Category Archives: Action / Adventure

Thanks for the Memories…

Craig DB5

It was recently announced that Daniel Craig had turned down an offer of upwards of $100 million to play the role of Fleming’s Agent 007 for two more films.  Having been in the role for 4 films spanning a decade, Craig was simply done.

The speculation, dream casting and multiple reports of whose in talks with producers has begun in earnest, but no matter who takes up the mantle, Craig’s legacy as James Bond is assured.

Advertisements

Batman & Robin is terrible, and here’s why you should watch it immediately

By Kwame Opam of The Verge

Does It Hold Up is a chance to re-experience childhood favorites of books, movies, TV shows, video games, and other cultural phenomenon decades later. Have they gotten better like a fine wine, or are we drinking cork?

BnRDid you know that Batman & Robin is one of the worst movies ever made? That it killed Batman until Christopher Nolan resurrected it? Well, I have a confession to make: I love it. Sincerely. I recognize that I’m rare here — it took Netflix just one month to realize it made a grave error in adding the film to its streaming movies stable. But almost 20 years after it very nearly killed all love for superhero movies at the box office, I enjoy (almost) every minute of it. Not because it’s a good movie. It isn’t. I’m not a crazy person. It’s because it’s fun in a way that some of the best, most memorable comic book movies are, and it’s a reminder of how truly silly this entire genre can be.

Let me be clear, lest you decide to cast me into the pit of fire made for woefully misplaced fandom. Batman & Robin is terrible. It’s the Titanic of superhero films (the actual ship, guys, not the James Cameron movie); the movie was born of pure Hollywood hubris for the sake of selling toys, and watching it is watching a major franchise sunk by bad design and even worse puns. The casting, writing, costuming, and even set design were all so bad as to be utterly incoherent. It demonstrates a piss poor understanding of what makes Batman, well, Batman, and it wrecks what little of the source material it actually gets right. Not to mention, yes, the bat nipples. Sure, most of the film’s stars managed to escape what might have been a career-ending vacuum created by the film, but poor Alicia Silverstone’s star fell the furthest from her Clueless heyday. (Meanwhile, the world may never know what happened to Coolio after his decision to marshall Gotham City’s neon motorcycle races.) It takes a singular piece of dogshit cinema for a director to publicly apologize for it — Sam Raimi recently did so for another classic mess of a modern superhero film, Spider-Man 3 — and director Joel Schumacher is still apologizing to this day. It’s that bad.

Tragic Trio

All this being said, there’s a kind of sick thrill in watching a movie this bad. For me, Batman & Robin rests comfortably in the space where legendary bad films can be adored for how irretrievably awful they are, alongside the likes of Plan 9 from Outer Space and The Room. This is a special class of bad movie — the kind that, with time, lets you laugh at its mistakes like a drunk old friend. It lets you look back and appreciate how far you’ve come, and even wish you could go back and see it all for the first time again. And after a while, even the egregious has its charms.

There’s some actual, honest-to-god good to this movie, trapped under all Ivy versus the Duothat flash and bad acting. For one, Uma Thurman is perfect as Poison Ivy. Not because she does justice to the comics character, because that’s a mixed bag. Rather, in a movie that’s so committed to Schumacher’s over-the-top campy style, she vamps it up flawlessly. She commits, and she even looks like she’s having some real fun in the role, which is a far cry from George Clooney’s bored-and-boring take on Batman. For another — and you have to dig a bit here, so bear with Pamela and Bruceme — there are kernels of a good, well-paced story here. There are heartfelt and genuinely affecting meditations on the nature of family, partnership, and life and death in this film, hinting that, had things not been so mucked up by Warner Bros’ need to make this a family picture, Batman & Robin might have been something else entirely. Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (who wrote A Beautiful Mind, by the way, so he’s not a total hack despite this god-awful script) even had the good sense to lift Mr. Freeze’s back story from Batman: the Animated Series, which comes close to Greek tragedy in its pathos.

But most importantly, it took this movie for studios to start thinking about what could make a superhero movie actually work. Batman & Robin is a watershed moment because, while it did decently at the box office, it was a failure of legendary proportions among critics and fans. All the industry at large had to do after this cautionary outing was do better — and it did. The evidence is obvious enough in how Marvel and DC now hold the box office in the palm of their hands, but today’s directors, who probably wouldn’t touch his style with a 10-foot pole, are actually just much better at what Schumacher already did.

Promo artworkI’m not talking about what makes a superhero story work regardless of medium. I’m talking about how the movies themselves are presented on the screen. Little by little, comic book movie directors were forced into becoming better filmmakers, and we’ve seen the fruits of that over the past decade, all tinged with lessons learned from Joel Schumacher’s colossal failure. The Dark Knight trilogy is the most obvious because it ran from the previous franchise as fast as it could for the sake of gritty realism, but the Spider-Man franchise reveled in its own camp sensibilities and it worked. Man of Steel didn’t shy away from overwrought action cheesiness and anatomically-correct costumes, and it mostly worked. And while DC and Warner Bros. have allegedly enacted a “No Jokes” policy for their movies going forward (which means no puns in Batman v. Superman), Marvel has been having fun for years, most evident in the recent Guardians of the Galaxy, which was every bit a comedy as it was an action movie.

Rogues gallery artworkWhy does Batman & Robin hold up? Because at this point you could (and should) watch the movie as an unwitting parody of the good superhero movies that came after it. It’s much easier to laugh at what’s wrong when you think about what’s right buried beneath the surface. As comics continue to dominate pop culture, so much of what we love owes this movie for helping studios think of superhero movies as films instead of just toy commercials. And you know what? Sometimes bad jokes are still funny. With all this in mind, it’s a shame that its run on Netflix was so brief. Oh well. We can only hope it’s not gone forever.

I was going to suggest renting it online, but… I’m not a monster. Wait for it to play on TNT or something.


Hmmm.  This is a tough one.

On one hand, this film was terrible in the scheme of the Bat-Universe and the nail in the coffin for the original Bat-series created by Tim Burton while also bringing about the spiral of Joel Schumacher’s career, which before taking the helm of the two Bat-sequels for Warner Bros., was doing quite well. To his credit while he burns in Bat-Hell, the regime at Warner’s demanded a light family fare in response to Burton’s previous efforts… in effect a living comic book.  It probably would have been easier for them to reboot under an Adam West like guise or seriously consider more cinematic animated tales than continue with the original Keaton/Burton story-line in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.

Batman and RobinOn the other hand,  this film also opened the door for Marvel to slowly take over the comic book cinematic universe.  Blade brought us some grit for a Marvel Knights tale, X-Men took us closer to mainstream and finally the aforementioned Spider-Man blew the doors off.

This film also forced Warner Bros. to look for a non tent-pole director to helm a reboot for the Bat-Universe and gave us Christopher Nolan, who demanded non-interference from the Warner’s regime and gave us an actual/factual comic book Batman in return.

If only Bryan Singer thought of that for Superman Returns.

Is Batman & Robin watchable in the grand scheme of things?  Sure, just don’t go in with any expectations.  It is what is, an Adam West-esque Bat-tale that will kill some time.

The Art of the Deal… Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

Ghost Rider SOV TeaserAnd while the original ‘Ghost Rider’ focused on just that, Ghost Rider, this one focused on the ‘deal’ to be Ghost Rider. Now, up-front, I’ll admit I’m a comic book guy and film buff and this film is not ‘The Dark Knight’, ‘Iron Man’ or even ‘Thor’. However, it isn’t Dolph Lundgren’s version of the Punisher or, luckily, the original ‘Ghost Rider’. (FYI: I saw this film for free at a special engagement Preview.. otherwise, I probably would not have seen it till the DVD or pay cable release.)

‘Spirit of Vengeance’ is a bit more of a reboot than a sequel, and in my estimation better than the original from a comic book standpoint. As a Hollywood flick, it’s simply the same sh!t, different film. The story is recycled from a number of genres, the acting is nothing the Academy need worry about (Nick Cage’s performance was on par for… well, any Cage performance), and some of the action sequences are a bit too herky-jerky for the 3-D, but it isn’t a total loss. The comic lore is advanced a bit (depending on which version of Johnny Blaze / Danny Ketch you want to follow) and even drops hints for returning characters in a possible sequel. Idris Elba does give a fair performance for an underwritten yet prominent character and Christopher Lambert cameos are always fun.
Spirit of Vengeance‘Marvel Knights’ is the mature comic line for Marvel characters and at some point Disney will hand their more adult characters to film makers who understand the difference between making a 90 minute crash’em-up and a story with action. While Punisher: War Zone was almost a step up for ‘Marvel Knights’, this one is a step back. Luckily, it’s only a 90 minute crash’em-up flick and you’ll be on your way to lead a normal, happy life. Bathroom breaks allowed but you probably won’t need it.

2 Stars

“The Avengers Will Assemble!”

Thor teaserAnd no matter what anyone tells you, that is the cold hard fact of this film. As the second to last place setting for next summer’s ‘Avengers’ superhero team-up flick, ‘Thor’ does nicely.

Much in the style of ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ (Damn, I hate that sub-title), the story touches greatly upon the mythos of the title character (obviously more deeply based in Norse mythology) and updates it accordingly. Luckily in this case, for all the simplicity in the story development and character set-up, Kenneth Branagh was at the helm and worked the proper amount of development into both the story and the primary characters.

The script, obviously having a major mythic back-story to draw from, mixing it with the established comic lore and then adding the S.H.I.E.L.D. element and place setting actually moves fairly well. Yes, there are a few slower parts, but this is Norse mythology directed by Kenneth Branagh and it ain’t all gonna’ be on rocket propelled roller-skates. However, this is a Marvel comic book film directed by Kenneth Branagh and you can’t really go wrong.
Donald Blake and his girlWith cast members such as Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman you expect a good turn and you certainly get it. A few of the characters are a bit cardboard but the actors do well to keep them believable. Chris Hemsworth fits quite well behind the hammer, playing both sides of the egotistical God of Thunder as well as anyone could play an egotistical God of Thunder. If there was one complaint, much like a Skywalker turned Vader in Episode III, the turn from one side to the other as Thor makes his heroic choice was a bit rushed. Obviously, the clock was ticking and the story needed to move into Act III, but…
Father and SonsAs a place setting for the forthcoming ‘Avengers’ (and if you saw the post end credits teaser scene, a great unknown lead in for Captain America) this film performs and does so far better than Iron Man 2 (whose exit teaser was a place setting for this film). As a stand alone film about Marvel’s Thunder God, it exceeds expectations.

Not quite Comic Book epic, but definitely taking you for the ride. Bring popcorn and no bathroom breaks.

4 Stars

Avengers… ASSEMBLE! Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Avengers European posterFifty years ago, that simple phrase ushered in a vision of comic book excitement and sheer imagination. And let there be no doubt, this film lives up to The Avengers storied past.

With a brisk pace, compelling character plot and backed by a motivating Alan Silvestri score, The Avengers is an excellent ‘movie’. It meets the requirements of a Saturday matinée popcorn flick, an action movie and a damned epic comic book film. The dialogue stays fresh while mixing comic relief, drama and Steve Rogers’ archaic sense of civility. Joss Whedon and his staff did a fantastic job of sharing the ‘heavy lifting’ between characters while remaining true to Stan Lee’s original visions.
Loki DemandsMarvel’s answer to DC’s Justice League of America, The Avengers took several of the comic line’s mid-level characters and created Marvel’s first true “Super-Team”. With the Silver-Age revival of Captain America in issue number 4, the Avengers never looked back. This film, the culmination of plot bits and end of credit scenes from Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America (I still don’t get why people left during the credits… ) we finally get the epic telling of Marvel’s most elite team. Sure, many in the comic world will debate who really comprises the best incarnation of Avengers (as they will X-Men), but this assemblage of heroes is it. It harkens back to the Silver Age while keeping a purely modern feel (which propelled Iron Man from background character to comic media sensation in his debut film) for the characters, the story and the idea that such fantasy could indeed seem so real.
Assembly RequiredBelieve me, this is the film that will dictate the future of the comic book film industry… and it is the film that has to make Warner Bros./DC stand-up and take note. Easily the second greatest comic book film of all time, Avengers mixes its comic lore against The Dark Knight’s gritty realism. Marvel, who for years plodded in a non media landscape and survived bankruptcy to give us the Blade Trilogy, Spider-Man, Iron Man only to score the slaughter in 2011 (perhaps thanks to their purchase by Disney) with such summer blockbusters as X-Men: First Class, Thor and Captain America have reached a definite new level of epic storytelling with The Avengers.

The TrioAnd let’s not forget, we still have Iron Man 3, a Captain America sequel and a Thor sequel before we get to the next installment of The Avengers and their previewed antagonist, Thanos (who makes a showing in the surprise hit Guardians of the Galaxy to delay his Infinity Gauntlet appearance, aka Avengers 3 & 4).
ShwarmaReaching comic book epic, grab the popcorn and snow-caps and absolutely no bathroom breaks. And yes, you’ll be seeing it at least twice in the theatres.

5 Stars

Another Iron Man Movie… Iron Man 3 (2013)

Iron Man 3 teaserTo me, this film seemed to have even less to do with the original Iron Man (and the best film of the ‘trilogy’) than Iron Man 2 which barely achieved place mat status. It certainly didn’t do anything to advance the saga of Tony Stark nor did it add a sense of closure or continuity to the recent Avengers storyline. It did however do much more in destroying Pepper Potts as a credible character.

As most Shane Black movies go, it involved Christmas… no wait, that’s not fair. It involved things that get shot and blow-up at Christmas. Making a useless involvement of AIM, the Hydra-esque secret agency which could have been easily folded into the ongoing Marvel film or Television universe, the plot just sank. If the point of the movie was that Stark can survive through his wits, sarcasm and ingenuity, well we established that in the first movie, it’s why he’s Iron Man. Since there are no plans to extend Iron Man into Phase Two or Phase Three in his own solo adventure, let’s hope his involvement in the expanding Avengers universe fares far better than this.
Kingsley MandarinDefinitely a wasted effort for the reliable Downey Jr. in follow-up to the masterful first Avengers film but a total fail for the awesome effort of Sir Ben Kingsley who stole a portion of the film (I can only hope he will return to the Marvel Universe in a future film).

Bring popcorn but a break is allowed.

3 Stars

5 of the Greatest Batman Animated Films

From: Wall Street Cheat Sheet

There’s little to no question that the most recent Batman trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan has become the new standard to which all future titles will be compared. They acted as the perfect trifecta achieving financial success (Boxofficemojo.com lists combined domestic profits of the trilogy well over one billion dollars), critical success (the lowest metascore from Metacritic.com was a 70), and popular success, with an audience approval rating of 94% on rottentomatoes.com for both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. And while these films stand as the flagships of the franchise, they’re not the only full-length features that deserve praise.

 

The feature-length animated films of the Caped Crusader deserve — and have received — equal acclaim. It may be easy to dismiss these as “kids’ stuff,” but it would be doing them a huge disservice as they share many of the great qualities found in the Nolan films; brilliant visuals, immersive environments, and rich storytelling pedigree that can trace its roots back to some of the most famous Batman comics ever penned and inked. The sheer number of Batman animated features made choosing where to start a daunting task to undertake. So to make things easier, here are five of what are, arguably, the greatest Batman animated movies of all time.

5. Batman: Year One

Year OneIt may seem cliche to start with the beginning but cliches exist for a reason. Batman: Year One chronicles the first year Bruce Wayne transforms into the Batman and it does it in a very straightforward way, mirroring the graphic novel of the same name by Frank Miller. Miller is known for his very dark take on comics, with Sin City and 300 being terrific examples. Batman: Year One even helped inspire Christopher Nolan’s well-received dark take on the Batman franchise.

The similarities between Nolan’s Batman Begins and Miller’s Batman: Year One are numerous but that doesn’t mean this animated film is lacking in new content that fans of Nolan’s Batman are not already familiar with. Year One delves further into Miller’s classic comic by accurately following the original content rather than just drawing inspiration from it. Viewers are given the treat of seeing the comic come to life in the most precise portrayal possible.

 

The idea of Bruce Wayne being new to the crime fighting game is driven home time and time again as Bruce chastises himself for being an amateur — a lucky amateur. On top of getting this unique view of a less confident hero, audiences also get to enjoy the rise of a detective who one day becomes the staple and reliable, Commissioner Gordon, wonderfully voiced by Bryan Cranston. The film is just as much about the growth of Bruce Wayne as it is James Gordon, making it a must-see for anyone interested in the history of the Dark Knight and the honorable Commissioner. Not to mention that the action sequences are all top-notch.

~Personally, I would have moved this one up the list a bit.  It follows the Comic as closely as stated above and that wins points in a DC Animated Universe that often ‘borrows’ from the stories, but doesn’t duplicate them in full.~

4. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

Return of the JokerIn the spirit of anachronism, next up on the list is Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, a full-length feature inspired by the animated series depicting the future generation of crime fighting. If the previous item focused on Batman’s first day on the job, this one depicts his retirement. Making the decision that he is too old to safely and productively patrol the streets of Gotham, Bruce Wayne decides to end his career as Batman. Twenty years pass until various chance situations result in 17-year-old Terry McGinnis taking up the mantle of Batman with an ancient Bruce Wayne as his mentor.

 

By focusing on Batman’s nemesis, the Joker, this film was able to delve into the popular history of the Batman franchise while telling a new story and maintaining its unique universe all at the same time. It was the best of both worlds; everything that was right with the Batman Beyond series combined with the staple characters and fascinating events of the Batman universe that fans know and love. Bruce Wayne being voiced by Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill voicing the Joker was practically all the movie needed to scratch that nostalgia itch that kept so many people from enjoying the Batman Beyond TV series.

~This would have moved up my list as well for the simple reason of it’s gritty story telling.  The fall-out of the Joker’s misdeeds is much more realistic as told here. If you have the opportunity, view the ‘uncut’ version as it depicts a disturbing torture scene not often seen in WB animation.~

3. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Mask of the PhantasmIf there should be considered one true voice of Batman, it should be Kevin Conroy, the man who has voiced Batman since 1992 with the debut of Batman: The Animated Series. And Mask of the Phantasm marks Conroy’s first of what would be many times voicing Batman in a feature-length movie.

 

This film was commissioned after the very first season of Batman: The Animated Series, and it really shows; it drips in the style and soul that made the television series so wonderful. Gotham is amazing, portrayed with the signature art deco style from the animated series that helped distance itself from the campy Adam West Batman of the 1960s. That distance further increases with Conroy’s portrayal of Batman; a perfect blend of foreboding and heroic. The Batman seen in Mask of the Phantasm is a darker version that today’s fans are probably used to, but he is still the voice of moral guidance throughout the story, which makes him the hero every kid could look up to.

 

It’s easy to assume that kids were the target audience of this film, but there are plenty of mature themes that run throughout. Writers did something that had yet to be done in the television show by delving into the romantic life of Bruce Wayne. What’s even better is that this is done in a productive way that ties into Batman’s own origin story. If the added romance wasn’t enough, the film also contains multiple flashbacks that are reminiscent of Citizen Kane. It has since been revealed in Les Daniels’ Batman: The Complete History, that this was intentional.

 

There’s no denying that an entire generation, when asked about Batman, will hear Kevin Conroy’s voice, see the art deco Gotham skyline dotted with dirigibles, and feel the hair stand up on the back of their necks at the thought of Mark Hamill’s Joker. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is not only a terrific movie, but acts as a testament to one of the most memorable eras of the Batman mythos.

~Having seen this one in the theatre on it’s initial release, it easily would have vied for the Number One or Two position on the list.  It set a new standard for the Animated Series, which already had raised the bar all on it’s own.~ 

2. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 and Part 2

TDKRThe writers of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm went out of their way to take a cartoon aimed at children and added a story line and themes that could be appreciated by adults as well. The creators of The Dark Knight Returns may not have ever even heard of children before. Based on Frank Miller’s 1986 comic book, the animated adaption is dark, violent, and incredibly mature. Though not really over-the-top in terms of what our society is used to violence-wise (it’s given a PG-13 rating by the MPAA), the film and depiction of Batman is definitely the most aggressive on this list.

 

Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment stay very true to Frank Miller’s comic in this animated movie adaption both in terms of plot and overarching themes. Anyone who was pulled in by Christopher Nolan’s darker take on the Batman universe will respond positively to this portrayal of the Dark Knight as well. Miller practically pioneered the dark tone for Batman, so much so that he’s been quoted as saying in an interview with Playboy that “[Nolan] seems to think he owns the title Dark Knight. [laughs] He’s about 20 years too late for that. It’s been used.”

 

Being “dark” isn’t the only draw Batman: The Dark Knight Returns has. The film tells tales that are relatively unknown to most movie-going audiences. Imagine that instead of taking on mentee Terry McGennis (mentioned before in Batman Beyond), Bruce decided to take things into his own hands and come out of retirement. Cleaning up a newly plagued Gotham, viewers are able to see what Batman has to do in order to make up for his age and resulting ailments. These new problems require new and sometimes unsettling solutions that fans aren’t used to seeing, but should find interesting all the same.

 

On top of the stories being new to people, they’re also huge in scale. There is a great sense of finality for Bruce and his relationships with many long-standing characters and super villains from the Batman universe. This animated feature even portrays one of Batman’s greatest challenges of all; going head-to-head with Superman, a clash that looks to have heavily influenced the upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

 

The combination of new hurdles, dark tone, and climactic battles makes Batman: The Dark Knight Returns a must-see for anyone wanting to see Batman really let loose and do what needs to be done.

~I agree, this one, like Miller’s ‘Year One’, stays fairly true to the source material.  I may have dropped it down a peg out of the top two, but definitely on the list.~

1. Batman: Under the Red Hood

Under The Red HoodAll of the films on this list got here because they are loved by both fans and critics. They’re held in such regard for a multitude of reasons that include voice acting, animation quality, story line, and theme. Every movie on this list achieves some level of success in every one of the aforementioned categories, but Batman: Under the Red Hood might just do it better than all of them.

 

Neil Patrick Harris and John DiMaggio do a terrific job at voicing Nightwing and The Joker respectively. The latter deserves additional credit for putting such a unique spin on a character who has been portrayed in so many memorable ways over the years. John DiMaggio (best known for Bender from Futurama and Jake the Dog from Adventure Time) plays The Joker in a unique way that is every bit as good as Nicholson’s, Hamill’s, and Ledger’s portrayal of the psychotic clown.

 

Batman: Under the Red Hood employs a slightly more traditional animation style than The Dark Knight Returns in the sense that it’s reminiscent of many other DC universe TV series and movies. However, the creators managed to accomplish this without making it look dated or lazy. Everything looks beautiful while maintaining a style that DC fans have grown used to when it comes to animated movies.

 

A familiarity with the Batman pedigree is just as important, if not more so, than employing a familiar animation style. The creators of Under the Red Hood get points in this regard, too. Like others on this list, the film does an amazing job at combining important events from the Batman universe with new storytelling. Specifically by taking one of the most memorable events in comic book history, the brutal death of Robin (the Jason Todd incarnation), and exploring the long-term consequences of it. The result is something new that can be appreciated by long-time fans and newcomers alike.

 

This film is a combination of everything that makes a good animated Batman movie. Beyond just scoring top marks in “important” categories though, the film lets viewers see a much more vulnerable Batman and gives one of the best glimpses into why the hero adheres to the code he has made for himself.

~Although I can see why the writers altered the direction of the opening as compared to the original source material (which involved a larger comic universe storyline), it just doesn’t rate over ‘Mask of the Phantasm’ or ‘Year One’ for me.  It is definitely a well done piece, but maybe in the Five or Four spot for me.  Still worth seeing.~