Movie Review – Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

Director: Brandon Vietti

Stars: Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, John DiMaggio, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Isaacs, Wade Williams

Batman faces his greatest challenge as a new vigilante, the Red Hood, enters the fray and cleans up crime by using methods much deadlier than Batman’s. With the help of Nightwing, Batman faces this new threat while old wounds are reopened, and The Dark Knight has to confront his greatest failure.

I haven’t read the comic for this but I did know the identity of the Red Hood going in, but the identity isn’t really a massive twist as it’s foreshadowed quite obviously, but I won’t saw here just in case anyone is in the dark. I really liked how this film included Nightwing as I love the idea of legacy heroes and how sidekicks can mature and become heroes in their own right. It’s something that’s more prevalent in the DC world than the Marvel world, and I liked the dialogue and dynamics between Nightwing and Batman.

The Red Hood is a big threat and the match of Batman in many ways. The film also includes the Joker and the Black Mask, who are both fun villains and despite the grim tone of the movie there are moments of levity. There are also moments that are fairly gruesome as well, and it deals with some deep issues, mainly focusing on Batman’s ethics. I would have liked perhaps a lengthier discussion than what we got in the film, but I understand that Batman is a man of few words so he probably doesn’t feel the need to explain himself in any greater depth than he has to.

Again, it’s another fine entry into the animated line and I’m almost hoping that one of them is going to be a dud just so I have a different conclusion to write!

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Movie Review – Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010)

Directors: Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery

Stars: William Baldwin, Mark Harmon, Chris Noth, Gina Torres, James Woods, Jonathan Adams, Brian Bloom, Bruce Davison

A good Lex Luthor from a parallel Earth comes to the Justice League to beg them for assistance in fighting the Crime Syndicate, made up of analogues of the Justice League.

Being a Star Trek fan I like the concept of parallel universes, although it was a shame that none of the duplicates had a goatee. I like the concept of a good version of villains and an evil version of the good characters, and I know it’s only a short movie but it would have been nice to get a better idea of how the members of the Crime Syndicate went down the directions they did to contrast the differences between the good and evil versions. The story itself was good and the actions scenes were great. I liked how Owlman and Batman contrasted as well. Martian Manhunter got a nice story, although I felt the resolution to that was lacking.

Although he was absent from the majority of the first half, Batman really stole the show towards the end and this film features one of the great closing lines to a fight I’ve ever heard (although perhaps it has more impact for me because I studied philosophy). I also appreciated about how, after working out that Lex was being truthful, it didn’t take long for the Justice League to help him. There was a small discussion but ultimately it boiled down to, ‘we’re heroes, this is what we do,’ and I think that’s wonderful.

The other Earth was presented quite realistically as well. It wasn’t a grim dystopian world and many of the problems it had were problems similar to our own. The story had a good progression to it and the parameters of the conflict shifted a little bit as the film went on. I enjoyed it a lot but I’d almost love a sequel that took place entirely on the parallel Earth to show how it came to be that Luthor and the Jester (Joker) became good guys and Ultraman etc became bad guys.

Movie Review – Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)

Director: Sam Liu

Stars: Clancy Brown, Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, Xander Berkeley, Corey Burton, Allison Mack, John C. McGinley, LeVar Burton

Lex Luthor is president and there’s a huge Kryptonite meteor heading for Earth. He manipulates events to portray Superman as an enemy of Earth, and a hunt for him ensues. Some superheroes follow Luthor and try to track down the Man of Steel, but Batman stands by his friend’s side and tries to prove his innocence.

I really enjoy it when Superman and Batman team up, and I liked how the action scenes worked. They both had their own moments to shine and they worked together well. There were some cute jokes and the camaraderie really shone. The overarching threat of the meteor provided a steady threat that became more ominous as the film progressed, while Luthor was the main villain. One thing I didn’t really buy was how quickly everyone turned on Superman. The populous I can understand because it was a time of crisis and people panic, but the other heroes? I’m not so sure, yeah Luthor was president but I think Superman built up enough trust over the years to be given more leeway.

Apart from that it’s an enjoyable film and so far I haven’t been disappointed in any of the DC Animated movies.

Movie Review – Green Lantern: First Flight (2009)

Director: Lauren Montgomery

Stars: Christopher Meloni, Victor Garber, Tricia Helfer, Michael Madsen, John Larroquette, Kurtwood Smith

Hal Jordan is undergoing a simulation when he gets hijacked by Abin-Sur, and alien who tells him that he is part of an intergalactic police force known as the Green Lanterns. Jordan is picked up by Sinestro among others and is welcomed to Oa, where he is thrust into a conspiracy to do away with the Guardians and the Green Lantern Corps.

The plot for Green Lantern: First Flight is quite similar to the live-action movie, albeit streamlined as all the action takes place in space and there’s no focus on Earth at all. There were some good moments of humor and one twist that took me by surprise. I felt the supporting characters were given good depth and some cool moments. The visuals were really cool, especially in the climactic fight sequence, as it was accompanied by thundering sound effects that really added to the atmosphere (or lack of atmosphere since we’re in space).

The concepts were introduced well and the film works as an introduction to the mythos of the Green Lantern. I enjoyed it quite a bit as a fast-paced action movie.

Book Review – Writing Movies for (Fun and) Profit by Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon

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There are many ‘how to’ books out there for writers but this is probably one of the most honest and uncensored ones out there. It doesn’t pretend to give any false hopes or patronising reassurances. Garant and Lennon in Writing Movies for (Fun and) Profit offer a raw and sometimes cynical look at the business of writing and Hollywood in general.

The honest advice is appreciated and it’s good to have an insight into what goes on in the world of a Hollywood writer, but at the same time it does strike me as too cynical. I mean, I get that not everyone is going to work on their dream projects and if you want to make money this is probably the best way to go about it, but they seem to take pride in writing standard comedy movies and I feel there probably is a way to at least aspire to something better. I mean, they seem happy writing what they write so more power to them and I would certainly love their level of success, but reading the book it almost feels like they’re saying that the only films that are made are mass market comedies, when that is clearly not true.

As for the advice they give, well, much of it is geared to Americans. The first piece of big advice they give is to move to Los Angeles and as someone who is living in the UK that’s not really feasible. Plus I’ve been to L.A. and it’s a dirty hole and if I don’t go back there it’ll be too soon.

The books is also peppered with free ideas for scripts and samples of outlines. The chapters are short so even though there are a lot of pages it’s a breeze to read, and I found myself skim-reading a lot. So I think there is some good advice here but I feel they do undercut the artistry a bit.

Movie Review – Wonder Woman (2009)

Director: Lauren Montgomery

Stars: Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, Rosario Dawson, Marg Helgenberger, Oliver Platt, Virginia Madsen, Vicki Lewis

The Amazons, led by Hippolyta, are held on the hidden island of Themyscria when pilot Steve Trevor inadvertently crash lands. He meets Diana, daughter of Hippolyta, and the two of them return to America, with Diana given the object of capturing Ares who escaped in the confusion. The Amazon and the human must work together and try to overcome their mutual prejudice as the looming threat grows, not only endangering humanity but also the gods of Olympus.

Continuing my journey through the DC animated movies brings me to Wonder Woman. I’ve never read a Wonder Woman comic nor have I ever seen the classic tv series. I’ve only been exposed to her in the wider popular culture and in group stories, so I know the broad outlines. I found this movie to be very entertaining. I’m a big fan of Greek mythology so I enjoyed the culture being shown here. The relationship between Diana and Steve was entertaining and I felt the film made a good point in saying that communication is something that both parties have to work on in coming to a better understanding.

The cultural differences between the Amazons and humans made for some fun laughs, as did the lasso of truth. The action was cool, especially in the early battle. There was a great joke near the end as well regarding the invisible jet. I enjoyed the supporting characters too, especially Artemis, as well as the appearance by a gluttonous Hades.

I feel Wonder Woman does a good job at introducing the character as well as giving her a strong personality. The story and villains are good, and it makes a wider point about communicating with one another to understand each other, which is a common point made in fiction but sadly it’s one that bears repeating for humanity sometimes seems intent on sticking rigidly to preconceived notions about things.

Book Review – The Walking Dead vol. 19: March to War by Robert Kirkman et al

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This is the last of the current batch of The Walking Dead reviews from me as I have to save a little before I can splash out on the remaining volumes, but I’m going to do so as soon as possible because March to War leaves things in a precarious position and it acts as prelude to what I’m sure will be an explosive conclusion.

Negan continues to entertain me, although he does some more horrific things here. There were plot twists and mistakes abound in this volume and for the first time it feels like Rick is properly vulnerable. The supporting characters get some good moments to shine, and there’s a nice moment of camaraderie between Ezekiel and Michonne. The relationship between Carl and Rick deepens a bit more as well, which I like, although I’m not a fan of how Andrea is so quick to fly off the handle and then calms down almost immediately. Sometimes it feels like conflict for conflict’s sake.

As always with these comics there are some awesome panels. Big thumbs up from me. I don’t know when it’s going to end but this series is one of the most consistently entertaining and long may it continue.

Movie Review – Run All Night (2015)

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Stars: Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Boyd Holbrook, Vincent D’Onofrio

An old-time hitman Jimmy (Neeson) has nothing left in the world apart from guilt and regrets, but a turbulent turn of events leads his estranged son to be under suspicion for murder. In an attempt to do right by his family Jimmy runs all night in an effort to protect his son and make up for some of the mistakes he made during his life.

Liam Neeson has done a lot of actions films after Taken. Some have been rehashes of the film but others have had some depth, like last year’s A Walk Among the Tombstones. Run All Night is definitely in that vein. At the beginning Neeson isn’t the hardened badass we’ve come to know and love, instead he’s a drunk no-hoper that’s kept around as little more than a mascot. It somewhat mirrors the journey of William Munney in Unforgiven, although is nowhere near as poetic or powerful. Sadly the flaw with Run All Night is that Jimmy is shown to be such a loser that the turnaround to badass is somewhat jarring and comes more as a result of needs of the plot.

But I like the commentary on father-son relationships and Kinnaman gives a solid supporting performance. I got a kick out of seeing them trying to survive together. The friendship between Jimmy and Shawn (Harris) is great as well, and the two actors give a great deal of pathos in their interactions. It’s not a film that’s given to overt, haughty melodrama, instead the revelations are blunt and unwieldy, but they fit perfectly into the world that Serra presents.

Speaking of Serra, he gave the film some stylistic touches which help to elevate it from standard action fare. The sweeping city shots were sometimes astounding and there were some amazing action sequences, the apartment block being a particular standout.

I was impressed with Run All Night and highly recommend it.

Movie Review – The Gunman (2015)

Director: Pierre Morel

Stars: Sean Penn, Ray Winstone, Javier Bardem, Idris Elba, Jasmine Trinca

After assassinating a government official, Jim (Penn) is forced to leave Congo and the woman he loves, Annie (Trinca). Six years later he’s back working for a humanitarian organisation when he comes under attack. As he tries to unravel a conspiracy to kill him and the people he once worked with, he has to deal with chronic headaches that strike at the worst time.

The Gunman isn’t the worst film ever made. In fact I found myself enjoying it quite a bit even though it’s fairly average. It assembles a good cast but never gives them enough to work with, and they all only provide glimpses of what they could be capable of. The love story is standard fare and there aren’t any real surprises here. It struck me as very old school, in that it felt like it could have come out in the 70s.

There were some exciting and tense sequences, and the story moved through different countries giving a sense of a grand scale, and some colorful activities during the climax. The headache plot I didn’t enjoy as it felt completely false and manufactured to give the protagonist trouble at inconvenient times. It didn’t really play into the plot aside from that so it wasn’t as if it played into the character at all, and that’s really where the film falls down because there isn’t much depth at all. I didn’t feel invested in the characters too much, and the plot itself is a bit more muddled than it needed to be.

It’s one that’s watchable, but I wouldn’t be sad if I had to miss out on it.

Book Review – The Walking Dead vol. 18: What Comes After by Robert Kirkman & Others

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Told you there were more to come. This volume gives a bit more insight into Negan and his group, while also continuing how his arrival has affected Rick and the group. It provides a opportunities for good drama, although some of the arguments do get resolved a little easily, which is a flaw that has been with the series since its inception, at least in my opinion. As well as highlighting Negan this is the first time in a while that Carl has had a chance to shine as well. I’ve always enjoyed Carl as a character. I know that in the tv show he was loathed at the beginning, but I think his tv counterpart is slowly catching up to the comics version. It’s interesting to see how growing up in this world is shaping Carl and how he decides to deal with things.

Negan’s group provides another look at how people in the zombie apocalypse have survived and this volume made me really like Negan as a character. I almost feel guilty for saying that because he’s obviously a bad person, but Kirkman writes him with such charisma that it’s almost impossible to not enjoy him. He’s the type of bad guy you love to hate, whereas in contrast the Governor was just a horrible person who I wanted to see die, but with Negan there’s a little part of me that almost wants him to succeed. Just a little part. I really shouldn’t be thinking like that but he’s just a blast to read.

The rest of the world gets opened up as well with the introduction of an instantly memorable character, and although I enjoy the tv series reading the comics makes me wish they would hurry up and get to what is coming.

Damn me and my impatience.