Film Critique Fridays - Blade Runner 2049 by M. Glenn Gore

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Very mild spoilers ahead.

When Tron came out in 1982 - Hang with me here. I'm going somewhere with this - it was groundbreaking. And love it or, y'know, don't, you still had to admit it was revolutionary. By the time the credits rolled, you knew the game had changed, and probably forever. Which is why Tron: Legacy, its much-maligned 2010 followup was, well, kinda doomed right out the gate. I mean, how exactly do you follow something like that? Let me put it another way. What did the neanderthal who invented the wheel do for an encore? 

This has been happening a lot lately. Alien remains to this day one of the greatest entries in the "Never Go into Space" genre, so really, how was Prometheus going to live up to that? That kind of burden is daunting, and we've recently witnessed production after production collapse under the weight of their vastly superior predecessors.

Anyone who knows me will tell you my three favorite sequels are The Godfather, Part II, The Empire Strikes Back, and the supremely badass Phantasm II: Wrath of the Tall Man. These films understand how it's done, and adhered to a kind of structured playbook that served as a guide while still leaving the filmmakers enough creative freedom to further explore the worlds we'd already fallen in love with. It's a pretty simple formula that consists of the following rules:

1. Further develop the story and characters we know and the world they inhabit.

2. Up the stakes accordingly but do not succumb to the temptations of excess.

3. Do not betray the narrative of the previous film. 

                                                                                      I'm talkin' to YOU, Zippy!

                                                                                     I'm talkin' to YOU, Zippy!

So when I started seeing trailers for Blade Runner 2049, a sequel which would be pulling into port at a somewhat astonishing 35 years after its forerunner, I was skeptical.

Loosely based on Philip K. Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ridley Scott's original 1982 sci-fi masterwork was a grim, morally ambiguous neo-noir, and easily one of the most borrowed-from movies released in recent history. Set in a dirty, rainy, overpopulated, neon-illumined 2019 Los Angeles that was simultaneously gargantuan and claustrophobic, it boasted a compelling protagonist in Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard, its antagonists were sympathetic and relatable, and their world felt tangible, lived-in, and wholly believable, which is impressive when you consider that nothing is more difficult storytelling-wise than attempting to accurately predict the future.

                                                                                                        Lord.

                                                                                                       Lord.

Blade Runner 2049 follows the playbook to breathtaking effect. Helmed by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Prisoners) and written by Michael Green (Logan, Alien: Covenant) and Hampton Fancher, who served as Screenwriter for the Blade Runner: Final Cut, this new installment is set thirty years in the future's future, in a sprawling yet instantly recognizable Los Angeles where we find all the pieces we already know firmly in place. The rain hasn't let up, the neon still runs through the city's streets like electric veins, the digital advertisements loom larger and more ever-present than ever before, and while this L.A. doesn't seem quite as densely populated as its predecessor, it is no less inhospitable. The movie has squalor in spades.

Ryan Gosling (at his emotionally conservative best) plays K, a Blade Runner with the LAPD tasked with hunting down and "retiring" older model Replicants who've gone rogue. A Replicant himself, the movie wastes no time in showing us his desires. He resides in a pristine cubicle with Joi, a kind of live-in, holographic girlfriend, a little Eden all his own at the heart of a filthy, graffiti-strewn and overcrowded apartment building where he endures racist taunts from the other tenants, presumably every day. He doesn't love his job despite being exceptional at it; he yearns to be special in a world where, by their own admission, no one is. His actions are measured, deliberate, and he displays an introspection that is quite human. He stands in the rain, lets snowflakes melt in his palm, and literally stops to smell the roses.

                                                                                  Yes. Stare at all the things.

                                                                                 Yes. Stare at all the things.

Robin Wright plays Joshi, K's hard-drinking police lieutenant, whose scant screen time is well used, particularly when it addresses her abject terror that the world she thought she knew may be on the brink of total collapse. In a movie entirely about lonely people, she feels the loneliest. Ana de Armas' Joi mirrors that isolation. As K's virtual mate, she is as emotionally invested in him as her programming will allow, but even she feels at arm's length. Jared Leto puts in a fair to middling performance as Niander Wallace, this movie's Eldon Tyrell and current God-incarnate. As blind as his precursor, which is no accident I'm certain, he is more soulless than any Replicant, as detached and unfeeling as we sometimes secretly fear God may truly be.

Carla Juri plays Ana Stelline, whom I'll speak of here only long enough to say she has my favorite scene in the film, a brilliant and sad moment that builds magnificently on the world's rich history, adding layer upon layer to an already impressive mythology.  My favorite new character, though, is easily Luv, played with passionate yet reserved calculation by Sylvia Hoeks. She gives a marvelous powder keg of a performance; her every second on screen is like watching a fuse burn shorter.

I would be remiss if I didn't take a moment to talk about Harrison Ford, who has managed to create a new kind of career for himself, one composed almost entirely of playing ancient, I daresay decrepit, versions of his younger characters, and while his return as Rick Deckard was more thematically and narratively satisfying than his reprises as Indiana Jones and Han Solo (sorry), I couldn't help but wish they'd had a stunt person stand in for some of his action sequences. His age is starting to show, which is perfect for the character, but a little hard to swallow when I'm expected to believe he's punching out shredded government super-killers half his age. That aside, he returns to the role with the weariness of a man burdened by too many secrets, of one whose life was never in his control, a concept that has always been at the core of the Blade Runner mythos.

And this brings us to the downside. The film is gorgeously shot; the world is as crushingly bleak and hopelessly human as ever. Like its forebear, it assaults you with a kind of grotesque beauty that mesmerizes even as it nauseates. But I find myself troubled by its representation of women and people of color. This is, regrettably, something I can almost expect to write about with every movie I watch. First, there are only two Black characters, and neither of them are what I'd necessarily call decent people. Now, don't misunderstand. You can have Black people in your movie that aren't upstanding citizens. They don't all have to be Captain America. But when there are only two, and neither of them are positive portrayals, that's when you have a problem.

The film has several female characters, each with their own intriguing arcs and jaw-dropping reveals, but I question why there is no male equivalent to K's holographic girlfriend, and why prostitutes are only ever female in this universe. In the previous Blade Runner, Zhora and Pris were combat and pleasure model Replicants, respectively, which is not my gripe. My complaint is, why are there no male pleasure models designed for female humans? Why are there no advertisements for male Joi's, virtual live-in mates for women? Why is this particular technological advancement always one-sided? Why are women never allowed to seek pleasure on their own terms, especially in a society where this is clearly, overtly condoned?

                               Hey, Tyrell Corp! I got your next four Pleasure Models right here!

                              Hey, Tyrell Corp! I got your next four Pleasure Models right here!

We're well past the point where these concerns should really be addressed, especially in the realm of science fiction where I'm meant to believe that we've advanced light years as a civilization. In these far-flung, futuristic worlds, such ideas strike me as egregiously outdated. I challenge Hollywood to do more. I know they can!

So, was Blade Runner 2049 a success for me? Yes. Absolutely! I'm still mentally unpacking all of the philosophical implications. It possibly poses more questions than it answers, but that is not to its detriment. In fact, it's exactly the sort of film that merits repeat viewings. See it, allow yourself to be immersed in its narrative, and let it work its considerable magic on you. It is so very ambitious in both its visuals and its musings on identity, isolation, memory, and the definition of what it means to be human, if there even is one. It is thoroughly fulfilling, and more satisfying on a thematic level than I could have hoped. The world of Blade Runner was always so grand. The realization that 2049 was able to expand on, deepen, and enrich that same world without sacrificing anything from the original is its own kind of miracle.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Film Critique Fridays - Kingsman: The Golden Circle by M. Glenn Gore

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I like Mark Millar. I do. Even if it is quite possible he doesn't like me. Or you. Or his readers, for that matter. But that's not what this is about. Not at all. His contributions to the comics industry and to storytelling in general have been tremendous. His work on The Authority is lauded, he launched Ultimate X-Men to great acclaim, he shepherded the Ultimates to renown alongside Bryan Hitch for the Marvel imprint, which has had a widespread and lasting impact on both the monthly titles and the shared Cinematic Universe, and he gave us Superman: Red Son, an essential and inspired read reminiscent of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns.  In short, his comic game is tight. His film adaptations, on the other hand, have occasionally left me wanting.

                                                               Presented without ruthless, scathing comment.

                                                              Presented without ruthless, scathing comment.

Kick-Ass didn't really work for me, and Kick-Ass 2: Kick Harder did even less to turn the beat around. And while Wanted was a box office success and much beloved by many, I found it cynical, glib, and indicative of many of Hollywood's worst summertime fetishes: toxic masculinity run amok, wanton disregard for human life, a troubling desensitization where the depiction of violence is concerned, and the rampant over-sexualization of women.

Kingsman: The Secret Service, Matthew Vaughn's (Layer Cake, X-Men: First Class) 2015 cannonball from the high board into Millar's world of super suave super spies was essentially a checklist of the aforementioned, but this time around, I don't know, I was in a better place to receive it or something. Barring a couple truly cringe-inducing instances (more on that later), I found it immensely entertaining. The action sequences were not even a little bit unspectacular, and the Kingsman organization itself was quite cool even if we'd seen fragments of it all before somewhere along the line. Much like the Jason Bourne film series before it, Kingsman attempted to propel the classic, some (not me) would say stuffy, spy genre basically built from the ground up by James Bond out of the Cold War and into the now, and they've been largely successful. For evidence of this, just look to the present crop of Bond films, which bear a greater resemblance to the kinetic, fast-paced, headfirst style of the Bourne entries than anything Sean Connery rolled out in his heyday.

                                                                                 "Your mother, Matt Damon."

                                                                                "Your mother, Matt Damon."

So when I went into Kingsman: The Golden Circle last night, I wasn't entirely sure how excited I was. I knew I was kinda psyched to see Statesman, Kingsman's country-western cousin, in action, even if that too was just another idea I'd already seen a dozen times before. I mean, who hasn't used this trope yet? G.I. Joe had the Red October Guard. There's a S.W.O.R.D. to Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D. Hell, even the Impossible Missions Force recently ran afoul of the Syndicate, an agency made up of evil IMF agents in the latest Mission: Impossible outing. This idea is old. But it's also fun, so we rightly and unashamedly get giddy whenever it comes around.

If you don't know or you haven't yet heard, the plot (such as it is) of The Golden Circle is that a global drug cartel led by Julianne Moore, in a bizarrely over-the-top yet not at all threatening performance, has targeted Kingsman for annihilation. This fatal first strike has left them licking their wounds and without sufficient manpower to confront her, hence the need to reach out to their clandestine American sibling. There is great fun to be had, for certain, but I was struck by how decidedly goofy this one gets. I mean, it really swings for the fences with some of the ideas. Like, Julianne Moore's headquarters would be straight out of You Only Live Twice if not for her self-professed adoration for 50's nostalgia that has all but transformed her villain's lair into the set of American Graffiti.  She lives in a diner and surrounds herself with CGI robot dogs. She keeps Elton John as a pet and forces him to perform for her. She feeds people through meat grinders. She's like the psychotic, ginger offspring of Sweeney Todd and June Cleaver. And there's so much dancing. It's bigger, I guess. It's louder for sure. And at a hulking and laborious 141 minutes that you really start to feel in the last act, it's certainly longer. But I wouldn't call it better than its predecessor. It is just... goofy. And perhaps not in a way that does it any favors.

That said, there's heart, too. Mostly where Colin Firth's Galahad and Taron "Eggsy" Egerton's surrogate father/adopted son relationship is concerned, and those scenes are fairly effective. The action sequences are, again, thrilling despite the music selection that plays over them treading into schizophrenic waters. Why anyone thought making John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" such an integral part of the soundtrack when every character is either English or from Kentucky was a good idea, I'll never know. Especially after how well and how recently it was used in Steven Soderbergh's Logan Lucky.

But I digress. The action sequences, as earlier stated, are still the main draw. Vaughn always knows where to put the camera, giving you a kind of road map through the hits and misses even as the chaos crescendos, and it is great fun to watch him work. They're fast, frenetic, and edge-of-your-seat even if they never quite manage to capture the beautifully-choreographed mayhem exhibited by the church brawl in the previous film. There's also quite a bit more CGI being utilized this time around, particularly in places where practical effects might have been the smarter choice. When everything in your action set piece is green-screened, it can inadvertently strip the scene of its tension and, I dare say, its drama.

                                                                                           Pictured: "Drama"

                                                                                          Pictured: "Drama"

There are some downright peculiar choices made in Golden Circle. Why are there robot dogs? Why is Channing Tatum only in the movie for 9 minutes? What is Elton John doing there? That last one actually leads to one of the few jokes in the movie that sticks the landing, so I'm letting it slide. All told, for all the fun it is, this one is simply not as much fun as Secret Service. It poses a bleaker worldview than I think it deserved, and there's an underlying cynicism running throughout that is difficult to ignore. I'm not saying the events depicted in the film couldn't happen, that no one is as morally bankrupt as certain characters prove themselves to be in one of the film's larger reveals, but as a species we like to at least believe we're better than this. Which I guess makes me the naive one.

I need to get back to something I said earlier regarding cringe-inducing moments. As I stated before, I thoroughly enjoyed the first Kingsman. I was completely invested in the characters and the world. That is, of course, until the anal sex "joke." You know the one. You've all seen it. It was tasteless and it was awful. It was crass, low-hanging fruit, and to anyone who continues to praise it for being subversive, brush your teeth and go to bed, please! This single moment very nearly vaporized all the good will the movie spent the last 120-odd minutes earning, and as it stirred such a universal backlash following the film's release, it was my hope that Vaughn would know better this time around.

I regret to inform you that not only did he not know better, he actually doubled down on the gag. Now, I applaud Golden Circle for making Princess Tilde a positive fixture in protagonist Eggsy Unwin's life this time instead of discarding her entirely as spy movies are so often wont to do, but that show of good faith is quickly squandered when our hero, in a largely unimportant scene at that, is forced to plant a tracking device on an unsuspecting woman by secretly inserting it here:

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Which begs the question, who is this for?

The auditorium I viewed Golden Circle in was more than half full (because I'm an optimist), and I distinctly heard three people laugh. Three. Out of what, seventy-five? Eighty? Now, I have no trouble remembering what it was like being thirteen years old. Real talk. It was a pre-Internet society where Playboy and Penthouse magazines were guarded covetously by the gatekeepers at every 7-Eleven and Circle K, and the oceans between late-night Cinemax movies were vast and, when you have older siblings as I did, oftentimes unnavigable. I completely get sneaking into an R-rated movie. That makes all the sense in the world to me when you're a pubescent, near-atomic bag of hormones, which is who I imagine the target audience for Kingsman is. But it's 2017 now. It's the future! And this kind of content, for lack of a better term, is only as far away as your iPhone. So I'll ask again. Who is this scene for?

This kind of gag, while never funny and always tasteless, at least served some purpose in the 80's and early 90's, but doesn't the invention of the DSL finally put us past this point in our evolution? It's that stupid moment of Alice Eve in her underwear from Star Trek Into Darkness all over again. It's Megan Fox unnecessarily sprawled across a motorcycle in Transformers. Why do scenes like this still exist? Because some directors are immature boys unaware of or, worse, unconcerned with how the women in their films look to actual women in the audience, women who've paid good, hard-earned money to support their projects? Can we really not admit to ourselves as human beings that this era is over?

Like the anal sex misfire in Secret Service, this scene damages my overall feelings on Golden Circle. What could have been a better movie-going experience is marred by its callous inclusion. It burns the good will already amassed, and that is a poor way to treat an audience. I feel like we keep giving Matthew Vaughn chances, and he keeps making us regret our choice to forgive him. And really, how long is he going to do that? My guess is until we stop showing up.

My Rating: 3 out of 5

Film Critique Fridays - It (2017) by M. Glenn Gore

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I don't think I'm shattering anybody's worldview here when I say Stephen King has had a somewhat stilted experience where it pertains to bringing his prose to the screen. The Shining is an instant classic and a masterclass in depicting a descent into madness, even if King himself openly despised it; Kathy Bates' audacious shoulder-throws into Misery and Dolores Claiborne are the kinds of performances writers and directors covet; Christine is the best movie starring a car since Bullitt, and the Shawshank Redemption is in my personal Top 10. But it feels like for every Stand by Me, we had to endure three Lawnmower Mans... Men... Lawnmowers Man? Whatever. You're picking up what I'm putting down.

It's this reason I imagine Stephen King is most likely doing Arabian Double Fronts in his kitchen right now because I had the opportunity to catch an advance screening of the new It Wednesday night, and the movie is fantastic!

                                            Above: Probably not Stephen King

                                           Above: Probably not Stephen King

Directed by Andy Muschietti of Mama fame and written by Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation),  Chase Palmer, and Gary Dauberman (Annabelle: Creation), the horror thriller based on King's 1986 novel of the same name fires on all its spooky cylinders nearly from the first scene. If you skipped the book, missed the 1990 made-for television miniseries, avoided the trailer, and somehow managed to not have a conversation with anyone who knows what it's about for the last 30 years, It is the story of a group of misfit kids who run afoul of a demonic and/or alien (depending on who you ask) clown named Pennywise, who ruthlessly torments them over the course of what might as well be an eternity, but is actually just a summer between school years.

So, first things first. The novel spends half of its time focusing on the main characters as children and its other half following them as adults. The new edition, unimaginatively titled "Chapter One" wisely devotes its nearly 135-minute runtime entirely to the kids - a decision I was happily thanking them for by the time it dawned on me that they would be aiming for two fully-developed films as opposed to one overstuffed one.

The young actors are perfectly cast, and I do not envy the filmmakers burdened with the none-too-small challenge of casting their adult counterparts. Whoever they are, they have big shoes to fill. Or small ones, I guess. There's not a player among them who doesn't immediately remind you of someone you knew or possibly even were growing up, and that is to the film's benefit. There's the kid who's terrified of germs, the kid who turns everything into a sexual innuendo, the fat kid. It's not exactly the Iliad, but it doesn't have to be. All the archetypal roles are represented, and fans of similar, beloved child endangerment misadventures like the Goonies, The Monster Squad, and the delightfully retro Netflix homage Stranger Things will recognize and welcome them immediately.

                Above: A scene from  The Goonies.  Or  Super 8 , maybe? No, it might be  The Monster Squad. E.T.?

               Above: A scene from The Goonies. Or Super 8, maybe? No, it might be The Monster Squad. E.T.?

One of the only real complaints I have is that there's only one female in the group. This is, of course, also true of the book, which is over 30 years old. It's not the kind of situation where I necessarily wanted them to add another girl or even make one of the boys a girl for the sake of inclusion, though. The narrative wastes little time in establishing Sophia Lillis' Beverly Marsh as the bravest of the gang, which is nice as well as appropriate. Her character is raised in horror, enduring real world terrors as far removed from supernatural circus clowns as, well, anything.

That said, I couldn't help but be put off by a scene where Beverly and the boys are chilling lakeside in their underwear. Marsh is sunbathing, at first oblivious, while the guys are leering, slack-jawed and paralytic. And while I know this is meant to be an innocent, boyish moment and a chance to illustrate how smitten they each are with her, it feels tawdry this time. It feels wrong. It bothers me that the moment (all of ten seconds long) fails to take her feelings into consideration. It begs the question of why there's never a female equivalent to this scene, which I promise you we've all witnessed a hundred times before. Ultimately, it felt unnecessary and in poor taste, which is saying something considering this is a movie where people get their arms and faces eaten off. I just feel like there was a way to do that moment where Beverly isn't reduced to an object, a piece of meat.

My other complaint, and this one is a far smaller concern, is in how the scares are presented. Now, make no mistake, the movie is hella scary. And violent too. Oftentimes, disturbingly so. The kids encounter as many frights and near-death experiences from the adults in their lives and the other students at their school as they ever do from Pennywise, almost to the point where you kinda find yourself relieved when it's him and not Beverly's father, or the sadistic bullies that always seem to lie in wait for our heroes. A demonic clown gets a pass because he's, well, a demonic clown. But when an actual human person threatens you, hurts you, reduces you to nothing, makes a victim of you physically and emotionally day after day, well, that is considerably worse.

When it comes to scares, however, nothing is more frightening than the unknown, and therein lies my problem. Muschietti is clearly from the new school of horror, which is not an insult at all. There are as many classic fear-inducing techniques on display here as there are jolts from the Conjuring and It Follows playbooks, but I found that the camera lingered too long on many of the creepiest elements, which allowed me as a viewer to fall out of the moment a little. When something scary is on the screen for too long, you're given time to really pay attention to things like how decent the CGI is or isn't, or how well a monster costume is put together or not, and once your mind begins to weigh those factors, a measure of suspension of disbelief is lost. And that's something that can be very hard to get back.

That said, I am eagerly anticipating Chapter Two. I surmise that in order to face these characters, now adults, for the second time, Pennywise will have to bring his "A" game, and dig deep scare-wise in a way we've not yet seen. In the next installment, I expect his terror tactics will be much more insidious, more visceral, and if even imaginable, more heartless.

Speaking of which, I have to say, Bill Skarsgard does a marvelous job as the malevolent Pennywise. First of all, he's like Predator tall. He exudes menace, a bizarre charm, and moves in a manner that is wholly unsettling. He carries himself like a thing playing at being human, which makes him all the more frightening and believable. He's also a real dick. Stepping into Tim Curry's clown shoes is like someone asking you to be the next Bond. It's an iconic role that is genuinely beloved, so I tip my hat to him for making the character his own instead of attempting an impression of Curry. It would have been nice if others had been so objective. 

                                                                                  Pictured: Not Gene Hackman

                                                                                 Pictured: Not Gene Hackman

All told, I thought It was incredibly well done, more than we had any right to ask for, and easily one of King's finest adaptations to date. Its scares are matched only by its heart. The fear and isolation experienced by the cast as they attempt to navigate what has to be the most unsure years of their lives is felt in every character and in every performance. And that's made evident long before the clown shows up. This is effectively where the film excels most. Even without Pennywise, it is, at its core, a story about the challenges that come with being an outsider, a weirdo, a nerd, a loser, or just being voiceless in a world where your problems are so real to you but trivial to anyone capable of helping you. As always, it's a story about the power of friendship, and that we are each of us made stronger when we stand together as one.

See it as soon as possible, and ask them to turn the lights down extra low.

My Rating: 4 out of 5

Happy Birthday, Batman: The Animated Series! by M. Glenn Gore

If you have a sudden, burning desire to feel old, you should know that Batman: The Animated Series premiered 25 years ago yesterday. That's right. 25 years. Let that sink in. I'll come back when you've had time to properly evaluate your life choices.

Now, I've been an animation enthusiast since before I can remember. Cartoons were my first love. It's hardwired into my psyche and, to this day, an essential building block of who I am. As a child growing up in the 80's, I was essentially raised by the likes of G.I. Joe, Dungeons & Dragons, Transformers, Jem & the Holograms, Ghostbusters, and He-Man. And while I adored each of the aforementioned shows, for the most part, even the most brilliant of them still adhered to a fairly strict and routine set of rules enforced by the networks that - for lack of a better term - stifled their execution. Of course, we didn't know that at the time. That was just how it was done. That was all we knew. We had no idea we deserved (and could have) better.

And then September 5th, 1992 happened. And things were never the same.

                                                         Pictured: Every afternoon of my life between 1992-1995

                                                        Pictured: Every afternoon of my life between 1992-1995

Now, there's nothing that can be said about this show that hasn't already been said by people smarter and more eloquent than me, so I won't bat-beat a dead bat-horse here. But what I will say is this series altered - and I mean completely - the landscape of American television animation when it aired. Helmed by the now-legendary Bruce Timm, his vision for Batman: TAS - a dark, film noir crime drama set against an Art Deco-inspired but timeless backdrop - was revolutionary at the time. Add to this a powerhouse writing staff of career masters and personal heroes like Michael Reaves and Paul Dini, and the Batman AS was an instant and undeniable game-changer.

It delivered mature and sincere storytelling, complex and often tormented characters, sympathetic villains, superior art direction in the use of its heavy shadows and minimal, deliberate lighting, and a stellar voice cast of top flight talent flawlessly guided by the unconquerable Andrea Romano. Ask anyone who's seen it who their favorite Batman is and they'll probably tell you Kevin Conroy. Ask anyone who their favorite Joker is, and it's almost definitely Mark Hamill.

                                                                                    Above: History being made.

                                                                                   Above: History being made.

And while all due credit must go to the writers, directors, and voice actors, as stunning as this series continues to be, it could not have come together in the lightning-in-a-bottle fashion it did without the incalculable contributions of series score composer Shirley Walker (1945-2006). Shout-outs to her exceptional team as well, particularly Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion, and the late Harvey R. Cohen. Taking a cue from Danny Elfman's brooding, melodic 1989 score to Tim Burton's equally vital Batman, the music for B:TAS was powerful, playful when needed, nuanced, layered, and possessed a scope and a scale literally unheard of in television animation. The score remains a feast for the ears.

Utilizing a technique known as leitmotif, which assigns a theme to specific characters and places, and proudly displaying an entirely original soundtrack for each episode, the score became as much a reason to follow the show as the writing and acting.  

The importance of this series cannot be overstated. Its influence is far-reaching and continues to shape the destiny of television and even feature animation to this moment. In near-biblical fashion, Batman: The Animated Series begot Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which begot the Superman Animated Series, which begot the New Batman Adventures, Batman Beyond and its immensely satisfying feature-length followup, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. The expanded universe made possible by the success of the Superman series gave rise to Justice League and subsequently Justice League: Unlimited, which featured the fearless culmination of everything learned and won and fought for since Batman: TAS premiered 12 years earlier, and cemented itself as a poetic and fitting sendoff for the Batman mythology.

I could devote a completely separate post to the number of DC and non-DC animated shows that only exist now as a direct result of this series' inception (I'm looking at you, Disney's Gargoyles), but that will have to wait. For now, let me just say thank you to the gifted and inspired individuals who brought Batman: TAS into our lives, perhaps unknowingly setting a number of us on the path to creating our own animated shows. Thank you for raising the bar when everyone else was trying to lower it, and thank you for shaping the stories we tell.

Philadelphia! by M. Glenn Gore

This past weekend, my girlfriend Nicole and I made the somewhat daunting trek to New Jersey to visit her grandmother and a number of other familial relations (read: people I didn't know and was slightly terrified to meet). By car, that trip takes something like eight and a half hours, and believe me when I tell you that seven hours and fifty-nine minutes of that drive is spent crossing Virginia, a state not a lot of people realize is roughly the size of Europa. We booked a swanky and surprisingly not haunted by the look of it AirBnB in the Art Museum part of Philadelphia because I had never been to the City of Cheesesteaks, Brotherly Love, and Rocky, so the opportunity was just too good.

                                                    You can almost see Rocky punching a side of beef from here.

                                                   You can almost see Rocky punching a side of beef from here.

We spent two days lost in the labyrinthine passages of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, got sufficiently freaked the fuck out at the famous and not-at-all un-nightmarish Mütter Museum, a gallery and repository of all things biologically and anatomically abnormal, partook of the food truck Mecca that is Penn's Landing, rightly sneered at the Christopher Columbus Memorial, toured the delightful and occasionally ratchet South Street Area, and availed ourselves of what must have been every Uber in Pennsylvania. It was a marvelous three days, but there was one thing that I wasn't prepared for that really made the trip one of the best we've taken.

I'm originally from Myrtle Beach. Now, South Carolina is known for a lot of things: hurricanes, mosquitoes the size of Volkswagens, and a proud recipient of the auspicious "1st to Secede from the Union" award. I've encountered more than enough racism in my lifetime, though I'm certain there's more on the horizon, and while Charlotte is a fairly diverse city and generally hailed as one of the most progressive cities in North Carolina, I was not prepared for just how diverse Philadelphia was by comparison.

It was incredible! I mean, it was amazing. It was wonderful! And I know this probably makes me seem like a very sheltered individual. It's not like I didn't know that a city that size would be home to so many different kinds of people, but up until that point, I had never been on the street with what felt like the entire world, and it was sincerely moving. Millions of people from dozens of countries, religions, and sexual orientations all together, everywhere! It's what I want every place I visit and the city I call home to be like every moment of the day. And despite the rather erroneous claim currently circulating in the political landscape, THIS is what makes America great! This is the America I want to fight to get back, the America that has room for everyone who chooses to love and respect one another.

This is my first blog post, so forgive me if I rambled or even missed the mark, but I had to tell somebody. I've got to get back there. There's still so much more to see and to do, and too many fantastic people to hopefully meet and learn from. Thanks, Philadelphia, for rekindling my faith in us as one great people.