the Penguin.

Completely drained of energy and in need of deep sleep, they drive to City Hall for the climax of the Mayor handing BatKid the key to the city. And I am exhausted just watching. Batman says to BatKid who’s scanning blankly over the outrageous crowd, “Look to your right” at the moments the Mayor addresses him directly. I must say that it’s gorgeous how Eric Johnstone handles the dwindled energy of a flat out exhausted cancer patient that a city needs to see complete his planned activities.

That's the end of that.

Now, I liked this documentary quite a lot and I’ve told you why at lengh. Other people like it a lot too and for the same reasons. So there is no point in reading their comments. Let’s open Rotten Tomatoes and skip the high ratings and instead look at why people gave this film poor ratings. And mock them. Come on already, what’s not to like? They must all be dummkopfs or have some cognitive disorder or something. Why would anyone mark this film down? I don't understand why the film is not scored 100%.

Skip the professionals, straight to common viewers, only the bad ones.

* 3 stars: It's a truly amazing story; but as a feature length doc it suffers.

* 2.5 stars: Interesante por el ejercicio de cumplir un sueño a un niño, por la capacidad de las personas de responder ante esto y por la influencia tan grande de esto en las redes sociales. Sin embargo el documental es flojo y aburrido y se podría resumir en 10 minutos.

Me: What??? Lazy and boring???  You're just flat out of your mind.

* 3 stars: Batkid pulls the right heartstrings but it left me wanting more about the little boy than the behind the scenes folks it favors.

Me: He wanted more cancer.

* 3.5 stars: Thousands of people joining together to help a 5-year-old cancer kid's Batman dream come true, it's a perfect tearjerking feel-good melodrama idea. However, when this idea comes to real life and makes a documentary, it somewhat becomes the charity group "Make-A-Wish"'s commercial. The kid is adorable and seeing everyone in the city helping him, I should be touched, but, I can't keep thinking, "How about another cancer kids with similar dreams, will these guys still help them in the same scale?"

* 2 stars: I will give the filmmakers credit for having good intentions while making this movie, but the whole movie just makes me feel really uncomfortable! It's not the worst movie of the year, but it's definitely going to be on my list of worst movies of 2015!

* 3.5 stars: Cheesy as hell but ALL THEM FEELS THO.

* .5 star: F@$! You! SF Mayor and SF Chief of Police for wasting my tax dollars on this movie could of used all that money to help out other hungry kids that are suffering in the world.

Me:The documentary states explicitly at the end that a wealthy couple, John and Marsha Goldman of Goldman Foundation donated $105,000 to cover expenses.

* .5 star: ugh. Come on. I had a Make A Wish when I was younger and I didn't get my own movie.

* no star: Your kidding right ? Yes it's a sweet story but a movie really?

One last thing. And contrary to all that precedes it.

I've mentioned before to friends in an attempt to initiate a shift in their thinking, or at least to acknowledge a differing point of view how negatively impressed I am in observing how to a person the people I know all live classically conservative lives even as they demonstrate tremendous creativity and expound classic liberal thought and attitude and wild talent. Conservative in manner, in mien, in dress. Conservative in diet and in speech, and choice of home, insurance, their automobile. Conservative in hygiene, in dental care, in choice of vacations, and especially conservative in money management, saving, investment, loans, taxes and the like. I'm impressed with their entire lives conducted conservatively and sensibly and exemplarily while coming to anything political, anything at all political, they take a sudden drop from sublime to ridiculous, pure bathos, and go batshit insane.

Such are these people in this film. This documentary shows San Francisco citizens at their finest. It shows why I love them so and reaffirms it. This film shows why I have so many friends who live there. While every single one of them will have voted for Hillary Clinton and with a million virulent reasons why she is most qualified and extremely vicious reasons why Trump supporters are pure evil idiots. And there will be no talking to them about it because that is not possible.

1 comment:

Leland said...

Good post Chip. Yes I read it. No, haven't seen the movie.