Film Review: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2012-2013)

Release Date: September 25th, 2012 (Part I) and January 29th, 2013 (Part II)
Directed by: Jay Oliva
Written by: Bob Goodman
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson
Music by: Christopher Drake
Cast: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, David Selby, Wade Williams, Michael Emerson, Mark Valley, Paget Brewster, Grey DeLisle, Michael McKean, Bruce Timm, Frank Welker, Conan O’Brien, Andy Richter, Tara Strong

DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 76 Minutes (Part I), 76 Minutes (Part II), 148 Minutes (Deluxe Edition)

Review:

“You don’t get it, son. This isn’t a mud hole. It’s an operating table. And I’m the surgeon.” – Batman

When I see that there is a new DC Comics animated adaptation of a famous comic book story coming out, I usually don’t get too excited. The reason being, most of them take tremendous liberties and just sort of do their own thing, ignoring the story they’re “based” on and making the whole thing nothing more than a bullshit marketing scheme to sell more Blu-rays.

I guess that’s why I was pleasantly surprised by this film, a true adaptation that really captured the spirit of Frank Miller’s most famous Batman story.

I put off watching this for a very long time and I only gave it a shot because a friend of mine that actually reads comics told me it was definitely worth my time. He wasn’t wrong.

This film does a fine job of capturing the magic of Miller’s story and it also has some solid homages to the imagery of the famous comic.

I guess my biggest gripe is that even though the animation is really good, it sort of just looks like the other DC Comics animated features. DC has a specific style to its animated films and this falls in line with it. For what this project is and what it represents, I fell as if the art should have been closer to the style and tone of the actual comic. This took a big step forward from a narrative standpoint but the visual style really should have been unique, grittier and more in line with Frank Miller’s art.

I also wasn’t crazy about the length of this but that’s really my own problem, as I start to tune out when watching animation for too long. I don’t really know how this could have been edited down and because it adapts a very rich story in a really great way, I’d leave it alone. It fills the time well and there really isn’t a dull moment.

The voice actors were all superb. Peter Weller was perfect as an old Batman and Ariel Winter, who had to have been really young when this was made, was very convincing as the Carrie Kelley version of Robin.

I’ve watched a lot of DC Comics animated stuff since the ’90s and this is certainly in the upper echelon of the things they’ve put out.

If you love The Dark Knight Returns in comic book form, this shouldn’t disappoint.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other recent DC animated Batman and Justice League films.

 

Film Review: Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999)

Also known as: Killing Mrs. Tingle (working title)
Release Date: August 11th, 1999 (premiere)
Directed by: Kevin Williamson
Written by: Kevin Williamson
Music by: John Frizzell
Cast: Helen Mirren, Katie Holmes, Jeffrey Tambor, Barry Watson, Marisa Coughlan, Liz Stauber, Molly Ringwald, Vivica A. Fox, Michael McKean, Lesley Ann Warren

Dimension Films, Konrad Pictures, Interscope Communications, Miramax Films, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, Mrs. Tingle, threats are a sign of weakness.” – Leigh Ann Watson

I wouldn’t call myself a Katie Holmes fan. Granted, I thought she was hot as hell when I was a teenager around the time she rose to fame but I wouldn’t say I was a fan of her acting work. Still, I’ve weirdly been watching a lot of old Katie Holmes films but that’s probably because they all seem to be on my Starz app and I’ve been on a late ’90s kick as of late.

Anyway, this film is far from great and is pretty dumb. It thinks it’s clever and it has a sort of pretentiousness to it but it just doesn’t connect in any sort of way that I can call it an intelligent film.

Frankly, I almost felt bad seeing Helen Mirren in this. She did look like she was having fun hamming it up in this but it is a movie that is far below her talent level. She was also the best thing about the picture but that wasn’t enough to make this salvageable.

You also get small roles for Molly Ringwald, Michael McKean and Jeffrey Tambor but they’re sort of overshadowed by the film’s humdrum mediocrity.

The premise is about a girl who is trying to be the valedictorian of her school because with it comes a hefty scholarship. Her teacher, Mrs. Tingle, is a jealous, cantankerous bitch that wants the girl to fail. One thing leads to another, everything escalates in an insane way that just doesn’t feel plausible and we end up with three teens holding Mrs. Tingle hostage in her own home with no real plan as to where any of this is going. It felt like the script had no idea either and the ending is anticlimactic, terrible and also pretty damn implausible.

Weirdly, the film still has a small teaspoon of charm. I’m not sure why but even if the storytelling mechanics don’t work, there are some good bits that really only work because of how committed Mirren is to the bit.

This isn’t a film worth hating or a film with liking. It wasn’t a terrible way to spend an hour and a half but it wasn’t a good one either. This is one of those films that is in a sort of limbo of indifference for me. But if you are a hardcore Mirren fan, it’s probably worth checking out just to see her.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Katie Holmes movies from the era: Disturbing BehaviorGo and The Gift. Also, The Faculty and Idle Hands.

Film Review: D.A.R.Y.L. (1985)

Release Date: June 14th, 1985
Directed by: Simon Wincer
Written by: David Ambrose, Allan Scott, Jeffrey Ellis
Music by: Marvin Hamlisch
Cast: Barret Oliver, Mary Beth Hurt, Michael McKean, Danny Corkill, Josef Sommer, David Wohl, Colleen Camp, Steve Ryan, Amy Linker, Kathryn Walker

Paramount Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“General, a machine becomes human when you can’t tell the difference anymore.” – Dr. Ellen Lamb

I used to love D.A.R.Y.L. when I was a kid. I think it is mostly because I liked the premise and I liked Barret Oliver after seeing him in The NeverEnding Story.

Watching it now, not through kid eyes, it is still heartwarming and you care for the characters but it is much blander than I remember. I wouldn’t call it boring but it lacks energy and isn’t exploding with ’80s style and charm like similar films.

The plot revolves around Daryl (or D.A.R.Y.L. a.k.a. Data-Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform) and how he loses his memory, is found in the woods, given to a foster family, makes friends and is then whisked away back to a government lab. All he wants is to be close to his new family and friends but some douchey Army general has other plans. Eventually, Daryl steals an SR-71 spy plane in an effort to fly back to the home and people he yearns for.

Daryl isn’t really a robot per se. He is an organic lifeform like a normal human being, however his brain is a supercomputer. Most of the story deals with the morality of the situation. Is Daryl human? What kind of rights does he have? Is he life? Is he just government property that can be disposed of? Is killing him actually murder? This was all heavy stuff for my six or seven year-old brain back when I first saw this.

Surprisingly for a film about a “robot”, there isn’t much need for special effects. The only major effects shots are when Daryl is piloting the SR-71. The stuff that was shot was done very well and although you can see the flaws in it, due to its era, it has held up well.

Barret Oliver had to carry this whole picture, just as he did with the real world parts of The NeverEnding Story. He does a fine job and was a child actor with much more skill than most of his peers.

It’s a bit sad that this wasn’t as great as I remembered it but that happens a lot when revisiting ’80s pictures that one hasn’t seen for a few decades. I still liked it though and even if the writing is too convenient and simplistic, it has a satisfying ending.

I’m just still waiting for the sequel where the government discovers that he’s still alive and flips on his murder switch.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: WarGamesReal GeniusFlight of the Navigator and The Boy Who Could Fly.

Film Review: Clue (1985)

Also known as: Clue: The Movie, Cluedo (France)
Release Date: December 13th, 1985
Directed by: Jonathan Lynn
Written by: Jonathan Lynn, John Landis
Based on: Cluedo by Anthony E. Pratt
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Tim Curry, Eileen Brennan, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, Colleen Camp, Lee Ving, Jane Wiedlin, Howard Hesseman

PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Communism was just a red herring.” – Wadsworth

Thanks to Flashback Cinema, I got to see Clue on the big screen. I never did get to see this in theaters, as a kid, but it was one of my favorite films to watch around the time that it first hit video store shelves. Seeing this in the theater was a lot of fun and it made me remember just how much I love this movie. I own it but I haven’t actually watched it in probably a decade.

The one thing that stands out, watching it now as an adult, is how great the writing is. Jonathan Lynn and John Landis made a hilarious movie that was well thought out, well constructed and had multiple endings, all of which were great in their own way.

And that is one of the cool and unique things about this film. In the theater, you only got to see one of the multiple endings. Which ending you got was pretty much random. So if you saw this in one theater and then watched it again in a different theater, you would have seen a different conclusion. When this came out on home video, all three endings were included and the way that they edited these together was really kind of cool. The version I just saw in the theater, handled the ending like the home video release. The true and final ending is the best, by the way, even though all three scenarios were good.

This movie makes use of a great ensemble of actors. Everyone was good in their role and there wasn’t a weak link. Each actor owned the character and gave them depth and personality that even enhanced the board game experience after this film came out. Instead of randomly picking characters before the film came out, all the kids I played with that saw this movie, would base their character selection off of who they liked from the film. I was usually Professor Plum because I loved Christopher Lloyd. Although, I really wish they would have added Wadsworth to the game.

I also liked that this was a bit of an homage to House On Haunted Hill, as the film starts out the same way and the mansion is called “Hill House”, making the comparison a bit more obvious. The film was also produced by Debra Hill, most known for her collaborations with horror director John Carpenter.

Clue proved that you could make a good movie based off of a board game. Granted, that doesn’t mean that it should ever be attempted again. Years later, Battleship was adapted into a film and it was awful but I don’t know how that game could’ve been adapted into something decent.

For years, several other board games have been in development hell. I’ve read stories about movies for MonopolyLifeCandyland and a bunch of other board games. There has even been a Clue remake that has been discussed for years and seen many incarnations come and go without actually going in front of the camera.

Clue was a perfect storm that had the right talent assembled at every level of the production. It probably isn’t something that could be successfully replicated again. Besides, Clue was initially a failure at the box office. It wasn’t until it hit home video that it really became somewhat of a cult classic.

Rating: 9/10