Film Review: Batman Vs. Two-Face (2017)

Also known as: Batman and the Face of Crime (working title)
Release Date: October 8th, 2017 (New York Comic Con)
Directed by: Rick Morales
Written by: Michael Jelenic, James Tucker
Based on: Batman (the ’60s TV show) by William Dozier, Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion, Lolita Ritmanis
Cast: Adam West, Burt Ward, William Shatner, Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, Steven Weber, Thomas Lennon, Jeff Bergman, William Salyers, Wally Wingert

Warner Bros. Animation, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 72 Minutes

Review:

“I always knew you’d make an asp of yourself, Batboob.” – King Tut

I was really happy with the first film in this duology of animated features that have resurrected the Batman ’66 universe. So when I saw that there was a second film, that it introduced Two-Face and that William Shatner would be providing the voice, I was pretty stoked.

If you are a fan of the first film, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, then this one shouldn’t disappoint. Plus, you don’t just get the addition of Two-Face, you also get Bat-villains Harley Quinn and Dr. Hugo Strange.

I love that the voice cast is comprised of the original actors. Sadly, Adam West passed away before this was released and that probably put the kibosh on a third film getting made, but this was a great final outing for him.

They also brought in Lee Meriwether, who was the original film version of Catwoman. She shares a few scenes here with the original TV Catowman, Julie Newmar. While Meriwhether doesn’t play her best known Batman character, there is a nice in-joke in the film where her character gets put into the cat suit and likes it.

One thing that is always fun about these modern versions of the Batman ’66 universe, whether in these films or the comics, is that they are able to dip really deep into the villain well and have a myriad of them in scenes together.

I was really excited to see Bookworm get his own sequence in the film, as he was my favorite villain created just for the classic television show. You also get King Tut, Egghead, the Clock King and a bunch of others.

William Shatner did a fine job as Harvey Dent a.k.a. Two-Face and I liked how they handled the character in this universe and I thought his big evil scheme was pretty good and entertaining, even though it wasn’t something wholly original.

These are just fun movies and much more family friendly than the other animated DC Comics features.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The film before this one: Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, as well as the 1960s Batman TV show and movie, the Batman ’66 comic and other DC Comics animated films of the last decade.

Film Review: Lightning Sketches (1907)

Release Date: July 15th, 1907
Directed by: J. Stuart Blackton
Cast: J. Stuart Blackton

Vitagraph Company of America, 2 Minutes

Review:

Oh, 1907… you’re just going to start with the racism to kick off this short little experimental film, eh?

It’s a sign of the times, I guess. But I certainly wasn’t expecting the first thing I saw in this little movie to be a guy writing “Coon” and then using the shape of the word as a framework to draw a racist depiction of a black man. But hey, at least this isn’t Birth of a Nation bad. I’m pretty sure Woodrow Wilson got off on this picture too, though.

Anyway, this is still interesting when understanding the context of when it was made and the very limited technology in filmmaking in 1907. It is a combination of live action drawing, mixed with animation.

It’s creative, even if it is immediately racist. There isn’t much else to say though, as it is incredibly short.

Really, I’ll just post the entire film below, as it’s shorter than most trailers. This way, you can judge it for yourself.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Really, any experimental film work from the era.

Talking Pulp: The Death of Optimus Prime and Why It Was Great

August 8th, 1986. That was the day where everything changed.

Transformers: The Movie hit theaters and little boys and little girls had their hearts broken when they witnessed, on the big screen, the death of the franchise’s biggest hero, Optimus Prime.

I was seven years-old when I saw the movie and it had a profound effect on me. I was crushed when the film got to that moment but unlike most of the kids in the theater, I got over it as the film rolled on. Because even though I was shocked, I knew that everything changed and nothing was safe. I mean, that was kind of cool. No one had any idea where the movie could even go after that moment, which was very early on in the story.

In that moment, I knew that even though all seemed lost, the stakes had never been higher and that the Autobots faced their greatest challenge. I knew that fresh, exciting and different days were still ahead. And I may have not actually understood this with great detail but I remember vividly what I felt: shock, awe, surprise and an overwhelming desire to see the Autobots overcome adversity, hardship and evil. It also made the villains darker, which I loved.

I guess that this had a huge cultural impact because parents were so upset that they made their feelings widely known. Hasbro responded by having G.I. Joe: The Movie altered so that Duke’s death, the G.I. Joe’s beloved field commander, was rewritten so that he just fell into a coma for the rest of the film. It doesn’t matter that you saw a venomous snake bite him through the heart with actual blood splatter, he lived to be okay.

Hasbro certainly didn’t want more backlash from angry parents with kids that had their hearts crushed like Duke’s in the snake’s mouth. But really, Duke’s “death” was more violent and shocking to see than Optimus Prime’s. I mean, Duke was human, there was blood and his human facial expression really sold the moment. But I’ll probably save this whole topic for an article at a later date. I just wanted to shed some light and add some context on the Optimus Prime death situation from a cultural perspective.

Anyway, Transformers: The Movie moved forward past that tragic scene. Optimus Prime’s Matrix of Leadership was first passed to Ultra Magnus but by the end of the movie, it found the one Autobot truly worthy of carrying it into the future: Hot Rod. Hot Rod unlocked the power of the Matrix and evolved into Rodimus Prime, a sort of hybrid between himself and Optimus, as he grew taller, broader and went from being a cool hot rod to a hot rod mixed with a semi truck.

Rodimus (with the Matrix) defeated the Decepticons and their new leader Galvatron (a suped up version of the former leader Megatron). Rodimus also helped destroy Unicron, who was basically the Transformers version of Marvel’s Galactus but actually cooler. By the end of the movie, Rodimus Prime rose to the occasion and the Autobots that survived this nearly apocalyptic event would go on to protect Earth from Galvatron and his minions in the future.

When the later seasons of the Transformers cartoon hit the airwaves, it took place after the movie and things were very different. Many episodes were dark and bleak and while this probably didn’t appeal to parents looking out for their kids’ best interest, as a kid, I really liked these episodes.

It was the first time that I experienced something I love in entertainment, going darker and getting grittier. As a kid, I thought it was cool as hell and it made this show about cartoon robots seem more real and more mature. In a way, the show was growing up and evolving with me. People look down on this era of the show but if I’m being completely honest, I preferred this era. Plus, the feeling that no one was truly safe, carried over from the movie.

I also preferred the characters and the toys that came out that tied into this post-Movie era. The toys got more elaborate and creative. You had Headmasters, Triggermasters, more creative and futuristic vehicles and Hot Rod was always f’n cool to me, even as Rodimus.

On the Decepticon side, as much as I loved Starscream and his Seekers, I really loved Cyclonus and the Swoops. Megatron is my favorite Transformer of all-time but Galvatron was less bumbling and seemed like he was a more capable madman. Also, Cobra Commander from G.I. Joe even shows up in an episode with the name “Snake”. It’s obvious that it’s Cobra Commander and he is there to assist the villainous Decepticons, years after Cobra has ceased to exist.

You also got really cool Combiners like Predaking and awesome battle stations that transformed into massive robots. I owned Fortress Maximus and it was probably my most beloved toy in the ’80s. It was also a sign of pride for me, as I saved up over $100 to buy it with my own money. I also bought Skorponok and Trypticon because they were two of the coolest f’n toys ever made.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love so many of the original Transformers, as well as the earliest episodes, but there was just something more grown up about the show after the death of Optimus Prime.

If Optimus Prime didn’t die and the show didn’t take a darker turn and get more mature, I probably would have lost interest in it. There were already 65 episodes before The Movie. The formula had run it’s course and change was needed to make things fresh and interesting again. Plus, Hasbro had all these new toys to sell and the old robots were just in the way of the new ones. This is the same reason why the G.I. Joe and Cobra teams changed so frequently on G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

But then, like a beacon of light and hope at the end of the dark tunnel, Transformers did something really amazing. The show found a way to resurrect Optimus Prime.

I remember seeing the ad for the Return of Optimus Prime and it’s like the world stopped. After truly enjoying the post-Optimus era, absence made the heart grow fonder and it’s as if I didn’t realize how much I wanted him and needed him during his absence. Optimus Prime going away for awhile made the character stronger. Everyone I knew, back when I was in second grade, was glued to their television sets on February 24th and 25th, 1987 for that two-part story that closed out Season 3.

And what a story that was! Optimus Prime took the Matrix back, Rodimus stepped aside and everything was restored. Plus, the Autobots now had the edge over the more sinister Decepticons.

The point here, is that Optimus Prime dying created backlash and made children cry but it was necessary in making Transformers survive. It enriched the mythos, it paved the way for new characters, new toys and it opened the door for riskier and more interesting storytelling. It changed the tone of the franchise, which I feel was needed after the 65 episodes before The Movie.

I think Hasbro was smart in doing what they did. Without the death of Optimus Prime, we might not have Transformers today. The sacrifice of the franchise’s most popular hero gave that franchise meaning beyond just being some cartoon made to sell toys.

Also, no matter how much money they dump into these modern Transformers movies, they have yet to come up with a story that can even exist in the same orbit as the original animated film. Without the death of Optimus Prime, what was that film? It probably would’ve just felt like a normal multi-part episode like G.I. Joe: The Movie did because they didn’t commit to the bit and kill off Duke.

With Transformers: The Movie, Hasbro did everything right.

And now I leave you with Stan Bush’s “The Touch”. Drink it in, bathe in its glory.

Film Review: Justice League Dark (2017)

Release Date: January 24th, 2017
Directed by: Jay Oliva
Written by: Ernie Altbacker
Based on: Justice League Dark by Peter Milligan, Mikel Janin
Music by: Robert J. Kral
Cast: Matt Ryan, Jason O’Mara, Camilla Luddington, Nicholas Turturro, Ray Chase, Jerry O’Connell, Rosario Dawson, Alfred Molina

Warner Bros. Animation, DC Entertainment, 75 Minutes

Review:

“I expect the worst, so I prepare for the worst, and when the worst happens, I’m ready. But my outlook doesn’t alter the reality of the world.”- John Constantine

I started reading the current run on Justice League Dark and I really love it, at least one issue into it. I figured that I’d give this a watch because of how much I was into the comic and because I’ve liked a lot of the modern DC Comics animated features.

This was a pretty cool film.

I loved the tone, I liked the choice of characters for the JLD team and is it possible that someone was cooler than Batman? Why, yes! His name is John Constantine.

It was neat seeing Constantine take center stage, where he outshines Batman and shows how cool of a character he actually is.

It mostly made me upset that the live action Constantine TV show was cancelled after a measly thirteen episodes because it could have kept growing and got as epic and awesome as this animated feature. Hell, had it gone on into multiple seasons, it could have expanded like the other DC Comics TV shows on the CW and Constantine probably would have had a whole squad, thus making that show a live action version of this film sans Batman.

Anyway, this had solid animation, a great voice cast and I liked how the regular Justice League characters were used in this.

This is one of the better DC animated features that I have seen.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other recent DC Comics animated features.

Film Review: Call of Cuteness (2017)

Release Date: February 10th, 2017 (Berlin International Film Festival)
Directed by: Brenda Lien
Written by: Brenda Lien
Music by: Oliver Rossol (sound department)

4 Minutes

Review:

This was a quick and bizarre animated short that I watched in a string of other shorts while having a mini festival with some friends that wanted to see how cool my FilmStruck subscription is. I shill for FilmStruck (with the Criterion add-on) hard. Well, I also shill for Noir Alley and TCM pretty hard, so TCM should put me on the payroll, just sayin’. Or at least send me some wines from their wine club.

Anyway, this German animated short had really cool art and a neat vibe to it.

While it’s title suggests that it is going to display cuteness, it has a dark twist to it and adds in some ugly and not too cute things.

I really liked the music and sound, which made the tone of the film more effective.

But really, this is so short that it is hard to really let yourself sink into it.

The gist of the film is about cats and kittens brought to life with a sort of chaotic illustrated style. While a lot of the film is comprised static images, there is always some subtle part within the art that channels the chaos into action.

Ultimately, I like the style and the vibe of this short but there just isn’t enough to really make it stand out as anything other than a cool animation experiment.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: I paired this with a string of shorts from the last 3-4 years. It’s probably best to watch most shorts in a mini marathon or festival style.

TV Review: Young Justice (2010- )

Also known as: Young Justice: Invasion (Season 2), Young Justice: Outsiders (Season 3)
Release Date: November 26th, 2010 – current
Created by: Brandon Vietti, Greg Weisman
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: characters from DC Comics
Music by: Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion, Lolita Ritmanis
Cast: Stephanie Lemelin, Jesse McCartney, Danica McKellar, Nolan North, Khary Payton, Jason Spisak

DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Animation, 46 Episodes (so far), 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

I didn’t watch Young Justice while it was on. I only got into it once it was on Netflix and even then, it was clicked on mainly out of boredom. I wasn’t aware that it was a somewhat beloved show by many.

I was glad I discovered it on my own without a bunch of hype built around it. I was surprised with the quality and how adult the themes of the show were.

The animation is damn good, the story arcs are fantastic and the characters are all cool and likable.

The show follows the sidekicks of DC Comics’ most famous heroes and puts them together on a team where they are sort of a junior squad to the Justice League. It is sort of like Teen Titans but not as adolescent feeling, which is probably why it wasn’t a new Teen Titans show.

The first season is solid but the second season is excellent. The beginning of season two is slow and interest started to wane but after about four episodes, I was hooked. The season two story arc is one of the best sagas ever told in a DC animated series.

Young Justice is a quick watch. The episodes fly by at 22 minutes. There are also only twenty or so episodes per season.

The DC cinematic universe could learn a lot from the tone and style of this show. I hope that once they get into making the Aquaman film, they take their cue from how the Atlanteans are handled on this show.

Sadly, the show was cancelled after the second season but there are rumors that it could find new life on Netflix. I think that’s a stretch, being that they are in bed with Marvel, but you never know.

Update:

After fan support the show was resurrected and there will be more episodes in the future, even though there’s been a big gap in time by this point.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Recent Teen Titans animated features, as well as other DC Comics animated films.

Film Review: Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016)

Also known as: Batman ’66 (informal title)
Release Date: October 6th, 2016 (New York Comic Con)
Directed by: Rick Morales
Written by: Michael Jelenic, James Tucker
Based on: Batman (the ’60s TV show) by William Dozier, Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion, Lolita Ritmanis
Cast: Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, Steven Weber, Thomas Lennon, Jeff Bergman, William Salyers, Wally Wingert

Warner Bros. Animation, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 78 Minutes

Review:

“Quickly, Robin, to the crosswalk!” – Batman

It’s kind of cool to see the old ’60s Batman get some life again over the past couple years. There was the Batman ’66 comic series, I already reviewed all the collections, and then there were two of these animated features that were made just in time to use the voices of the original cast: Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar. Sadly, West recently passed away, so a third film in this series probably won’t happen.

But I’m here to talk about Return of the Caped Crusaders, which is the first of the two Batman ’66 movies. I’ll review its sequel at a later date.

I guess the thing that I liked best about this movie is that the tone and the humor were spot on. It really captured the spirit of the show and felt like it was written by people that cared about the source material.

I also liked that this could be much larger in scale than the show. It featured a dozen or so of the television series’ villains but had a larger focus on the big four from the series: Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman.

There is also a whole side plot where Batman turns evil and has to be saved from himself by Catwoman and Robin. If you remember the show, you probably remember the rivalry for Batman’s attention between these two characters. It just makes for some good, amusing moments.

This is a quick and action packed film like everything else DC Comics has been doing as animated features. But this one really stands out due to its style and how well it works without DC sticking to their regular animated formula.

Good, fun story and overall, a really awesome experience for fans of the old show.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The sequel to this film: Batman Vs. Two Face, as well as the 1960s Batman TV show and movie, the Batman ’66 comic and other DC Comics animated films of the last decade.