Film Review: Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay (2018)

Release Date: March 23rd, 2018 (Anaheim premiere)
Directed by: Sam Liu
Written by: Alan Burnett
Based on: Suicide Squad by Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru, John Ostrander
Music by: Robert J. Kral
Cast: Christian Slater, Billy Brown, Liam McIntyre, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Gideon Emery, Tara Strong, Vanessa Williams, C. Thomas Howell, Greg Grunberg

DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Animation, DR Movie, 86 Minutes

Review:

“I know I’m going to Heaven – anyone who can put up with Mr. J deserves a break.” – Harley Quinn

It seems as if these DC Comics animated movies are getting better and better. Pretty much most of the stuff that Sam Liu produces and directs is top notch. Also, I love that these are for an adult audience.

While I pretty much hated the live action Suicide Squad movie, I’ve been a fan of the comics for some time. This animated feature does a pretty good job of capturing that magic in a way that the live action film completely missed.

The voice cast in this was really good too and I especially enjoyed Christian Slater as Deadshot. I hope he plays the character more in the future and if this spawned its own series, I’d watch the followups.

This movie is violent but it works, as this film is presented in a grindhouse style. Now the look of it is crisp and clean like other DC animated films but it has that modern grindhouse edge to it in it’s credits sequences, editing style and musical score. While the modern grindhouse thing really peaked with Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse movie over ten years ago, it’s interesting seeing that style in this format.

The story is also good and it sets up a situation where these characters have a sort of loophole to work around the protocols the government has in order to control these villains forced to do good. There is a lot of back stabbing, twists and turns.

This also features a ton of villains whether they are members of the Suicide Squad or not. And while a lot of characters are crammed into this 86 minute picture, everything flows well.

This is solid. It’s one of the better DC Comics animated features to come out.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other recent DC animated features for adult audiences.

Film Review: Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (2018)

Also known as: Gojira: Kessen Kidō Zōshoku Toshi (original Japanese title), Godzilla Part 2: City on the Edge of Battle (full title)
Release Date: May 18th, 2018 (Japan)
Directed by: Kōbun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita
Written by: Gen Urobuchi
Music by: Takayuki Hattori
Cast: Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Tomokazu Sugita, Yuki Kaji, Junichi Suwabe

Toho, 100 Minutes

Review:

My review of the previous film in this trilogy had this paragraph:

Well, I’m going to be blunt: this was terrible. It’s slow, it’s boring, everyone in it is extremely unlikable and it has a giant plot hole large enough to suck Godzilla in.

Well, not much has changed with the second movie.

But I will start this by saying that this film is a wee bit better. I at least found it to be less boring, even though it was more drawn out than it needed to be. But I liked the talky science bits in this chapter better than the first. Also, the main character was less annoying than he was in the previous movie.

This film series is taking its cues from the Shin Godzilla mythos, as Godzilla continues to evolve and adapt to whatever they throw at him. Also, there are different creatures and things in the wilderness that are biological products of Godzilla and his weird and random evolutions. To be honest, even though this opens up a lot of interesting exploration and ideas it also seems like a cheap and poorly crafted trick to throw curveballs and to lazily write through situations. “Oh, we’ve got Godzilla now!” “No! He is evolving to combat and withstand X, Y and Z!!! Damn him!!!”

The heroes seem to have an advantage here in that the remains of Mechagodzilla from millennia ago have grown and evolved in its own way to what they lamely refer to as “Mechagodzilla City”. Sorry but “Mecha City” would’ve been fine, guys. I was annoyed throughout the movie whenever a character had to refer to the city with that mouthful of unnecessary syllables. But being that there is still one more movie in this series, it should go without saying that the city isn’t as advantageous as the heroes had hoped.

Anyway, the animation style is the same. I am starting to dislike it less or I’ve just grown used to the combination of hand drawn animation mixed with CGI animation. It still looks odd to me in places and I will always prefer hand drawn animation but it does seem a bit more refined here.

I’m a massive Godzilla fan, as regular readers of this website should already now. This anime film series just doesn’t cut the mustard for me. But if the third one also improves a wee bit, that one may be somewhat palatable.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: The other parts of this trilogy, as well as Netflix’s Knights of Sedonia.

Film Review: Bébé’s Kids (1992)

Also known as: Robin Harris’ Bébé’s Kids (video title)
Release Date: July 31st, 1992
Directed by: Bruce W. Smith
Written by: Reginald Hudlin
Based on: characters by Robin Harris
Music by: John Barnes
Cast: Robin Harris (archive footage), Faizon Love, Nell Carter, Myra J., Vanessa Bell Calloway, Tone Lōc, Wayne Collins, Jonell Green, Marques Houston, John Witherspoon

Hyperion Studio, Paramount Pictures, 72 Minutes

Review:

“I am pissed off to the highest level of pissivity.” – Robin Harris

I saw Bébé’s Kids in the theater when I was thirteen. I watched it again a few years later but I haven’t seen it since the ’90s. But being that I always loved Robin Harris’ comedy act and having rewatched the first House Party recently, I wanted to also go back and revisit this, which took Harris’ most famous reoccurring comedy bit and turned it into an animated film. It was also written by Reginald Hudlin, the writer and director of the first House Party, a film where he worked with Harris.

While this isn’t a classic and it doesn’t boast animation worth praising, it still works for me. I thought the bits were still funny and even though Robin Harris died before this was made, I thought Faizon Love did a stupendous job of providing the animated Robin with a voice that encapsulated his unique spirit and energy. This was also the first credit to Love’s name and for him to be able to do this so well, is pretty impressive.

A funny thing that caught me off guard is that I forgot that Tone Lōc did the voice of the baby, Peewee. Lōc really steals the show in every scene that he’s in. You also get some voice work by Nell Carter and John Witherspoon.

This is a fun, silly movie but it has a good heart. It’s message and it’s purpose are noble and it actually hits you in the feels, which you just don’t expect when spending the majority of this film watching these jerk kids destroy a theme park while making everyone’s life hell.

Bébé’s Kids probably won’t resonate with most people in 2018 but I still enjoyed the hell out of it. Maybe some of that is nostalgia or my love of Robin Harris but it still hits the right notes for me.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Reginald Hudlin’s House Party movies.

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.