David S. Goyer

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Movie News

Man of Steel 2 Rumored; David S. Goyer Offers Superman Insights

Man of Steel 2 may or may not be happening, but David S. Goyer happens to offer interesting insights into Superman and the DC film universe. Goyer wrote the Batman The Dark Knight trilogy with Christopher Nolan, as well as Man of Steel, which introduced Henry Cavill as the new Superman. While talking with THR,

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Movie News Reviews

Movie Review: Man of Steel (2013)

I’m More Than a Man in a Silly Red Sheet

A Film Review of Man of Steel

By: Lawrence Napoli

 

The DC/Warner Bros. alliance begins its rise to challenge Marvel’s Avengers Initiative with Man of Steel, and it certainly was a heck of a way to start.  This movie is big; like Michael Bay on steroids, crack and crystal meth, BIG!  It also looked really expensive to make with the expected cornucopia of CG effects constantly lighting up the screen.  All of the different POV perspectives on these shots as well as the aerial angles kept the audience amazed and engaged.  It also paid homage to the quaint origin story made famous in the Christopher Reeve/Richard Donner films in a way that communicates the drama and exposition without letting it run on for too long.  It also established Henry Cavill as the face of the Superman/Justice League franchise moving forward because the man has serious acting chops, is in peak physical condition and can be as impactful with his dialogue as he is with his fists.

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Impactful.  Bang!

I am no particular fan of Zack Snyder mostly due to his efforts in Sucker Punch and Watchmen, but it’s all good because even he couldn’t screw up a story penned by the likes of David S. Goyer (Da Vinci’s Demons) and Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy).  As fantastic as Superman’s abilities are and as epic a scale as this film presents, there remains a conscious effort in the script to keep the story grounded in reality.  This was certainly one of the concerns when Man of Steel was first rumored to involve the man who created the definitive depiction of a realistic Batman onscreen.  The concept of Batman isn’t as much of a stretch because with enough tech, training and resources, anyone can be Batman (which also happens to be that character’s appeal).  NOT just anyone can be Superman, so how can an alien make a realistic connection with audiences that know full well that he is not human?  You do it by highlighting character relationships, and in the case of Man of Steel, three keys unlock a character we can relate with.  Superman’s relationship with his father, Jor-El, brings out his morality.  His relationship with his human parents, the Kents, brings out his humility.  And of course, his relationship with Lois brings out his determination and inspiration. 

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There’s enough Lois & Clark, but there could have been more.

Those story elements were meant to converge on the question of whether a being with such powers should ever present him or herself to humanity, and just about every practical reason to remain anonymous is addressed from several perspectives, not just those within Superman’s camp.  Unfortunately, the story also had to include a significant action element in the form of a bunch of pissed off Kryptonians with an axe to grind with the House of El, so Superman doesn’t exactly have a say in the matter.  It’s a real shame, too, because extending a preemptive olive branch could have expanded the few scenes Superman shares with various American, government officials which gives the audience some laughs and food for thought as a plain speaking super being lays it all out for an organization that personifies the concept of control.  Fighting Kryptonians also cuts into Superman’s relationship with Lois a bit as I feel the romance that clearly gets established right away, was a bit rushed – but I guess all the ladies swoon for the man with the big “S” for “Swag.” 

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Swag.  That’s right.

Clearly, the filmmakers wanted just about every basic element about this updated version of Superman to be firmly planted in the ground as quickly as possible before moving forward with any sequels or expanded fiction.  Part of me appreciates this strategy for being extremely efficient by conveying Clark’s youth via flashbacks, while another part of me feels the drama from those missing moments take a back seat to explosions.  It’s not an easy task to address an origin film in this way, but Goyer and Nolan make enough of the right decisions to error on the side of balance between the drama and action.  Overall, the story is entertaining and intriguing without any significant lapses in continuity while managing to deliver a whole lot more of Kal-El’s Kryptonian heritage and the events that preceded his home planet’s demise. 

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Don’t worry son.  The origin tale will be quick and painless.

Do you know what $225 million tells me?  It tells me that a movie with that kind of budget had better deliver some phenomenal visual eye candy via effects and CG, or else I’m demanding my money back.  Thankfully, Man of Steel delivers the best onscreen effects and action sequences to date in the summer of 2013, and they all begin with the depiction of Superman’s powers.  Not all of his iconic abilities are on display (as he’s clearly still learning to “test his limits”), but the ones he does show like flight, super strength, invulnerability and heat vision are very impressive.  As excellent as they all look, the use of sound, from muffled grunts to the vibrations on the ground and in the air, enhances the guttural effort Kal-El exerts to do the amazing things he does.  Kryptonian combat has a significant presence in the very beginning and end of Man of Steel which delivers fairly standard issue laser blasts, space ships and otherworldly technology at work.  These all looked fine, but presented nothing you haven’t seen before in the likes of Avatar, T2 or (here’s an obscure reference) The 6th Day.  I could say the very same thing for the destruction of Metropolis at some point, which features some pretty scary buildings collapsing all over the place that were inspired from movies like Green Lantern and just about every other disaster film (ahem, pun intended right there). 

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Uh, you guys know I’m on YOUR side, right?

I wasn’t as sold on the entire cast’s performance as our EIC outlined in his Man of Steel reflection.  Actors like Diane Lane as Ma Kent and Laurence Fishburne as Perry White are there strictly for star power as their moments to shine are limited, and they don’t do too much with them when they are front and center.  I was particularly unimpressed with Lane as she seems to overact the crotchety old lady persona a bit to sell her advanced age which the make-up department didn’t exactly hit a home run on either.  Kevin Costner is almost in the same boat for this criticism, but his contributions were worth it thanks to the poignant moment that explains his character’s tragic passing.  The best supporting character, by far, was Jor-El played by Russell Crowe who officially begins his comeback from Les Misérables right now.  I respect that he got into a bit better shape for this film, but his impeccable line delivery, presence and ability to gaze through the camera’s eye resonates with the audience. 

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I don’t wanna hear nothing about no Javert!

I never liked most of Superman’s rogue’s gallery nor the fact that we were going to revisit General Zod in this reboot once again.  The first moment Michael Shannon spoke a single line of dialogue was an instant wash for his performance in my book because I could never get past the awkwardness of his voice.  I don’t know if he was purposely trying to grate his rear molars as he spoke, but he seemed like an over-angry, over-powered, spoiled little jerk who couldn’t lead fish to water.  The real villain that stole the show for me was Antje Traue as Faora-Ul who is fairly attractive in as plain as Hollywood gets, and her diminutive stature wouldn’t seem to pose much of a threat to Superman, right?  Wrong!  Not only does she kick some serious ass, but she delivers the perfect villain’s voice, stare down, threat and general demeanor.  Why these crazy Kryptonians aren’t following her is completely beyond me.

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Explain it to everyone how I’m a superior villain to Zod.

Of course, a Superman origin story ultimately boils down to him and Lois, and although I like the casting of Henry Cavill and Amy Adams in these roles, I haven’t quite bought into their onscreen chemistry which I am completely aware that they didn’t exactly have many opportunities to fully explore here.  Cavill is (unfortunately) another perfectly cast, British born actor for this role thanks mostly to his exquisite physical condition and piercing blue eyes.  He approaches his character with respect and dignity, so it matters not if he delivers dramatic lines in a spandex body suit.  His performance as Superman isn’t going for adorable charisma like Christopher Reeve.  He’s going for a simple man that has great ambitions for the future with even greater powers to accomplish them with.  Adams could take a page out of Cavill’s book and loose a little “adorableness” to revisit the assertiveness she displayed in The Fighter in order to deliver a slightly less girly, Lois Lane.  I like my Lois the way I like my coffee: BOLD!

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I was going for “bold,” but now I need dental implants.

I have no doubt that Man of Steel will probably be the best blockbuster, action adventure film you will see all summer long, so now’s the time to break out those loose dollars you were hiding in the cookie jar.  This is a movie worth seeing on the big screen, but not necessarily on an IMAX screen as (once again) the 3D effect is nice, but it could be distracting to some and doesn’t deliver a game-changing experience.  This movie sets up DC and Warner Bros. quite nicely to move their own franchise forward in a realistic-enough world that rivals The Avengers.  The thing is, I don’t believe they could find a dedicated enough actor who has everything Cavill brings to the table and more (in the form of experience) to project the character of Batman on equal footing as the blue boy scout than Christian Bale himself.  Seeing Man of Steel actually reaffirmed my belief in Justice League working as a film adaptation, but only with that particular Dark Knight.  It’s just too bad that we didn’t get any post-credit teaser at the end of Man of Steel which my natural paranoia interprets as those who control the franchise not having a clear vision for their own future.

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Movie News Reviews

Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Episode 8: The Lovers

Da Vinci = Jerry Lewis as The Errand Boy

A Show Review of Da Vinci’s Demons Episode 8: The Lovers

By: Lawrence Napoli

[Attention: Major spoilers and end of season commentary ahead!]

 

Season 1 concludes with The Lovers and the theme of this episode is “tying up the loose ends” with what I hope will be a more adventurous and bold ambition for season 2.  Usually, the resolution of subplots is a satisfying experience for the viewer who is invested in any series, but I did not feel the satisfaction for many of them, despite the thoroughness of the attempt to address every character’s particular issue.

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I am unimpressed.

Subplot #1) Da Vinci FINALLY expresses to The Turk, Al-Rahim his frustration for being led around by the nose thanks to the Sons of Mithras and their quest for The Book of Leaves which they entrapped Leo with by linking its fate to that of his own mother’s.  The reason this fizzles is because Da Vinci has really become obsessed with this quest himself and he is all too willing to continue on as he has been regardless of his whining and complaining.  Leo knows this, The Turk knows this, and thus the entire exchange is a waste of time other than directing Da Vinci towards his new destination.  The Turk owns Da Vinci’s left testicle.

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Years from now we’ll get this Da Vinci guy to do all the hard work and . . .

Subplot #2) The fate of Giuliano Medici runs its course.  We were all fooled by the way last week’s episode ended, but in order to more closely resemble the history of these events he is dispatched while attempting to save his brother during mass.  Giuliano, played by Tom Bateman, was easily becoming my favorite character in this show because he stopped behaving like a spoiled little brat and started rising to the occasion to be a leader whenever possible with charisma and confidence.  His presence will be missed, but having his mistress Vanessa (with whom Giuliano had relations once) discover she’s pregnant and inform the skewered Giuliano of this fact in the final moments of his life felt incredibly rushed and swept under the rug.  This was a moment of high drama that required more time to see through and it failed as a result.

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I was supposed to “handle” Giuliano.

Subplot #3) Lucretia the spy and Da Vinci have it out and despite that, their relationship is still up in the air.  As quickly as Da Vinci is to slit her throat, he is just as quick to massage her tongue with his own and the scene they share is obviously meant to show that both individuals (despite their best efforts) are hopelessly in love with each other, but neither have the courage nor the sense of self to do anything about it.  For a man so determined to not be defined by anyone else, Lucretia owns Da Vinci’s right testicle and his interactions with Lorenzo throughout this episode suggest he may eventually pay for this relationship.  Da Vinci seems content to remain a slave to Lucretia’s affections.

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You complete me.

Subplot #4) We all find out who the old man being held in Rome’s prison is, and I must say that I was not expecting him to be the Pope’s twin brother.  The show is taking immense liberties with this angle and although we have no idea why he chooses to remain in prison, we do know his council helped facilitate Rome’s campaign to unify Italy and increase the church’s power.  The funny thing is, I’m pretty sure Leonardo did not notice the family resemblance from last week’s episode, but the very fact a twin exists reveals a major plot point for how I think this series will culminate.  [Major spoiler supposition ahead]  Da Vinci may involve himself in a plot to swap the imprisoned twin with the evil Pope Sixtus who is known for commissioning the creation of the Sistine Chapel (an act not particularly on the mind of a Pope desiring to instigate a holy war with the Ottoman Empire).  This will lead to Da Vinci crossing paths with none other than Michelangelo, who painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  

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I can always find “another way.”

Subplot #5) The Pazzi Conspiracy fully engages and its result is pending.  “The Lovers” has a ton of swordplay after Giuliano bursts through the church’s doors to expose the Pazzis.  I actually enjoyed the action, the throat slicing and the fact that everyone (even the priests!) get down and dirty.  If you know the history [attention: historical spoiler ahead], the Pazzi’s fail at assassinating Lorenzo, but it remains to be seen if this will cause a brief moment of internal calm for Florence at a convenient time when Leonardo needs to go away on an oceanic voyage.  The only thing I didn’t like about this is how it ends with the very last scene before the credits roll.  This scene catches the action literally in the middle and it resolves nothing to the audience.  It’s the kind of cliff hanger left for in-between episodes or commercial breaks, but not the end of a season (Editor’s Note: And not having to wait until 2014! – EIC Matt McGloin).

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This Pazzi comes with a Kung-fu action chop.

Subplot #6) Lorenzo discovers Da Vinci is his rival for Lucretia’s affections.  Just as Lorenzo is professing his love for Da Vinci for his heroic intervention, he sees Lucretia’s ring, and that love instantly turns into vile hate.  This development really felt like Goyer threw this in at the last possible second because Lorenzo’s reaction seems a bit odd.  If he really loves Lucretia, it makes more sense for him to become depressed and indifferent to his immediate fate, and if he survives, that sadness can turn into hate which motivates Lorenzo to “hunt” Da Vinci throughout season 2.  If Lorenzo’s ego is simply wounded by someone like Da Vinci sharing the same woman, he would certainly get upset, but he wouldn’t seek blood-lusting vengeance as if Da Vinci slept with his actual wife.  Da Vinci is, after all, saving Lorenzo’s butt from assassination.

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Do I love my wife and family more than my mistress?

All of the above happens in this single episode and each subplot is done a severe disservice by splitting the audience’s attention amongst them all.  Perhaps creator David S. Goyer felt the need to conclude with the Pazzi conspiracy because he didn’t want any major issues lingering between seasons.  If this is the case, that means Goyer must have something amazing waiting for the audience with Da Vinci’s adventures abroad.  If not, Da Vinci will continue to be conveniently side tracked from his journey to stay in Florence, and we will all be treated to everything we’ve already seen before.  Florence could continue to be an interesting place to explore had Goyer given Da Vinci – and the audience as a proxy – a reason to stay.  Ending season 1 after Da Vinci’s infiltration of the Vatican seemed to be a more natural place to take a breather because significant plot twists occurred, Da Vinci accomplished a major victory, yet significant danger remained for the future of Florence to address in season 2. 

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I am really, *ucking pissed off!

Season 1 of Da Vinci’s Demons was a successful experiment in making a television series.  The reason I describe it as merely a test is because its quality in many production levels was inconsistent and the sum of its episodes do not constitute a full season of anything.  Here are some things Goyer needs to address for season 2: First, you must give the audience at least 12 episodes because if you don’t, there’s no reason for you to evolve your story telling formula, which means more abbreviated character and plot development and you will be called out on it.  Second, get a little more money for effects.  Although this is the kind of show that doesn’t require an abundance of visual effects, it is still about Leonardo Da Vinci and he invented a couple of cool gadgets along the way and we need to see more of his infernal devices at work.  Third, Da Vinci’s desire to learn of his mother’s fate better pay off because it has thus far been set up to be a massive let down.  The first half of season 1 shows Da Vinci having a blast with his own devices and discovering “truth” at his own pace.  The Turk shows up and tempts Leonardo with a massive carrot and the man hasn’t returned to jubilant discovery since.  This plot arc seems to be setting Leo up for that heaping helping of humble pie so Da Vinci can learn “humility,” the key word left out of Solomon Ogbai’s final words to Da Vinci in “The Devil.”

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Da Vinci must learn his lessons, or this goes right up you know where.

I need to see a lot more follow through from Goyer and his entire production staff.  If you’re only given another 8 episodes for season 2, then give the audience 8 episodes that take full advantage of the characters you’ve introduced and TAKE YOUR TIME!  I’m sick and tired of merely paying lip service to plot points and twists that have the potential to be really juicy.  Give your fine cast of actors more time to ACTUALLY ACT.  We need MORE moments of DRAMA that play out organically.  Only time will tell what season 2 and the future of Da Vinci’s Demons as a franchise has in store, but the concept of “evolution” should be the first and foremost thought in Goyer’s mind at the writer’s table, behind the camera and in the editing booth.

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Movie News Reviews

Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Episode 7: The Hierophant

Da Vinci = Danny Ocean

A Show Review of Da Vinci’s Demons Episode 7: The Hierophant

By: Lawrence Napoli

 

Yes!  Redemption episode!  The last episode of Da Vinci’s Demons saw a chance encounter with Dracula (or Vlad the Impaler) of all characters and as interesting as that may sound for an historical reinvention that tiptoes the borders of fantasy, it was plain ridiculous.  It made little sense to viewers and even less relevance to the story that’s been developing thus far in the previous six episodes.  Be that as it may, David S. Goyer comes back with a vengeance in “The Hierophant” which gets the story firmly back on track by having Da Vinci become embolden enough to confront his opposition directly.  We’re going to Rome!

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Pope Sixtus has some cool toys.

For this entire series, the audience has been told how Pope Sixtus IV and his cronies have been directing events across Europe not merely by the strength of arms, but by manipulating the faith and secretly acquiring and hoarding fundamental knowledge of the natural world and by extension, the nature of man.  The Vatican’s control over the latter element has been what Da Vinci has dedicated his life in pursuit of, and thanks to his efforts in “The Devil,” he has his bearing to discover the actual resting place of The Vault of Heaven.  All he needs is Count Riario’s half of the key.  I enjoyed the planning and preparation scenes where Da Vinci, Nicco and Zoroaster consider the options of actually penetrating The Vatican’s defenses.  It reminded me of the best parts of the Ocean’s 11 Trilogy in that it comes off as a good old fashioned B&E to a highly secured installation.  I also liked how the entire episode tied back into the Medici’s immediate troubles as well as Da Vinci’s personal quest seamlessly (as if the last episode didn’t even happen). 

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Another of Da Vinci’s devices at work?

If you thought that Da Vinci’s Demons was moving too slowly for your taste, The Hierophant not only ups the pace, but fills it up with many subplots coming to ahead.  Riario vs. Da Vinci?  Check.  Giulino searching for the spy?  Check.  Remember Riario’s prisoner?  Check.  What’s most impressive about the volume of twists in this episode is that nothing feels like it was discarded as soon as it was introduced and every new development leaves the audience with new and satisfying information that ups the tension and gets your brain thinking about what could happen next.  Oh yes my friends, everything is coming together at the right time with only one episode left which I eagerly anticipate, but I am also somewhat disheartened because 8 episodes does not a full season of ANY television show make.  By the way, if any of you were really anticipating that exciting rematch with Dracula, you will be disappointed by its absence here (thank God!).

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The man is still not to be trifled with.

I’d also like to take a moment to commend all of the show creators for doing their best to root this fiction in the past.  I became personally aware when I was inspired to research Pope Sixtus and the extent to which his savagery on the show may or may not have been reflected in how he ruled in the history books.  My research brought me to the Pazzi Conspiracy and I was astounded at the accuracy the show was in trying to hold true to the bullet points of that conflict.  Unfortunately, I conducted this research prior to watching “The Hierophant” which actually spoiled some of the episode for me and I am fearful for how much of the plot moving forward I may have inadvertently ruined as well.  So if you don’t happen to be a history buff and still want to be surprised by this show, do NOT research key words like: Renaissance Florence, Medici, Sixtus or Pazzi.  Do it after the first season ends.  Perhaps invigorating the viewer’s interest in actual history is the greatest compliment that can be paid to any period piece?

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Who is the mysteriously masked, red rider?

The final episode of this initial season of Da Vinci’s Demons is coming up and the table has been set for suspense, intrigue and wonder.  The only thing that “The Lovers” needs to do is match the energy, pacing and relevance of this episode.  It is a natural tendency for the filmmaker to constantly up the ante, push the envelope, raise the stakes and so on and so forth, but doing so without discipline would be a sure fire way to end the season on a sour note.  Goyer needs to hammer home nagging concerns for Da Vinci before properly sending him off on a brand new quest against new forms of opposition, circumstances, handicaps, etc.  “The Hierophant” set up all the pins perfectly and it is left to “The Lovers” to knock them all down.

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Movie News Reviews

Da Vinci’s Demons Review: “The Devil” (Episode 6)

Da Vinci = Van Helsing

A Show Review of Da Vinci’s Demons Episode 6: The Devil

By: Lawrence Napoli

 

For the first time in this show’s brief history, an episode follows immediately where the previous episode left off which is exactly what the audience needed seeing how last week’s episode: “The Tower,” ended with the unexpected return of Dr. Bashir . . . er, The Turk played by our good friend Alexander Siddig.  Unfortunately, what “The Devil” reveals in furthering Da Vinci’s quest for discovery, meaning and purpose really starts to get muddled in what seems to be an incredibly random side quest as is suggested by The Turk himself. 

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Warning: There’s a lot of male nudity in this episode.

Attention readers: This is where my Van Helsing reference comes into play and how it corresponds to the individual for which this episode (“The Devil”) was named, and that’s all you’re going to get from me.  Even if we are talking about the same time period in history as it pertains to Da Vinci and “Person X,” there are a number of reasons why this chance encounter vexes me greatly.  First, I can understand the novelty of writing something like this into the story, but this kind of plot twist feels an awful lot like jumping the shark which makes no sense for a show that very recently got picked up for a second season as of last month.  Second, introducing “Person X” as a relevant character to this story completely undermines every form of opposition Da Vinci has encountered so far.  Third, it just seems too farfetched for how this drama was established; that being, an attempt to explore the fantastic conspiracy and prophecy of Da Vinci’s work and influence within the context of his country’s political stability. 

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Simon Belmont could handle him.  Can Da Vinci?

It all boils down to what this Book of Leaves journey really means for both Da Vinci and creator David S. Goyer.  Who’s to say how it will end and what Da Vinci will ultimately learn from it, but let’s not forget that merely introducing this mystery to the character (as a means of resolving some deeply felt mommy issues) motivated Da Vinci to get his work out of the studio and into society.  That connection is what makes this interpretation of Da Vinci interesting and easy to empathize with.  The further Da Vinci drifts towards the Book of Leaves, the further he drifts from every other character this show has so painstakingly connected to the fate of the main character and this sensation is simply impossible to deny once the credits roll for this episode.

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If you see me, that means the Book of Leaves, which means everything else disappears!

Since Da Vinci’s relevance to the overall plot seems to take a hiatus, more supporting characters and subplots come to the forefront.  The three brewing subplots that are touched upon are Lorenzo’s political leadership, Giulino’s continued ascension to a contributing member of the ruling family and Rome’s nefarious leadership imploding on itself.  By themselves, these plots are all very interesting so long as they connect back to the main character.  This is why Da Vinci’s diminished capacity resolved so well during last week’s episode.  Unfortunately, none of these situations make a connection to Leonardo’s field trip, they feel rushed because they all happen during this episode and they accentuate Da Vinci’s absence which benefits no one.

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We may be getting lost.

Thanks to “The Devil,” I am concerned that interesting characters like the spy and Count Riario continue to fade to obscurity thanks to the introduction of even more new characters that seem equally important to the events surrounding Europe’s landscape as well as Da Vinci’s quest.  I do not take kindly to being introduced to characters who are set up to fulfill certain roles, only to be ushered away from them to satisfy a particular aspect of Da Vinci’s quest which still doesn’t actually get him a step closer to his goal.  It seems like an unreasonable sacrifice for the viewer to make when the strength of this show has been about making interesting connections between characters and situations.  Viewers should not have to wait for another episode to at least get a hint of some connection.

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Do you remember when I was a promising villain?

I didn’t care for much of this episode other than two quotes which I feel are central to Da Vinci as well as being significant social commentary  1) “Hell exists if the evil of this world exceeds our belief to conquer it.” And 2) “All things are possible.  Even defeat.”  The first suggests the kind of empowerment felt initially by Da Vinci to do something with his gifts and the second suggests Da Vinci ought to address his greatest weakness: lacking any sense of humility.  Perhaps these ideas will take form in next week’s episode: “The Hierophant.”  Or perhaps Da Vinci will have a run-in with Medusa.

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Movie News Reviews

Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Episode 5: “The Tower”

Da Vinci = Liberace

A Show Review of Da Vinci’s Demons Episode 5: “The Tower”

 

By: Lawrence Napoli

My titular suggestion of whom else I feel Da Vinci channels in this fifth episode of Da Vinci’s Demons is more than a reference to the many examples of “air piano” he displays throughout as he attempts to work out the predicament he finds himself in.  Indeed, last week’s episode ended with an extreme curve ball that saw him in handcuffs at the very moment he was finally receiving full acceptance and praise within the epicenter of Florence’s power.  Even during the Renaissance, it was a very bad idea to get on the wrong side of anyone in power because the manner of “due process” the viewer witnesses here apparently requires no evidence to see a person be jailed indefinitely.  Ah, but Da Vinci’s powers of observation and reason are equal to the task as his abilities are easily applied to just about any situation; not just inventing cool things.  It’s not about being smarter than everyone else (because he’d avoid being Florence’s whipping boy amidst the intercession of Rome), but about cutting to the quick faster than everyone else which reveals the true benefactor, the true motive and the true conspiracy that seeks to remove Da Vinci from the game in which Florence’s freedom hangs in the balance.

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Bat shit crazy!

Although we see plenty of scenes of Da Vinci in prison, the engine of this episode is the court room drama that seeks to make his imprisonment permanent.  These moments are perhaps the most pleasing of this episode because it gives the audience an entirely unique format in which to experience the story.  The extra twist to these proceedings shows a certain someone pledged with Da Vinci’s defense.  This begins to redefine their relationship to a level of mutual respect viewers have not yet seen and have these characters ever experienced in their lives.  Unfortunately, this does mean this episode is very heavy on dialogue and not particularly abundant with action, laughs and visual effects. 

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Witness for the defense.

It also means that other characters continue to step to the forefront in terms of their impact to the story and their ability to connect with the audience.  Da Vinci’s Demons continues its strategy of paralleling conflicts that shows the Medici’s attempt to sure up their financial situation by securing a foreign account while displaying Da Vinci’s personal plight.  As it turns out, this subplot is equally important and shockingly, not mutually exclusive to Da Vinci’s imprisonment.  These scenes give the audience a much clearer view of what the Medici family represents, the kind of people they really strive to be and their vision moving forward into the future.  In just about every episode prior to The Tower, the Medici’s are portrayed as your average ruling class snobs that are completely out of touch with “the people.”  Certainly, Da Vinci’s influence has been bridging that gap, but Lorenzo’s sales pitch combined with Giulino’s charm gives us a reverse perspective from the top down that doesn’t repulse or disgust.  Knowing Lorenzo’s manic nature, I don’t fully trust his high minded idealism as I could easily see him turn on Da Vinci (and by extension, the audience) instantly if he saw profit in it.

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Not even this ugly beard will prevent me from getting to the truth.

The Tower is easily my favorite episode thus far mostly due to the court room drama format.  Although this episode is less concerned with the Book of Leaves, it ends with the surprising return of a person who set Da Vinci on this path of discovery in the first place.  The audience is treated to more cryptic imagery that doesn’t exactly make sense so hopefully we will discover the connection between Da Vinci and the Vault of Heaven before this first season is over.  The one thing I don’t care for at all is the fact that Riario and his Roman conspirators are not seen once during this entire episode.  Although, I imagine this situation will be rectified in next week’s episode entitled “The Devil”.  God only knows how Da Vinci will continue to survive, let alone discover the Book of Leaves, despite the immensity of his adversity.

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Movie News Reviews

Da Vinci’s Demons Review: Episode 4: “The Magician”

Da Vinci = Batman

A Show Review of Da Vinci’s Demons Episode 4: “The Magician”

By: Lawrence Napoli

 

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The end of last week’s episode saw Florence all but folding in on itself what with “demonic” possession, spies amongst the ruling family and the flippant Leonardo Da Vinci of all people being relied upon to tip an inevitable conflict with Rome in his own country’s favor.  This episode escalates the situation to the closest we’ve all come to witnessing a field battle along the lines of Braveheart or The Patriot, but to have such a conflict only halfway through such an abbreviated, first season could possibly spoil the finale.  Thus, we are all given a nice tease as to what we may expect when Florence and Rome set their armies against each other.

As a character, Da Vinci becomes more and more difficult to get a grasp of during this episode which is not necessarily a bad thing considering David S. Goyer’s conscious efforts to portray the man as physically incapable of containing and channeling the brilliance within him.  As the title of this review suggests, Da Vinci demonstrates the same DIY, self confidence and determination as a certain Dark Knight.  However, it is Leonardo’s sudden change of heart amidst his constant pondering of the Vault of Heaven, the Book of Leaves, the security of Florence and keeping the Medici’s off his ass where this connection is demonstrated by an oddly timed moment of clarity.  Rome is on Florence’s doorstep which forces Da Vinci’s rumination to a depressing state in which he all but admits the constant and perpetuating destructive nature of man, which leads to a flip flop (of sorts) concerning his own infernal devices and a rash reaction that surprises every single character. 

Da Vinci’s manic nature can be a bit frustrating to accept because he is brilliant and charming and clearly the protagonist of this show, but his attention span is short, his motives still seem a bit selfish and even his own friends are getting irritated by his actions.  No, he’s not as easy to like as Iron Man because Da Vinci’s comedy isn’t nearly as frequent, but Tom Riley continues to evolve this character with peaks and valleys in a way that challenges the viewer.  I love the fact that Da Vinci is in a world of his own to the point where everything could be collapsing around him and he still wouldn’t care less about such a detail if it interrupted one of his thoughts.  It may come off as hubris on steroids, but his unconventional means haven’t backfired yet.

Riario gets back into the direct plot after a brief hiatus last episode to once again come off as the smooth talking sonova-B; he actually is to once again match wits with Da Vinci and the rest of his cohorts from Florence.  I like how each confrontation has escalated in terms of the venue and stakes, but I don’t like how Riario is constantly behind the 8 Ball.  For someone who claims leadership over a network of spies and information control, he doesn’t have very good facts about Da Vinci the man, his propensity for bravado and his excellent showmanship.  As a result, this character is starting to look a little weak to me, and when you factor in his character being handled by Rome in a similar fashion as Florence treats Da Vinci, I expect to see this rabid dog cut loose sooner than later which will make him more threatening and a better villain overall.

This wasn’t a week for special effects of any sort which was kind of a disappointment.  Plot twists involving the spy’s conspiracy and the Medici family’s political agenda ate up a lot of time that could have been used to show us all a little more of “Leo Land” from a visual effects perspective.  Alas, there’s a lot of dialogue and minimal action and how this episode ends doesn’t suggest the promise of more action in the next episode: “The Tower.”  Still, Da Vinci’s pursuit of the Book of Leaves progresses slowly but surely which gives the viewers an explanation as to why this opportunity landed in Florence of all places. 

Overall, this was a decent episode that could have been better had it delivered on any one of its various teases (especially one that involves a rather large set piece).  I’m really starting to hate Lorenzo as a character and wondering if everyone in Florence would be better off if his brother (who isn’t the blathering idiot he usually is for this episode) was calling the shots.  I like what the spy continues to do and I like how any internal conflict about what is being done gives way to self preservation; which yields a more devious character.  As for next week’s episode, I really want to know how Da Vinci’s big mouth is going to get him out of this one.

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Movie News Reviews

Da Vinci’s Demons Review: Episode 3 “The Prisoner”

Da Vinci = Bill Maher

A Show Review of Da Vinci’s Demons Episode 3: “The Prisoner”

By: Lawrence Napoli

 

Bang! Just as I made an observation concerning the formulaic structure to this show’s episodes, director David S. Goyer goes and throws me a curve ball. Get out of my head, man! Unfortunately, the first couple of minutes of this third episode are no less cryptic, chaotic and curious by cutting to several characters in a sequential order that doesn’t make any sense unless you watch the rest of the episode. Perhaps the purpose of starting every episode in this manner is meant to reflect Da Vinci’s personal thought process which is an incomprehensible collision of ideas that would only make sense to fellow human dynamos. As it is, it’s still somewhat of a frustrating way to start an episode, and even if one were to put the confusing juxtaposition aside, the first moments feel like this entire episode is going to be rushing through some plot. Thankfully, this intro is only a momentary decent into madness.

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The story that is taking form by the end of this episode is certainly branching out to some very interesting places as well as featuring even more established characters and their respective subplots. In fact, Da Vinci takes a bit of a back seat to his supporting cast this time around which makes for more screen time for Giulino Medici (Tom Bateman), Count Riario (Blake Ritson), Clarice Orsini (Lara Pulver) and an as yet unidentified wild card who happens to be introduced in this appropriately titled episode: “The Prisoner.” All that can be said about this new character is that he comes from an older world of wisdom – the very same kind which Da Vinci seeks in his quest for ‘The Book of Leaves,’ and it certainly appears as though “Mr. X” and This third episode unloaded hefty amounts of plot twists and developments that I simply was not expecting: Lorzeno vs. his brother, Lorezno’s wife vs. his mistress, the Pope vs. his enforcer, the enforcer vs. the prisoner and science vs. religion. That last, thematic, conflict is the heart of this particular episode as what appears to be a series of hideous demonic possessions has become quite alarming to the people of Florence so much so that even Da Vinci must take notice and investigate. All right, so maybe Da Vinci isn’t exactly Bill Maher as he isn’t completely dismissive of the devil, but he is still looking at the overall picture as well as the acute details to find nothing but suspicious timing to all of the events he observes.

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I really enjoy the dichotomy this series is delving into between the world of faith, mysticism and religion against the world of fact, reason and science. What’s interesting to think about is that those who are authorities in either world don’t exactly find that much separation between them in how they maintain and utilize their power and influence over others. They also seem to be the kind of people who are so far removed from the trials and tribulations of normal people (i.e. the SUPER rich). This is why Da Vinci presents such a compelling protagonist. At this point in his life, he is only now being recognized for his talents, yet he is still a no-name and is treated as such by those threatened by his abilities (those in power). He is certainly a champion of the people, but this episode is also clear that his own personal demon known only as obsession can get the better of him at times and it remains to be seen if this fatal weakness will be revisited in next week’s episode: “The Magician.”

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Movie News Reviews

Review of Da Vinci’s Demons Episode 2: The Serpent

Da Vinci = Sherlock Holmes

By: Lawrence Napoli

 

The tale of how Leonardo Da Vinci fits (supposedly) into the political climate of Renaissance Italy and perhaps a greater global web of conspiracy and control continues with “The Serpent.”  In this second episode, I already see a structural pattern that may be developing for the remainder of this initial season in that substance induced visions set Leo on the path for which his exploits will follow.  The mystery and cryptic nature of Leonardo’s visions dangerously tip toe along the line that separates intrigue and absurdity.  This really puts an unnecessary burden on the viewer to really want to see the episode through to the very end before he or she has decided to make that kind of commitment on a Friday night filled with channel surfing.  Perhaps creator David S. Goyer’s desire to designate substance abuse during this time period as common as drinking wine ought to be shelved in favor of a slightly more traditional hook to begin episodes.  The story of Da Vinci’s Demons is certainly layered with more than enough juicy plot to keep viewers coming back for more that it shouldn’t give them excuses to turn away from the very start.

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Stay with me.  The investigation is just getting started.

As for the plot, Leonardo’s pursuit of a once thought, mythological source of knowledge known only as ‘The Book of Leaves’ continues via baby steps in this episode that certainly comes off as an investigation worthy of Sherlock Holmes.  Da Vinci continues to use his photographic powers of observation and deduction to connect the events that unfold before him in the city-state of Florence to clues that are vital to his fated path of enlightenment.  What makes this episode work a tad better than the first is that other characters are given more opportunities to develop independent of Da Vinci’s presence which not only makes each character rounder, but makes Leonardo’s interaction with them that more meaningful.  I also like how this episode reveals the maestro as more than a selfish artisan, but as a loyal patriot to his native Florence.  It’s an important development that finally establishes Da Vinci as a hero and not simply smarter than everyone else.  Overall, the plot’s progression continues to intrigue as it leaves the viewer with a new destination in mind for our hero which may lead him to entirely new shores.

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It looks like I will be Da Vinci’s nemesis.

It seems as though the budget allotted to each episode via Starz precludes the possibility of having episodes strictly devoted to action and set pieces that require the use of prolonged special/visual effects to get the idea across.  Where “The Hanged Man” episode used sparing visual effects for a couple of Da Vinci’s inventions and his “bullet-time vision, “The Serpent” uses effects for his inventions and a harrowing escape involving a rapid ascent via pulleys.  Yes, budget limitations can be used to a filmmaker’s advantage in that it forces one to rely on spectacle less and writing/performance more.  However, it can also lead to predictability, because if a very elaborate effect is used early in an episode, chances are the audience will not see another.  I understand that this is a very nitpicky criticism, but if the idea is to show Da Vinci’s works as awe-inspiring, then showing more visual effects is an inevitability that the budget may not have accounted for.

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Perhaps one of Da Vinci’s infernal devices at work?

The only other character I’m starting to be interested in beyond Da Vinci himself is Lucrezia Donati, played by Laura Haddock, and yes, my interest goes beyond the regular nudity her character engages in.  Being a secret agent for Rome (which isn’t portrayed in the kindest light), she is meant to infiltrate the ruling Medici family and report her findings.  However, her budding relationship with Da Vinci and her proximity to Lorenzo may have compromised her self-serving nature.  She appears to be showing genuine affection to Leonardo, but it may still be her ingratiating herself into his inner circle for nefarious ends.  Either way, Lucrezia is a woman to watch for her fate may be more closely tied to Da Vinci’s than any of us realize.

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Keep your eyes on the prize Leo; not the thighs.

I enjoyed this second episode, but I am disappointed at the fact that this first season is already 25% complete.  With only 6 episodes left, I feel the show may not have accomplished enough plot-wise to justify a second season which traditionally means a new direction, characters and stakes.  Unless, of course, the “second season” is simply “season one: volume 2,” which would make more sense if released within the same year; along the lines of what AMC does with The Walking Dead.  Too much downtime between volumes of the same season without some evolutionary leap in the storytelling process would lose viewers and ultimately kill the show.  Next Friday’s episode “The Prisoner” will reveal even more, but it remains to be seen how only 8 one hour-long episodes can effectively communicate the conflict between one man of singular intelligence and talent against a sea of corruption, control, greed and violence.

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Movie News Reviews

Review: David Goyer’s: Da Vinci’s Demons Episode 1: The Hanged Man

Da Vinci = Tony Stark

A Show Review of Da Vinci’s Demons Episode 1: “The Hanged Man”

By: Lawrence Napoli

 

Who ever really knew the genius behind the Renaissance polymath?  A man of art, philosophy, creativity and ingenuity apparently had himself some inner demons with which he had to deal.  At least, that’s what creator David S. Goyer would have you believe for the premium television series debut of Da Vinci’s Demons only on Starz; a show about the mystery surrounding the man, the myth and the legend of Da Vinci as he finds his way in life during tumultuous times.

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Da Vinci, the dynamo.

This debut episode entitled The Hanged Man presents the setting of Florence, Italy during the middle of the Renaissance and the viewer is introduced to Leonardo in the prime of his youth.  His creativity is literally bursting from his mind and his eagerness to extract every thought is just as ambitious.  Despite the inspiration of the period, there are still social and political restraints that the man must contend with and it is in this specific regard where we learn of his first true demon, namely: how a genius such as he is to fit in with the rest of society. 

Tom Riley plays Da Vinci in a manner that directly channels Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark in just about every way.  Perhaps this is the preferred method of portraying a human dynamo onscreen these days?  Riley shows off a decent amount of charisma with the rest of his cast, but his best moments are shared with the mysterious character known as “The Turk” played by Alexander Siddig whom you will all remember as Dr. Bashir from Deep Space Nine.  Riley’s energy matches his arrogance, but it appears that director David S. Goyer has steered Riley’s performance to reserved calm and focus whenever Leonardo engages in painting or drawing portraits; specifically those of beautiful women. 

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Dr. Bashir, I presume?

Oh yes fellow viewers, Da Vinci’s Demons won’t be appearing in high school classrooms anytime soon due to its R-rating for language and nudity and as this is more of a fictional elaboration of the man’s life, it won’t be appearing on the History Channel either.  I get a very distinct Assassin’s Creed sensation while watching this show as not only the set and costume design mirror those used in Assassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood and Revelations, but the concepts of conspiracy and shadow government is a thinly layered veil that obscures the events in which Da Vinci participates.  Being a man of singular talent, he values the freedom to pursue his own machinations above all else so it remains to be seen if the protagonist will be presented as a proponent of social freedom, of social control or simply a man out for himself.

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Da Vinci, the lover.

The only weakness of this debut episode is the fact that the show launches the viewer immediately into a plot rife with betrayal and conspiracy without being thorough about introducing Leonardo himself and what he’s all about.  Goyer is counting on people being somewhat familiar with Da Vinci’s history as he gradually introduces his own unique vision of the man over the course of the next seven episodes.  Honestly, I would have preferred a tad more time (perhaps even the entire episode) devoted to strictly establishing the character of Da Vinci.  The audience is shown a multitude of the man’s talents over a fraction of the screen time which feels like the show is rushing through Leonardo’s key traits and abilities.

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What drives Da Vinci to his multiple areas of expertise?

This show will not suffer from a lack of production value as the visual effects look great, but are used sparingly for wide establishing shots of various cities and provinces in addition to an impressive means of communicating Da Vinci’s photographic memory in the form of bullet time.  This show certainly looks the part of a well developed series, but I still have a question in regards to the cast of characters.  Although those of power certainly could be forms of opposition to Leonardo, no one appears to be worthy of being his intellectual foil.  Perhaps the series will be pitting intelligence against politics and money and that would indeed be a fresh take on what the concept of “true power” means in society and how it pertains to groups as well as individuals.  However, I get the impression that we may be in store for a singular adversary to Da Vinci which would be a tad formulaic and somewhat diminishing of the man’s well established brilliance.  I would equate this potential conflict to pitting Superman against Lex Luthor: there really isn’t a match there.  But, Superman versus world peace, world hunger, climate change, terrorism, etc; that would be very interesting because it pits an individual of infinite capacity against problematic ideas that are self replenishing. 

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Plenty of inventions are showcased in this show.

The Hanged Man was a good first episode, but I really need to see more of Leonardo’s character.  He easily comes off as superior to his peers in every category save for resources, but he needs to generate a tad more sympathy to be “heroic.”  I anticipate next week’s episode: The Serpent, to unravel a bit more of the shadowy plot, even more of his iconic inventions and dynamic applications of his natural talents.  But, I also want to see a better connection between the main character and the audience rather than glazing over the mundane details of his personal relations.

Head on over here for a preview to the next episode of Da Vinci’s Demons, “The Serpent.”

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