Movie Review: CATWOMAN

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catwomanWarner Bros.
2004
PG-13

“Meow.”

It’s been fifteen years. Fifteen years. A decade and a half since Warner Bros. foisted upon us this live action big screen solo outing for one of Batman’s more notable rogues in his gallery. I can’t even recall who demanded a Catwoman film to be made, outside of the success of Batman Returns, where they pretty much greenlit a possible Catwoman spinoff with Michelle Pfeiffer. That, of course, didn’t pan out. But, then it did. With Halle Berry, no less. I have my issues with her as an actress, yes, but I’m always open to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

For the record, I never caught Catwoman when it was in the theaters initially. The previews didn’t impress me, and the word of mouth was not favorable. Also, this was probably the final DC movie to be released before Christopher Nolan would prove that a DC superhero movie didn’t have to suck.

But alas, a few years later, I was pet-sitting at my sister and brother-in-law’s place, and in a fit of boredom, saw a copy of Catwoman in their DVD collection, and figured, why not see how bad this movie is. I mean, the current 9% on Rotten Tomatoes can’t be that accurate, right?

*sigh* Spoilers: It is. Let’s proceed down amnesia lane, then.

Here, we meet one Patience Phillips, a graphic designer working for a cosmetics company called Hedare Beauty. She’s what you would call mousy, personality wise: a meek people-pleaser who’s used by the alpha types at her place of enslavement employment. But, as plot convenience would have it, she stumbles upon a discussion between the CEO’s wife and a scientist about the danger of the new skin cream they’re about to foist upon the consumers, and after being discovered eavesdropping, is literally flushed out of the building, drowning in the process. But, then she’s brought back to life by an Egyptian Mau cat that happened to be in the area (how convenient), and now has super-duper cat-like abilities, like really good balance, looking adorable while playing with a ball of yarn, and being confounded by a laser pointer. I would presume. She then learns from an eccentric cat lady that she’s now one in a long line of “cat women” who have taken the mantle in the past after being resurrected by cats. So, Patience then takes on the name…well, Catwoman, and begins investigating the evil corporation she used to work at, and…

…okay, look. It’s getting rather painful having to remember this movie to write the premise, let along watching it all together. Let’s just invoke my standard “wackiness ensues” for the rest of the bit, and if you’re masochistic enough to wonder what happens, by all means, have at it. In any case…

One other thing to point out, here: Clearly, the inspiration for this Catwoman was cribbed from the origin that Tim Burton made up for Batman Returns, and bears no resemblance to the cat burglar origins within the proper Batman comic book universe. I have no problem with that, whatsoever. As a matter of fact, I find that concept intriguing, something that, if put in the right hands, could be rich with stories from throughout history. Unfortunately, that was not the case, here. Clearly, the residue of Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies was still influencing things, as Berry plays Catwoman as having the powers of slinking around in skimpy leather while spouting off bad cat-based puns with the dialogue. To say nothing of how over-the-top Sharron Stone went with her villain character.

In the end, Catwoman encapsulates everything that went wrong with comic book movies in the 1990s and a bit into the Aughts. Things got better, yes, but with Catwoman, I’m left with a very, very bad taste in my mouth. Best to just trash this nasty hairball and pass on this.

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Movie Review: BATMAN & ROBIN

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batman & robinWarner Bros.
1997
PG-13

“What killed the dinosaurs? The Ice Age!”

So, here we are, at what is universally thought of as not only the worst Batman movie, but maybe the worst superhero movie ever made. I personally disagree with the later assertion (Catwoman? Barb Wire? Freakin’ Superman IV, anyone?); as to the previous — that this is the worst Batman movie — yes. I whole-heartedly agree that Batman & Robin is a rank pile of bat-guano. Pun intended.

Again, I watched Batman & Robin the weekend it was released. I went with my brother-from-a-different-mother Scott. We’re both aficionados of bad, cheesy movies; watching Batman & Robin was nearly our undoing. That’s right, people. I deliberately watch movies like Manborg, and this was the movie that nearly broke me back in 1997.

Here’s the rundown: Batman (now played by George Clooney) and Robin (still played by Chris O’Donnell, but sporting a costume more in keeping with Nightwing) go up against the nefarious Mr. Freeze, who’s stealing the diamonds from the Gotham natural history museum to help power up his suit needed to keep him alive. Meanwhile, at a Wayne Enterprises lab in Brazil (wow, his corporation can be found anywhere), a Dr. Isley is helping to develop the Venom drug under Dr. Woodrue (hey, shout-out to the Swamp Thing, nifty), which leads into the creation of the hulking Bane. Then Dr. Woodrue tries to kill Dr. Isley, which only results in turning her into Poison Ivy and destroying everyone and everything in the lab, except for Bane, who is essentially her muscle, escaping to Gotham to wreak havoc on Wayne Enterprises. Meanwhile meanwhile, back at stately Wayne Mannor, Alfred Pennyworth’s niece, Barbara Wilson, surprise visits. Both Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze crash a charity event attended by the Dynamic Duo, Robin starts getting all angsty with Batman, Alfred is dying from the same affliction that Mr. Freeze has, and Barbara stumbles upon the Batcave and becomes a nipple-less Batgirl. They all team up and defeat Poison Ivy, then head out to stop Mr. Freeze from freezing Gotham and making horrendous ice-based puns. They arrive at the spot a bit too late, is attacked by Bane, where Robin and Batgirl take him out, while Batman stops Mr. Freeze with hope for finding a cure for his wife. Also, a few punches. Gotham is de-iced, Alfred is cured (because of course he would be), and we end on the silhouettes of the three heroes running away from this awful movie. The end.

Batman & Robin is a glorious train wreck that is still talked about 20 years after the fact. It’s easily the worst superhero / comic book movie to have been released in 1997, and that was the year that the live-action Spawn movie was released. The camp is turn up to past 11, with every opportunity for puns exploited to full effect. If you groaned at the idea of Bat Shark Repellent from the 1966 Batman movie, you’re going to love things like the Bat Credit Card, pop-out ice skates in the boots, the numerous ice-based puns and one-liners that Arnold Schwarzenegger chews up and spits out at an 87% efficiency rating. To say nothing of the head-scratching decisions this movie decided to go with. Batgirl is now Alfred’s niece, and not the daughter of Commissioner Gordon? Bane is a meat-headed, non-articulate muscle regulated to Poison Ivy’s bodyguard, instead of the criminal mastermind who broke Batman in the comics? The Nightwing costume for Robin? George Clooney? Truly, Batman & Robin is the worst Batman movie ever made…

…and yet, I can’t not watch it whenever I stumble upon it. It’s horrible, yes, but it’s gloriously horrible. For the same reason I love the 1960s Adam West Batman series, I will watch Batman & Robin just to glory in the campy badness. Really, to quote a better Batman movie, Batman & Robin may not have been the Batman movie we wanted, but (for 1997) it was definitely the Batman movie we deserved for the time. Recommended to watch at least once.

Movie Review: JUSTICE LEAGUE

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justice leagueWarner Bros.
2017
PG-13

“I miss the days when one’s biggest concern is exploding wind-up penguins.”

Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists newfound ally Diana Prince to face an even greater threat. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to recruit a team to stand against this newly awakened enemy. Despite the formation of an unprecedented league of heroes — Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash — it may be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions.

Lead-up to the big DCEU team-up movie has not been an easy one. While I seemed to be in the minority in thinking that Man Of Steel was decent if not severely flawed, Batman V Superman was a hot mess, and Suicide Squad was also a hot mess, but at least it was a bit more entertaining. Wonder Woman was awesome, but something I consider more an exception to the rule, rather than being a positive step in the right direction for the DCEU franchise. So, it was up to Justice League to fully turn my doubts around about the viability of the series. Will Justice League prove to be the contender with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or will this prove to be its undoing, ending up like Universal’s Dark Universe?

Also, I realize this is going to be posted at the beginning of the new year, a couple of months since it premiered in theaters, but regardless, possible spoilers ahead. I won’t know until I’ve written this thing, and all.

Pretty much picking up in the aftermath of Batman V Superman, it seems the death of Superman has caught the attention of an ancient intergalactic warlord named Steppenwolf, who has tried to conquer the Earth before, but was stopped by the ancient heroes…heroes which included the Amazons, the Atlantians, and the Green Lantern Corps, among others. Now that the so-called “old gods” have disappeared, Steppenwolf has come back to retrieve three hidden alien devices that, when combined, will turn the planet into the hellish world he desires it to be. As such, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince begin recruiting other superpowered heroes to help stop the invasion and beat it back from whence it came. Among the ranks are half-Atlantian, half-Human Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, Speed Force-adept Barry Allen, aka the Flash, and Victor Stone, aka Cyborg. Cyborg is unique in that his powers stem from bonding with the very alien items that Steppenwolf is searching for. Even with that lineup, though, the team still seems to get their collective butts handed to them. They need to get another team member with a bit more power to go toe-to-toe with this New God. Someone…super. Some kind of super man, if you will.

Okay, fine: they resurrect Superman. I told you there would be spoilers.

So, Steppenwolf gets all three devices, goes to Russia and begins terraforming, and the superheroes plus a newly revived Superman (complete with shiny new duds) shows up, lay the smackdown, and everything ends on a happy note, with Bruce and Diana continuing with the notion of formation a league of some sort, for justice. Then the post-credits scene happens, and now I’m sad again. You’ll see what I mean when it happens.

I’ll be forthright: I went into watching Justice League with some very, very lowered expectations. Like, nearly non-existent. I was pretty much convinced that Wonder Woman was a fluke, and Justice League would continue in the same level of suckage the other two “team-up” movies in the DCEU were. But, I was proven slightly wrong.

First, the good: all the superheroes were done right. I’ve said that Ben Afleck was probably my favorite Bruce Wayne / Batman so far, and I’m sticking by it. Wonder Woman is still awe-inspiring as well as a furious butt-kicker (all apologies to Lynda Carter, you’ll always be my first Wonder Woman). As far as the newbies go: I had my doubts about Aquaman, and especially Jason “shirts make me itchy” Momoa’s kind of dude-bro vibe I got from the previews, but that actually works for the character. I was impressed. I am now interested in a possible Aquaman stand-alone if he continues playing the character, no mean feat. This iteration of the Flash, while effective as the comic relief of the group (because the world is not yet ready for Plastic Man, pity as that is), I wasn’t fully convinced he was Barry Allen. He seemed more Wally West than Allen. But, that’s the direction they took, and he played it well. The biggest surprise for me here was Cyborg, as I was convinced he was going to be regulated to background character that only comes up to give out technobabble and such. No, his arc was fairly substantial, given the time frame. And since I’ve already let the cat out of the bag, I have to say it: Superman is finally Superman. No longer is he brooding, he actually laughs at times. Even his costume is brighter than on Man Of Steel. Also, the running time is significantly less than the other movies, so it goes by in a relatively brisk pace. Which, really, brings up:

The bad: While I was glad for a nice, refreshingly shorter movie run time, I get the feeling that maybe that extra half-hour would have actually been beneficial to flesh out things a bit better. Like, with the main baddy of the film, Steppenwolf. He’s not only the most two-dimensional villain I’ve come across since the heyday of the 1990s superhero films, but his motion-capture CG rendering is the worst I’ve seen. It took a lot out of my enjoyment, as I kept thinking how hard it could have been to just use a live actor and use the CG sparingly to beef things up? Could have used some more baking time, guys.

Overall, while the action and fight scenes were breathtaking, and finally getting to see Supes back in form, Justice League seemed to fall just short of the epicness that a team up movie like this should have been. Regardless, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and while not a complete turn-around, Justice League is a step in the right direction for the DCEU. Definitely try and catch this on a big screen some time.

HALLOWEEN’ING Day 25: The Anatomy Lesson

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halloween'ing 2017
swamp thing 21
Utter the name of Alan Moore, and usually the first things to spring to mind is his seminal works Watchmen and Batman: The Killing Joke. (Utter the name of Alan Moore three times into a mirror, and he will appear behind you with a pint and a grumpy British disposition) Maybe the last Silver Age Superman story, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” There’s no denying that Alan Moore’s work on DC titles had a kind of magic to them. One particular character in DC’s stable that he managed to reinvent–and do so convincingly–was Swamp Thing.

Originally, Swamp Thing was a scientist that, due to sabotage, mutated into a plant-based swamp monster. When the first proper Alan Moore-penned Swamp Thing story was published in The Saga of the Swamp Thing #21, it was revealed that, rather than being a mutated version of the scientist, instead Swamp Thing was a plant elemental that absorbed the memories and personality traits of the dying scientist, and since then actually believed itself to be the scientist. After discovering the truth in this issue, well…he’s none too happy about the reveal.

My copy of this issue is the Millennium Edition reissue on the Vertigo label that was reprinted in black and white in 2000. That was during my Collecting All Things Alan Moore era. I would advise, my tender dumpling, to get the trade paperback collecting Alan Moore’s entire Swamp Thing run.

SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING, Book 1

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Movie Review: WONDER WOMAN

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wonder womanWarner Bros.
PG-13
2017

“I used to want to save the world, this beautiful place. But the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness within. I learned this the hard way, a long, long time ago.”

Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, Diana meets an American pilot who tells her about the massive conflict that’s raging in the outside world. Convinced that she can stop the threat, Diana leaves her home for the first time. Fighting alongside men in a war to end all wars, she finally discovers her full powers and true destiny.

So, by now, if you’re reading this, you fall in one of three categories: 1) you’ve already watched Wonder Woman (perhaps multiple times), 2) you have yet to watch Wonder Woman, as you’re still iffy about the possible quality due to the track record of the previous DC movies in the past couple of years, or 3) you’re trying to find something to be angry about to satisfy your inner sense of political self-righteousness. I wish I could say I was joking about that last part.

Anyway, Wonder Woman. Officially the fourth movie in DC’s Extended Universe, this one had the stigma of needing to be not as bad as the previous films turned out to be. I say this as the general overall perception of the previous films; you might recall that I ended up liking Man Of Steel a bit more than most of all fandom did. Batman v. Superman was a hot mess, while Suicide Squad was also a hot mess, but a far more entertaining hot mess. As such, by the time Wonder Woman rolled around, my expectations were rather low. All the movie had to do was not suck obnoxiously, and it would be the best DCEU movie of the bunch. And on that basic front, Wonder Woman succeeded. Boy howdy, did it succeed.

After a prologue scene where Diana Prince receives a special package from some guy named Bruce Wayne, we’re taken back to the Greek island of Themyscira, the home of warrior women called the Amazons, at a time when she was a precocious little tot who wanted so badly to be a warrior like everyone else, but her mother–Queen Hippolyta–would rather she pursue a more mundane existence, for her own good. Diana’s aunt, however, disagrees with the sentiment, and begins training the young girl in secret. In time, though, they are found out, which leads to…Diana getting even more training. And after a surprise hint as to Diana’s true nature, in comes the first male to visit Themyscira since ever, with WWI pilot Steve Trevor crashing into the coast. After Diana rescues him, the Germans soon invade, causing havoc and, after interrogating Trevor, Diana decides that Aries, the god of War is behind this World War (under the guise of German General Ludendorff), and sets off to kill him to bring peace to mankind. After a brief stint in London, Diana, Trevor and a motley crew travel to the front lines, where Diana wastes no time in invading No Man’s Land, takes out a machine gun nest, whups a bunch of Germans into submission, and punches a tower (the tower loses) to liberate a small Belgium village from the occupation it was under. However, General Ludendorff decides to wipe out the village the next day with a big ol’ Mustard Gas bomb, which pisses Diana off even further, and she goes off and manages to kill Ludendorff…only Ludendorff isn’t Aries. In a twist that everyone saw coming miles away, the real Aries shows up, he tries to explain that mankind isn’t under his spell, that mankind is capable of all sorts of atrocities by themselves, which clashes with Diana’s sense of altruism, which leads to a big fight with lots of damage and ‘splosions and stuff. Meanwhile, Trevor sacrifices himself to save London from being hit with a cargo plane full of Mustard Gas, Aries is defeated, and we flash back to current times where Diana decides that the power of love will blah blah blah, something-something I’m Wonder Woman now. The end.

It took them a few times in this shared universe of theirs, but DC has finally stumbled upon the formula for making a superhero movie feel like a genuine superhero movie. The tone and feel really brings back the sense of (no pun intended) wonder that Richard Donner’s Superman The Movie did, where you’re watching and manage to go beyond seeing some actor dressed as Wonder Woman, and believing it really is Wonder Woman. With maybe the exception of the CGI heavy boss fight at the end (yeah, it did feel like a video game cut scene), the two-and-a-half run time didn’t seem that long at all.

I went into Wonder Woman expecting it to fail, and wound up suddenly having hope for the other DC movies coming up after this. We’ll see. In the meantime, if you still haven’t seen Wonder Woman, go do so now while it’s still in theaters. Assuming you’re reading this while it still is.

Movie Review: SUICIDE SQUAD

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suicide-squadWarner Bros.
2016
PG-13

“Huh? What was that? I should kill everyone and escape? Sorry. The voices. Ahaha, I’m kidding! Jeez! That’s not what they really said.”

Figuring they’re all expendable, a U. S. intelligence officer decides to assemble a team of dangerous, incarcerated supervillains for a top-secret mission. Now armed with government weapons, Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc and other despicable inmates must learn to work together. Dubbed Task Force X, the criminals unite to battle a mysterious and powerful entity, while the diabolical Joker launches an evil agenda of his own.

I have to say that, finding a way to start off this review is proving to be a challenging one. By now, everyone has known about this movie and its hiccups getting onto the big screen. The extra shoots ordered in the aftermath of the Batman V. Superman backlash. The predictions of failure long before it was even released, the criminally low rating on Rotten Tomatoes that created an outcry. Jared Leto’s shenanigans. All I knew was, this being a movie based on a comic book title that I really didn’t know much about, outside of the general concept of the DC Universe’s bad guys brought together by way of the government agency for covert missions, this was kind of an odd choice to add to the budding DC Cinematic Universe. Because, while the comics have their fan base, and from what I understand they’re rather good, Suicide Squad is not exactly the first thing that springs to mind when one mentions DC Comics. It may not even be the fifth thing. Or the tenth. Then again, no one was expecting Guardians Of The Galaxy to be any good, so what do I know?

And of course, it was mandatory watching with the Exalted Geeks the weekend it came out. We even recorded a podcast about it, right here. But as for my own gathered together and jotted down thoughts on the movie…

Of the three DC movies that have been released in this series, I would have to say I like Suicide Squad the best. I think it’s easy to understand why; by default, because of its wackier tone, this one was much more fun than Man Of Steel or Batman v. Superman. It’s still dark and gritty, but at least it wasn’t a two hour angst-y wank-fest to sit through.

That’s not to say that the movie was without its flaws. That’s a given. However, the character dynamic seemed to work much better, combined with the action and the story itself, the time didn’t seem to drag and I found myself enjoying how this was playing out. The actors associated with the characters were decent enough; Will Smith once again played Will Smith as Deadshot, essentially the DC analog of Marvel’s Bullseye, only cooler. I don’t know about everyone else (I try to stay away from the nerd whining on the internet as much as possible), but I actually enjoyed Margot Robbie’s turn as Harley Quinn; I found her character rather amusing yet chilling, as fitting for the love interest for the arguably greatest villain in the DC Universe. And Viola Davis was dead-on perfect as the equally chilling Amanda Waller. Gads, you do not want to cross her. Ever. As for the other characters…well, they were adorable, but were just kinda there.

As far as the story goes…it’s your standard covert ops action movie that features a science fiction bent and pretty impressive effects. It’s better than average, in that it entertained me enough to make me not notice it’s over two-hour run time. I do think, however, that the whole Joker subplot wasn’t really needed; for that matter, barring further portrayals in future DCU movies building on his character arc, I don’t think I’m going to think more than just a “meh” as to Jared Leto’s take on the Clown Prince of Crime.

Overall, while I think that DC/Warner Bros. has a long way to go to get their stable of heroes up to the quality of films that Marvel has been knocking out of the park, the end result of The Suicide Squad is definitely a step in the right direction. Worth a rental, at the very least.

HALLOWEEN’ING 2016: Day 25 – House of Secrets: Foundation (Vertigo)

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halloweening-2016-logo

house-of-secrets

During the heyday of the DC Comics imprint Vertigo, there was a short-lived but rather intriguing title House of Secrets that ran from 1996 through 1998. While it shared the same title as that of the long-running Silver Age anthology comic, it really was its own entity.

The first five issue of the Vertigo series was collected in a trade paperback in 1997, which is the format I bought in 2000 after reading about it in an issue of Wizard Magazine. I miss Wizard Magazine. Anyway, the story follows disaffected Gen X Grunge trope Rain Harper as she arrives in Seattle (of course) and eventually holes up in a derelict house with another street waif, a house that has the tendency to transform into a haunted mansion presided by the ghostly, otherworldly Juris, which is like a supernatural courtroom for souls who are harboring secrets.

This being a Vertigo series, obviously this isn’t for the squeamish. This is really more dark, psychological horror than visceral body horror, which goes more for a slow cold crawl into the psyche. Think Turn of the Screw for the Nirvana crowd.

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