Tag Archives: Batman

Film & TV News: March 18

News

  • It’s Batman Week on Motion State for several reasons, not least of which is because no self-respecting film criticism consortium would ever be caught dead hosting a Superman Week.
  • Zack Snyder will be tackling the first installment of the Justice League two-parter following Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and now he’s stated that he also wants to adapt…The Fountainhead? Will Howard Roark be the hero we deserve?
  • J.K. Simmons will be taking the role of Commissioner Gordon in that Justice League movie, presumably leaving behind any chance of him playing J. Jonah Jameson again. Gary Oldman’s got some big shoes…
  • In other Batman news, the animated Killing Joke released a teaser photo to mark the start of production. The exciting prospect of adapting Alan Moore‘s comic with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Bats and Joker is almost enough to wash away that nostalgia for the more endearing animation of Batman: The Animated Series in favor of the new style. Almost.

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Batman: The Animated Series 1.32 – “Beware the Gray Ghost”

As an animator with an undeniably strong sense of visual storytelling, it’s perhaps not too much of a stretch to assume that Bruce Timm played with toys. Kids are kids, sure, and even the ones who don’t grow into animators with undeniably strong senses of visual storytelling still tend to love toys. But we might assume this love to be especially strong in the visual artists of the future, an unconscious recognition of the memorable facets of personality reflected in a color scheme or a suit or a pair of pointy black ears. Bruce, if you’re reading, feel free to comment with confirmation or denial of youthful toy-loving.

Whatever the case, the Timmverse is populated by designs from a toymaker’s dream. Classic characters — especially those most well-known rogues appearing in Batman: The Animated Series — get fresh, clear-eyed revivals, unmistakably cartoonish concepts that somehow mesh perfectly with the “Dark Deco” cityscapes of Gotham City. If you’re crafting miniature Batmans and Jokers and Riddlers and Catwomen for the kiddies to play with, both you and the kiddies are going to be happiest with the toys that look like Bruce Timm drawings. They’re simple, memorable, cohesive, and there’s nary a muddled line on any of the character designs. See for yourself.

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Batman (1943)

It can be pretty hard to compare one Batman to another Batman. The points of similarity between the super-campy Adam West iteration, the super-rubber Michael Keaton iteration, and the super-dark Christian Bale iteration essentially begin and end with the pointy ears. Val Kilmer and George Clooney are both sleepwalking through their outings, so there’s that. Ben Affleck’s latest incarnation in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice looks to change it up yet again, providing a more world-weary Dark Knight Rises spin on the superhero. Surely the longevity of the character is the major contributing factor to the gradual shifts in tone, as with goofy/serious Bond and goofy/serious Sherlock, and it’s true of the Caped Crusader in the comics as well.

We talked about all of that in our review of Batman Returns, but it’s far more obvious when we go all the way back to the 1943 serial Batman. “Batman and Robin” wasn’t at all a part of the cultural lexicon at this point. The character had only just appeared in 1939, largely as a response to the popularity of counterpart Superman, and so the 1943 theater release of the 3.5-hour marathon serial was for many the very first encounter with Batman. More importantly, 1943 was arguably the height of World War II, meaning that a solid 85% of theatrically-released serials felt compelled to include a strong commentary on nationalistic duty and American pride. Batman was no different. Watch it today and you might find yourself using different descriptors, those being really really racist.

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Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

I have a few favorite Batman moments, but the one that trumps them all occurs in the first Batman animated movie Mask of the Phantasm. The comic books are full of contenders, of course — the iconic “legends can never die!” panel in Jim Aparo’s “Man Behind the Mask”, the more-iconic moment in “Hearts in Darkness” when Batman rises from the grave, or the most-iconic “fiend from hell” moment from “The Demon Lives Again!” (which we talked about in our rundown on Batman Begins). The feature films have some epic moments as well, like the introductory call-to-arms of Batman Returns or the final ascension from the pit in The Dark Knight Rises. But Mask of the Phantasm captures what many of these moments capture — the determination of Bruce Wayne, the -ness of the Bat — in a unique way.

Phantasm, of course, is more than just the best animated Batman movie — it might be the best Batman movie, period. It certainly stands with the live-action iterations of Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan, and getting over the fact that Phantasm happens to be animated (as if that’s a point against it) is just a necessary assumption akin to classing The Incredibles at the top of the list of Best Superhero Films. It’s easy to forget about The Incredibles amid the present torrent of live-action Marvel hero flicks, just as it’s easy to forget that Mask of the Phantasm is without a doubt a better Batman film than at least 6/10 live-action Batfilms. I’ll let you figure out which ones I mean.

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Netflix Picks #2

Kevin:  Gregg Araki’s mesmerizing White Bird in a Blizzard has all the initial trappings of a typical coming-of-age drama. Kat Connors (Shailene Woodley) longs to leave her idyllic hometown life, while her mother, Eva (Eva Green), feels overburdened by her role as a doting housewife. When Eva mysteriously disappears, Kat is haunted by persistent dreams of her, and reassesses their tumultuous relationship through therapy and an affair with a cop assigned to her missing person’s case. The premise is familiar, but the film draws upon the melodramas of Douglas Sirk to convey how Eva feels shackled by the hardships of marriage and motherhood. Aided by cinematographer Sandra Valde-Hansen and composer Robin Guthrie, Araki abstains from the histrionic tendencies of his earlier work, opting for an understated color scheme and score that firmly establishes the themes of alienation in 1980s suburban life. Following her widely praised turn in The Spectacular Now, Woodley demonstrates assertiveness in the lead role, but it’s Eva Green who leaves the greatest impression. Green’s steely flourishes invite comparisons to Joan Crawford, but feel closer to Barbara Stanwyck in their unrelenting swagger. Other notable performances include those of Gabourey Sidibe and Mark Indelicato, whose lively exchanges with Woodley provide a needed respite from the drama, and Shiloh Fernandez, who complements his character’s fetching looks with a charming half-witted persona as Kat’s boyfriend Phil. In a standout sequence that takes place in a local underground club, Kat and Phil seductively dance to Depeche Mode’s 1987 classic “Behind The Wheel”. Through a breathlessly shot and edited montage, Araki injects this scene with infectious spontaneity and groove. White Bird in a Blizzard is Gregg Araki’s most restrained directorial effort since Mysterious Skin, but is punctuated with many spirited moments that reaffirm his reputation as a genre-defying, risk-taking filmmaker.

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Night Shift (1982)

The upgrade in quality from Ron Howard’s directorial debut Grand Theft Auto to his sophomore effort Night Shift is pretty remarkable. Howard did direct a string of TV movies in the interim (Cotton Candy, Skyward, and Through the Magic Pyramid) and had directed a few shorts prior to Auto, so it wasn’t like Night Shift was only the second time he touched a camera. He was also doing this really weird thing called “acting” on occasion.

Regardless of where it falls, Night Shift is a surprisingly hilarious addition to Howard’s early canon. Auto relied heavily on Happy Days cast members and members of the Howard Family to round out the cast and crew, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but could be a bit distracting at times. Speaking of distracting, Auto also had a funk-bass-porno soundtrack that served to bolster the overall feel of the thing as hastily-made. And most importantly, the character motives in Auto just didn’t make a whole lot of sense across the board.

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

As with our recent article on Batman Begins, this won’t exactly be a traditional “review” of The Dark Knight Rises so much as an examination of the comics that directly inspired the film, previous iterations of the character on the big screen, and the things that Christopher Nolan chose to pinch and blend together from the two of those in order to give us a recognizable version of Cinema Batman. Some of the most legendary moments in Nolan’s trilogy are those of true originality, but it’s good to remember every now and then that Bruce Wayne has been around a hell of a lot longer than Nolan and Co.

And if we’re talking comics that influenced Nolan’s last Batfilm, the only one really worth mentioning is Knightfall. Yes, there are a whole host of comic arcs that can claim to be influences for parts of Rises — the No Man’s Land arc sees Gotham cordoned off from the rest of the world; the four-part story The Cult has a villain operating from the sewers; Bane is the explicit right-hand man of Ra’s al Ghul in 1999’s Bane of the Demon; and Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns has a similar premise and conclusion to Nolan’s Rises, which we’ll come back to in a moment.

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Batman Returns (1992)

‘Tis the season! ‘Tis a time for merriment, gaiety, festivity, and a bunch of other synonyms! ‘Tis also a time in which box-office turnouts for fifth and sixth installments of Saw or Fast and Furious vastly outweigh those for fresh, original film — a time in which the popularity of one kind of movie seems almost contingent on the failure of the other. ‘Tis a good time for cynicism, evidently.

Batman Returns is a superhero sequel, obviously, but it’s not the kind of assembly-line movie that phrase conjures up today (it’s also a Christmas movie, hence my yuletide cheer). This isn’t an instantly forgettable Marvel sequel like Iron Man 2 or Thor: The Dark World, seemingly intent only on filling the space between Avengers team-ups. Returns, like Burton’s first Batman film, takes pride in originality even in the face of decades of established Bat-lore, flipping things upside down and ignoring long character histories and comic book arcs in favor of new things, for better or worse. So in Batman we discover that the Joker is the one who killed Thomas and Martha Wayne, not some nobody named Joe Chill; here in Returns, Penguin isn’t a respected sophisticate but instead a literal man-bird. Returns basically says f*ck you to so much of the Batman canon that it’s difficult to imagine it being released today without causing fanboydom to implode.

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Batman Begins (2005)

Most of the comic book influences on Batman Begins are fairly evident. Everyone points to Frank Miller’s Year One, the redefining four-part series that put the “Dark” back in Dark Knight, and they’re right to hold that book up as the major influence. Begins relies heavily on Year One for a number of things, not least among them the exploration of the Bruce Wayne/Jim Gordon relationship, the exploration of the Bruce Wayne/Alfred relationship, the Gotham Monorail, the mention of the Joker at the end, the entire character of Flass, the entire sequence where Batman calls a squadron of bats to his aid (a bat-talion, am I right? Guys?) and, of course, the entire bat-flies-through-window genesis of the hero himself.

So Year One is the obvious one. Nolan and David Goyer pilfered little things from other famous Bat-books as well, often just an image or a line of dialogue. Here’s the Scarecrow in Loeb and Sale’s The Long Halloween, another popular arc:

Long Halloween
The Long Halloween (1996/97)

Goyer brought this to Nolan and said “I think Katie Holmes and the little kid who will eventually grow up to be Joffrey from Game of Thrones would look really good if we added them in front of the horse here” (paraphrased) and Nolan said “true dat, brah” (not paraphrased) and ran with it:

Batman Begins (2005)
Batman Begins (2005)

The red eyes and flames are an admittedly nice touch.

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