REVIEW: THE BATMAN – SEASON 1

Main Cast

Rino Romano (Spaceballs: TAS)
Alastair Duncan (Providence)
Steve Harris (The Rock)
Ming-Na Wen (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Kevin Michael Richardson (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Edward James Olmos (Blade Runner)
Miguel Sandoval (Medium)
Neil Ross (Transformers: The Movie)
Victor Brandt (Neon Maniacs)
Tom Kenny (Spongebob Squarepants)
Grey Griffin (The Book of Life)
Joaquim de Almeida (24)
Michael Bell (G.I. Joe)
Gina Gershon (Red Heat)
Keone Young (Crank)
Peter MacNicol (Veep)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)
Jason Marsden (Young Justice)
Adam West (Family Guy)
Glenn Shadix (Beatlejuice)
Udo Kier (Iron Sky)
Fred Willard (Anchorman)
Kath Soucie (Space Jam)
Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons)
John DiMaggio (Futurama)
Jennifer Hale (The Powerpuff Girls)
Henry Gibson (Sabrina: TTW)

The Batman (2004)

It would be an impossible task to live up to “Batman: The Animated Series” and its various later incarnations. Not only has the series, which ran throughout the 1990s, been hailed by fans as the definitive representation of the Dark Knight, but it also ranks among the very best television series ever aired.

The Batman (2004)

So when the folks at Warner Bros. Animation decided to put together an all-new Batman series to tie in with the impending release of “Batman Begins,” they made the daring but ultimately wise choice of completely revamping the world of Bruce Wayne, at least in terms of style and presentation. “The Batman,” which debuted in September 2004 on the Kids WB!, played out as something of a “Young Batman Adventures,” with the episodes focusing on the Dark Knight’s earliest years as a superhero. The deep, raspy voice of Kevin Conroy (who took the lead role in the 1990s series, and who still voices Batman on Cartoon Network’s “Justice League”) was replaced with Rino Romano, a thirtysomething voiceover veteran who sounds like he’s in his early twenties. Commissioner Gordon is nowhere to be seen; instead, we get two young detectives who are always on Batman’s trail – and in a nifty twist, one of them is Bruce Wayne’s best friend. Robin is also absent, Bruce has yet to get a handle on how to be Batman and run Wayne Industries, and the Rogues Gallery of villains are only beginning to emerge.

The Batman (2004)

The most notable change is the stylistic choice to loosen up the storytelling, with a far heavier focus here on action and fantasy. “The Batman” is above all else a series that skews younger than its predecessors; taking a cue from the success of anime in grade schools across the nation, the series’ producers push the action sequences above all else. In some episodes, fight scenes and chases take up an entire third, or more, of the running time.

The Batman (2004)

Time is also placed on gadgets (Batman’s “Bat Wave” is a pre-Bat Signal pager-like device that flashes when crime’s afoot), alternate costumes (Batman faces off against Mr. Freeze in a souped-up arctic gear Batsuit), and anything else that might translate well into toy sales. Which is neat for the kids, but it takes up screen time, forcing into the background the character development and intelligent drama that made the older series such a hit with fans of all ages. Since all this tinkering was taking place, the producers felt that now would be a perfect time to also revamp the famous villains. The Joker is now a big guy, far more athletic than we’ve ever seen him before, his bare feet allowing him to climb and kick with ease. The Penguin is still short, birdlike, and obnoxious, but this time, he’s a kung fu expert with two silent female assassins (with scissor-like blades on their fingers) at his side. Mr. Freeze, not a scientist but a petty thief, now shoots ice from his hands – no ice gun is necessary.

The Batman (2004)

These changes work for the tone of the series, I’ve come to like the series. Now knowing what to expect has helped with the adjustment. Yes, it still has its many problems – mainly, most of the villain revamps come off as too silly (and the writers rely on the Joker and Penguin way too much in the early episodes) – but it also has so much going for it. For starters, the animation is breathtaking, the combination of influences (the series borrows as much from the sleek 1990s cartoons as it does from recent anime) resulting in a eye-popping visual style that’s a true joy to watch. And as with its predecessor, “The Batman” relies on a healthy dose of impressive guest stars, including Tom Kenny, Gina Gershon, Peter MacNicol, Clancy Brown, Jason Marsden, Udo Kier, Edie McClurg, Glenn Shadix, Fred Willard, Dan Castellaneta, John Di Maggio, and yes, even Adam West, who stars here as the mayor of Gotham City. Combine this with a top notch regular cast and you’ve got a series that matches Warner Brothers’ usual high level of quality.

REVIEW: JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED – SEASON 1

Main Cast

Kevin Conroy (Justice League Doom)
George Newbern (Law & Order: SVU)
Susan Eisenberg (Lego aquaman)
Phil LaMarr (Futurama)
Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville)
Carl Lumbly (Alias)
Maria Canals (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns)

MV5BMTk2NzY1NTU5OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjIwOTM2MjE@._V1_

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Kin Shriner (Manhunter)
George Eads (CSI)
Eric Robert (The Finder)
Dana Delany (Tombstone)
Mike Farrell (Patch Adams)
Shelley Fabares (Coach)
Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games)
Christopher McDonald (Happy Gilmore)
Dakota Fanning (War of The Worlds)
Olivia d’Abo (Conan The Destroyer)
Dee Bradley Baker (American Dad)
Sheryl Lee Ralph (Fam)
Fred Savage (The Princess Diaries)
Jason Hervey (Back To The Future)
Edward Asner (Elf)
Michael York (Logan’s Run)
Patrick Bauchau (Panic Room)
Rachel York (One Fine Day)
Jack Carter (McCloud)
Jeffrey Combs (Re-Annimator)
Robert Foxworth (Transformers)
Charles Napier (The Silence of The Lambs)
Sam McMurray (Raising Arizona)
Cree Summer (Voltron)
Tom Everett Scott (Because I Said So)
Billy West (Futurama)
Lori Loughlin (Full House)
Jeremy Piven (Old School)
Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)
Will Friedle (Batman Beyond)
John C. McGinley (Scrubs)
Oded Fehr (V)
Scott Rummell (Six)
Tim Matheson (The West Wing)
Grey Griffin (The Book of Life)
CCH Pounder (Avatar)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Michael Beach (Aquaman)
Gina Torres (Firefly)
Peter MacNicol (Veep)
Adam Baldwin (Chuck)
Nestor Carbonell (Bates Motel)
Mindy Sterling (Austin Powers)
Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina: TTW)
Dennis Farina (Get Shorty)
Morena Baccarin (Gotham)
Virginia Madsen (Better Watch Out)
Ioan Gruffudd (Ringer)
Farrah Forke (Lois & Clark)
Michael Dorn (Star Trek: TNG)
Dick Miller (Gremlins)
Michael Jai White (Arrow)
Armin Shimerman (Buffy: TVS)
Juliet Landau (Ed Wood)
Alan Rachins (Showgirls)
Robert Englund (2001 Maniacs)
Wayne Knight (3rd Rock From The Sun)
Jason Bateman (Office Christmas Party)
Susan Sullivan (Castle)
Michael T. Weiss (The Pretender)
Amy Acker (Angel)
Glenn Shadix (Beetlejuice)
Steve Schirripa (Must Love Dogs)
Jerry O’Connell (Sliders)
Lisa Edelstein (House)
Nathan Fillion (Serenity)
Elizabeth Peña (The Incredibles)
Hector Elizondo (The Princess Diaries)
Robert Forster (Jackie Brown)
Corey Burton (Critters)
Hynden Walch (The Batman)
Lauren Tom (Bad Santa)

MV5BMTk4NTc5Mzg3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTc5ODM2MjE@._V1_Fantasy now runs your life? Comic books become your vice? And your best friends still have their virginities? Then look no farther, friends, because this collection of episodes is so good you don’t need friends, significant others, or a single reason to emerge from your Geekdrome. But you know what the best part is? It’s not just for geeks – Justice League Unlimited stands tall as the best collection of American action/adventure animation you’re likely to find. While there is, of course, a certain geek charge some may get out of seeing characters like Powergirl and Green Arrow in action (not to mention an episode featuring Nathan Fillion voicing Vigilante and Gina Torres voicing Vixen – come on, how cool is that?), these episodes will entertain because of good characters, good humor, and good storytelling, even if you don’t know your Booster Golds from your Blue Beetles.MV5BMTA3OTAzMDYwMjdeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDMzMDkzNjIx._V1_While the first two seasons of Justice League nicely expanded upon the world first established in the early ’90s with Batman: The Animated Series, it wasn’t until this, the show’s third season (or first, depending on how you look at it) that the format and structure was perfected for the genre. It was an interesting experiment having the previous seasons’ episodes run for one-hour, but with JLU the format is scaled back to stand-alone half-hour stories and, ironically, it fits like a bat-glove. It’s strange, but these shorter episodes actually manage to pack in more than the double-length ones. A lot more. And what a roster of characters to fill a show with! You’ll see everyone from The Atom to Elongated Man. Because this is a full-blown, all-star take on these characters, each character can shine their brightest. When you get Superman, you get the best of Superman. Wonder Woman? The best of Wonder Woman. B’wana Beast? Uh… well, I guess this is the best he’s ever been.MV5BMjIwOTMxMzk2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTU5ODM2MjE@._V1_The surplus of great characters is fun, but what really sells the show are the stories. Or, more specifically, story. No doubt borrowing a page from the work of Joss Whedon – showrunner Bruce Timm admits in a commentary that Whedon was a big influence – these episodes highlight a large and complex season-spanning plot that actually has meaning in today’s world. This is certainly the most mature and thoughtful storytelling you’re likely to get from a cartoon of this type. What elevates the show from great to brilliant is its ability to tell stories that are exciting and also manage to propel the larger narrative forward. For example, Dark Heart – penned by famous comic book scribe Warren Ellis – manages to mix a great science fiction plot (a self-replicating AI) with humor (Wonder Woman, needing both hands to fight, rests The Atom in a very interesting holding place) and its plot still manages to play a part later on down the road in the season’s climax.MV5BMjAwMTU4NDI0NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzIwOTM2MjE@._V1_The writing is the best the show has ever seen, no doubt a result of staff writer Dwayne McDuffie coming into his own; his versatility with the characters is fantastic. Comic book writers Warren Ellis and J.M. DeMatteis join in on the fun, and new series director Joaquim Dos Santos infuses the episodes with a dynamic energy that allows the show to compete with the best of today’s cutting-edge, anime-inspired programming. It’s like the entire DC animated universe has been supercharged in the best way possible.MV5BMTk3NjM3NzI3Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjQwOTM2MjE@._V1_This collection contains two seasons, and both season finales are just fantastic. The Once and Future Thing is an exciting time romp (with a great Western segment) and Divided We Fall is a showstopper of epic proportions. Either finale would make for a better DVD movie than any of what has been released thus far. Then there’s Epilogue – just brilliant. It manages to tie in the entire DC animated universe – including films Mask of the Phantasm and Return of the Joker! – and still say something meaningful about a very important character. The episode isn’t just great animation, it’s great television.MV5BMTk1MDgzMTYzN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTUwOTM2MjE@._V1_There really is nothing bad to say about these episodes. The new rock-inspired opening credits do ring a bit too much of cheesy ’80s electronica, but you get used to it, and, after a while, it fits. Of course, the fact remains that if you aren’t into cartoons in the first place you probably won’t be willing to hop on the bandwagon no matter how cool a series is. But if you consider animation to be a legitimate and respectable medium, then this is the pinnacle of the form.  While there are bigger and more influential cartoon shows out there – namely, comedies like The Simpsons – Justice League Unlimited is still one of the best American animated programs you’ll find. With this show the genre has been perfected – it’s fun, exciting, and thoughtful. In other words, this is exactly what superheroes should be.

REVIEW: BEETLEJUICE

CAST

Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Alec Baldwin (Mission Impossible 5)
Geena Davis (The Fly)
Winona Ryder (Star Trek)
Glenn Shadix (Hercules: TLJ)
Annie McEnroe (Wall Street)
Catherine O’Hara (Home Alone)
Jeffrey Jones (Sleepy Hollow)
Robert Goulet (Two Guys & A Girl)
Tony Cox (Bad Santa)
Jack Angel (A.I.)

Fun Halloween movies more often than not fall flat on their faces; I’d say that Beetlejuice is the best in years. The straightforward script by Michael McDowell (The Nightmare Before Christmas) and Warren Skaaren (Batman ’89) posits Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin & Geena Davis) as the cute owners of a hilltop house in New England, who run afoul of “life-continuance issues.” As ghosts in the next world, they fail to absorb the wisdom in a thoughtfully provided Guidebook for the Dead, and are horrified when a New York family moves in and begins remodeling their happy home.
Charles (Jeffrey Jones) is a financial adviser taking a break from the strain. His wife Delia (Catherine O’Hara), an artist hungry for recognition, insists on turning the house into an avant-garde eyesore. Daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) dresses in widow’s black and luxuriates in morbid thoughts. The Maitlands make contact with Lydia, who is delighted until her parents attempt to co-opt the ghostly tenants as a moneymaking status symbol (this is the 1980s, after all). But Adam and Barbara have troubles too. Frustrated by the red tape they find in the afterlife — pictured as a welfare office manned by the acerbic Juno (Sylvia Sydney) — the Maitlands are so keen to evict the new owners that they summon the services of the demon Betelgeuse, aka Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), an obscene, unkempt imp who bills himself as a “bio-exorcist” — a Ghostbuster in reverse.
Filmmaker Tim Burton may work within a limited range of themes, but in his personal playroom there’s nobody better. Beetlejuice is crammed with visual invention and whimsical allusions. The Maitlands’ moment of crisis on a New England-style covered bridge is a lampoon of a Norman Rockwell “human interest” painting, complete with a “cute” dog. Delia is obsessed with annoyingly aggressive modern artworks. When possessed by spirits, one of her sculptures crawls like the brain-things in Fiend Without a Face and another engulfs Delia like an Iron Maiden (one of umpteen recurring motifs in Burton films). Charles’ attempt to relax through bird watching results in an hilariously black comedy throwaway gag worthy of Charles Addams.
The pushy small town real estate agent (Annie McEnroe) balances the script’s New York snobs, played by Robert Goulet and Dick Cavett. In his best film appearance, Cavett dismisses poor Delia as a consummate flake. Burton uses the gathering to pull off an uproarious musical number, using Harry Belafonte music to great effect. Glenn Shadix’s conniving art hustler Otho is forced to dance along to the calypso beat. As the ultimate humiliation, Beetlejuice throws Otho into a brightly colored leisure suit. Otho’s reaction proves that horror is where one finds it.
 The over-the-top Michael Keaton figures in only about of the third of the show, which is perfect judgment. Beetlejuice rattles on like Robin Williams, eats bugs and tries out the raunchier jokes. Running his bio-exorcism racket like a used car lot, Beetlejuice hangs out at the brothel in Adam’s miniature model of the town; to scare the humans he turns into a manic phantasmagoria of illusions. The character was such a success, it was incorporated into a theme show for the Universal Tour.
Winona Ryder is the first live-action representative of Burton’s ideal introvert’s girlfriend, initially represented as a portrait of the “Lost Lenore” in his animated short Vincent. Since then Burton’s dream girls, from the Corpse Bride to Helena Bonham Carter in Sweeney Todd have all had tiny chins and soulful eyes … hmm … Burton’s ego-surrogate Johnny Depp follows the same pattern. Like Natalie Portman in Mars Attacks!, Lydia suffers in the shadow of overbearing parents but blooms when confronted by real adventure — in this case her friendship with the dead. Even in the afterlife, the Maitlands continue to be caring individuals. This makes Beetlejuice less of a horror spoof than a charming addition to the ranks of Films Blanc.
Tim Burton’s arts ‘n’ crafts visual sense invests Beetlejuice with several arresting stylized environments. The yuppie heaven of the Maitland home gives way to Delia’s Manhattan tastes. The attic has Alec’s hobby world, the miniature map of the town. A hole in a brick wall leads to the expressionist bureaucracy of Juno’s welfare office, where an ordinary janitor mops the floors of Caligari-like corridors. Beetlejuice can slip between dimensions as long as he’s given a verbal passport, like Rumplestiltskin. Seen first in cheesy advertisements, Beetlejuice can inhabit Alec’s miniature as well as perform fantastic transformations. He appears as a gaudy carousel and as a giant demon-snake (courtesy of stop-motion animator Ted Rae). Turning the comedy to a darker tone, Beetlejuice resurrects Alec and Barbara as Dia de los muertos wedding ghouls. He summons a toad-like preacher from hell for his marriage to the dazed Lydia — who finds herself outfitted in a scarlet wedding dress. All of this great fun is at the expense of Fritz Lang, The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, with free public service messages thrown in about smoking and Ecuadorian headshrinkers. In the spirit of playfulness, Burton leaves us with a literally uplifting calypso coda. Lydia spoke idly of suicide, but her happy times with the dead