Archive for the ‘Batmania’ Category

Psst! Fox! DC Comics! Warners! Make ‘Batman’ on DVD happen.

July 21, 2009

So last summer, to commemorate the theatrical release of The Dark Knight, I did a ten-part review series called Batmania, in which I reviewed every Batman movie, in addition to some Batman-related spinoffs. I’m not going to lie—it was fun.

The first film I reviewed, Batman: The Movie, kinda’ baffled me. I knew of the campy TV series from the 60’s, but had grown up mostly with the dark Tim Burton-esque Batman (which, compared to The Dark Knight, looks a little campy itself). But recently I watched a documentary called Holy Batmania!, which explained the cultural climate surrounding the TV show. I finally got it–Batman was campy on purpose, because in the mid-60’s, anything superhero-related was considered poison. To produce a live-action show based on a comic book, the producers felt they had to be tongue-in-cheek about the whole thing, knowing that being ludicrous was the only way to get people to watch.

So now that I understand the context better, I want the series on DVD.

But there’s a problem. The original Batman TV series is like the one thing Warner Bros., DC Comics’ sister company, doesn’t have the distribution rights to. The show was produced at 20th Century Fox, but the rights to the characters still lies with DC. It’s kinda’ complex, and you can read a better explanation of it at TVShowsOnDVD.com.

Hell froze over a couple of years ago when Disney began releasing The Muppet Show on DVD, something I thought would NEVER happen. Could Fox, Warners and DC play nice (you kinda’ did it before, with the whole Watchmen lawsuit last year) and get a significant piece of Batman and television history out on DVD before my bones turn to dust? Does anybody have any new information?

Musings on ‘The Dark Knight’

August 4, 2008

So I saw The Dark Knight again, which brings my tally to three.  What a great movie.  I’ve had some thoughts regarding the film, which I’d like to share.

1. I’m happy that The Dark Knight has crossed the $400 million box office mark in record time.  I’ve always been a DC kid, so the fact that the biggest movie of the year was not a Marvel film makes me smile.  Iron Man was fun, Incredible Hulk was good, but Batman–the best superhero of them all–still kicks butt.  The Dark Knight is the perfect marriage of quality and cross-promotion; it’s a hugely commercial piece that doesn’t insult audiences’ intelligence.  (In fact, it wasn’t until the second viewing that I fully understood the plot.)

2. If the powers that be feel the Joker should return for the third film, Johnny Depp should play him.  Who else has the chops, credibility and fan base to take on such an iconic character?  Depp can play any type of character, be it Ed Wood (cross-dressing D-list director!), Jack Sparrow (fey swashbuckler!), Willy Wonka (creepy chocolatier!) or Sweeney Todd (homicidal barber!).  He could make the Joker his own without having to impersonate Heath Ledger.  And people would come see him, either out of curiosity (how’s he going to pull of the Joker?) and/or loyalty (I’ll see him in anything!)  

3. I’d love to see the Riddler as the next villain.  A lot of Batman’s enemies wouldn’t be that believable in Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City.  The Penquin?  No way.  Poison Ivy?  Uh-uh.  Bane?  Yeah, maybe.  Catwoman?  Possibly, although the cats-ressurrect-lonely-cat-loving-spinster-who’s-actually-really-hot mythology used in Batman Returns and the dreadful Halle Berry movie would have to go.  Riddler seems like the only fully plausible villain.

4. I hope Robin never EVER shows up in subsequent films.  I’ve always had a hard time with Robin.  It’s creepy that a single billionaire like Bruce Wayne would live with a kid.  It’s also not very sensical to have Batman fight crime with a kid sidekick, especially in Nolan’s ultraviolent Gotham.  And why the hell is his name Robin?  

I’m done.

Batmania Part 10: ‘The Dark Knight’

July 18, 2008

I had a lot riding on this movie.

In Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan proved that Batman’s story is worth telling.  Previous films had infused either style (Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns) or camp (Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin), but none had really established character development or believable writing.  Batman Begins raised the bar not just for Batman, but for all superhero films.  (Iron Man passed, Spider-Man 3 failed.)

Nolan set such a high standard for himself with The Dark Knight.  And prior to seeing the film, I told myself that if it’s almost as good as Batman Begins, I’d be satisfied.

I am happy to report that The Dark Knight is just as good–if not better–than Batman Begins.

My review will keep plot details to a minimum; I loved watching this movie because I purposely stayed away from reviews, news, buzz and hype relating to the film.  I hope you’ll appreciate that I’ll do the same.

What’s it about? Gotham City’s a safer place thanks to Batman, but also Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the new district attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).  The bad guys don’t like the stranglehold these three have on organized crime and are forced to use extreme measures in order to maintain their operations.

Enter the Joker (Heath Ledger).  Nobody knows who he really is or where he came from.  But he’s crazy.  And oh, so evil.  He wants to tear Gotham City apart.  And, if things don’t improve for themselves, the mafia just might let him.

What’s good about it? Where Batman Begins established Batman as a character, The Dark Knight establishes Gotham City.  We dig deep into the politics of the city.  We see the struggle of Gordon against corruption in his own police force.  We see the legal red tape Dent and assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) must fight to clean up Gotham’s streets.  Things are messy.  Things are not what they seem.  And things are never black and white.

Backing up Nolan’s expert direction is a phenomenal cast.  Ledger’s Joker is like nothing I’ve ever seen before–he is absolutely frightening.  This is a performance that will stick with you.  Whereas Jack Nicholson’s Joker is a scenery-chewing villain, Ledger’s Joker is truly bipolar, switching from manic to maniacal, often within seconds of each other.

Gyllenhall, replacing Katie Holmes (who played Rachel Dawes in the first film), brings a much-needed spark to what essentially was a throwaway part in the first film.  This time Rachel is less of the token damsel in distress but an integral part of the story.  Eckhart is also great as Havey Dent–he crackles with charisma.

Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, and Michael Caine as Alfred have less screen time than in the first film, but that is expected, seeing how we already know who and what they are.

Bale, as Bruce Wayne/Batman, also has plenty of screen time but less development, for the same reason as Freeman and Caine’s characters.

What’s bad about it? At two-and-a-half hours, The Dark Knight may feel a little long (because it is), but not to the point where you want the movie to end (because you don’t).  And it’s a hard PG-13; leave the kids at home.

Perfect for: anyone looking for an excellent movie, comic book-themed or otherwise.

Batmania Part 9: ‘Batman Begins’ – the best Batman film of them all…

July 17, 2008

Batman Begins is the best Batman film ever made. I say that even though Tim Burton’s Batman is one of my all-time favorite films and that The Dark Knight may be even better. (I purposely avoid publicity/advertising for Dark Knight, but even I can’t fully escape the buzz. I haven’t read any reviews but I hear it’s pretty good!) Finally, somebody got Batman exactly the way I’d always imagined–dark, complex, conflicted and sometimes vulnerable. Too bad Batman creator Bob Kane passed away in 1998 (after the dismal flop Batman & Robin); I would like to think he’d be proud of what director Christopher Nolan achieved with his creation.

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Courtesy Warner Bros.

What’s it about? Batman Begins is the story of how Batman…began. Billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) uses his resources and channel his fears into Batman, his vigilante alter-ego who’s figuring out the best way to weaken corruption in Gotham City’s police force and judicial system. He finds an ally in Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman), the only good cop in a police force owned by mob boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson).

Meanwhile, Dr. Johnathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) has been developing a fear toxin that causes severe hallucinations. He’s planning to put it in Gotham’s water supply at the orders of Bruce Wayne’s old mentor, Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson).

Ducard trained Bruce to become a warrior, but the two had a falling out (to put it lightly). Now Ducard is putting his ideals to the test, starting with the erradication of Gotham.

What’s good about it? The story is great. Batman doesn’t appear until halfway through the film and yet the story is so compelling, so entertaining, that the filmmakers could have called it good right there and set it up for a sequel. But wait, there’s more! Much more! And it’s amazing! The cast is, for the most part, outstanding (Katie Holmes being the exception, bringing nothing memorable to her role as Assistant DA (and Bruce’s love interest) Rachel Dawes).

Superhero films have the difficult challenge of making the audience believe in the world of the hero. (Spider-Man 2 completely had me; Spider-Man 3 was completely ridiculous.) Batman Begins succeeds in this regard. There are few, if any, “yeah, right” moments.

What’s bad about it? You really think I’m going to knock the greatest superhero film ever made?

Perfect for: restoring your faith in superhero films (especially after watching Catwoman).

Batmania Part 8: ‘Catwoman’

July 17, 2008

In 2004 Catwoman may have seemed like a good idea at the time. Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry? Great! An untested director with mostly special effects experience? Okay. Spin-off from a movie franchise that died seven years before? A bit risky. $100 million budget? Oh, dear. Sharon Stone as the villain? Oh, crap.

Catwoman went on to become a huge bomb (total international box office gross: $74 million) and earned a whopping seven Golden Razzie award nominations (Worst Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Couple and Screenplay) and left Batman fans (and everybody else) wondering why this film was even made. Thankfully Batman Begins would arrive in theaters the following year and most people would forget that Catwoman ever happened.

But it did happen. And seeing how I’ve reviewed the good, the bad, and the campy, I’m including Catwoman as part of the Batman film canon (even though this film has nothing to do with the Batman mythology and just uses the Catwoman name to tell a completely unrelated story).

courtesy Warner Bros.

courtesy Warner Bros.

What’s it about? Patience Phillips (Halle Berry) is a frumpy graphic designer working for Hedare, a cosmetics empire about to launch a new product called Beau-Line. She stumbles upon some unflattering information about Beau-Line (it’s toxic!) and is whacked because she knows too much. A bunch of CG cats resurrect her and now she has cat-like abilities, like landing on all fours and hissing at dogs.

After visiting a cat expert/creepy old lady (Frances Conroy), Patience discovers she’s a Catwoman. She dresses up in kinky S&M leather and both fights and commits crime. She’s all messed up inside, you see.

Benjamin Bratt plays Tom Lone, a cop who’s not only Patience’s boyfriend, but determined to put Catwoman behind bars. Oh, the irony–Patience and Catwoman are the same person!

The plot thickens when Catwoman is framed for killing the president of Hadare, George Hadare (Lambert Wilson, who delivers the exact same performance he did in The Matrix Reloaded as the Merovingian). The real killer? George’s wife, Laurel (Sharon Stone, vamping it up every step of the way), who wants to launch Beau-Line even though it kills people! (Damn you, capitalistic greed!)

What’s good about it? This is one of those films that, just when you think it could not get any more ridiculous, surprises you in new and preposterous ways. It’s replete with bad acting, bad directing (the single-named Pitof relies so heavily on special effects that they’re anything but special) and a truly terrible script. It’s a gloriously awful train wreck that’s laugh-out-loud funny (albeit unintentionally).

What’s bad about it? See above paragraph.

Perfect for: People who love their super heroes to have a “you go, girl!” attitude.

One final note: I have to give props to Halle Berry for being such a good sport about being in such a bad movie. After watching this highlight reel from her acceptance speech at the Golden Razzie awards, she deserves to keep her Oscar.

Batmania Part 7: ‘Batman: Gotham Knight’

July 15, 2008

Originally I was only going to write reviews for the six Batman theatrical films, leading up to The Dark Knight which opens in theaters this weekend.  But then I wrote a short essay on how the 1989 Batman film changed my life, and so I decided to broaden Batmania to include other things related to Batman’s presence in film.  I recently watched Batman: Gotham Knight and felt it was worthy of being included.

It’s a direct-to-DVD animated movie, although it’s much better than DC’s most recent efforts, Superman: Doomsday (which was screaming to be made into a live-action feature) and Justice League: New Frontier (which needed to be a tv miniseries).  Batman: Gotham Knight is DC’s first foray into anime, with six different anime directors responsible for one of the six interlocking stories.  I’m not a far of anime by any means (I’m still scratching my head as to what the hell was Spirited Away about), but the animation style works exceptionally well for the subject matter.

What’s it about?  The six stories are as follows:

– “Have I Got A Story For You” A bunch of teenagers recall their eyewitness experiences involving Batman.  (All of them differ greatly.)

– “Crossfire”  Two Gotham City police officers debate Batman’s merits while caught between a violent gang war.

– “Field Test” An examination of the gadgets Batman uses when fighting crime.

– “In Darkness Dwells” Down in the sewers lives a mutant named Killer Croc who is poisoned by the Scarecrow’s fear toxin…and Batman just found him.

– “Working Through Pain” A glimpse into Batman/Bruce Wayne’s training as a young man in India.

– “Deadshot” Batman fights an assassin in the subways underneath Gotham.

All of these stories are much more interesting than I have described them.  I don’t want to say much because I knew nothing about Batman: Gotham Knight when I rented it and would like those who want to see it to have the same enjoyable experience I did.

What’s good about it?  Anime works really well for Batman because it’s a hybrid of comic book and film.  Some of the animation is absolutely breathtaking.  This is less of a cartoon than Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.  (It’s also cool that Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman from the 90’s Animated Series, provides Batman/Bruce Wayne’s voice once again.)  And because it’s Batman and not some crazy weird fantasy crap, it’s easy to follow.

What’s bad about it?  This is more in line with Batman Begins than it is Superfriends.  It’s dark.  It’s violent.  It’s bloody.  People die.  This is a hard PG-13, so if you’re looking for something upbeat, you’ll want to pass.

Perfect for: All those eagerly awaiting The Dark Knight.  This is the perfect little treat to tide you over until then.

Batmania Part 6: ‘Batman & Robin’ – the nail in the coffin

July 14, 2008

I missed Batman & Robin in the theater. I eventually saw it on video, by myself, in the privacy of my own home. I got about forty minutes into it, and I was so embarrassed with how painfully awful it was I had to turn it off.

Such is my affection for this movie.

In keeping with my Batmania theme, I recently forced myself to watch Batman & Robin, hoping that I could glean something–anything–from this, THE WORST BATMAN MOVIE EVER MADE. Much to my surprise, I did.

These posters?  Meh.

These posters? Meh.

What’s it about? There is discord between the Dynamic Duo. Batman (this time played by George Clooney) doesn’t trust Robin (Chris O’Donnell), and Robin’s just being obnoxious. Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is stealing diamonds to save his sick wife. Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) wants to save the environment by eradicating all humans. Alfred (Michael Gough), is very sick, and his niece Barbara (Alicia Silverstone) is around for no real reason. Corny action sequences on ice and bad puns ensue.

What’s good about it? In a weird way, I came to appreciate Batman & Robin for one reason: if you’re going to fail, fail big. The fourth Batman film makes a spectacle of itself, the same way that Batman Forever did, but only more so. The film is completely ludicrous and over the top. Director Joel Schumacher runs the franchise into the ground on a grandiose scale, flushing Warner Bros.’ money down the toilet (it was a costly bomb–the film cost $125 million and only grossed $107 million domestically) and alienating Batman fans for eight years until Batman Begins.

How is this a good thing? Case in point: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. The film is truly awful AND it looks cheap.

What’s bad about it? While I appreciate the film’s “fail big” mentality, it still fails big.

Perfect for: Uh, let me get back to you on that.

Batmania Part 5: ‘Batman Forever’ – Got ham?

July 12, 2008

Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever is a cautionary tale of what happens when movie franchises are used for evil.  After the success of the first two Batman films directed by Tim Burton, Burton passed the reins to Schumacher, who camped up the franchise and pretty much destroyed everything Burton did to distance Batman from the 1960’s tv series.

Batman Forever is also the first film that made me realize that just because advertisements tell me something is good that doesn’t make it so.

 

Sadly, these posters are the best thing about 'Batman Forever.'

Sadly, these posters are the best thing about 'Batman Forever.'

What’s it about?  Harvey “Two-Face” Dent (Tommy Lee Jones) teams up with Edward Nigma/The Riddler (Jim Carrey) to uncover Batman’s (Val Kilmer) secret identity.  They’re not the only ones who wants to know: Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman, still in “Mrs. Tom Cruise” mode here), a beautiful (of course) psychologist, also wants to know who’s the man behind the mask.

At a charity fundraiser at the circus, Two-Face threatens to blow up everybody unless Batman reveals his true identity.  The Flying Graysons, a family trapeze act, saves Gotham’s elite from destruction, however, all are killed by Two-Face except the youngest Grayson, Dick (Chris O’Donnell).

With no family and nowhere to go, Dick is invited to live at Wayne Manor with Bruce.  To no surprise, Dick finds out that Batman and Bruce Wayne are one and the same and volunteers to be his sidekick, thus becoming Robin.

The Riddler’s created some sort of blender-looking thing that sucks people’s brain waves.  He finds out Bruce Wayne’s secret.  Bright colors and explosions ensue.

What’s good about it?  Uh… How about them posters?

What’s bad about it?  Had this movie not made heaps and heaps of money (it was the #1 movie of 1995), Warner Bros. would have taken a long and hard look at doing another Batman movie.  Every frame of this movie makes you cringe because you know the studio paid far too much money on the production (see also Wild Wild West).  Tommy Lee Jones hams it up to the Nth degree, while Jim Carrey is being his early 90’s goofy self while intermittently channeling Frank Gorshin.  And what’s with the pink hair?

With bright and sparkly colors and levels of camp previously unseen since the 60’s tv show (not to mention Batman and Robin’s costumes, complete with nipples and disturbingly large codpieces), Batman Forever is a gay old time at the movies.  But, sadly, even this is NOT the worst Batman movie ever made.

Perfect for: anyone who likes their dark, brooding super hero movies fabulous.

Batmania Part 4: ‘Batman Returns’ – the beginning of the end

July 12, 2008

It’s not that Batman Returns is a terrible movie by any means. (In fact, I saw this ten times in the theater. I worked at a movie theater when this came out, so don’t judge, haters.) It’s even more stylish than its predecessor and has some pretty good dark humor. But we see the ground work being laid for Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, two of the worst sequels of all time.

Posters from 1992.  Back then I thought these were so cool.  I still do!

Posters from 1992. Back then I thought these were so cool. I still do!

What’s it about? It’s Christmastime in Gotham City, and Oswald Cobblepot (Danny DeVito), the rumored “Penguin Man” of the sewers, wants local businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) to atone for his sins of polluting the city.

Shreck’s frumpy executive assistant Selena Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer, who couldn’t be frumpy if her life depended on it) has found some incriminating info about her boss that would kill any chance he has to build a new power plant. So for her years of loyal service, Shreck pushes her out of a skyscraper window.

Left for dead thirty stories below, Selena is resurrected by stray cats (it’s silly, I know) and takes up a new persona as Catwoman. Is she good? Is she bad? Does it really matter? The answer is, no. But hey, she looks hot in that outfit.

Penguin hates Shreck. Catwoman hates Shreck. Everybody hates Batman. (Oh yeah, Batman’s in this movie, too.)

What’s good about it? With all of Tim Burton’s movies, style takes place of substance. It’s another feast for the eyes. Pfeiffer is particularly good as Selina/Catwoman–she has fun with the role. DeVito is in Jack Nicholson-Joker mode, chewing the scenery (and, in one scene, sombody’s nose).

What’s bad about it? As with most sequels, producers feel that everything has to be bigger, louder, and cost twice as much. Batman Returns is no exception. The film has three villains (including Shreck), and Batman–the titular hero–gets pushed aside. (No wonder Michael Keaton didn’t return for the third film.) Where Spider-Man 2 and the Jason Bourne sequels succeed is that they’re not trying to outdo their predecessors; sometimes more of the same is better. Had Batman Returns only featured the Penguin or Catwoman, we probably would have had a more solid film.

And thus is the beginning of the end of the Batman films. The third and fourth installments of the franchise buckle under the weight of their own excess. But more on that later.

Perfect for: Super hero movie fans, who undoubtedly have already seen it.

Batmania Part 3: ‘Batman’ – My biased, biased review

July 11, 2008

If you read my last post, you know how much Batman means to me. I debated writing an actual review for the film, seeing how I spilled my guts about the profound impact the film had (has?) on me.  But, in keeping with my original idea of reviewing the Batman films before The Dark Knight hits theaters, I’m doing it anyway.

Batman was the #1 movie of 1989, grossing $251 million (adjusted for inflation, that’s $434 million).  It put Tim Burton on the map (it was only his third feature film) and spawned three sequels (more on that sore subject later).  So basically, in 1989, Batman was the shiz, even though it had a terrible trailer.

What’s it about?  Millionaire Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) moonlights as Batman, a vigilante whose sole mission is to clean up the streets of Gotham City.  When  Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson)–the mafia’s second-in-command–falls into a vat of toxic chemicals during a botched job, the police blame Batman.  Jack doesn’t die, however, and now as the Joker he’s about to let all hell loose in Gotham town.

Meanwhile, photojournalist Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) has a thing for Bruce Wayne, and while the feeling’s mutual, Bruce can’t fully commit (that whole super hero thing keeps getting in the way).

Real trouble starts when the Joker develops a little crush on Vicki, which means Batman has to save her a little more frequently than the average citizen of Gotham.  More stuff happens, of course, but if you haven’t seen the movie by now (you’ve had nineteen years to do so), you won’t want me to go any further, anyway.

What’s good about it?  It’s a feast for the eyes.  The fight sequences are well-shot.  Michael Keaton IS Batman (prior to the film he was seen as a comedic actor and much skepticism surrounded his casting).  Jack Nicholson IS the Joker (he chews the scenery and the audience loves him for it).  Danny Elfman’s score is amazing.

What’s bad about it?  There are a couple of plot problems (like Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred letting Vicki in the Batcave), but in my biased opinion, that’s it.

Perfect for: me.