In which I provide many short reviews and thoughts on topics. No, I’m not writing about the Austin Powers series of movies. Nor about the character of Mini Me. You can’t make me and that’s just how I roll. Instead, I’m going to write some short little pieces about different aspects of media that I’ve encountered or been reflecting on lately. I might do this again in the future, I might not. I’m mercurial like that.
The wife, in her quest to find a new series, landed on Gotham. I joined in the fun around the third episode. And boy do I have thoughts about this series.
The good: there’s actually quite a bit to like here, despite this being another retelling of the Batman mythos. Seriously, haven’t we done Batman to death yet? But Gotham chose to focus on the early years of detective James Gordan, which I think works well enough. Alas, if only they’d stuck with that.
There are some solid performances in the show. Ben McKenzie plays James Gordan as a sort of “Batman Light”, with the “where’s the trigger!” vocal tics we heard in the Nolan series. Donal Logue, best remembered by me as Quinn, the “I’m gonna be a naughty vampire lord” Vampire from the first Blade movie, is solid as his partner, Harvey Bullock, showing far more depth and humanity then the original character was ever given (especially in the Nolan films). And I want to give a special shout out to some of the actors playing the villains. The Penguin, Dr. Frieze, Poison Ivy, Cat Woman, and the Riddler, to name a few, are re-imagined here, but I mostly like the way they’ve been portrayed. Riddler in particular is often fascinating, and Corey Michael Smith plays him with a wonderful, oily, geeky charm. Jada Pinkett Smith turns up as Fish Mooney, and owns every scene she’s in. Her half-lidded looks convey such emotion, and her hand gestures alone are worth the price of watching.
And then there’s Cameron Monaghan. I knew him from the HBO show, Shameless, but in Gotham he plays twin brothers, Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska. As Jerome, he spent several seasons channeling all the best parts of Heath Ledger’s Joker character from the Nolan series, but with slightly less darkness (yet no less terrifying amounts of insanity). When Jerome was seemingly knocked off and Jeremiah came into play, he was a much more rigid, dull version of the Joker, without the humor that Jerome had. I think the series suffered from switching from Jerome to Jeremiah, because Jerome WAS the Joker, at least in my opinion. He nailed that role.
The set design for this series is also wonderful. Always a bit on the side of the Gothic, while still somehow looking like a mostly modern(ish) city. Cinematography is fine, and special effects are pretty good for a televised superhero show.
But where this show suffers is the following phrase: temet nosc. Know thyself. This show is unsure whether it’s a bleak, brooding drama with newly rising super villains and a super hero waiting to be born, aka the Nolan series of movies before the Nolan had Nolaned all over Bats. Or if it’s the campy Batman comedy of the 1960’s, with gags, pranks, and pratfalls, and a deliciously wonderful Eartha Kitt as cat woman. Or if it’s the 90’s Tim Burton series with the way it campily did brooding so well (first two films at least). It tries hard to be all these things after the first season ends, and manages to do none of them particularly well. Some of the super villains are super cheesy (seriously, Solomon Grundy was ridiculous, I liked Butch as Butch). No one ever really dies (and it was nice the characters started joking about this later in the series). Some of the performances, like Penguin, border on over the top silliness. And the young man playing Bruce Wayne is… meh. He has the same problem all young actors growing with a role have. He overacts at time, and swaps teen brooding for real emotions. I’d almost rather he’d “gone away” for the last two seasons only to return (played by a different, older actor) at the very end as Batman for the final shows.
Gotham: know thyself. Popcorn levels of fun, but not very deep, and not sure what it wants to be. I’m mostly watching it now just to find out how the series ends (5 is supposed to be the last season).
Red Mars/Green Mars/Blue Mars
I really dug Kim Stanley-Robinson’s “New York: 2132” novel. A wonderful thought experiment on what the world would be like after global warming had had its way with us. Solid characters, really intriguing science, good plotting, and some fascinating ideas about the solution to the problems of capitalism as its currently being practiced.
I’ve been listening to the audiobooks of his much older Mars series (mid-1990’s) and I see stuff I loved about 2132. Just… the heart is missing. It’s clearly a series written earlier in a career and has the same underpinnings of 2132. Solid science, a real chance to think through the future and what it might bring, how we might deal with it. But that’s all it is. The characters that populated 2132 so vividly and powerfully are more suggestions in the Mars series. Massive conflict points – the murder of a beloved leader, for instance – get washed away by the relentlessness of ideas and never become more then tenuous mist. These books spend pages and pages exploring the changes to Mars, both on a structural level as well as societal level. But there’s never a real sense of characters who drive the narrative. They are there to observe and comment on the narrative, but the science and the plotting overshadow them. Long stretches of the book deal with people driving around Mars, observing stuff. They seem divorced from what they are observing, serving instead as a way for the author to tell us what’s happening around the planet.
I still find these books wonderfully intriguing, no doubt about that. But it’s purely from the thought experiment at work, the “this is one possible way we might change Mars for our use” science fiction. As novels, though, they’re plodding stories that don’t seem to want to drive to their conflicts and conclusions, but let us float along, at times almost directionless.
I really want to like this series. We’ve watched the first season now, and there are aspects to it that really pull me in. Setting is interesting and (in my limited knowledge of the period) felt authentic, along with some really excellent acting. But then they had to go and take what I thought was a “true” historical drama about the invasion of Britain by the Romans and toss in a bunch of mumbo-jumbo magic stuff with the druids that, sigh. . . gets really weird. And then they went all Game of Thrones on the killings, and now I just can’t.
Kelly Reilly kept me interested, her acting was top notch. Alas. . . well, not a Red Wedding at least, that’s all I can say about that. Nikolaj Lie Kaas is sometimes marvelous as an outcast druid who tries to help the clans out, more or less. But other than that, I can’t see a lot to recommend.
Even the theme song – Hurdy Gurdy Man, by Donovan – has to be the worst choice of songs I can imagine for this type of series. It literally has nothing to do with the story, at all, either structural or lyrically. Ugh.
Skip this series for the most part. Unless you like pirates playing bald-headed, freaky druids who seem to be channeling the silly strangeness of Jarl Varg from the Norwegian series, Norsemen (yes, that’s MacKenzie Crook from Pirates of Caribbean fame as the head druid, Veran, bald, much pierced, rubbing his head and tilting it in odd ways). Honestly, it’s marginally okay, and I’ll probably watch season two to see how things go.
I came late to The Expanse on television, but it grew on me. At times it felt super complicated, a convoluted mystery with lots of moving parts that had me replaying episodes to jog my memory. But, part of that was the show trying to add in more points of view than the original novel contained. Had they stuck to the idea of the book – two main points of view, swapping back and forth each chapter – I think I’d have had less whiplash and confusion about the plot. But like I said, it grew on me, and now I love it. I can’t wait for season three.
I decided to return to the source books and you know what? As much as I loved the series, the books are really better. The first book was well written, well paced, with solid, likeable characters, flaws and all. I liked their relationships to each other better in the book, it felt like the television show tried to ramp up more interpersonal drama than was needed (interesting that they dropped a romance, though. . . usually television shows add shit like that).
Wonderful novel, can’t wait to read the next. Ten out of Ten pieces of aluminum foil.
Controlled Digital Lending, or CDL, is a new legal theory that’s throwing the publishing world into a tizzy. I’ve only learned about it recently and, like all issues, I know it’s super complicated and I have more to learn. But at face value, I see this as a positive view on the use of copyright and can only see the objections to it as vacuous money grabs by folks who don’t actually have an intent to provide the digital content being requested. Copyright law has long been shifting to favor corporations instead of fair use and libraries.
The theory goes like this: a library owns a physical copy of a book. There are no digital copies of this volume available. The library is therefore free to scan the book and provide a digital copy, but they can only lend on a one-to-one basis (if the digital copy is lent, the physical copy is not available, and vice versa). I would assume (carrying this on my own now to a logical conclusion) that when/if a digital version was produced by the rights holder, the library would have to give up its own scan and purchase that digital copy.
At face value, this is a great idea. Not every book has a digital copy, and not every reader wants a physical version. In fact, for the community of folks who need digital readers for their enjoyment of books, this is a fantastic idea, a way for them to access texts that are currently unavailable to them. And for libraries, it allows them to expand their offerings without busting their budgets to purchase the rights to create/distribute the digital version of a text that the rights holder has shown no interest in providing a digital copy of.
But another author I respect suggested I was far off on my assessment and strongly objected to my take. Their experience (not explained, but I assume an experience with CDL and not just digital piracy in general) has been very negative. And as an author myself, I’m a strong proponent of “don’t do evil” by stealing folks copyrighted materials and redistributing them. There’s also an aspect of the debate about the Internet Archive , which has begun doing this and claiming they are a library, but that’s a far more strained argument and may only work to undermine the potential of this legal theory.
I feel like this is one of those “if I purchase your work in one version, I should have the right to copy it to another for my benefit” arguments. Its merely being extended into the public through the use of libraries. I’m still landing on the side of “if you’re not providing digital versions of your books, then libraries – not any old website or person online, but brick and mortar, “we have a list of patrons”, libraries – should be allowed to create a digital copy that can be lent on a one-to-one basis until you do. This should fall under fair use rules. At that point, yes, argue your rights and tell them to buy your work in the format they wish to distribute it in.
But I could well change my position if other authors come forward and tell stories of how CDL has cost them money. Because without money, authors can’t keep doing what we love for them to do.