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Has its charms, but too hit-and-miss

Posted : 8 months, 1 week ago on 8 December 2017 07:28 (A review of Attack Force Z (1981))

Falling under the "Ozploitation" banner, 1981's Attack Force Z is a low-budget war movie that at once endeavours to be a proper historical document and a Roger Corman-esque action flick. Engineered by Ozploitation luminary Tim Burstall (Alvin Purple, Eliza Fraser), this Australian production is based on the exploits of a real-life team of elite commandos known as the Z Special Unit, or the Z Force, which operated during World War II and consisted of Australian, British and New Zealander soldiers. It's a concept with serious potential, especially given other "men on a mission" movies like The Dirty Dozen and Inglorious Basterds, but this particular story cannot do justice to the concept. It's not entirely unappealing, as it's entertaining up to a certain point and at least it never feels distractingly cheap, but it's not memorable or remarkable either.




In the South Pacific, five Z Men - Cpt. Paul Kelly (Mel Gibson), Lt. Jan Veitch (John Phillip Law), Sgt. Danny Costello (Sam Neill) Able Seaman Sparrer Bird (Chris Haywood), and Sub Lt. Ted King (John Waters) - are dispatched by submarine in canoes near an island settled by the Chinese but occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army. Their objective is to locate the wreckage of a downed Allied plane and find the survivors before silently slipping out unseen. But the mission is complicated when Veitch becomes separated from the group following a contact with enemy troops, and falls for beautiful Chinese girl Chien Hua (Sylvia Chang). In addition, the Japanese soldiers begin to close in as the Z Men endeavour to complete their assignment and make their escape.

The screenplay by veteran TV writer Roger Marshall (The Professionals, Lovejoy) is based on a real-life WWII mission known as Project Opossum, though any statements of this ilk must be taken with a grain of salt since a degree of artistic license is always taken. The big drawback of Attack Force Z is its narrative, which is markedly banal and uninvolving. Pacing is uneven and storytelling is slipshod, which makes it tough to follow the proceedings, let alone get invested in them. In addition, there is no time to develop the soldiers prior to their mission, and though they look distinct enough to be told apart, names never stick as a consequence. Meanwhile, the love story between Veitch and Chien is dead weight, pure and simple, and appears to have been included in an attempt to widen the picture's appeal. But is this sort of thing really necessary in a violent war film? And it almost goes without saying, but Attack Force Z is painfully one-dimensional as well - the Z Men are all tough and heroic; the Chinese are brave and spiritual; and the Japanese soldiers are outright evil.




To Burstall's credit, the opening action sequence is assembled with genuine skill, observing the unit as they stealthily move through the jungle before being attacked by a hidden machine gun nest. However, the remainder of the flick is more comfortable with a cheesy Ozploitation vibe, closer to a Chuck Norris flick than a serious war picture. Nevertheless, when Attack Force Z is locked in action mode, it definitely has its pleasures, and there's a certain charm to seeing this type of visceral old-fashioned filmmaking with blood squibs and blank-firing weapons, and no computer-generated imagery to be seen. Considering that Burstall was a last-minute replacement after the firing of original director Phillip Noyce, and had not previously helmed an action-based movie, he acquits himself admirably. The climax is especially fun, pitting the Japanese soldiers against both the Z Men and the Chinese resistance fighters. It's all handsomely shot by veteran cinematographer Hung-Chung Lin on location in Taiwan, and there's sufficient punch to the editing by David Stiven (Mad Max 2) during the shootouts, though the accompanying score by Eric Jupp is overzealous and chintzy.

Ultimately, outside of its established cult audience from the VHS era, Attack Force Z will only be remembered for the presence of Gibson and Neill. Gibson was still starting out as an actor at this point in his career, and he looks extraordinarily youthful here. His performance is nothing to write home about, but nor is he dreadful. Neill is also acceptable without being outstanding, and it's commendable that not all of the central characters make it out alive, which reinforces the harshness of war. On that note, there is a palpable anti-war message to the material, but it's not as effective as it might have been in defter hands - perhaps Noyce had a stronger vision for the project. Although Attack Force Z comes to life in fits and starts, particularly during the impactful action sequences, it's too hit-and-miss, even given its brisk 93-minute runtime. The same producers went on to make another film about the Z Special Unit in 1983 entitled The Highest Honor, which has since fallen into obscurity.

6.2/10



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A stripped-down supernatural ghost story

Posted : 8 months, 2 weeks ago on 1 December 2017 03:29 (A review of Unfriended)

A unique micro-budget horror movie from executive producer Jason Blum, 2015's Unfriended essentially plays out like a big-screen Creepypasta, and it's an intriguing extension of the well-worn "found-footage" subgenre. Rather than "lost" film reels or digital video discovered on SD cards, almost every frame of Unfriended occurs on the screen of the main character's MacBook Pro, across a number of apps and websites. The narrative unfolds in real time from this unique point of view, which may sound like a boring concept, but it's more effective than it had any right to be. Unsettling and chilling, and made all the more unnerving by its uncanny sense of vérité realism, Unfriended is a stripped-down supernatural ghost story that's imaginatively guided by director Levan Gabriadze.




It has been one year since high school student Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman) committed suicide as a result of online bullying in the wake of an embarrassing video being posted online. Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig) settles in to flirt with her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm) over Skype, but the conversation is soon interrupted by the appearance of classmates Ken (Jacob Wysocki), Jess (Renee Olstead) and Adam (Will Peltz), while Val (Courtney Halverson) is also invited to the group chat. However, a mysterious Skype user is also present, and Blaire begins to receive unnerving messages from Laura's Facebook account. Although everybody assumes that it's all just an elaborate prank, they come to realise that their online chat is being manipulated by an all-knowing phantom entity claiming to be Laura herself, who thrusts them into deadly games of truth-telling that threatens to tear the group apart. If anybody hangs up or tells a lie, they die.

With a screenplay credited to first-timer Nelson Greaves, Unfriended presents a potent snapshot of contemporary life, portraying the pressures of social media and how sites like Facebook and YouTube can be used to destroy lives. Teens who hide behind the anonymity of a computer screen can be exceedingly callous, unable to consider the gravity or consequences of their online actions, and cyber bullying has led to several well-documented suicides in real life. Thus, Unfriended functions as both a cautionary document as well as intense horror movie, and its messages are undeniably timely, giving it a bit of gravitas beyond the chills. Messages sent between the characters serve to provide exposition and enhance the story, while Blaire carries out online investigation as well. Mitch provides links that underscore the importance of ignoring messages from deceased persons, but the warning comes too late.




Every frame of Unfriended feels authentic, with the movie being performed in prolonged single takes by the ensemble, while a genuine computer screen is shown from start to finish. (Multiple different takes, and therefore different versions of the movie, were shot, and therefore a fair bit of footage from the trailers is not in the finished movie.) It may seem like a minor victory for a movie to convincingly portray a computer, but Hollywood motion pictures seldom get it right, often showing ludicrous, fantastical computer interfaces which don't ring true. Unfriended, on the other hand, has its foot firmly planted in the real world, with poor internet speeds and typing errors, amplifying the sense of horror. There is even a hint of black humour, with Laura at one stage causing Blaire's laptop to become overloaded with pop-ups advertising "live cams." The actors are all newcomers, with no famous faces to distract from the story, again giving the movie more realism. But despite a cast of newcomers, performances are uniformly believable, conveying fear and hysteria with ease. 

On balance, however, Unfriended is not perfect. Particularly egregious is the character of Ken, who's a lazy stereotype; he's overweight, sexless, a pothead, and a total whiz with computers. Furthermore, perhaps the electronic menace could be at least slowed down by switching off the power, if not entirely thwarted? Not every piece of the puzzle works, but Unfriended benefits from a snappy pace (it runs a brisk 80 minutes), delivering ample scares along the way. It's riveting more often than not, and it's never boring. The movie will undoubtedly be polarising depending on your expectations and your tolerance for the found footage subgenre (it refuses to answer any questions, leaving plenty of mystery), but it nevertheless worked for this reviewer.

6.9/10



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A slick, goofy heist flick

Posted : 8 months, 2 weeks ago on 28 November 2017 11:40 (A review of Logan Lucky)

After the 2013 theatrical release of Side Effects and the HBO telemovie Behind the Candelabra, director Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement from motion pictures, but that inevitably was not to last. Returning after what amounted to a self-imposed four-year hiatus (during which he directed all twenty episodes of the TV show The Knick), Soderbergh tackles a heist movie in the same vein as his 2001 Ocean's Eleven remake, switching out the opulence of Las Vegas for the backroads of rural America. Logan Lucky is both uproarious and heartfelt; the filmmaker clearly has a ball suffusing the material with his trademark directorial idiosyncrasies, and the end result is highly entertaining. Even though Logan Lucky does initially seem rather slight considering that this is Soderbergh's big return to cinema, there are in fact deeper layers to unearth, with sly satire underneath the movie's goofy exterior.




A down-on-his-luck labourer, Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is abruptly laid off from his job filling sinkholes beneath the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Jimmy and his amputee brother Clyde (Adam Driver) have never had much luck, which they attribute to a longstanding family curse. With a daughter to support and his feisty ex-wife (Katie Holmes) planning to move away with her new partner, Jimmy hastily seeks a big score, and hatches a scheme to pull off a heist at the Speedway during a popular NASCAR event using the pneumatic tube cash delivery system. For the heist, Jimmy recruits his sibling, along with explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), who is in the final few months of a prison sentence and insists upon bringing in his two dim-witted brothers, Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson). With the crew assembled - including Jimmy and Clyde's sister Mellie (Riley Keough) - they set about gaining access to the Speedway's bowels during the major Coca-Cola 600 racing event.

Logan Lucky finds Soderbergh in familiar territory, and the screenplay feels so well-suited to his filmmaking sensibilities that it's no surprise he came out of "retirement" to direct it himself. (Reportedly, he was initially given the script only to recommend a suitable director, but enjoyed the material too much.) In addition to the obvious Ocean's Eleven parallels (a newscaster even refers to the heist as "Ocean's 7-Eleven"), the more working class aspect of the story brings back memories of 2012's Magic Mike. Logan Lucky benefits from smart scripting, shaping a wholly credible heist that's peppered with clever details, and there's more going on than what meets the eye. Soderbergh's recognisable brand of storytelling is on full display - it's deliberately-paced and laid-back, with a bone-dry sense of humour and split-second comedic timing. And as with most the director's notable output, there are deeper themes at play. Logan Lucky does succeed as a slick, light-hearted caper, but Soderbergh appears to be presenting a somewhat uncomfortable evaluation of the age-old American Dream.




With the story unfolding in the wilds of West Virginia, there are amusingly exaggerated accents all around and the inanity of some of the characters is playfully exploited for laughs. Indeed, this is actually one of Soderbergh's most accessible and flat-out entertaining motion pictures to date, whilst retaining plenty of artistic value along the way. The soundtrack is permeated with enjoyable songs (John Denver's 1971 hit "Take Me Home, Country Roads" plays a major part in the story), and the comedic set-pieces hit hard. A certain scene involving Joe's improvised explosive device at the Speedway manages to be nail-biting and funny in equal measure, but even more uproarious is an ongoing prison standoff between the warden (Dwight Yoakam) and the convicts, who are trying to obfuscate the absence of Joe and Clyde. As Warden Burns stubbornly refuses to tell the outside world about his situation, the inmates only request to be given access to George R.R. Martin's final "Game of Thrones" novels, refusing to believe that they are not finished yet and the TV show has progressed beyond the source. Logan Lucky is a good-looking motion picture to boot, elegantly shot by Soderbergh who serves as his own cinematographer (under the pseudonym Peter Andrews), and the technical presentation is top-flight. The only real shortcoming is that the movie fails to make any significant emotional impact, even though it tries with a subplot involving Jimmy and his daughter. Nevertheless, there is undeniable heart, and Soderbergh's style never exactly lends itself to emotion anyway.

Ultimately, it's the game ensemble cast of recognisable performers which bolsters the material above the ordinary - everybody is fully committed to the absurdity. Tatum and Driver mostly play it straight, though they have their quirks and amusing moments, but it's Craig who steals the spotlight in his first notable non-James Bond big-screen performance since 2011's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Sporting bleached blonde hair and many tattoos, Craig is wacky as all hell. It's not even a flattering role for the current 007, making it all the more commendable that he chose to do it, and in the process remind us all about his considerable acting talents. Elsewhere, Yoakam is a total hoot as Warden Burns, while Family Guy mastermind Seth MacFarlane effortlessly scores several laughs playing a conceited NASCAR sponsor. Even Katherine Waterston makes an appearance as one of Jimmy's former high school classmates, and Marvel fans will also spot Sebastian Stan (Captain America: Civil War) in the minor role of a successful NASCAR driver.




The summer movie season has become synonymous with expensive action blockbusters, many of which are now sequels or reboots, but Logan Lucky is an original breath of fresh air constructed with intelligence and sophistication, so of course it failed to do much business at the box office. Admittedly, the story does superfluously extend beyond the heist for a lengthy epilogue that doesn't feel altogether necessary and should be tighter, but the movie comes together well enough as a whole nevertheless. Putting aside any shortcomings, it's indeed a joy to behold the undiluted vision of a true auteur here, making this a must-see for anybody who appreciates Soderbergh's cinematic oeuvre. In short, Logan Lucky is an unexpected delight, even if it's not for all tastes.

8.2/10



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A bitter disappointment

Posted : 8 months, 3 weeks ago on 22 November 2017 06:03 (A review of Batman and Harley Quinn)

Designed to feel like a natural extension of the iconic Batman: The Animated Series, and part of the DC Animated Universe at large, 2017's Batman and Harley Quinn should be something of a can't-miss prospect, but instead it's another total letdown that deserves to fade into obscurity. It's evident that Batman and Harley Quinn was devised to ride on the coattails of the success of Suicide Squad, which served to give the character of Harley Quinn newfound popularity. Alas, the result is too campy and tonally inconsistent, lacking in proper mystery and suspense. It may have its charms, particularly in the visual style, but Batman and Harley Quinn comes up short in terms of action and contains too many ill-advised scenes worthy of scorn.




When Poison Ivy (Paget Brewster) and Jason Woodrue/The Floronic Man (Kevin Michael Richardson) rob S.T.AR. Labs, they steal information about Swamp Thing's creation and take a scientist hostage to replicate the formula. Investigating the crime scene, Batman/Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) and Nightwing/Dick Grayson (Loren Lester) fear that the pair plan to devise a biological weapon to transform all life on Earth into plant hybrids. With the fate of humankind at stake, the Dynamic Duo reluctantly seek out Ivy's former partner in crime, Harley Quinn (Melissa Raunch), for assistance. Although Harley has made an effort to go straight and leave behind her former life, she agrees to help find Ivy and Woodrue before the duo can execute their devastating plan.

The teleplay is credited to animation veterans James Krieg and Bruce Timm, the latter of whom was one of the key masterminds behind Batman: The Animated Series and should be capable of a lot better. It's somewhat surprising and frankly disappointing that Harley Quinn creator Paul Dini was not involved in the production in any capacity, especially given his considerable ties to The Animated Series and his iconic Harley-centric stories. At least the Caped Crusader is given the chance to use his superlative detective skills here, but make no mistake: this is the Harley Quinn show. The plot exists to support Harley's full-blown zaniness as Batman and Nightwing serve as the straight men to her antics. There's an extended fart joke in the Batmobile that's atrociously undignified for everybody involved and feels utterly juvenile. This type of humour has admittedly been seen in some of the comics, but Harley is more effective when dealt with maturely (see "Mad Love"). Even worse, there's an awkward sequence in which Harley seduces Nightwing which only brings back uncomfortable memories of that sex scene in 2016's Batman: The Killing Joke. Meanwhile, there is not one but two out-of-place musical interludes, during which Batman is even seen tapping his fingers. Admittedly, the songs themselves are catchy enough, but all of this material is painfully self-indulgent, slowing down the pace of the story and taking away any sense of urgency.



Visually, Batman and Harley Quinn harkens back to the style of Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures, bringing back the old-fashioned character designs, though of course it all looks more noticeably digital as opposed to hand-drawn. The animation is impressively stylish and fluid, and it is genuinely exciting to see the likes of Batman, Nightwing and Harley presented in the bygone style of The Animated Series for the first time in a number of years. The original score (credited to three composers with longstanding ties to DC animation) is admittedly effective as well, with a light-hearted central theme that suits the material.

Ultimately, one of the biggest issues of Batman and Harley Quinn is that of tone. Director Sam Liu has overseen a number of darker DC animated movies, including Batman: Year One and Batman: The Killing Joke, but the script aims for screwball comedy, even evoking the 1960s iteration of Batman. It feels like Liu was not on the same page as the screenwriters, and therefore a number of infantile scenes are mixed with dark, violent set-pieces, such as the admittedly thrilling climax. When Batman and Harley Quinn is locked in action mode, it does work more often than not, showing what the movie had the potential to be. The ending, though, is a total letdown - the movie ends abruptly, and the final shot is intended to be cute, but just comes across as out-of-place and corny beyond all belief. Did the writers just lost sight of who these characters are?

The primary attraction of Batman and Harley Quinn is, naturally, the presence of Conroy and Lester, who slip back into their respective roles once again with absolute ease. Even though they can only do so much with the sloppy material, they undeniably commit to the characters. On the other hand, Raunch - who's best known for her role of Bernadette in the long-running sitcom The Big Bang Theory - is a foolish choice for Harley. Trying her hardest to replicate the distinctive voice of Arleen Sorkin from Batman: The Animated Series, Raunch's performance is distracting - she's screechy and uncharismatic (you can hear too much Bernadette in her voice, as well), which is a real letdown in a movie which brings back Conroy and Lester.




Batman and Harley Quinn is actually the thirtieth motion picture produced as part of the long-running DC Universe Animated Original Movie franchise which kicked off in 2007. (It's worth pointing out that the two Adam West-starring animated features are not considered part of this series.) It's perhaps wise that the movie is more standalone, emerging as separate from the main continuity of the franchise, making it feel more like a one-shot comic. Nevertheless, there's just no getting around the movie's shortcomings, making it a bitter disappointment considering the talent and potential, enjoyable though it may occasionally be. For those that choose to stick around, there's an extended scene at the end of the credits involving Harley that's somewhat amusing.

5.4/10



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A studious waste of talent and potential

Posted : 8 months, 4 weeks ago on 19 November 2017 03:05 (A review of The House (2017))

On the surface, 2017's The House ostensibly had all the right ingredients to become an instant dark comedy classic. But despite the presence of Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, plus a colourful supporting cast of recognisable names and a promising comedic plot, The House falls flat for the most part - it comes up dangerously short in terms of laughs, and feels much longer than its comparatively scant 88-minute running time. Making his directorial debut, Andrew Jay Cohen (who also co-wrote the script) is unable to achieve an agreeable rhythm as the movie meanders from one undisciplined scene to the next, never quite coming together in the end. Even the ordinarily reliable actors are powerless here, struggling to come up with any witty, well-timed jokes. It's certainly telling that even though these types of comedies are usually critic-proof, The House tanked at the box office without a trace, grossing a pathetic $34 million worldwide against its modest $40 million budget.




With Alex (Ryan Simpkins) graduating high school and looking to attend a prestigious college, her parents Scott (Ferrell) and Kate (Poehler) count on the local council's scholarship to pay for her tuition. However, even though Alex is chosen as the recipient for the scholarship, crooked city councillor Bob Schaeffer (Nick Kroll) axes the program to use the funds elsewhere. With no way to pay for Alex's tuition by themselves, Scott and Kate turn to their depressed pal Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), who has a crippling gambling problem. After suffering bad luck in Las Vegas, the trio choose to open their own illegal underground casino in Frank's house to raise the required funds to put Alex through college. But of course, it doesn't go as smoothly as expected - Scott and Kate bear witness to some insane behaviour, and strange goings-on around town pique the curiosity of local police officer Chandler (Rob Huebel).

Despite a screenplay credited to Brendan O'Brien and Cohen (who scripted Bad Neighbours), it's apparent that the actors were relied upon to deliver all of the laughs through improvisation, as not much wit is on display here. Unfortunately, The House also falls victim to a common fault in contemporary comedy: it's over-plotted. The prospect of starting an illegal underground casino should have been sufficient to see the movie through, but the narrative is further complicated by a corrupt councilman embezzling funds and having an affair with the town treasurer (Allison Tolman), while Officer Chandler is unsure where his loyalties should lie. And honestly, the whole thing puts a damper on the sense of fun. Another conflict is introduced involving gangsters (led by Jeremy Renner) that has comedic potential, but it's dealt with in a few short scenes, after which the focus returns to Bob's corruption. Meanwhile, the movie skips over the actual construction of the casino and doesn't explore how the casino manages to attract such a large clientele so quickly. There is even a half-hearted attempt at emotion at the very end that just comes across as forced and unearned.




It may be understandable that Cohen relied so heavily on the talented actors to create all of the laughs, given that Ferrell and Poehler are joined by the likes of Kroll, Mantzoukas and Renner among a number of others, but it's too transparently improvisational and the material is way too hit-and-miss. Indeed, you can actually see the actors trying their hardest to come up with something funny at every turn, which takes you out of the movie and spoils the comedic timing. You can certainly sense Cohen's directorial inexperience throughout The House. It doesn't help that the movie's cinematographic style is so excessively basic and vanilla, in need of more style and personality. Put simply, it doesn't look overly cinematic, though the original score by Andrew Feltenstein and John Nau (Anchorman 2) is admittedly agreeable and effective. Young Simpkins is about the only performer on-screen who isn't actually in on the joke, serving as the straight man to the insanity unfolding around her. Gags may land here and there (though that's subjective, of course), but nothing is overly memorable and there are no meaty belly-laughs. You'll be hard-pressed to recall any funny moments - or anything about the movie at all - mere minutes after viewing it.

The House was actually shot in late 2015/early 2016 before going through almost 18 months of post-production, which is frankly mindboggling for a simple comedy like this. Evidently, the filmmakers had a tough time finding the movie in the edit, and the final result speaks for itself. Even the bloopers during the end credits fail to provide much in the way of laughs. Still, for all of its shortcomings and flaws, at least The House isn't obnoxiously terrible or offensive. To be sure, it's not funny enough and pacing should be tauter, but it still has its entertaining moments and highlights, intermittent though they may be, and at least it's not a pointlessly neutered PG-13 comedy. The actors all appear to be giving it their all, but it's hard to shake the feeling that The House should be a hell of a lot better considering the talent involved.

5.2/10



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An entertaining ride, if nothing else

Posted : 9 months ago on 18 November 2017 01:06 (A review of Justice League)

Spoiler Warning: It is difficult to fully discuss and evaluate Justice League without divulging what some may consider to be spoilers, at least while the movie is a new release. A spoiler warning is therefore in effect.

The good news is that 2017's Justice League is not the downright disaster that many of us were anticipating, given the considerable behind-the-scenes reshuffling and the slipshod quality of its immediate predecessor, 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It is a bit of a mess, the narrative is too simplistic, and it's not a home run by any stretch, but it's also not altogether unappealing either, as Zack Snyder - and Joss Whedon - avoid the gloomy self-seriousness which has thus far characterised the DC Extended Universe. The action sequences are rousing, and there are enough goosebump-inducing moments of pure big-screen coolness that audiences will expect to see within an expensive blockbuster entitled Justice League. But what's missing is all the connective tissue - the movie plays out like a highlight reel, with the bare minimum of explication and character beats. Forget about any sort of thematic undercurrents or emotional resonance; fast-paced spectacle is the order of the day.




With Superman (Henry Cavill) now dead, the Earth has become vulnerable to diabolical forces. A god-like being known as Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) rises in the aftermath, planning to use three powerful Mother Boxes to rule the universe, aided by an army of vicious Parademons. Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) seeks to amass a team of heroes to defend the world, with Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) warning him of the potentially devastating effects of Steppenwolf's plan. Using all available information at his disposal, Wayne tracks down Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher), hoping to unite them and prevent Steppenwolf from eradicating humankind. But even their combined superpowers may not be enough, prompting the newly-formed Justice League to explore the potential to bring Superman into the fight before it's too late.

Even though Snyder is the sole credited director on the project, The Avengers helmer Whedon was recruited to oversee extensive rewrites and reshoots late into post-production, and received a co-writer credit for his efforts. Evidently, Whedon's job was to lighten the tone, bringing a more pronounced sense of humour to the production whilst retaining Snyder's proclivity for brutal, explosive action sequences. Previous DCEU movies have been criticised for lack of humour, with Batman v Superman in particular emerging as dour beyond belief, and Justice League endeavours to course-correct the franchise, with jokes and laughs scattered throughout. Though certain moments do work (such as an amusing aside during which Aquaman sits on the Lasso of Truth), other gags just come across as forced (see the awkward joking around after the climactic action sequence). Indeed, don't expect Whedon's best work, especially given that he didn't have a great deal of time to hone the best possible script. In addition, Justice League is completely hollow, with nothing in the way of poignant emotion. There is a contrived aside in which a family get the spotlight and are rescued during the climax, but it feels too perfunctory and makes no impact.




It's evident that Warner Bros. only really cared about two things whilst trying to salvage Justice League in the editing room: keeping it at two hours in length (narrative coherence be damned), and carving out at least a workable movie that's jam-packed with colourful action scenes. It's also evident that Justice League was initially intended to be more in line with Batman v Superman from a tonal standpoint before the studio got Whedon involved. (It's not hard to see why Whedon probably didn't want a directorial credit on the finished movie.) A new trailer was seemingly released every couple of hours, and therefore a lot of footage seen in the marketing materials did not make it to the finished movie. Indeed, it appears that Warner Bros. chose to deliberately excise any plot details that may have initially existed to set up future storylines - case in point: it seems that Steppenwolf's plan could be a precursor to something more significant, like Darkseid who was initially rumoured to be part of the movie and was ostensibly set up in Dawn of Justice, but the storyline as it is seems deliberately standalone in case the studio nominates a different direction in the future. (The post-credits scene does imply another direction entirely.) Hell, Justice League doesn't even provide any payoff to the time-travelling Flash, or to Batman's nightmares from Batman v Superman.

Despite being hidden in the majority of the marketing materials, of course Superman makes his return here, but the Man of Steel's resurrection is one of the biggest missed opportunities of the movie. Rather than taking a page from the "Death of Superman" arc (which would make sense, given that he fought Doomsday in Dawn of Justice), Justice League finds the heroes using the Mother Box's powers to bring Superman back from the dead, and the resultant action set-piece of a confused Kal-El running amok is seriously awkward. In addition, the subplot feels too throwaway when it should be more significant, further demonstrating that squeezing so much material into one two-hour movie was a bad idea. It would have been more interesting to see Superman don the iconic black suit and battle the rest of the Justice League for real. Maybe this was actually explored in an earlier cut, and perhaps there was more to this subplot before the studio took a hatchet to the movie to keep it under two hours sans credits. Whatever the case, it feels like Justice League is rushing through plot points in order for the franchise at large to move on. The film was initially intended to be split into two parts, and there's certainly enough material for two motion pictures to cover.




When Justice League gets into an agreeable groove, it works like gangbusters, providing plenty of lively action as the superheroes throw down against Steppenwolf and his Parademons. If nothing else, Justice League gets the characters right for the most part (more on that later), with perhaps the most definitive big-screen portrayal of the Caped Crusader to date (the costumes are dead on). Shot on 35mm film by cinematographer Fabian Wagner (Game of Thrones), the movie is actually presented in an expanded 1.85:1 aspect ratio, meaning that there's more to absorb in every frame of the movie. However, the cartoonish CGI is admittedly squiffy from time to time, lacking in tangibility. The digital removal of Cavill's moustache looks amateurish at best, while the digitally-created Steppenwolf often resembles something from a video-game cut-scene. Some sequences are enormously impressive, to be sure, but there's no consistency, which can probably be attributed to the reshoots and the rushed schedule to meet the longstanding, predetermined release date. For a major motion picture this expensive (a staggering $300 million before promotional costs, reportedly), it's disheartening to behold such sloppiness. On a more positive note, bringing in composer Danny Elfman (to replace Junkie XL) proves to be one of the most welcome creative decisions of the entire production, as his score is more on the playful side as opposed to downright serious. Elfman even incorporates some notes from his 1989 Batman theme to nice effect.

Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman have been properly introduced in the DCEU at this point, but Justice League is tasked with introducing Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash to the franchise (their previous tiny cameos don't count), giving the movie plenty of baggage to work through. There's just no getting around the fact that these heroes deserved their own solo flicks prior to Justice League, just as the standalone Wonder Woman should have been released prior to Batman v Superman. As for the thespians themselves, it's...mostly good news. Affleck continues to impress as this older interpretation of Batman, and Gadot is still a charismatic treat. It's certainly a real thrill to see Gadot back in action as Wonder Woman so soon after the release of her solo feature. However, Miller is a terrible Flash, playing the hero as a whiny, irritating, weightless Millennial stereotype, while Fisher doesn't have much screen presence, though that could likely be attributed to the lack of a meaty introduction. Momoa is fine, some cheesy dialogue aside, and Cavill is welcomely more upbeat here as Superman. Hinds does what he can with the material, but Steppenwolf is still a bit of a dud villain. Nevertheless, it is commendable that Snyder and co. elected to use a villain who hasn't previously featured in a live-action movie.




When Justice League works, it really works, providing breathtaking visual delights throughout, ensuring that the target audience will walk away happy. It's an entertaining ride, if nothing else. But since we don't yet know all of the primary characters intimately enough, the film is not as gratifying as it could have been. In addition, the movie is undeniably pared-down to the bare essentials - basically, anything that isn't a joke, a character striking a dramatic pose for marketing materials, or a big action scene...didn't make it to the final cut. Extended cuts have become somewhat customary for the DCEU, as both Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad received beefed-up editions on home video, and it would certainly be intriguing to see what could be done with Justice League with more story development and character interaction. Even more promising, though, is the prospect of a sequel, with (hopefully) a more carefully-written screenplay and a better fleshed-out team.

6.4/10



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A spine-tingling modern horror movie

Posted : 9 months ago on 15 November 2017 04:35 (A review of Annabelle: Creation)

2017's Annabelle: Creation is a prequel to a prequel that wasn't any good in the first place, and the very idea of this particular movie seems like the worst kind of Saw or Paranormal Activity-esque money-grab, with Warner Bros. trying to build their own Conjuring cinematic universe. And yet, in spite of all the baggage, Creation is a damn good little horror movie, exceeding all reasonable expectations. The ace in the hole here is director David F. Sandberg, late of 2016's Lights Out, who again demonstrates his deft hand with spine-tingling horror, guiding the movie above the ordinary. Indeed, even though Creation was penned by returning scribe Gary Dauberman, it's Sandberg's compelling direction, smooth pacing, and hair-raising use of sound and imagery which catapults this one to unexpected success. It's worth watching, especially given that decent modern horror flicks are so few and far between.




Twelve years after toymaker Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther Mullins (Miranda Otto) lose their daughter Bee (Samara Lee) in a tragic car accident, the grieving parents choose to provide shelter for a group of young, orphaned girls. Overseen by Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman), the girls quickly take to the sizeable farmhouse property, playing games and enjoying the outdoors. The youngest of the children, Linda (Lulu Wilson) and the polio-stricken Janice (Talitha Bateman), mostly stick together, praying that they will someday be adopted by a good family together. Bee's bedroom is off-limits and remains locked at all times, but Janice simply can't help herself one night when she finds a key that opens the door. However, Janice's actions unwittingly release something evil living within one of Samuel's dolls, and the occupants of the house are subsequently terrorised by dark forces, plunging them all into a sinister nightmare.

Although the first Annabelle was intended to reveal the origins of the creepy doll seen in 2013's The Conjuring, Creation goes back in time even further, showing how it was manufactured and how a demonic spirit came to possess it. And to the credit of screenwriter Dauberman, the concept makes sense and the narrative manages to neatly tie into its 2014 predecessor, for better or for worse. It's a standard set-up filled with genre clichés, to be sure, and it mostly amounts to an excuse for a string of scary set-pieces, but the execution is a cut above the norm. After all, if any of the characters do silly things, it's easier to overlook it and forgive them because they're just kids. But above all, Dauberman and Sandberg evidently understand that the purpose of this type of movie is to cram as many taut set-pieces as possible into the 110-minute runtime while ensuring that the primary characters are compelling enough for us to care about, even if they're not fully three-dimensional. Sandberg really milks all the scary stuff for all that it's worth, and there are even some commendably unexpected plot turns. However, there is a clumsy-as-hell scene to tease the next Conjuring spin-off, The Nun, which feels awkwardly shoehorned-in. (It's actually surprising that Warner Bros. didn't choose to retroactively connect Lights Out to the Conjuring universe, really.)




Sandberg established his strong horror credentials with the bone-chilling Lights Out, which was actually produced by The Conjuring architect James Wan. It's easy to see why Wan and the studio felt comfortable handing Creation to the newcomer, who's a wise replacement for Annabelle helmer John R. Leonetti. Without the burden of any PG-13 constraints, Sandberg is free to use all the tools at his disposal to create an unnerving and sinister movie, and he doesn't use the R rating as an excuse to go all-out with mindless gore. The director makes wise use of every square inch of the Mullins' vast farmhouse, where evil can strike from above or below at any given time, and even the most predictable of moments (of course Janice's stair lift will malfunction at the most inopportune time) are still effective and riveting. All hell breaks loose in the final act, but Sandberg can still build dread with stillness, initially taking things slowly - the mere presence of the Annabelle doll in the background, or the littlest sound effect is enough to send chills down your spine. Creation may have jump scares, but it's not entirely built around them, making the picture feel old-fashioned in all the right ways, even though Sandberg doesn't exactly colour outside the lines. Less successful, however, are certain digitally-enhanced moments which are too obvious and phoney, but at least these scenes are few and far between. With Sandberg reportedly set to helm the DC movie Shazam that Warner Bros. still claims to be making, let's hope that he still has a few more solid horrors up his sleeve for the future.

Backed by a modest $15 million budget, Annabelle: Creation is slick and stylish, with its 1950s setting adding to the creepiness of the material. Sandberg and director of photography Maxime Alexandre (The Hills Have Eyes) eschew needless shaky-cam, relying on a routine of dynamic but smooth handheld compositions to heighten the sense of immediacy. Further chills are provided by the hair-raising original score courtesy of Benjamin Wallfisch (Lights Out), which thankfully doesn't feel too overbearing. Furthermore, it's tricky to locate good child actors, but Bateman and Wilson manage to carry the story extraordinarily well, which is no small feat. Both girls are thoroughly sympathetic and exhibit terrific chemistry, making them believable as best friends. The two are also able to navigate a range of complex emotions, and, miraculously, they aren't at all grating. Also of note is Sigman, who emanates real warmth as Sister Charlotte, while LaPaglia and Otto are effective in their relatively small but nevertheless pivotal roles.




With Annabelle: Creation, there is promise that these Conjuring spin-offs will have more worth than 2014's Annabelle initially implied - in the right hands, these minor side projects can deliver the type of chilling, nail-biting horror delights that genre fans crave. In addition, with 2016's Ouija: Origin of Evil and now Annabelle: Creation, a bizarre trend seems to be appearing wherein prequels to subpar horror movies are all-round superior and more worthwhile. (Coincidentally, the movies also share young Lulu Wilson.) The movie isn't at all revolutionary, and it won't exactly get under your skin or stay with you for days after viewing, but it's competently-constructed and doesn't take its audience for fools. At least there's one Annabelle movie that approaches the quality of Wan's original Conjuring.

7.4/10



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Endearing schlock

Posted : 9 months, 2 weeks ago on 3 November 2017 03:23 (A review of Cat's Eye (1985))

Celebrated horror author Stephen King has written many novels that have been adapted for the big screen, but he has also penned over two-hundred short stories, a number of which have been compiled into book collections. Following in the shadow of the horror anthology Creepshow, 1985's Cat's Eye is a 94-minute collection of three Stephen King short stories - the first two of which were previously published in the "Night Shift" collection, while the third is an original tale written by King directly for the big screen. The stories all involve different characters, but are linked by the appearance of a special tabby cat, while Drew Barrymore also appears in multiple roles throughout. Directed by Lewis Teague, Cat's Eye may not be especially scary or creepy, but it does have its tense moments and the stories are backed by creative concepts.




In New York City, Dick Morrison (James Woods) is desperate to quit smoking, and signs up to a smoking prevention course overseen by the unscrupulous Vinny Donatti (Alan King). But the company employs unconventional methods to help clients kick their smoking habit, including intimidation and torture. Donatti's associates begin spying on Morrison around the clock, and one little slip-up will be met with dire consequences. A tomcat is being held by Quitters Inc., and once it escapes, it rides the Staten Island Ferry across to Atlantic City where he's taken in by crime boss Cressner (Kenneth McMillan). Cressner orders the kidnapping of former tennis pro Johnny Norris (Robert Hays), who's involved with Cressner's wife and plans to leave town with her. Cressner blackmails Norris, forcing him to walk around the narrow ledge of his high-rise penthouse apartment in exchange for his freedom. If Norris refuses, he will be arrested for the drugs that have been planted in his car. The tabby cat manages to escape again, hopping aboard a freight train to North Carolina where he's adopted by young Amanda (Barrymore), who affectionately names him "General." While Amanda is instantly enamoured with the stray cat, her mother (Patricia Kalember) is more reluctant. However, a nasty troll lives in Amanda's wall that's intent on stealing her breath as she sleeps, and General could be the only one able to protect her.

With King having written the screenplay for Cat's Eye, there are several references to his other works - both the Saint Bernard dog from Cujo and the car from Christine are given cameos, while The Dead Zone plays on television at one point, and a character is seen reading the novel Pet Sematary. As previously stated, the picture is not as frightening as King's reputation might suggest - it's certainly less bloody than the likes of Creepshow or the 1983 movie adaptation of Cujo, which was also directed by Teague. All the segments feel more like Twilight Zone stories, really. Since this is an anthology and each tale only runs for roughly half an hour each, the movie is kept fresh and interesting throughout, and there's no filler in each of the segments. To be sure, it's more rewarding to see a feature-length story with more room to breathe, and with sufficient time for the characters to become rich and three-dimensional, but Cat's Eye is still entertaining all the same, even if it doesn't reach the dizzying heights of King's best motion pictures.




Those expecting white-knuckle horror are going to be disappointed, but the second story - "The Ledge" - is noticeably intense. The extended sequence of Norris outside on the narrow ledge is armrest-clenching at times, though it's still not exactly "horror." Meanwhile, the first segment - "Quitters Inc." - introduces themes of paranoia to nice effect, and the final story - "General" - plays out more along the lines of Gremlins. Indeed, "General" is an overly silly horror romp, but the final showdown between the troll and the cat is both exciting and fun. Admittedly, not all of the special effects shots throughout Cat's Eye stand up to contemporary scrutiny, with some noticeably shoddy blue-screen and compositing effects, but for the most part the illusion holds up well enough. The movie also features an idiosyncratically cheesy '80s synth score courtesy of Alan Silvestri (Predator, Back to the Future), which definitely dates the movie to a certain degree, enjoyable though it may be.

On its own terms, Cat's Eye is a fun enough cult curiosity, especially given King's involvement and the selection of actors filling out the ensemble. Woods submits a particularly solid performance, while Barrymore is just right as an endearing little girl. Hell, even the central tabby cat is convincing - in fact, the cat's near-misses with several cars beg the question about animal protection standards for 1980s filmmaking. Cat's Eye is not must-see by any stretch, and I wish it was scarier, but it's endearing schlock nevertheless.

6.4/10



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Another goofy, funny, action-packed Batman flick

Posted : 9 months, 2 weeks ago on 2 November 2017 04:14 (A review of Batman vs. Two-Face (2017))

To say the least, 2016's Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders was a pleasant departure from the dour, gritty depiction of the Caped Crusader introduced by Christopher Nolan. A throwback to the light-hearted 1960s Batman television show, Return of the Caped Crusaders was a well-received success, and now less than a year later, we have the equally-enjoyable sequel, Batman vs. Two-Face. Overseen by the same creative team, it's another funny, action-packed Batman adventure that's faithful to the source, with hilariously convoluted Batman one-liners, situation-specific Robin exclamations, and goofy action scenes. Much like its predecessor, Batman vs. Two-Face does threaten to run out of steam at times, and it's not as great as it had the potential to be, but it's nevertheless an enjoyable sit.




When a laboratory accident goes awry, District Attorney Harvey Dent (William Shatner) is left with a horribly scarred face and a menacing alter-ego, re-christening himself as Two-Face as he terrorises Gotham City with a string of crimes. Bruce Wayne/Batman (Adam West) and Dick Grayson/Robin (Burt Ward) are thankfully able to thwart the dastardly foe, however, and Dent is given treatment to reconstruct his face and hopefully restore his sanity. But before long, the likes of King Tut (Wally Wingert) and Bookworm (Jeff Bergman) begin a spree of crime, and a theme of duality runs through said criminal activities, leading the Dynamic Duo to suspect that Two-Face has returned.

Although Two-Face never featured in the television show, science fiction author Harlan Ellison did pen a treatment for an episode that was ultimately never produced, serving as the inspiration for Batman vs. Two-Face. Written by returning scribes James Tucker and Michael Jelenic, the movie provides an appropriate new origin story for Dent's dark half, and is surprisingly focused on its titular villain while the likes of The Penguin (William Salyers), The Riddler (Wingert) and The Joker (Bergman) are pushed into the background. The movie even brings in additional characters such as Hugo Strange (Jim Ward) and Mr. Freeze, among others, while Batman's relationship with Catwoman (Julie Newmar) is further developed. Wisely, there is something of a detective element to the story, with Dent maintaining his innocence upon Two-Face's return. (Admittedly, it is a tad odd that Bruce and Dent do discuss having a longstanding friendship, but he was never mentioned in the original series or movie.) Batman vs. Two-Face is actually a bit more dramatic than what has come before, which certainly makes for a more interesting flick, but it does lack some of the wit of its immediate predecessor. Nevertheless, it still delivers some big laughs and enjoys basking in the spirit of '60s Batman, even if pacing is not always sure-footed.




There are ample visual gags throughout Batman vs. Two-Face, including the hilarious image of the Dynamic Duo walking down a building, and it's fun to see big action scenes that could never have occurred on the original series due to budgetary constraints. Much like Return of the Caped Crusaders, the animation is elementary and rough around the edges owing to the low-budget, crying out for more personality and style. It's suitably colourful, but detail is exceedingly basic and movement lacks fluidity, sadly reflecting the straight-to-video nature of the endeavour. Plus, beyond the fun recreation of the chintzy Batcave and Bruce's mansion, the movie makes heavy use of unremarkable animation backgrounds. For a project of such significance, it's unfortunate that the animation is unable to fully serve the actors involved. With that said, though, there is appreciable style to the visual depiction of Two-Face, whose face is often obscured by shadows. Meanwhile, the music (credited to Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion and Lolita Ritmanis) does sound cheap at times, but the recreation of the original theme is still top-notch, adding another layer of flavour. Indeed, it's hard to avoid smirking like a child when the theme starts to play.

How fitting it is that Batman vs. Two-Face denotes West's final motion picture performance before his tragic passing, and we must be thankful that he was given the opportunity to play this iconic role again. West's performance may not be anything grand, but he still slips back into the proverbial Batsuit with ease, nailing the comedic delivery and demonstrating once again that he's note-perfect for this "campy" interpretation of the Caped Crusader. Nobody can straight-face absurd one-liners quite like West. Meanwhile, Ward is reliably energetic and still sounds remarkably youthful, but it is Shatner who steals the show, proving himself to be a genuinely excellent voice actor and a perfect pick for the role beyond his obvious ties to 1960s television. Shatner is able to carve out two distinct voices, playing Dent straight while Two-Face is mean, growly and intimidating. Less successful, however, is Newmar - her age is still reflected in her voice to a distracting degree, lacking the spark of seductive sexiness associated with the role. Again, she's a fun novelty, but her performance is stiff. The movie makes another fun call-back to the television show by bringing in Lee Meriwether for a minor role, and the resulting in-joke is incredibly clever. For those unaware, Meriwether replaced Newmar as Catwoman for 1966's Batman: The Movie.




There has been discussion about whether or not this animated series will continue without West, but the notion of replacing him is a terrible idea. Granted, impressionists were hired to recreate the voices of deceased actors from the television show, but it simply wouldn't be the same without West himself. It is evident that this was not intended to be the end, as Dr. Harleen Quinzel (Sirena Irwin) - soon to become Harley Quinn - is given a minor introduction.

Batman vs. Two-Face is unfortunately burdened with the baggage of being West's final movie, and those expecting something more substantial may feel disappointed since the movie was not designed to be anything more than a fun action-adventure. Thankfully, it delivers as such, and it's an endearing if imperfect send-off to our beloved Bright Knight. The end credits actually conclude with a tribute to West, reading "Rest Well, Bright Knight." It's a poignant gut-punch to footnote the movie, and certainly left this reviewer shedding a tear. We are fortunate to have been given Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders and its sequel before West passed away, and his death even sadder knowing that further instalments were in the works, and that possibilities were endless. In spite of their shortcomings, these feature-length tributes to '60s Batman remain both funny and entertaining.

7.1/10



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A funny, reverent tribute to 1960s Batman

Posted : 9 months, 2 weeks ago on 1 November 2017 06:29 (A review of Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016))

Almost paradoxically, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is by far and away the best and most enjoyable Batman movie of 2016, not that it has much in the way of competition. Yes, this feature-length homage to the campy 1960s Batman TV show is effortlessly better than both the monstrously-budgeted disappointment of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice as well as the animated misfire of Batman: The Killing Joke. (Forget about Batman: Bad Blood, if anybody actually remembers it.) Produced outside of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series, Return of the Caped Crusaders plays out like a direct sequel to 1966's Batman: The Movie, distinguishing itself by presenting a goofy, tongue-in-cheek interpretation of the Dark Knight, and the approach pays off. It's clear that everybody involved in Return of the Caped Crusaders holds tremendous affection for the old show, and this reverence is palpable in most every frame of this riotously funny, fun romp.




Whenever Gotham City is under threat, the task of saving the day falls to the reliable Dynamic Duo of Bruce Wayne/Batman (Adam West) and Dick Grayson/Robin (Burt Ward). Much to the dismay of the two crime-fighters, their main four nemeses - The Riddler (Wally Wingert), The Joker (Jeff Bergman), The Penguin (William Salyers) and Catwoman (Julie Newmar) - have joined forces to steal the Replicator Ray, which is capable of duplicating anybody it targets. But even though Batman and Robin manage to retrieve the weapon, Catwoman slips Batman a chemical which turns him into a selfish, power-hungry jerk. Before long, Batman starts to use the Replicator Ray on himself to take over Gotham City, leaving Robin to find a way to reverse both the effects of the chemical and the duplicative properties of the Ray.

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders has a ball embracing the pure absurdity which defined the television show and subsequent feature film expansion, from the hilariously convoluted way that the Dynamic Duo deduce The Riddler's puzzles, to Robin's situation-specific exclamations ("Holy trench warfare!") and Batman's habitual need to impart life lessons no matter how urgent the situation. Furthermore, the animators faithfully recreate the 1960s Batcave in all its campy glory, and all of the items in Batman's seemingly endless arsenal carry titles preceded by the word "Bat" - including a Bat-Rocket. The vibe of '60s Batman is captured almost effortlessly, from the iconic theme music to the character designs, and of course the use of goofy captions throughout sequences of fisticuffs whenever a punch or kick is thrown ("Oomph!," "Kapow!"). The animation format allows for a greater scope that was simply never possible on a 1960s budget, but the production never loses sight of its origins. Those desiring a darker or even a more bombastic interpretation of the source should probably look elsewhere.




Despite running a comparatively scant 75 minutes, Return of the Caped Crusaders does feel a bit long in the tooth after a while, as it starts to run out of gas during its second act in particular. The jokes are certainly amusing when they hit, particularly throughout the brilliantly-paced opening half-hour or so, but the flick probably could have done with more gags and/or zany diversions, or at least some trimming. Additionally, despite the spot-on recreation of the Batcave, the rest of the sets look overly bog-standard for the most part, and rarely does the production generate the impression that it takes place in the 1960s. This is likely a reflection of the budget limitations, but a bit more style and colour to the surrounds would not have gone astray. Still, Return of the Caped Crusaders gets more right than wrong, though it almost goes without saying that this is a fan-service type of movie, and those familiar with the original show will get the most out of it. It's unclear just how well the movie will play to the uninitiated.

Voice acting across the board is highly spirited and full of energy for the most part, which is no small feat in the animation realm where even the most talented actors can sound uninterested and lifeless. West's voice is easily the most distinctive, and there would be no point continuing the legacy of 1960s Batman without the veteran performer reprising his role. There's so much effortless spark and charm to West's performance here, taking to the animated format without missing a beat. (He has spent many years playing an exaggerated version of himself on Family Guy, after all.) Meanwhile, Ward's age is reflected in his voice, but this actually makes his performance all the more amusing, adding another layer of metatextual humour. What matters is that Ward's energy never falters, and his interplay with West is every bit as lively and amusing as it should be. However, Newmar is not quite as successful in this respect; her advanced age also comes through in her voice, which has changed so much that she doesn't sound anything like her original Catwoman. It's certainly an interesting novelty to have Newmar in the cast, but her performance is stiff and flat. Luckily, the sound-alikes portraying The Penguin, The Riddler and The Joker hit their marks terrifically.




For all of its tongue-in-cheek gags and corny dialogue, it never feels as if Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is mocking the source material - rather, it provides a timely, affectionate throwback to a simpler era for the Caped Crusader. Indeed, it should play very well for those who are sick of dark, grim Batman movies, and it's undeniably refreshing to see this jovial side to the character for the first time in decades. A sequel is in the works, entitled Batman vs. Two-Face, which features William Shatner as Two-Face. At this point, the prospect of a sequel is more exciting than any other Batman feature in development. Go figure.

7.1/10



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