Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

MOVIE: Mutiny on the Bounty
DIRECTOR: Frank Lloyd
SCREENPLAY: Talbot Jennings, Jules Furthman, Carey Wilson based on the book by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
CAST: Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, Franchot Tone

Winner: Best Picture
Nominated: Best Actor in a Leading Role – Clark Gable
Nominated: Best Actor in a Leading Role – Charles Laughton
Nominated: Best Actor in a Leading Role – Franchot Tone
Nominated: Best Director – Frank Lloyd
Nominated: Best Film Editing
Nominated: Best Music, Score
Nominated: Best Writing, Screenplay

There have been several film adaptions of the famous novel, with big stars like Mel Gibson, Anthony Hopkins and Marlon Brando. Frank Lloyd’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture remains the best adaptation of this literary classic. Clark Gable plays Fletcher Christian who leads a revolt against the villainous Captain Bligh on the HMS Bounty. However, 1 year later, Bligh returns from exile to exact his revenge on his former crew. Gable (who reluctantly had to shave his famous mustache for the role) cemented his movie-star status as one of the most iconic leading men in Hollywood history. The real star of the movie is Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh. The historical accuracy of Bligh’s actions have been called into question over the years, but there’s no doubt that this film version is one of the most despicable villains in movie history. Laughton was also a shorter man, which gives his bullying a Napoleon-like feel. Also interesting was this production was incredibly lavish. Real ships were built and the film was shot on location in Polynesia, which gives the film a great deal of authenticity. A great early-Hollywood adventure story.

Mutiny on the Bounty is available for purchase on DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as disc rental through Netflix. It is available for Digital purchase and rental via Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.

Check out where Blight ranks on the Essential Films 100 Greatest Movie Villains.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

FORCED PERSPECTIVE, Ep.34 – Enter the Matrix, Part 2

“Mr. Anderson…surprised to see me?”

On this VERY SPECIAL edition of FORCED PERSPECTIVE, join SportsGuy515, Adolfo, and special guest Big D, as they continue their journey into The Matrix Trilogy with a discussion on the second film in the series, The Matrix Reloaded. Finally, an answer to the age-old question: “just what in the HELL is the Architect talking about?” Plus the gang talks The Animatrix, the “Enter the Matrix” video game, As Good As It Gets vs. (500) Days of Summer, and MORE! DOWNLOAD/STREAM NOW!!!

***P.S. Those of you that are subscribed to FORCED PERSPECTIVE on ITunes received this episode early, albeit the unedited version (without the intro and outro). If you would like to keep that version, by all means, you may. But if you would like to download the finished version, simply delete the episode and re-download it from the FORCED PERSPECTIVE page on ITunes.***

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Alien (1979)

MOVIE: Alien

DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott


CAST: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt

Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
Nominated: Best Art Decoration/Set Decoration

To this day, this film continues to be one of the scariest horror films of all time as well as being a fantastic science-fiction epic. Not only did it win an Oscar for Best Visual Effects, it also is currently in the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress and has appeared in various American Film Institute countdown lists. This film proves that genre films can also be as engaging, provocative and influential as the heaviest dramas. Originally called “Star Beast” before it went to production, Alien is about a deep-space mining crew that responds to a transmission from an unknown source on a nearby planet. Soon after arriving, a crew member goes down, and a predatory beast stalks the crew one-by-one in the confines of their spaceship. Alien spawned a Quadrilogy of sequels (including the amazing Aliens), spin-offs (Alien VS Predator) and most recently a prequel in Prometheus (sort of.) In space, no one can hear you scream.

Alien is available for purchase on DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as disc rental through Netflix. It is available for Digital purchase and rental via Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.

Also check it out as part of the 100 Essential Horror Films, the 100 Greatest Movie Heroes, 100 Greatest Movie Villains and the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Essential Dennis Farina Watchlist

Dennis Farina
1944 - 2013

Yesterday, July 22, 2013, Denis Farina passed away at the age of 69.  Farina, a famous "that guy!" actor, is a former Chicago police officer, who turned to acting in his 40s after working as a police consultant for director Michael Mann.  Farina was an entertaining character actor, known mostly for his work as tough guy cop and mobster roles.  The Essential Films presents a watchlist of his best films, in his honor:

1981 • Michael Mann
Role: Carl

Dennis' first onscreen work was for this Michael Mann film as a mob enforcer.


1986 • Michael Mann
Role: Jack Crawford

Will Graham: I gave it up! Till you showed up with pictures of two dead families, knowing God damn well that I'd imagine families three, four, five and six. Right?
Jack Crawford: You're fucking right I did! And I'd do it again!

Before The Silence of the Lambs, there was Manhunter.  Chronologically it takes place before Lambs (later remade as Red Dragon in 2002) and follows the story of the FBI trying to track down the serial killer the press has named "The Tooth Fairy."  Farina plays Jack Crawford, five years before Scott Glenn steps into the role.


1988 • Martin Brest
Role: Jimmy Serrano

Is this moron number one? Put moron number two on the phone.

In this classic 80s "buddy/road" movie, Robert DeNiro plays a bounty hunter hired to track down Charles Grodin, an accountant who embezzled $15 Million from a Chicago mob boss: Farina's Jimmy Serrano.


1995 • Barry Sonnenfeld
Role:  Ray "Bones" Barboni

I'm from Miami-fuckin'-Beach and you wanna show me the ocean, huh? And what about sun, does it ever shine around here, or is this smog around all the time?

Farina's Ray "Bones" Barboni is a Miami gangster who flies out to California to track down Hollywood-obsessed Chili Palmer (John Travolta) and get the money he feels is owed to him, one way or another.


1998 • Steven Soderbergh
Role:  Marshall Sisco

Hey Ray, do you ever wear one that says "undercover"?

In another Elmore Leonard adaptation, Farina plays the father of FBI agent, Karen Sisco, who's on the trail of George Clooney's bank robbing Jack Foley.


1998 • Steven Spielberg
Role:  Lt. Col. Anderson

Lt. Col. Anderson: What about *our* casualties? 
Captain Miller: Well, the figures were, 35 dead, times two wounded. They just didn't wanna give up those 88s. 
Lt. Col. Anderson: It was a tough assignment, that's why you got it. 
Captain Miller: Yes, it was. 
Lt. Col. Anderson: John, I've got another one for ya... 
Captain Miller: Yes, Sir. 
Lt. Col. Anderson: This one's straight from the top...

Farina has a small, but pivotal role, in this Spielberg classic.  Farina plays Capt. John Miller's (Tom Hanks) commanding officer and gives him the orders to go on the "public relations" mission that is the basis of the film.


2000 • Guy Ritchie
Role: Cousin Avi

Customs official: Anything to declare? 
Cousin Avi: Yeah. Don't go to England. 

Cousin Avi is an American Gangster/Jeweler that flies to London to reclaim his stolen merchandise in this farcical gangster comedy.



YOU KILL ME (2007)

Friday, July 19, 2013

X-Men: Days of Future Past - Publicity Photo

In 2014, the seventh X-Men film will be released in theaters: X-Men - Days of Future Past. In 2000, director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) helmed the original theatrical release of X-Men to financial and critical (especially in the comic book community) success. He followed it up with the even better X2: X-Men United in 2003. The films were cornerstones of the resurgence of the comic book film and were responsible of making Wolverine (and by extension, Hugh Jackman) a pop-culture icon. However in 2005 Singer left the series to make Superman Returns and 20th Century Fox decided not to wait for him to complete the project and hired Brett Ratner to make the third film in the franchise, X-Men: The Last Stand. While a box office hit, Last Stand, failed to reach the level of quality of its predecessors. This was followed by X-Men Origins: Wolverine which also fell short artistically.  Then, in 2011, the series got a much needed boost in the form of director Matthew Vaughn's (Stardust) excellent X-Men: First Class which retold the origin of the X-Men and Magneto. However, this film contradicted events that took place Last Stand and Origins. Fans were confused until Fox announced plans for X-Men: Days of Future Past, the next film in the X-Men franchise (following this summer's The Wolverine), will adapt a famous X-Men comic book story arc featuring the element of time travel. Bryan Singer is returning to the world of mutants to direct the film and the film is heavily rumored to "correct" the continuity and rewrite the events of Last Stand and Origins.  Below is a publicity photo released featuring Professor Xavier, Magneto, Colossus and new character Bishop.  Xavier and Magneto are portrayed by their original counterparts, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, however the film will also feature James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as the younger versions of Xavier and Magneto that where established in First Class. Also returning: Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique), Hugh Jackman (in his 7th appearance as Wolverine), Nicholas Hoult (Beast), Anna Paquin (Rogue), Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde), Halle Berry (Storm), Shawn Ashmore (Iceman) and Daniel Cudmore (Colossus).

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Kathryn Bigelow
2012 • 157 Minutes • 1.85:1 • United States
Color • English • Columbia Pictures

Cast:  Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, James Gandolfini
Screenplay: Mark Boal
Producers: Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Megan Ellison
Cinematography: Greig Fraser

Awards & Honors

Academy Awards
Nominated: Best Motion Picture of the Year
Nominated: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role - Jessica Chastain
Nominated: Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Nominated: Best Achievement in Editing
Nominated: Best Achievement in Sound Editing

American Film Institute
Official Selection of 2012

BAFTA Awards
Nominated: Best Film
Nominated: Director
Nominated: Leading Actress - Jessica Chastain
Nominated: Original Screenplay
Nominated: Best Editing

Director's Guild of America
Nominated: Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures

Golden Globes
Winner: Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama - Jessica Chastain

Nominated: Best Director - Motion Picture
Nominated: Best Motion Picture - Drama
Nominated: Best Screenplay - Motion Picture

Screen Actors Guild Awards

Nominated: Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role - Jessica Chastain

Writers Guild of America
Nominated: Best Original Screenplay

Quite frankly, I didn't even want to use you guys, with your dip and velcro and all your gear bullshit. I wanted to drop a bomb. But people didn't believe in this lead enough to drop a bomb. So they're using you guys as canaries. And, in theory, if bin Laden isn't there, you can sneak away and no one will be the wiser. But bin Laden is there. And you're going to kill him for me.

It's right there on the poster: "The Greatest Manhunt in History."  Zero Dark Thirty is the procedural dramatization of the investigation to capture and kill the man the United States held responsible for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and leader of al Queda: Osama bin Laden.  A film of such weighty subject matter was already going to controversial, but Bigelow's direction and Boal's screenplay made sure that this film would be on the minds of everyone who saw it long after the credits rolled. It's impossible to not have an opinion, positive or negative, on this film.

Chief among the controversy is how the filmmakers depicted brutal scenes of torture. Some critics (some who have not even seen the film) claim that depicting CIA agents torturing suspects during interrogation sequences is tantamount to the filmmakers condoning acts of torture as a justifiable method of obtaining information.  If one were to watch and analyze the film, one would realize that this is not the filmmakers' intent. Firstly, there are many close-ups upon the torture victim, forcing the audience to sympathise with him. Secondly, the results they achieve with the torture are negligible and the agents actually achieve better results when they treat the suspect with dignity.  The film does not set out to justify torture or aggressive tactics. However, don't mistake that it condemns it either.  The film is a procedural, and it shows the steps that Maya (an apparent composite of different real-life CIA agents) and her team took to capture bin Laden. Torture just happens to be one of those tools.  The rest of film plays out almost like a standard serial-killer film. In this case instead of a detective, you have a CIA agent. Instead of a serial killer, you have the world's most infamous terrorist. There are good leads, bad leads, chases, close calls and close captures. 

The film begins with a black screen. Playing in the background are sounds of phone calls and news reports and political speeches from the tragic day that came to be known as 9/11.  Immediately following this is the film's first torture sequence.  As stated before, the film neither condmens nor justifies torture... but by the end of the film it forces the audience to think: Was it worth it? Was killing Osama bin Laden and avenging the deaths of thousands of Americans worth losing our soul as a nation? The last shot of the film will leave you with that question.  You know how the film ends. S.E.A.L. Team 6 kills Osama bin Laden. But even though you know this fact, Bigelow keeps you on the edge of your seat with the built-up tension. There's no musical score during this sequence.  Just the silence of night and squawking of radio communication.  When bin Laden is finally killed... there's no celebration, no swelling musical score. It just happens and the film treats as just another event in the procedure. Anyone who watches this film and feels it is a pro-American patriotic film is not watching it close enough.  This is a movie about revenge.

We're in the middle of awards season and this film has been showered, deservedly so, with many nominations. Consistent among the award nominations is recognition for Jessica Chastain's performance as Maya. Maya, as stated before, is a composite character of several real-life agents. Much like S.E.A.L. Team 6, the identity of the real agents responsible for the investigation remain classified. (A sticking point with right-wing critics of the film is that perhaps the filmmakers had unauthorized access to top secret documents while making this film. This claim has been denied by the Obama administration.)  Chastain is heavy-favorite to win Best Actress at this year's Academy Awards, and it's easy to see why.  Chastain's Maya is at first seemingly unprepared to handle the investigation and unnerved by the tactics her team feels is needed to gain information. As the film progresses, however, she develops a toughness that is only outmatched by her determination.  This job defines her. She IS the  mission.  She has the final shot in the film all to herself, and the acting on display in this final moment before the credits roll earns her every nomination she has received.

Zero Dark Thirty is a difficult film with difficult subject matter.  Difficult subject matter leads controversy, controversy sparks debate. No film of the last year or, I predict, in the near future, will spark as much debate as this film has. It will be analyzed by both film students and historians for decades to come and will warrant multiple viewings.  Zero Dark Thirty is the best film of 2012.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Batman – Mask of the Phantasm (1993)


Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm

1993 • 76 Minutes • 1.33:1• United States

Color • English • Warner Bros.

Voice Cast: Kevin Conroy, Dana Delany, Hart Bochner, Stacy Keach, Abe Vigoda, Mark Hammill
Screenplay: Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Pasko, Michael Reaves based on characters created by Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson

Producers: Benjamin Melniker, Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm

Awards & Honors

The Essential Films
Top 25 Superhero Movies – #20

Whoops! Ha! I guess the joke’s on me. You’re not Batman after all. Looks like there’s a new face in Gotham and soon his name will be all over town… to say nothing of his legs, and feet, and spleen, and head…

Batman is on the trail of a homicidal vigilante that is killing Gotham City’s top mob bosses while at the same time dealing with the re-appearance of an old love. To complicate matters: The Joker enters the fray as a wild card. Can Batman keep the Joker at bay while solving the mystery of Phantasm?

WARNING: Spoilers

After the success of the first two Tim Burton Batman films, Warner Bros. Animation green lit a cartoon to be aired on the Fox Network. Shortly after Batman Returns hit the big screen, “Batman: The Animated Series” hit the airwaves just in time for the fall schedule in 1992. The show proved to be a big ratings success and soon a feature-length direct-to-video adaptation was planned. At the last moment, however, Warner Bros decided that it wanted to shoot for a Christmas Day theatrical release, giving the animators a tough deadline to meet. Though the team of Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm were able to release the film on time and on schedule, but due to the last minute switch to theatrical release, there wasn’t a proper marketing campaign behind the film and it ultimately failed at the box office. It did receive widespread critical acclaim, however.

The main voice cast of the animated series returned for the film. Kevin Conroy returns as the animated Dark Knight. Conroy is, in my opinion for whatever that’s worth, the best Batman ever… animated or otherwise. Conroy did something that no one else has successfully accomplished: His Bruce Wayne is the “mask” and Batman is the real person. He accomplishes this by making the Bruce Wayne voice sound “higher” than his “real” Batman voice. The Batman voice that Conroy puts on is iconic and to this day the voice that best personifies everything that character is supposed to be. Unlike Christian Bale’s “growl” voice, Conroy’s Batman voice is his real voice… the Bruce Wayne voice is the fake voice. It’s brilliant voice performance.

Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hammill, provides the voice of The Joker. Unless you’re new to the Batman mythology, you’ll know that Hammill’s Joker voice is beloved by Bat-fans everywhere. As I said recently on the Forced Perspective podcast’s Batman specials, every Joker, whether it was Caesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger or Mark Hammill was perfect for the “universe” they were set in. Hammill’s Joker was perfect for what was to become the DC Animated Universe.

Dana Delany plays Andrea Beaumont, a former lover of Bruce Wayne. Through a series of flashbacks we see that Andrea nearly derailed Bruce from becoming Batman. Bruce proposes, but she ultimately abandons him mysteriously leading him back on the path to become Batman. Delany is quite good in this role and she eventually returned to the DCAU as Lois Lane in “Superman: The Animated Series.”
Hart Bochner, Stacy Keach and Abe Vigoda all provide guest starring voices as a crooked City Councilman and mobsters respectively. Vigoda is especially entertaining as Sal Valestra. Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Bob Hastings and Robert Costanzo reprise their roles as Alfred, Commissioner Gordon and Detective Bullock and provide the usual fine performances they provided to the Animated Series (however brief their screen time may have been.)

Overall this is one of the better written Batman films in terms of thematic elements as well as an exploration of the Batman character. When Andrea leaves Bruce, it leads to his decision to finally become Batman. In the future, to avenge the death of her father Andrea becomes the Phantasm. Both Bruce and Andrea are driven by an urge avenge their dead parents, and therefore reject the notion of love. This film also includes the most revealing moment in the tragedy that is Bruce Wayne. In a flashback sequence, he is tortured by the guilt that he no longer wants to fight evil. He wants to be with Andrea, and he kneels at the grave of his parents and cries “I didn’t count on being happy.” Later after Andrea leaves him and he, again rejecting love, dons the Batman mask for the first time… Alfred let’s out a “My God!” at the horror he feels at seeing it. Bruce Wayne is transformed… he is now truly Batman. It’s a fantastic scene.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, much like “Batman: The Animated Series” is perhaps the film that is the closest to the Batman comic book character. This despite having a villain created just for the film. It’s sleek and stylish, and even at only 70 minutes, packs an impressive amount of character development and action. Certainly one of the greatest animated films of all time.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Batman on Film Part 7: The Animated Movies

On this edition of “Batman on Film,” we’re looking at all the animated films featuring our Dark Knight hero. Now, we’ve already discussed Batman: Mask of the Phantasm in a separate feature, so we won’t discuss it here. In this article we will discuss the straight-to-video features released starting in 1998 through the current day. Note that team-up films like Superman/Batman: Public Enemies or Justice League: Doom won’t be considered as Batman is not the main focus of the film.  Here we go:

Boyd Kirkland
1998 • 70 Minutes

On the Forced Perspective podcasts focused on the Batman animated series, me and the crew discussed at length many of the wonderful single episodes the series produced. Chief among them was one of the first ever aired on television, “Heart of Ice.” This episode is responsible for creating the Mr. Freeze origin story that everyone accepts as canon now, and was later used in Batman & Robin.  SubZero was actually supposed to be released simultaneously with Batman & Robin’s theatrical release, but was pushed back due to poor critical reception of the infamous disaster of which that film became to be known.  SubZero takes place after the “Batman: The Animated Series” episode “Deep Freeze.” Victor Fries has moved to the Arctic to live in an environment that keeps both himself and his cryogenically-frozen wife, Nora, alive.  Her containment unit becomes ruptured and he is forced to travel back to civilization to find an organ donor to save his dying wife. Freeze discovers that the perfect donor match is Barbara Gordon, daughter of Commissioner Gordon and secretly Batgirl, and will take her dead or alive to save his wife. Enter Batman and Robin to save the day.  The films plays out much like 3 part “Batman” episode, which isn’t a bad thing.  The action is exciting and the artwork, as always from this production crew, is outstanding.  Kevin Conroy brings it, as always, to the role of Bruce Wayne and Batman while Michael Ansara is a perfect Mr. Freeze, with his dead-panned, cold (pardon the pun) delivery of his lines.  SubZero certainly faired better with critics than its live-action companion did, and even won an Annie Award (awards for animation) for Best Home Video Animation.
Grade: B+

Curt Geda
2000 • 77 Minutes

In 1999, Batman made his return to animated series with “Batman Beyond.” This time, however, we join Gotham City in the future, where Bruce Wayne is an old man who has retired from crime-fighting. But he’s not done with the scum of Gotham City’s underbelly yet, this time he mentors Terry McGinnis, a new Batman, on how to be The Dark Knight of tomorrow. The series was received by incredibly-skeptical fans that were not fans of this non-canon interpretation of their beloved Batman. However, their expectations were exceeded when “Batman Beyond” went on to become an exciting, action-packed, yet futuristic take on Batman that still remained true to the spirit of the character we all love.  In 2000, Warner Bros. Animation released Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker on home video. The film’s plot is in the title, as The Joker, long-thought to be dead, has returned to terrorize Gotham City. Both Bruce and Terry have to investigate the return of the Clown Prince of Crime and determine whether he is the real Joker and how he has managed to return from the grave. The film’s highlight is a flashback sequence that takes the viewer back to a “Batman: Animated Series”-style sequence that shows Batman and Batgirl attempting to rescue Robin from The Joker and Harley Quinn. The scene reveals that The Joker has mentally, physically and psychologically tortured Tim Drake past the point of no return, which causes Batman to completely lose his temper. I won’t give away what happens, but The Joker meets his apparent death in a shockingly violent manner.  This was a point of contention with executives as the MPAA gave the film a PG-13 rating due to the violence. Warner Bros. panicked and re-edited the film to a much tamer version, cutting down on a lot of the dramatic and emotional impact. When the kid-friendly version did not perform well financially, the film was released completely intact in an “Original Uncut” version.  The rest of the film is quite good as well, with the mystery of how the Joker survived his apparent death providing a good mystery for the caped crusaders to solve.  Mark Hammil returns to voice The Joker, and he’s at his maniacal best. Will Friedle plays Terry McGinnis as a brash, young kid still learning the ropes while Kevin Conroy transitions perfectly from Batman in his prime, to an old, crotchety Bruce Wayne.  The film packs a lot of drama and emotion, and, thanks to the darkness of the flashback sequence, a satisfying climax at the end of the film. One of the best.
Grade: A-

Curt Geda
2003 • 75 Minutes

Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman, much like SubZero, plays like an extended episode of “Batman: The Animated Series,” which again, is not a bad thing.  This was the last solo-Batman film released that takes place in the “DC Animated Universe.” Batman would later re-appear, voiced by Kevin Conroy, in Justice League features.  The film is rated PG, so a little more freedom than the television show, but not quite as dark as Return of the Joker. Batman is back in present day this time, and he’s trying to solve the mystery of a new heroine that has invaded Gotham City and has taken to dressing herself up like him. This new “Batwoman” is reckless, which Batman doesn’t exactly appreciate, and is trying to take on the likes of some of Batman’s foes, namely The Penguin and Rupert Thorne.  Batman’s main priority is to stop this new Batwoman from doing more than good, and he uses his detective skills to figure out who she is. Batwoman herself is played by Kyra Sedgwick, and the film, in a bit of clever voice casting, introduces 3 female characters that all have an agenda and could possibly be Batwoman. The 3 characters (Kathy Duquesne, Rocky Ballantine and Sonia Alcana) all have similar sounding voices, which throws the audience off.  It’s a clever trick and the payoff to the mystery is amusing.  Ultimately, not a great film, but not bad either.
Grade: B-

2008 • 75 Minutes

In 2007, DC Comics started up the DC Animated Original Movies line, where it took stand-alone concepts or sometimes straight comic book stories and adapted them to full-length features. Some of these have worked like Superman: Doomsday and Wonder Woman. Others like Gotham Knight, have not. This collection of six short animated Batman films was released in time with the now-classic The Dark Knight in 2008. The six short films were supposed to bridge the gap of what happened between the movies Batman Begins and The Dark Knight and depicts Batman in the “Nolan Universe.” Segments of the film were written by Batman alumni like David S. Goyer, Brian Azzarello, Greg Rucka and Alan Burnett, so you’d think at least one of the stories would be captivating. Sadly not. The producers took a page out of the Wachoski playbook and all the stories are done in an “Anime” style. Sadly, the Japanese animation style just doesn’t fit in the Batman universe. This anthology did have one saving grace at least: Kevin Conroy as Batman. His voice as The Dark Knight will never and can never be outdone.

Brandon Vietti
2010 • 75 Minutes

Thankfully, all is not lost for Batman. DC Animated Original Movies delivered Batman: Under the Red Hood in 2010.  Red Hood was adapted from two Batman shorelines: “A Death in the Family” and “Under the Red Hood.” The film starts in flashback and depicting the brutal death of Jason Todd, one-time companion to Batman as Robin, at the hands of the Joker. In present-day Gotham City, Batman is a war with Gotham’s criminals (as always) and teaming with Nightwing, another former Robin, taking down an android known as Amazo. Batman and Nightwing investigate what connection Gotham City gangster, Black Mask, has with the robot, and find that there is a rogue vigilante known as The Red Hood involved in a turf-war with Mask.  The Joker, who was the original Red Hood, is interrogated and denies involvement. In the end, we find out how Red Hood, Joker, Jason Todd and even Ra’s al Ghul are all connected.  The film borrows heavily from the source material to great effect and it should make many comic book geeks very happy with its faithfulness. For the first time in a stand-alone Batman film, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hammil do not provide the voices of Batman and Joker. Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek, Double Jeopardy) does a fine job as Batman, but it is jarring not to hear Conroy.  John DiMaggio, best known for his work as Bender in “Futurama”, provides the voice of The Joker. His approach is much different than Hammil’s maniacal take, and voices the character in a much more subdued and disturbing way. Hammil’s work will always win “Best Joker” polls, but DiMaggio, again, isn’t bad… just different.  Jensen Ackles and Neil Patrick Harris provide good supporting work as Red Hood and Nightwing respectively.  A damn good film.
Grade: A

Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery
2011 • 64 Minutes

If you’ve seen Batman Begins, you’ve seen the skeletal structure of this film. Batman Begins borrows heavily from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One 1987 storyline which tells the first year of Batman fighting crime in Gotham City, including the beginning of his alliance with Jim Gordon. This film is a straight adaptation of the 4-issue story arc.  A lot of the plot points will seem familiar.  Bruce Wayne returns from traveling the world, where he learned various forms of fighting disciplines to wage war on the criminals of Gotham City.  James Gordon has just moved to Gotham City and begun working in the Gotham City Police Department. Both Wayne and Gordon become acquainted with the corruption of the police force and its elite citizens.  Bruce Wayne becomes a masked crimefighter, while Gordon forms an uneasy alliance with a vigilante criminal to take down the greater evils in Gotham. There’s a reason Christopher Nolan borrowed so heavily from this story: it works. It’s captivating. It’s true to the spirit and character of Batman.  Benjamin McKenzie (88 Minutes) provides the voice for Batman this time around. Again, he’s no Kevin Conroy, but who is. Eliza Dushku (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) joins the Bat Universe as a pre-Catwoman Selina Kyle and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) kicks ass as Commissioner Gordon, probably the best voice acting for the character, with all respect to Bob Hastings.  Again, this retelling of Batman’s origin will not provide any surprises, but it is an excellent source of Batman entertainment for new and old fans alike.
Grade: B

Jay Oliva
2011-2012 • 152 Minutes 

The Dark Knight Returns was released as two parts, but they really must be seen as one film. One can’t talk about the films without referencing the source material. In 1986, DC Comics released The Dark Knight Returns, a 4-part graphic novel that takes place in an alternate future where Batman has retired due to old age. After Harvey Dent, whose face was fixed and declared mentally sane, disappears and crime starts to become an epidemic in Gotham once again, a 55- year old Bruce Wayne dons the cape and cowl to strike fear into Gotham’s criminals.  He tracks down Two-Face, wages ware against a street gang known as The Mutants and eventually inspires them to become a gang of vigilantes instead. A new Robin joins him, this time a teenage girl named Carrie Kelly. Batman’s sudden reappearance in Gotham sparks the interest of The Joker and the US government. The Joker, who had been catatonic due to the lack of Batman in his life, reawakens and goes on a killing spree, while the government, feeling a loss of control to a vigilante, sense none other than Superman to clean up the “mess.” The Dark Knight Returns is more than just a superhero story. It’s an epic and tragic opera. And it’s perfectly adapted to the screen with these straight-to-video masterpieces. Almost everything from the book, with the exception of Batman’s inner monologue, is brought to life. Batman is voiced by Robocop himself, Peter Weller, while Modern Family‘s Ariel Winter plays Robin. Weller’s performance as Batman is jarring, but perfect given the context of the story. This Batman is a hulking slab of meat, and Weller’s deep voice provides the right amount of menace.  Michael Emerson (Lost) plays the Joker beautifully, (but again, he’s no Mark Hammil) and provides a worthy foe to The Dark Knight.  The entire voice cast works, even Conan O’Brien as a talk-show host that meets a grizzly end at the hands of The Joker.  If you’ve read the book, you owe it to yourself to watch this film.  If you haven’t, watch this film then read the book. One of the best Batman films ever made.
Grade: A+