Saturday, March 31, 2012

Justice League: Doom

Movie Review                                                                                                             31/3/12


Starring the voices of: Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, Susan Eisenberg
Directed by: Lauren Montgomery

Based on the “Tower of Babel” storyline from the JLA comics, the latest in DC’s line of animated films, Justice League: Doom tells the story of how Batman’s healthy paranoia and hyper-preparedness get turned against him. Batman’s fiendishly clever contingency plans to immobilize the Justice League in case they go rogue get stolen and used without his consent. The perpetrator is the immortal warlord Vandal Savage, who has assembled the Legion of Doom, comprised of supervillains who each hold a vendetta against a member of the Justice League.

Justice League Doom has a great voice cast, mostly comprising players from the original Justice League animated series. You’ve got Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tim Daly as Superman, Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman, Michael Rosenbaum as Flash and Carl Lumbly as Martian Manhunter. New to the crew is Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern, the role many argue he should have had in the live-action movie. There’s a synergy that only comes from a cast having worked together for a while, and benefits the film greatly.

There’s a good deal of action and the movie is pretty well-paced. It opens with a bank heist by the Royal Flush Gang, and then segues into a frenetic sequence of the individual members of the League being put through their paces. Each bit is inventive and suspenseful – however, it can be hard keeping track of five or six scenes intercut simultaneously. There’s also a bit of a problem when it comes to the villains – the Legion of Doom are mostly comprised of such second-stringers as Mirror Master, Star Sapphire and Bane. Speaking of Bane, his costume in this one looks terrible. It’s a good thing then that the League themselves and, primarily, Batman, are the main focus

The animation looks good, the style is nothing too edgy or inaccessible, but is stylish thanks in part to the anime influence. The action sequences are sufficiently eye-popping and visually exciting. Justice League Doom is also a good way to remember the late screenwriter Dwayne MacDuffie by, and is a decent movie in its own right.


There’s a wonderful and emotional tribute to Dwayne McDuffie, consisting of interviews with former colleagues and loved ones, telling the story of the trail-blazing whiz-kid who revolutionised animation and comic books with such titles as Static Shock, Justice League and Ben 10.

There are featurettes about Batman’s relationship with the League and about Cyborg, who was not in the original Tower of Babel story. Rounding out the features are a commentary, a digital comic book of the Tower of Babel story, two episodes from the Justice League series and a peek at the upcoming Superman vs The Elite.

                 EXTRAS: 4/5 STARS

Batman Year One

Movie Review                                                                                                                                                   31/3/12

Starring the voices of: Bryan Cranston, Ben McKenzie, Eliza Dushku
Directed by: Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery

A few years back, my best friend gave me the graphic novel “Batman: Year One”, by Frank Miller and David Mazuchelli, for my birthday. This was and still is one of the defining titles in Batman mythos, widely accepted as the Batman origin story. Indeed, this was the inspiration for Chistopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. Viewers will recognize several moments such as the ultrasonic-frequency-beckoned swarm of bats, and even the appearance of Lt. Gordon.

This is a very faithful adaptation, but consequently also a very lean one, having the shortest running time of any DC animated movie. Whole scenes and dialogue are lifted right off the comic book page. It’s a good thing, except that one realises when something is left out. The movie also looks fantastic and is beautifully animated, sticking closely to Mazuchelli’s distinct visual style, but also refining it somewhat.

This is as much Jim Gordon’s story as it is Batman’s, so much so that Bryan Cranston as Gordon is given top billing, something that works for and against the film in varying degrees. At times it seems the focus is placed too strongly on Gordon, but then it is important to realise that until the publication of Batman: Year One, Gordon had mostly been a one-dimensional supporting character, no more than a cop for Batman to talk to.  Here, Gordon is portrayed as human and fallible, and almost as interesting as Batman himself.

The voice cast is good, if not fantastic. Bryan Cranston’s Gordon is every bit the hardened veteran cop as he is the vulnerable and idealistic do-gooder. It’s a relatable performance that has the right amount of everything. Ben McKenzie works as a younger Batman than we’re used to, but misinterprets “ominous” as “flat” a little too often. Eliza Dushku’s slightly husky tone makes for a sexy Catwoman, and Katee Sackhoff brings a balance of femininity and toughness as Det. Essen.

Batman Year One is not the knockout punch that Batman: Under the Red Hood was, but it’s good in a throwback way, and is different enough from Batman Begins that viewers won’t get déjà vu.  And all things considered, it numbers amongst the better DC animated features.


The main extra is the DC Showcase short “Catwoman”, which mainly consists of Catwoman dancing around a stripper pole – not that I’m complaining, by the way. There’s also a commentary, several sneak peeks at other DC Animated movies, and a round-table discussion of the creative team. “Heart of Vengeance: Returning Batman to his dark roots” is a retrospective documentary about how Batman Year One changed the game for DC Comics.

                  EXTRAS: 3.5/5 STARS

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Hunger Games

What do you know, I'm back!

Movie Review                                                                                                             23/3/12

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Directed by: Gary Ross
Lionsgate/Color Force
  It was inevitable that Suzanne Collins’ 2008 best-selling and critically-acclaimed novel would receive the big-screen adaptation treatment. After all, it was a formula that worked out well for the Harry Potter books, and the vampire-love-story-that-must-not-be-named (though not so well for my favourite young adult series, the Alex Rider books). I have not read the book (blasphemy, I know), but will review the film based on its merits as a, well, film. And, possess many merits it does.

            For the uninitiated, the titular “games” refer to an annual tournament in which the 12 districts of Panem, a dystopian, future America, send one boy and girl aged 12-18 (known as “tributes”), chosen by ballot, to battle in a brutal televised death match, until the lone survivor is crowned the victor. The story centres on the two tributes from the poor coal-mining colony of District 12, Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson), Katniss having volunteered to save her sister Primrose (Willow Shields) from being sent to the games and Peeta a baker’s son who nurses an unrequited crush on Katniss. Back home is Gale Hawthorne (Hemsworth), Katniss’ best friend, hunting partner, and the hypotenuse in a developing love triangle.

            The film hinges on themes such as the class divide, oppressive governments, the voyeuristic thirst for reality TV-style entertainment, survival and independence, while serving as a coming-of-age story too. This is heavy political commentary dressed up in a fantastic metaphor, and something that the film is generally very successful at conveying, though it lacks the sharper and more subtle observation of such classics as Brave New World and 1984, settling instead for something more accessible to the masses.

            And then there’s of course the controversial hot-button issue of kids killing kids. To reduce the story to just that is something of an injustice, and apparently the movie has toned the violence down quite a bit from the source material to keep with a PG-13 rating (and so as not to alienate its youthful fanbase), but it still is pretty gnarly to watch teenagers getting stabbed and shot at with arrows by their peers. One must bear in mind that this is hardly uncharted territory though – the 1999 Koushun Takami novel Battle Royale, which Collins claims to have never heard of until after turning in her book, comes to mind.

            Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar-nominated for her role in Winter’s Bone, beating out the likes of Chloe Moretz, Hailee Steinfeld, Saorise Ronan and Shailene Woodley (and practically every teenage-or-thereabouts actress in Hollywood) for the role, brings Katniss to life as one of the strongest female protagonists of our generation. Handy with a bow and arrow, she is quietly strong yet appealingly vulnerable. Josh Hutcherson, proving himself to be one of the finest young male actors currently working, lends his square jaw and slightly stocky frame to the youthful masculinity of Peeta, and it is interesting to see the relationship between him and Katniss develop. Liam Hemsworth doesn’t have much to do in this one, appearing mainly when we cut to Gale looking pained that Katniss seems to be falling for someone else. This is probably for the better as Hutcherson is clearly the superior actor.

            Something this movie gets very right, as did the Harry Potter films, is assembling a stellar supporting cast of older characters who frame the story and pull the strings. There’s Elizabeth Banks as flamboyant chaperone Effie Trinket, Stanley Tucci as charismatic emcee Caesar Flickerman, Lenny Kravitz as Katniss’ kind and nurturing stylist Cinna, and Donald Sutherland as President Snow, the autocratic ruler of Panem whose distinguished demeanour belies a dangerous sadistic streak.

            The standout though is Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, a former winner of the Games who has degenerated into a scruffy alcoholic, and is responsible for mentoring Katniss and Peeta. Harrelson deftly portrays the bitterness left over from the trauma of the games and proves to be savvy and strategic. A brief scene depicts him hob-nobbing with the elite to earn Katniss “sponsors” to provide her with supplies during the games, and he suggests playing up the romantic aspect of Katniss and Peeta’s relationship as good entertainment – much like how many authors use romance to manipulate their audiences.

            The Hunger Games shows up its teeny-bopper ilk with panache, and is one of the few modern films aimed at a teenage demographic that has any depth or substance. A captivating visual look, strong performances, an engrossing story and a dash of the unsettling turn the odds in favour of this one. I know I should save this for the review of the second film, but The Hunger Games is on fire.

SUMMARY: The Hunger Games proves it fully deserves to the next big thing. By turns entertaining and thought-provoking, it is refreshing to see a franchise flick give teenagers something to chew on at the movies other than their popcorn.


Jedd Jong Yue