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: 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.

REVIEW: HELLRAISER VIII: HELLWORLD

CAST

Doug Bradley (Wrong Turn 5)
Lance Henriksen (Aliens)
Kathryn Winnick (Vikings)
Christopher Jacot (Slasher)
Khary Payton (Teen Titans)
Henry Cavill (Man of Steel)

The film introduces a circle of youths who are addicted to playing Hellworld, an online computer game based on the Hellraiser series. The film opens at the funeral of Adam, one of their friends who was obsessed with the game and ultimately committed suicide after becoming too immersed in the game. The remaining five friends blame themselves for not having prevented Adam’s suicide.

Two years later, they attend a private Hellworld Party at an old mansion after receiving invites through the game. Mike, Derrick and Allison are enthusiastic about the party, while Chelsea reluctantly accompanies them. Jake, who is still very much distressed by Adam’s death, only agrees to show up after a female Hellworld player with whom he has struck up an online friendship asks him to attend so they can meet. The quintet are cordially welcomed by the middle-aged party host, who offers them drinks, shows them around the mansion (allegedly a former convent and asylum also built by Philip Lemarchand), and provides them with cell phones to communicate with other guests.

As the party progresses, Allison, Derrick and Mike find themselves trapped in separate parts of the house, and are gruesomely killed by the Host, Pinhead, or Cenobite minions Chatterer II and Bound. Jake and Chelsea become mysteriously invisible to other party guests, and are stalked by the Host and the Cenobites.

Holing herself up in the attic, Chelsea finds items belonging to Adam, and discovers that the host is his father, who blames his son’s friends for not helping break his addiction. Chelsea and Jake try to flee, only to discover that they have been buried alive and are receiving messages from the host via cell phones in their respective caskets. The Host informs them that they are just coming out of a hallucination induced by a powerful psychedelic he exposed them to upon their arrival, and that the events they have been experiencing have been the result of hypnotic suggestion and their own guilty consciences. Before leaving, he lets Chelsea know that Allison, Derrick, and Mike have all perished in their respective caskets, and that only she and Jake remain alive. Chelsea begins to slip into another hallucination when she is abruptly pulled above ground by police and paramedics, who say they were informed by a phone call from Chelsea’s telephone. Looking towards the house, Chelsea sees Adam standing in the window.

Later, the Host sits in a bedroom, going through a suitcase containing Adam’s possessions. He finds and opens the actual Lament Configuration, which summons the real Cenobites. Pinhead praises Adam’s ingenuity and mocks the Host’s disbelief before Chatterer and Bound tear him to pieces. Jake and Chelsea are shown driving into the sunrise, when they receive a mysterious phone call from the Host, who suddenly appears in the back seat. The two almost crash the car but are able to stop it. The last scene shows the police entering the bedroom in which the Host opened the box, the walls blood-smeared and the box lying on the floor.Image result for hellraiser hellworldThis is easily one of the most underrated and enjoyable entries in the series. Perhaps more than in any of the other sequels thus far, this one manages to really find a way of getting the Cenobites onto screen in a great way. The concept of the video game and tying that into the history of the series as the means for revenge here is pretty creative and really has some good points. The different encounters with the Cenobites here are just part of the fun that really makes for exciting set-pieces throughout with the use of the house helping in the fun.