Category Archives: Reviews

☺ ☹ :| Judging the work of others. Because I can.

“Superman/Batman: Apocalypse” is a Sub-par Adventure – ☹☹

Recently I’ve been able to reconnect my Netflix account to my new computer and have thusly spent an inordinate amount of time catching up on my Queue.

The only movies I’ve really watched have been the direct to dvd DC animation fare that has been coming out over the past few years.

I’ve refrained from reviewing them here mostly because some of them are several years old now and also because I didn’t want to log up too many reviews that essentially belabor one or two points.

I am a geek, first and foremost, however there isn’t a whole lot of purpose (read: intrinsic review value) to criticizing action/adventure fluff that, especially for me, is only meant to be time-passing entertainment.

That being said, I LOVE the Bruce Timm DC universe. I grew up watching (like almost every boy my age) “Batman: The Animated Series,” which melded into “Superman: The Animated Series”/“The New Adventures of Batman & Superman

They hold a special place in my heart & persist in my mind as a legitimate influence in some of my creative work.

What’s been exciting with the Direct DC endeavors is that they have been spreading their format a little with deconstructing their own canon/making their own versions of a popular series run (i.e. New Frontier, Crisis), experimenting with different styles and animation houses as well as new voice actors (with varying results).

Of what I’ve seen, “Under the Red Hood,” “Gotham Knight,” “Return of Black Adam” were great. They each have their own elements of kitsch, but the tone, voice-direction and animation were all splendid. I feared that the direct dvd format and the elevated PG-13 rating would be too absurd (with ‘gritty’ interpretations of my childhood heroes), however overall, they kept the uber-violence & sex to a more tantalizing minimum.

The format for these shows, since the beginning has always been: Start with a bang, which introduces a villainess element – Introduce heroes & context for situation – Build characters/Story through expositional dialogue (sometimes in a minor side-fight) – Cross-cut to what villain is doing – First hero/villain fight – More character exposition – Climax to resolve problem – Final Villain Showdown – Buildings fall/Explode – Final monologue.

The action is always well developed, executed and usually over the top. Occasionally there is a wonderful animation flourish that showcases a beautiful camera or character move that is shocking in its eloquence – however, for the most part my mind usually wanders during this segment.

Sure there is dialogue to break up the fight slightly – unfortunately they are often simple quips or cliched threats. Rarely does the dialogue within a fight feel so immensely attached to the greater story – “Red Hood” is a great example of this.

What I have come to love about these films are the characterizations – the regular people inside the costumes who make mistakes, have regrets, sorrow, anguish, love etc.

“The Justice League: Unlimited” was able to capture the heroes so powerfully I found myself emotionally attached/involved in the lives of Green Arrow/Black Canary & Question/Huntress.

The quips & dialogue tinged with so much sexual tension and admiration made for some entertaining scenes.

But everything about “Superman/Batman: Apocalypse” failed to impress. The presence of the original voice actors for Batman & Superman (Kevin Conroy & Time Daly respectively) tickled my nostalgia bone, but their characterizations felt much more shallow and empty for this adventure. Summer Glau performed strongly as the alien Kara (Supergirl) despite awkward dialogue and exposition, while Andre Braugher as Darkseid just felt miscast. Mr. Braugher is a spectacular actor and I have enjoyed his work for years, but he doesn’t possess the proper baritone that I feel this particular villain requires. I will however admit that this is most likely a latent prejudice against anyone else performing this role besides Michael Ironside. For me, he is that role. I would, in fact – love to see him play a live action variant of the character – or at least provide his voice if the filmmakers fall on a CG route.

The story follows a path that seems to only have the intention of leading to an epic battle between Superman/Darkseid & to ultimately see Kara wearing the costume. Everything in between was minor fluff and confusing side-plot.

While Kara was spending her time training in Thermascara (sp?) with Wonder Woman. During this period Kara apparently befriends an oracle of sorts (who has the unfortunate distinction of being drawn VERY similar to Kara – befuddling the plot for a good portion of the film) who is having premonitions of Kara’s death.

I understand the necessity of having the oracle look similar to Kara for the sake of the plot development and ultimate conclusion to this particular sub-plot – but all it would have required would be that the oracle be blonde. Not look almost exactly like Kara – this is frustrating only because early in the film we are introduced to the oracle in her visions via a dream sequence/wake up from a nightmare without any context to who she is or why we should care. And it isn’t until right before the conclusion of said side plot are we giving any exposition as to why we should care about this character and the significance of her visions. SPOLER ALERT: Then she’s dead.

The final confrontation after the second to last epic confrontation has a differing visual appeal because it doesn’t take place in a far away alien world where we have not investment/context to the surroundings; which makes it stunning in its own right and enjoyable to watch – it had the effect of pulling me out of my own thoughts surrounding the plot holes and enjoy the spectacle.

And ultimately that’s still sort of the point. The entertainment-spectacle function of these videos overtakes any other focus on character or craft. There was some spectacular animation/movement and surprising set pieces – but what makes these adventures memorable for me, and what keeps me coming back are the characters, the push pull and internal conflict – as well as the external. “Apocalypse” exists primarily in the latter, rendering it a less than enjoyable spectacle.

☹☹

‘True Grit’ has less ‘No Country’ more ‘Serious Man’ – ☺☺☺

Warning: SPOILERRIFIC

After the lights went up in the theater I began to feel a little silly for being mildly disappointed with this film. Strong performances, more than adequate filmmaking, entertaining dialogue & powerful action culminated for me into a sub-par adventure.

I would like to place blame on the advertising for the film – while the trailer is quite literally one of my favorites of the year – it gives off a sense of a certain tone of the film being much more serene, serious and together with a few bits of humor thrown in. I wasn’t necessarily expecting ‘There Will Be Blood,’ but I also wasn’t expecting ‘Lethal Weapon 2.’

The Coen’s are supremely talented at finding humor in very serious subject matter – ‘Fargo’ is all the evidence you need, but they truly honed it in ‘A Serious Man’ – showcasing a man’s metaphysical end to his life with biting wit and hilarity.

However in those two pictures the tone melded with the plot seamlessly – making that film THAT tone, shying away any other possibility for how it could have been pulled off. Here in ‘True Grit,’ the tone feels out of place.

‘Rooster’ Cogburn is a whiskey swillin,’ cotton-mouthed marauder who is certainly allowed his moments of levity – but when an entire scene uses it as a crux to trudge through it begins to feel misused. Jeff Bridges was a delight to watch and exuded an energy to make him real – however more due to the script than his performance – he is rendered too oafish to seem to pull of his miraculous feats of heroism.

Damon’s overtly arrogant Texas Ranger ‘LaBoeuf’ also suffers from this syndrome to where his character serves as nothing more than a butt to nearly every scene he is in – pushing it as far as to give him a lisp half way through the picture.

I understand the purpose of making the adult, capable males out to be buffoons to juxtapose them against severely bright & precocious 14 year-old Mattie Ross yet it falls flat when the audience is presented with two strong personalities and performances in Bridges & Damon who are simultaneously at odds & both the comic relief.

This doesn’t mean that their interactions weren’t highly entertaining – more that the level and frequency of the humor felt out of place for a coming of age story of a young woman avenging her father’s death.

I wanted more ‘No Country’ and less ‘Serious Man’ (despite liking the latter significantly more than the former).

The Coen’s are remarkably known for their memorable characters, small scale set-pieces, and quirky situations – yet scenes like meeting the bear-toting vagabond Doctor or including a moment during a high tension scene with a dwarf who replicates farm animal calls – seem at odds with the pace of the picture.

It being the Coens however, it is all still very entertaining, if frustratingly so.

Having never seen the original ’69 version of the film starring John Wayne, I cannot speak toward the quality of the film as a remake – but after seeing the trailer for the original, I’m more confused as to where the scenes that are done verbatim and where the Coen wit intersect.

Perhaps they are doing a faithful remake to showcase how awkward some of the original dialogue would be in a realistic setting, especially with Labeouf’s, ‘I had a thought to Kiss you’ scene. I wouldn’t put it passed them to make that part of the joke.

Regardless, the three leads have very strong performances – Brolin’s Chaney feels as if most of his lines hit the cutting room floor and surprisingly Barry Pepper struck me as someone whom I’d very much like to see more of.

I didn’t realize Deakins had shot this until the credits (there was a ZOOM SHOT?!) and feel this has been some of his subtlest work as of late, with grand exception to the beautiful court scene.

The processed/green screen shots at the end of the film with Bridges, Steinfeld and the horse were a little disappointing – covered even further with extreme close-ups of Bridges’ face as he is supposed to be carrying her – seemed a little too ‘cheaty’ to avoid having a full shot of him having to actually carry her.

Ultimately where the film comes short is bringing home its emotional resonance. I’ve been told that the original film’s first half hour covers what the remake did in a single V.O.’d dolly shot – robbing the audience of the emotional impact of Mattie loosing her father and determining that the best course of action is revenge. That’s a HUGE step to take for granted in a character and I would have been interested to see what Steinfeld could have done with that. Perhaps it’s a little more run of the mill – but it would make the end for Chaney that much more powerful.

Finally the impact of what our three hero’s have done doesn’t appear to have a larger scope than the reality of Killing a Bounty, Doing a Job, Seeking Revenge. The poor girl lost her father, seeks revenge, leaves home, goes on a dangerous adventure with an alcoholic and a Texan – kills a man, looses half her arm and what we see as she’s come to age is an embittered old maid.

Her horse is run ragged and ultimately killed by Cogburn who proves to be the threshold for her maturation – he thrusts her into a world she is not prepared, even if it was of her own volition. He shapes her into the broken, hardened, middle-aged woman she ultimately becomes but, like Cogburn himself, that makes her all the more human.

True Grit doesn’t make one great & powerful, but just capable to survive.

☺☺☺