Bring the Dark Knight Home Tonight

12-Mar-08 4:15 PM by
Filed under Trailers; 1 comment.

Combining the trend of direct-to-DVD adatations of DC comic books such as Superman: Doomsday with the multiple personalities of The Animatrix, I present to you Batman: Gotham Knight, hitting home video on July 8th:

This comes hot on the heels of the recently-released Justice League: New Frontier, which I hope to review soon:

I'm a fan of DC Comics and find their animated adaptations to be consistently above average (unlike, say, live-action Marvel films). I love how energetically DC is pursuing the home video market as a viable alternative to cinematic releases — and since I'm not a fan of Christian Bale, these DVD releases will give me an alternative to The Dark Knight this summer. Keep 'em coming!!

Whoever Wins — We Lose

29-Dec-07 10:36 AM by
Filed under Reviews; 1 comment.

I'm not usually a fan of horror movies. Don't get me wrong, I like being scared; the Silent Hill franchise of video games are absolutely terrific in their ability to disturb and entertain. It's just that movies are too much a spectator sport for me to get very involved.

But when those horror films start crossing over into other genres, then I get interested. Freddy vs. Jason was a hilarious flick, while Alien vs. Predator was a decent action film. The latter had enough potential to warrant my recent viewing of its sequel, Aliens vs. Predator. (The pluralization of the Aliens apparently being too sublime, the movie earned itself a silly subtitle, Requiem, for viewers who've forgotten the nomenclature of the Ridley Scott original series.)

The sequel picks up immediately where its predecessor ends, with an Alien bursting from a Predator's chest, imbued with the qualities of both races. (I didn't realize until now that Aliens bear the traits of their hosts. Interesting.) The Predator ship crash-lands in the woods outside a remote town in Colorado. Hilarity ensues.

Well, not really — at least hilarity has a punchline. Here, we're mostly kept waiting for a payoff that never comes. Whereas the first AvP film featured a team of Predators on the hunt, this time there's only a lone hunter (who we tantalizingly see take off from his homeworld), though his motives are unclear. Is he trying to cover up the Aliens' existence? Save humanity from an Alien infestation? We never know. There was a definite sense in the first film of the Predator as the hero, but his motives don't seem as honorable here. Mostly what we see him do is use some foreign weaponry which is then damaged in battle, affording him a sequence in which he unveils yet another mysterious gadget. Repeat.

Just as unclear is the potential of the so-called Predalien. The best of both worlds and the weaknesses of none, right? Not so much. A Predator's strength comes from his training and weapons, and a newborn Predalien has neither. Except for his physical appearance (and some unjustified ability to manipulate human fetuses), the Predalien functions exactly like an Alien. The fight between the lone representatives of the two species is built up throughout the entire film, but when the climatic battle finally occurs, you realize it doesn't matter who wins.

Everything in between is the usual mayhem, screaming "What are those things?!", and firing into the darkness. The murky cinematography sometimes leaves one questioning how an Alien snuck into a particular building, or where the Predator is supposed to be now. In keeping with the rules of horror films, sluts and stoners are guaranteed to go, but there is the occasional surprise in the nature of their demise.

The film ends with a vague reference to the origin of The Company, which I suspect will be lost on most viewers. But if you have the appropriate expectations going into this film, it will prove a mildly satisfying experience. The first AvP suggested the potential for a great mash-up; it's a potential I'm still waiting to see realized. In the meantime, fans have done a great job of introducing these otherworldly invaders into other mythos, including Terminator, Robocop and Batman. Now that's a winning proposition!

A Super Time at the Megafest

20-Nov-07 10:33 PM by
Filed under Celebrities, Potpourri; 9 comments.

Despite my geekiness and enthusiasm, I've never felt the motivation to pursue the objects of my affection by attending a convention. But when Super Megafest promised to deliver a bevy of cult icons to my backyard, Hiphopguy23 and I couldn't resist.

My past experience with conventions came at the now-defunct Electronic Entertainment Expo, a trade-only show of the gaming software industry. Those events spanned multiple football fields and were packed with blaring televisions, free giveaways, and celebrity promotions. There, simply by standing in line for an hour each, I'd gotten the signatures of such stars as John de Lancie, Nicole de Boer, Robin Shou, and Wayne Gretzky.

I'd fortunately not been to E3 for awhile, as otherwise those experiences may've made for even more unrealistic expectations of the Megafest. This primarily sci-fi convention filled a large hall at a Sheraton hotel, its adjoining corridor, and one nearby conference room. It was a good size that required at least an hour to take in, but it was not anywhere that one could get lost. The variety of unique and exclusive products could entrap a fan for hours with DVDs, toys, shirts, guitars, and especially comics — but Hiphopguy23 and I weren't there to spend money.

Unfortunately, expense was another area in which E3 and Super Megafest differed. Whereas celebrities were paid to endorse a vendor's products, here their sole purpose was to supply fans with autographs… and so those fans became their financial backers. A personalized glossy of Adam West went for $50; other actors' costs were more reasonable, but charged extra for a photo of the fan and star. Though as a convention newbie I accepted the reality of the arrangement without much distaste, I still had to wonder why an actor like Ray Park, who currently has five projects in production, would need this income.

Ken Gagne & Ray ParkI hope this observation does not reflect poorly on the actors, as I was honored to meet each and every one of them. Mr. Park kindly took the time to talk to me about his work on The Descendants, a series he hopes, but does not expect, to see available next year. He even did me the honor of a free photo.

Margot Kidder was similarly amicable. Though no star had a line longer than five minutes, I was disappointed to see her so underwhelmed with fans that she had time to be reading a book about the history of the CIA. So I chatted with her about Superman Returns. "I liked it, though I think it wasn't aimed at kids," she commented, "so I think they missed the mark in that regard. But I liked it." Another fan, looking at the glossies of her work on the Christopher Reeve films, asked if she missed those days. Her answer was either self-evident or profound, depending on the age of the audience: "I don't have to miss those days; I remember them."

But it was the two other stars who were the highlight of my day. I hadn't gone to the event wanting Helen Slater's autograph, but of all the actors at the show, she was the least what I expected. Whereas all the other actors have gotten older since their prime, this former Supergirl, now singer/songwriter, has hardly aged a day. I was surprisingly nervous to approach her, as the last woman to make me bashful, another female celebrity, was a very long time ago. Rather than a color photo of her in Kryptonian garb, I chose to have signed a black-and-white glossy of Ms. Slater as she is today. I almost can't stand to have it mounted on my wall, as she far outshines the others I keep there.

Just as powerful an addition to my collection (of both autographs and memories), but in a very different way, was Larry Storch. I grew up on the comedy of F-Troop, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Dobie Gillis, and others that were clean and funny, derived from true situational comedies. Nowadays, shows like Seinfeld are built on nonsense concepts with characters who are hateful, unrealistic, and insulting — but back when shows had theme songs with lyrics, the writing and acting were far cleverer. Larry Storch as Corporal Agarn was one of several people who exemplified for me the potential of acting and comedy, both of which I now pursue myself on theater stage. To shake his hand and tell him what he meant to me was a golden moment.

Hiphopguy23 did not get that chance with George "The Animal" Steele, who cancelled due to the popular affliction of wrestlers: poor health. But I think we both had a good time at our first such convention and considered every dollar well-spent at this one-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

[Hat tip to GeneD. for informing me of this event!]

Knight Life

15-Mar-07 8:30 AM by
Filed under Reviews, Television; Comments Off on Knight Life

I'm a fan of Batman in all his incarnations, from comics to television to film, but some formats and actors represent the Dark Knight better than others. Looking at his silver screen appearances, it's clear to me who the superior actor is. Forget Val Kilmer, George Clooney, or Christian Bale; give me Kevin Conroy anyday. His portrayal of Batman in the 1993 film Mask of the Phantasm (as well as Mark Hamill's as The Joker) helped establish the movie as the most realistic and authentic adventure of the Caped Crusader yet.

Phantasm was based on the animated television series that premiered in 1992. Unfortunately, the show's style, both in animation and characterization, became much simpler in 1997 when the show was rechristened The New Batman Adventures. It's this style that was employed by the show's last hurrah, the 2003 direct-to-video film Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman, which I finally watched last night.

It'd been awhile since I'd seen its predecessor, the 1998 direct-to-video Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero, but I remember not liking what they did with the characters, and the juxtaposition of hand-drawn and computer-generated animation being disconcerting. Fortunately, Mystery of the Batwoman has a smoother appearance. There are some really great animated sequences, and though these are inconsistent, the animation is always at least average — albeit still in that simpler style. The sound effects are also contributive to the experience; there is a particular fight scene between Batwoman and two nameless bunny girls that demonstrates excellent audio and choreography.

I was also surprised by the plot, which I expected to be a no-brainer to anyone familiar with the No Man's Land story arc from the Batman comics in 1999. Instead, rather than mangling the characters we know and love, this film introduces three new characters. But ultimately, the titular enigma is akin to badly-written murder-mystery, where ALL the clues are red herrings.

Like Sub-Zero, this film ends on an exploding boat, and all the loose ends are neatly tied up. By comparison, Mask of the Phantasm bucked that trend with a resolution that could hardly be called happy — and that was before Bruce Wayne adopted his darker, more uniform, and more boring presentation. Mystery of the Batwoman felt more like a prolonged episode that didn't develop our established heroes much. But taken more lightly, it was a fun prolonged episode, and one I appreciated all the more for not having seen any new animated Batman adventures in many years.

The Not-So-Marvelous

07-Feb-07 10:26 PM by
Filed under Films; 5 comments.

A week from today marks the four-year anniversary of the release of Daredevil:

It was a Valentine's Day I remember well, having spent it in the theater among fellow lonely geeks. Marvel plans to commemorate this milestone by putting yet another well-known actor into an incongruous superhero role: Nicolas Cage as Ghost Rider.

Frankly, I'm not impressed. Neither Daredevil nor Ghost Rider are the stuff legends are made of, and Marvel's attempts to bring these lesser-known heroes to life have been less than successful. The Punisher? Forgettable. Blade? Eventually despicable. Even better-known heroes, such as The Incredible Hulk and The Fantastic Four, have had their share of theatrical bombs. And if you look at Marvel's intentions for the next three years, you'll see that the opportunity for future failures is staggering: Captain America, Doctor Strange, Nick Fury, Thor… and, of course, sequels to previous critical failures but box office successes.

So what makes for a good translation from pulp comics to silver screen? One would think that putting the characters in the hands of directors who know and love them would ensure they are treated faithfully and with respect — but Bryan Singer defenestrated that notion with his masterful interpretations of both Superman and the X-Men, despite having never read a comic book prior to accepting the assignments.

Is it the original character? Certainly a strong foundation and good writing are essential; both have contributed to Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man becoming cross-culture icons, even before their cinematic adaptations. It's no coincidence that those films (or at least the ones lacking George Clooney and Richard Pryor) have also been well-received by geeks and non-geeks alike.

Does this mean we are to limit ourselves to storied superheroes who have been around for forty to seventy years, dismissing any young, fresh characters? Such a severe restriction would discourage innovation in Hollywood and ultimately hurt all parties involved — especially the audience.

What, then, are useful metrics for predicting a superhero's success? What are fair and accurate expectations when indulging in such films? Can — should — they be held to the same standards as any other cinematic enterprise?