REVIEW: BATMAN BLACK AND WHITE

 

CAST (VOICES)

Michael Dobson (Dreamcatcher)
Janyse Jaud (Hulk vs)
John Fitzgerald (Mon Ami)
Adam Fulton (Broken Saints)

Motion comics aren’t an itch many casual superhero buffs would take the time to scratch, but Batman: Black and White is an enticing collection that might sway some leery minds. I can understand the logic behind it: with one of the chief complaints about comic-to-film adaptations being a lack of faith to the source material, why not put those printed pages front and center? With a minimum of animation, motion comics can show classic heroes and their exploits in an interesting perspective, which Black and White does for the Caped Crusader with all the pitch-dark atmosphere you’d expect.

Twenty brief adventures set in the thick of Gotham’s seedy underworld are presented in Black and White. Bringing the work of writers like Bruce Timm and Alex Garland to life is striking art as provided by Dave Gibbons, Alex Ross, and others. There’s no shortage of the Dark Knight’s dynasty to cover, as we bear witness to stories ranging from macabre fantasy (“Monsters in the Closet”) to heartwarming and thoughtful (“Sunrise”). Batman combats street thugs, Nazis, mad scientists, and the most notorious members of his lengthy rogues gallery. A few of these villains even get their own turn in the spotlight, showing more than mere greed gnawing at their psyches. Fleeting as their lengths may be, these tales each do their part in shining a light on what’s made Batman’s crimefighting legacy endure for so long.

The DC Animated Universe has given fans some of the best superhero media in recent years — Wonder Woman and Justice League: Doom can stand toe to toe with Captain America or The Avengers, if you ask me. But what sets Batman: Black and White apart is that it’s not a linear narrative (or a single, connected story whatsoever). Every vignette is self-contained and lasts a few minutes at most, leaving next to no elbow room for grand, epic plotlines. This doesn’t always play out well, with some stories (“Hands,” especially) suffering abrupt anticlimaxes after a marathon of build-up. Black and White is staunchly economical and only so effective when its entirety is viewed in succession, but on their own, the bulk of the stories stand as distinct, eye-catching, and emotionally fulfilling. The wide range of art styles and environments each short incorporates (from a futuristic police state to a WWII-era Gotham) is impressive, as are the tones they adopt. We get some light-hearted escapades (as when Batman gets the jump on a trouble-making Harley Quinn), although most delve into its protagonist’s psychology to intriguing effect. It says a lot when a three-minute hostage crisis or quick encounter with a certain man of steel lingers in your mind as much as a grandiose Christopher Nolan opus.

Batman: Black and White might appeal most to those fans who’ve pledged complete allegiance to the cape and cowl, but there’s no reason outsiders shouldn’t find something to rile them up. With each scenario possessing a unique presentation and its own brand of derring-do, this omnibus has no trouble packing a collective punch.  Batman: Black and White does just right by Bob Kane’s legendary guardian of the night.

REVIEW: BATMAN UNLIMITED: THE WEB SERIES

CAST

Roger Craig Smith (Avengers Assemble)
Chris Diamantopoulos (About A Boy TV)
Will Friedle (Batman Beyond)
Charlie Schlatter (Diagnosis Murder)
Yuri Lowenthal (Legion of Super Heroes)

DC has become increasingly more successful at gearing their content towards adults. Whether it is the gritty world of The Dark Knight or the even grittier Batman parallel Arrow, it has all been for the grown ups. We ask though, what about the children? We forget that our favorite heroes are essentially adults wearing tights who admittedly don’t always have to be so dark. We were all kids at some point and were enamored with these fictional characters at one point or another. Batman Unlimited strikes that perfect balance between kid friendly yet still enjoyable to adults. Even recent animated films from DC were extra violent so getting a film that is by no means dumbed down and still fun for everyone is a breath of fresh air.

The ensemble cast chosen for this film can be considered to be a strange pairing. For the good guys, you got Batman, Red Robin, Night Wing, Flash, and Green Arrow–who, we’d like to point out, is now referred to as Arrow. Two of those characters aren’t exactly straight from the streets of Gotham. It seems that DC is trying to bring these heroes together in different yet interesting ways, maybe even attempting to match Marvel’s ability to mix it up with no one batting an eye. Another pretty obvious reason to include Flash and Arrow is they both have popular television shows currently airing. Add Batman to the mix and you have DC’s most popular characters at the moment. If there is one thing that the shows have made apparent, it is that crossing into each other’s worlds is possible and will be occurring more often. It also makes sense that Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen would be at the same social gatherings since we all know they are both rich guys. The action is there and it is good. There are motorcycle chase scenes, transformations, great fights, you name it. There is a lot of action, with very little violence. Now, that is something hard to accomplish, but necessary when trying to create a family-friendly Batman web series. Each one of our heroes has a specialty that is used in some way like Flash’s speed or Arrow’s archery skills to complete the task at hand. As he himself will let you know, Batman is Batman, so he is a badass, which is really nothing new.

This won’t be a game changer in the DC Universe canon, but it is at least a fun time for all ages.

REVIEW: THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERBOY (1961)

CAST

John Rockwell (Another Chance)
Bunny Henning (The Gnome-Mobile)
Ross Elliott (The Towering Inferno)
Robert Williams (Revenge of The Creature)
Stacy Harris (Dragnet)

 

Considering the era, it’s intended audience, and budgetary realities, this is a pretty good pilot film. The story is nothing profound, but is reasonable fare for a Superboy story, emphasizing human drama and subplot over super-heroics. Nonetheless, it treats Superboy and his world with far more dignity than many of the comic mag stories of the time. It’s dramatic value is on par with an average episode of George Reeves’ show, yet possesses none of the ‘camp’ tendencies associated with the color years.


The casting of John Rockwell as Clark/Superboy was fairly inspired, as this actor possessed looks similar to many teen idols of the era, yet was able to project sufficient earnest and heroic qualities so as to be credible as the boy of steel. Superman adaptations hinge upon the actor playing the man of steel, and I think Rockwell could have made this series profitable. If this show had been picked up, it could easily have had crossover appeal between kids and teens. Just prior to this there had been a series of successful teenage monster/scifi films, Teenagers From Outer Space, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Teenage Frankenstein, and Teenage Caveman to name but a few. Teens paid money to see those flicks at the drive-in, so it seems likely they would have watched Teenage Superman at home for free.

The other cast members are good, but they don’t, IMO, have the appeal of the actors who played Lois, Jimmy, Perry, and Inspector Henderson on George Reeves’ show. Nonetheless, they might have developed a chemistry had they been given the chance. Jake Rossen writes that Wheaties cereal was interested in sponsoring this show, but that Kellogs, which was still sponsoring reruns of the Reeves show in many markets, used their clout to keep this series from being picked up. This sounds plausible, and it is the only reasonable explanation I have heard as to why National Comics went to the trouble and expense to produce this only to have it shelved. This pilot is as good or better than many shows playing for the same markets in the early 1960’s.

Fans of the old time Superman, old time TV and movies, and of the George Reeves show should watch it, a decent enough pilot that could of spawned a great series.

REVIEW: WONDER WOMAN (2011)

CAST

Adrienne Palicki (Agents of Shield)
Elizabeth Hurley (EDtv)
Tracie Thoms (Cold Case)
Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones)
Justin Bruening (Knight Rider 2008)

In an inner city home a teenager tells his family that he has been accepted to college moments before he begins convulsing and bleeding from the eyes and ears. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman is in a foot chase with a super-strength criminal on Hollywood Blvd and, after knocking him out, takes a sample of his blood and leaves him to the police. Wonder Woman returns to the headquarters of Themyscira Industries, a large corporation which she runs as the CEO in her alter-ego of Diana Themyscira. Themyscira Industries owns and operates the concept of Wonder Woman as both a privately run crime fighting operation and for marketing the image of Wonder Woman as a role model to the outside world. Diana has trouble balancing her life as both the CEO of the corporation and as Wonder Woman. Diana’s frustration with having to maintain a perfect image to the outside world in both these capacities leads her to create a third identity for herself, “Diana Prince,” so that she can have an element of normalcy in her life and sit at home with her cat watching romantic comedies and surfing the internet.

At Themyscira Industries Diana grows suspicious of evil businesswoman Veronica Cale for distributing an illegal performance-enhancing drug that gives users super-human strength and endurance, but can cause death through repeated use. The blood sample she draws from the Hollywood Blvd fight and the story of the college bound teen confirm Diana’s suspicions. Without enough hard evidence to bring Cale to justice as Wonder Woman, Diana holds a press conference and airs her beliefs about Cale to the world. Cale in turn confronts Diana in person to intimidate her and threaten legal action. In a flash back, Diana ends up breaking it off with her boyfriend Steve Trevor because of her busy life. Back in present day, the college bound teenager dies from his drug sickness and Diana is galvanized to confront Cale as Wonder Woman. She arrives at Cale’s facilities, defeats all of her super-powered henchmen and confronts Cale face-to-face.

Cale threatens legal action and to release security footage of Wonder Woman killing the henchmen, but Wonder Woman responds by pulling Cale down with her lasso and throwing her against the wall. Later Cale is put in jail and a Justice Department representative comes to meet Diana. This turns out to be Steve Trevor who says that he will be working with Diana in her capacity as Wonder Woman but also reveals that he has married another woman.

The Wonder Woman pilot that is floating around on the internet is an unfinished work designed to function as a display for potential companies to sign it and assign to their network. Some of the digital effects are not finished and this apparently makes some people say that the show is low quality. Therefore if you are going to watch this you should be aware that it is in an unfinished form  I really enjoyed this pilot. From what I had been hearing I was expecting dreadful, but by comparison to what is on TV today on most channels I’m really disappointed that it never went to a full series.

REVIEW: WONDER WOMAN (1974)

CAST

Cathy Lee Crosby (Coach)
Kaz Garas (Mean Creek)
Andrew Prine (V)
Ricardo Montalban (Star Trek II)
Charlene Holt (El Dorado)
Anitra Ford (The Big Bird Cage)

This Wonder Woman, which aired once in March 1974 and did well enough in the ratings for a series to be considered but was seriously retooled into the Lynda Carter vehicle. Thanks to Warner Archive, that 73 minute effort is now available for completists everywhere.
Yes, she’s Diana, princess of the Amazons and sent to man’s world. Somehow the unnamed Queen mother has decided the time has come for men everywhere to learn that women are of equal value so sends Diana to teach them. The very next scene has her playing the not very liberated role of secretary to Steve Trevor, who heads some federal agency. Absurdly, ten books with the names of 39 strategic agents around the world have been stolen by international mystery man Abner Smith. With seventy-two hours before they are exposed, the United States has to recover the books or pay millions in ransom. While a bunch of suits are given an hour to ponder the dilemma; Steve, with a wink and a nod, let’s Diana to take time off to see her “dentist”.  So much is left unexplained starting with how the Amazons have learned about the outside world and how Diana has acclimated to life in America. Her exact powers are never outlined nor is her bizarre not-very-secret identity. As written by executive producer John D.F. Black, we are expected to accept things on face value and go with it which is odd considering his extensive credits in dramatic television, including an influential role in the first half season of Star Trek.

Wonder Woman tracks down Smith, based in a nicely appointed hideout deep within the north face of the Grand Canyon. There’s some fighting, some deering-do and the odd arrival of fellow Amazon Angela, who has jealously followed Diana to the outside world to seek the wealth it offers.

What is interesting, though, is the banter between Diana and Smith or Diana and Smith’s flunky George. Here, Black demonstrates some nicely handled character, letting the bad guys be a bit more multidimensional than the star. It helps that Smith is played by Ricardo Montalban, decked out all in white long before he set up shop on Fantasy Island. He nicely chews the scenery and has nice chemistry with the Amazon Princess, woodenly played by tennis pro turned actress Cathy Lee Crosby. In civilian garb or an Olympic outfit masquerading as her costume, she lacks the imposing physique of an Amazon and her action sequences are not very athletic-looking. George is played with some relish by Andrew Prine who makes the most of his sidekick role. The rest of the cast is there to advance the story, nothing more, so Kaz Garas as Trevor or the fine character actor Richard X. Slattery have absolutely nothing to work with. Director Vincent McEveety, another Trek alum, does a by-the-numbers job with the story, making it look generic.

ABC actually thought enough of this film  to go to a series a year later. Thankfully, by then, they jettisoned Crosby for Carter and in November 1975, we got our first glimpse of what would be an icon of the decade. This film is worth watching for DC fans who like to complete sets but  this is nothing compared to Lynda Carters Wonder Woman.

REVIEW: SUPERMAN/SHAZAM: THE RETURN OF BLACK ADAM

 

 

CAST

George Newborn (Justice League)
Jerry O’Connell (Sliders)
Arnold Vosloo (The Mummy)
Zach Callison (Steven Universe)
James Garner (The Notebook)
Josh Keaton (Justice Legaue Action)
Danica McKellar (The Wonder Years)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)

The film opens with a young couple sitting in their car on a hillside outside of the city as an apparent meteor streaks across the sky and smashes into the couple’s car. It is revealed that that meteorite is actually Black Adam, returning to Earth after a long exile. The film then cuts to young Billy Batson living in a rundown slum, with very little food and rats for pets. He gets out of bed wearing a t-shirt with the Superman crest. He goes to the kitchen to find food, but discovers he only has potato chips, which he ends up feeding to the rats.

On his way to meet with Clark Kent in a nearby diner, he sees some bullies mugging a homeless man. After attempting to defend the man, Billy himself receives a black eye. The homeless man thanks Billy for his intervention, calling him “The Captain”. Billy tells him that he always tries to do the right thing. Billy gives him the only thing of value he has – a subway token.

At the diner, Clark buys the boy three breakfasts, and tells him he wants to write a story to bring his plight, and those in his same situation, to public light. He tells Mr. Kent that he tries to be good no matter what. As the conversation continues, neither notice that Black Adam has appeared, hovering outside the diner. He claps his hands together, blowing a hole in the side of the diner. Clark attempts to protect the boy, but a blow from Black Adam sends him through several walls. He emerges from beneath the rubble and quickly changes into Superman. Adam stalks young Billy through the streets stating his surprise over the Wizard’s choice to become the next Marvel, but Billy does not know what he means. Black Adam picks up a fire engine to smash Billy, but Superman intervenes and blocks the blow. While Billy makes good his escape, Superman gets a blast of electricity from Black Adam. After recovering he realizes Adam’s powers are magically based, and he is vulnerable. This vulnerability puts Superman and Adam at an equal footing. Black Adam uses magic to his advantage, but Superman responds with powers the magical being doesn’t have – i.e. heat vision. After briefly getting Superman out of the way, Black Adam continues his pursuit of Billy, who runs into the subway, again encountering the homeless man he helped earlier. The man gives him a subway token, telling him he would be paid back. Billy runs out onto the tracks, with Black Adam still in pursuit. Billy is caught on the tracks when a train apparently runs Billy over, causing Adam to leave. Billy awakens to find he is on an empty subway car. The token begins to glow and he begins to crackle with lightning. In the lightning, Billy sees flashes of his life, including his parents’ headstone, the orphanage, and his foster parents who throw him out, leaving him on the streets.

He gets off of the subway car at the next stop, but finds himself in a gigantic cave with statues of the Seven Deadly Sins. Billy finds his way to the Wizard Shazam who tells the boy that he is the next Chosen One. He explains that Black Adam had been his champion 5000 years ago, but Teth-Adam had used his power for personal gain and corrupted the gift. He was then banished to the farthest star in the sky, and now Black Adam has returned seeking vengeance. The Wizard then causes a cave in, telling him that he wishes to atone for the mistake of creating Black Adam, but tells Billy that should he need him, he has only to speak the Wizard’s name. Billy narrowly escapes the cave as it collapses.  Outside, the battle rages between Superman and Black Adam. Superman is barely able to hold his own against the magic used. Superman is again knocked unconscious. Billy confronts Black Adam and defiantly tells Adam to leave Superman alone. He tries to hit an amused Black Adam. Billy anxiously shouts “I need a little help here, Shazam”, which transforms Billy into Captain Marvel. He quickly counters Adam’s attacks with his newfound abilities. Billy has only a few minutes to discover his powers; i.e. speed, strength and flight. He also discovers that randomly saying the Wizard’s name takes the powers away just as quickly.

A recovered Superman is unsure of what to make of this new superhuman, but they soon discover they are on the same side. Black Adam resorts to destroying a dam which threatens to flood Fawcett City. Landing, Black Adam stops a passing car, removing its female driver to hold as a hostage. He tells Billy he must surrender himself in his mortal form, and he will release the woman. Billy complies, and Black Adam throws the hostage into the sky. But before Billy can say his magic word, Black Adam covers his mouth to silence him. From out of nowhere, Adam is blasted by Superman’s heat vision. He stopped the potential flooding after quickly freezing the water with his super cold breath. Superman and Black Adam begin fighting again, but Billy is now able to utter the magic word. Adam is beaten by Marvel who stomps him into a crater in the street. Superman talks the Captain out of murdering Adam to prevent further acts of evil. Adam declares that only death will stop him. The homeless man appears once again and reveals himself to be the boy’s guardian angel Tawky Tawny. Tawky reverts to his true form as a tiger and tells Superman and Captain Marvel that he will make sure the Wizard will send Black Adam far across the universe this time; it will take ten thousand years to return. To keep from being banished even farther from Earth, Black Adam shouts “Shazam” which turns him back into the mortal Teth-Adam, whose body has aged during the thousands years he has been gone. He turns to dust in front of the two superheroes. It was an apparent bluff, as Tawny admits the Wizard is indeed dead. As Tawny walks away, Superman looks at Captain Marvel and says “You have some unusual friends.” Billy finds himself encountering the bullies again in the alley as before. The bullies push Billy against a wall, and defiantly dare him to talk back; daring him to say “…just one word.” To which, it is implied through the appearance of lightning, Billy replies “Shazam…”.This movie was animated very well and the character models were very good. The overall appearance, especially the backgrounds, had a slightly hazy, washed-out look to them at times, giving it an almost anime-style look. They do some really cool animation during the fights between Superman/Marvel and Black Adam, such as some slow motion effects during a couple of the really hard hits, that really punctuate the impact. The voice acting and choices of the actors were quite good (especially Arnold Vosloo as Black Adam),  I’ve always thought Black Adam was a really cool bad guy, and his personality and voice were pretty much as I’ve always envisioned them to be, and I thought the ending was particularly interesting and surprising.

 

REVIEW: HELLRAISER IX: REVELATIONS

CAST

Stephan Smith Collins (Tenderloin)
Steven Brand (The Scorpion King)
Nick Eversman (The Duff)
Tracey Fairaway (Enough Said)
Sebastien Roberts (Trauma)
Devon Sorvari (Gilmore Girl)
Fred Tatasciore (Hulk Vs)

Steven Craven and Nico Bradley run away from home and travel to Mexico. They film themselves engaging in several days’ worth of drunken partying. The boys later disappear. The Mexican authorities return their belongings to their parents, including a videotape made by Steven that documents their final moments.

A year later, the families of the two missing boys gather for dinner. Tensions rise when Emma, Steven’s sister and Nico’s girlfriend, expresses frustration with their lack of closure. She demands that her mother reveal the contents of Steven’s videotape, which she has been obsessively watching in private. Later, Emma sneaks a look at the tape, which documents Steven and Nico picking up a girl in a bar. A flashback reveals that Nico murdered the girl while having sex in the bar’s restroom, and later threatened to implicate Steven in the killing to force him to continue their “vacation” together.

A final flashback reveals that Nico solved the puzzle box, opening a portal to the realm of the Cenobites: extra-dimensional sadomasochists led by Pinhead who offer the ultimate sensual experience. Steven flees, but Nico is taken to the Cenobites’ realm to be subjected to extreme torture and mutilation. The box is nearby, allowing Nico to communicate with Steven. Steven later kills several prostitutes so their blood can regenerate Nico, but Nico kills Steven when he refuses to continue. The “Steven” holding the families hostage is really Nico in disguise, who taunts his victims with a shotgun. He demands that Emma solve the puzzle box for him, intending for the Cenobites to take her in his place thus assuring his freedom.

Emma opens the portal and the Cenobites—including Steven—appear. Pinhead recognizes in Emma a dark sexual desire and taunts her with innuendo. Nico’s mother ignores Pinhead’s command to remain silent, exclaiming that Nico forced Emma to solve the box, and is killed. When Emma’s father shoots Nico the Cenobites vanish with Emma’s mother instead. Her father apologizes, then dies in Emma’s arms. The film ends with Emma reaching for the puzzle box.

After reading other reviews I went into this expecting an absolutely abysmal film. While its certainly not on par with the early Hellraiser movies I feel it is far better than some other recent efforts, as they do for the most part attempt to stay close the roots of the original films. Obviously the first thing you will notice is the lack of Doug Bradley as Pinhead. I know he has a chubbier face and deep down we all hate to see someone else as Pinhead. You will get more out of this movie if you stop yourself from comparing the new actor to Doug Bradley.