Category Archives: Cult

Ragnarok (1983)

Ragnarok is a “video [comic] strip.” There’s no animation, though occasionally there are electric crackles, just panning, scanning, and zooming across illustrations while three voice actors perform multiple roles. There are sound effects–minimal ones, which sometimes works to great effect, sometimes doesn’t. There’s no credited director or editor. The illustrators get credit, as does writer Alan Moore. It’s a shame the editor doesn’t get that credit though, because they do a fantastic job. Even when Ragnarok hits the skids, the editing is good.

The video strip is split into three chapters, with the second one just a setup for the third. The first, however, is easily the most impressive. It’s this taut space Western with a prospector and his claim under attack from a gang of hooligans. Will Ragnarok–a peace-keeping regulator–get there in time to save the prospector? The voice acting on Ragnarok is never great, but it’s better in the first part, and the hooligans (and the prospector) are all awesome. Lots of personality both in the performance and in the script.

Moore closes the first chapter with some musing about the universe, man’s place in it, and even a prospector’s song. It’s kind of awesome, which makes what follows all the more disappointing.

The common denominator for trouble is the lack of banter. It’s where Moore shows the most personality with dialogue. The second chapter, which has Ragnarok investigating a distress call and finding a super-intelligent Tyrannosaurus Rex from another dimension bent on conquering the universe, has very little banter. It has some–Ragnarok mouthing off to his computer interface, which has a heavily pixelated female appearance and the moniker Voice–but the well-spoken, psychically-powered, megalomaniac T. Rex hasn’t got any chemistry with Ragnarok. They’re both playing the straight sentient and Moore writes Ragnarok as something of a buzz kill anyway. When he’s got good company, he’s fine; without it, he’s dull.

And that dullness fully eclipses all in the third chapter–except the editing, of course–as the T. Rex finds its way to Ragnarok’s home base and wrecks havoc. Moore introduces a new supporting cast of terrible characters, from an overbearing, questionably talented commanding officer called “Mother”–it’s not clear if she’s actually mother to all the regulators (the bad guy in the first chapter was called “Father”, maybe a further adventure would’ve introduced cloning backstory)–to a dimwitted female sidekick for Ragnarok. The T. Rex appropriately calls her “Simple Jane,” so Moore was intentionally playing her as a dope? Not a good sign.

There’s a lot of lame fight “scenes,” without much detail in the illustrations, and the showdown between the T. Rex and Ragnarok leaves a lot to be desired. Much like the third chapter itself.

Still, it’s competently executed and the voice cast does work at it. It’s just a shame Ragnarok never lives up to the potential of the first chapter’s writing or does justice to whoever did the rather solid editing on the video strip.

1/4

CREDITS

Character origination by Bryan Talbot; written by Alan Moore; illustrated by Mike Collins, Mark Falmer, Raz Khan, Ham Khan, Don Wazejewski, and Dave Williams; released by Nutland Video Ltd.

Voices by David Tate, Jon Glover, and Norma Ronald.


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Escape from Tomorrow (2013, Randy Moore)

Director Moore snuck cameras into Disney World (and Disneyland) to tell the story of a creepy dad who goes insane while on the last day of the family vacation. Moore, who also wrote the tedious script, has reasons for the insanity, but they’re all nonsense because Tomorrow is more about showcasing the guerrilla filmmaking and ogling. And Moore seems to know he doesn’t have a cohesive narrative, so he throws in a bunch of pointless subplots. Almost everything in Escape from Tomorrow seems to be taking a shot at Disney, but it’s more taking a shot at the culture of Disney World guests. Or the lack thereof.

As far as the guerrilla filmmaking goes… Moore’s okay as a director. Given the constraints, some of the shots are impressive. Lucas Lee Graham’s black and white photography is good, though reading about how the shots were planned months in advance as to get the light right since it was an uncontrolled environment actually makes it seem less good. Escape from Tomorrow never looks like it wasn’t digitally desaturated in post. It’s less impressive if these shots were the best they got.

Soojin Chung’s editing is awful. Again, might be Moore’s fault, might be the guerrilla filmmaking constraint, but it’s awful. Especially since it’s supposed to represent protagonist Roy Abramsohn’s descent into madness.

The ogling. Let’s talk about the ogling because it’s the inciting incident of the whole stupid thing. Abramsohn is at the park with his family. Frigid wife Elena Schuber, Oedipus complexing son Jack Dalton, and perfect daughter Katelynn Rodriguez. After being fired and not telling Schuber (she’s a bit of a nag, after all), Abramsohn starts stalking a couple teenage girls, bringing son Dalton along for the trip. Moore’s really bad at the humor in Escape from Tomorrow, starting from the first scene when Dalton locks dad Abramsohn out on a balcony. Moore plays it for Oedipus, not for laughs. Laughs would’ve been better, given the intellectual paucity of the script. Moore also bombs every other comedic possibility, which is even worse considering Abramsohn is far better playing dumb dad than potential pederast.

Now, I’m assuming the actors playing the teenage girls weren’t actually teenagers. However, Moore seems to use that excuse to turn on an exceptional level of male gaze, completely free of irony or even knowing exploitation. Again, the script is many levels of dreadful. Though original. It’s kind of original. If Moore had just ripped off The Shining, Escape from Tomorrow would’ve been much better. Instead, there are similarities and, in those similarities, the film showcases how it’s worse for being original than if it were just aping other movies.

And then there’s the whole subtext about Disney World being gross because of the white trash. Only Moore turns it up to eleven and makes the white trash example an evil disabled obese man.

Schuber is fine in a hard part. She’s supposed to be insufferable and suffering. She’s supposed to be righteous, but she’s also supposed to be frigid (Abramsohn scopes his teenage targets as consolation to Schuber shutting him down). She’s also, the film determines, an unideal example of not just a woman, but a mother.

Oh, and Moore introduces the idea she’s lying to her husband about being the son’s father. Another plot thread Moore completely drops because he’s really bad at the whole writing thing.

There’s occasionally some good music from Abel Korzeniowski. When it’s not good, it’s not Korzeniowski’s fault, it’s because the action is so dumb, nothing’s going to make it right. And by dumb, it’s usually not a dumb turn of events, it’s a failed attempt at conveying something visually. Chung is a terrible editor; Moore’s mediocre composition is the only good thing about his direction.

Tomorrow isn’t even better for being short because the second half of the film, when Abramsohn’s cheating on his wife and taking the daughter around the park to stalk the girls, drags on forever. There are like four endings to this stupid thing, each one worse than the previous.

And, what’s funny… I was onboard with it for a long time. It’s technically pretty neat, though Chung’s editing is even worse when they’re using digital effects to compensate for the shooting constraint, and it could have easily gone somewhere. Instead, it goes nowhere. Because Moore has absolutely nothing to say. Not about madness, not about marriage, not about parenting, not about Disney World. Escape from Tomorrow is a pointlessly offensive juvenile attempt at edginess.

There is no escape.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Randy Moore; director of photography, Lucas Lee Graham; edited by Soojin Chung; music by Abel Korzeniowski; production designers, Sean Kaysen and Lawrence Kim; produced by Chung and Gioia Marchese; released by Producers Distribution Agency.

Starring Roy Abramsohn (Jim), Elena Schuber (Emily), Jack Dalton (Elliot) and Katelynn Rodriguez (Sara).


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Batman: The Killing Joke (2016, Sam Liu)

There’s a lot to be said about Batman: The Killing Joke, both the comic book and its animated adaptation. It’s another of Alan Moore’s unintentional curses on mainstream comics; listening to his dialogue spoken… it’s clear he was hurrying through the Batman stuff. Or Kevin Conroy just doesn’t do it right. I don’t know. Because Killing Joke is also the big deal reuniting of Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker. These two guys helped legitimize voice acting in animation. It became a thing. So is Conroy supposed to be doing his traditional Batman or is he supposed to be doing what the movie needs? I know my answer, but I’m not an “Animated Series” fan. Batman: The Killing Joke is a precarious proposition.

So what’s inexplicable is why there’s this misogynistic “Batgirl” short stuck on the front. It was obviously intended to be a special feature and not part of the movie proper because Liu’s downright ambitious with the Hamill Joker stuff. The flashback stuff is all crap and Liu screws it up worse, but the Joker stuff is awesome. The Batman stuff sucks. It’s earnest though, it earnestly sucks. The Batgirl opening, with dreadfully cheap animation (especially compared to the “feature” portion of the film), clearly has a story behind it. Like it was entirely farmed out and there’s some terrible overseas meninist who wanted to tell this frankly disgusting story about Batgirl being incapable as a superhero because she’s a woman. The dialogue’s real bad too. Screenwriter Brian Azzarello has some almost quite good lines in the feature, so it probably wasn’t him. It’s very cartoony, very simple language, short sentences. I’m not even sure it’s really Conroy voicing Batman, he doesn’t talk enough. And then in the feature, he can’t shut up.

Batman: The Killing Joke is far more controversial out of stupidity than anything else. If the “Batgirl” short really was something crappy your overseas studio’s C unit threw together in two weeks and the first draft of the script actually features a period joke, hire someone else. Hire anyone else to rewrite it. Because it’s really nasty and if it were actually what Killing Joke were doing–reconfiguring the entire Batman mythology in a really cheap animation style, which is what the “prologue” implies, Killing Joke would be worth talking about seriously as a film, as an adaptation of a watershed (intentional or not) moment for comic book brands. It’d be important. But it’s not. It’s a crappy, cheap, terrible prologue. And the producers don’t even have the stones to lay blame. They actually let Liu and Azzarello on the hook for it. I mean, the opening twenty-eight minutes of Killing Joke are some of the worst minutes of animation I’ve seen. There’s no visual rhythm. There’s objectification of Batgirl, who’s a cartoon. There’s a gay stereotype sidekick. There’s no narrative rhythm either. It’s like there’s an app for randomly generated screenplays with nods to social relevance and buzzwords and sex (oh, yeah, the opening slut shames Batgirl).

But there’s no apology in the “feature.” There’s no acknowledgement. There’s a bridging sequence set years after the prologue where the director (Liu?) again objectifies a cartoon character and Batman then gets to ruin her night without actually talking to her because she is a slut after all. She slept with him. And he’s old enough to be her dad. What’s so strange about the prologue is it knows what it’s doing. It knows how it’s condemning her, demeaning her. It’s intentional. And gross. And not part of the actual Killing Joke adaptation. But it’s forced upon viewers as such. These DC animated movies started out with ninety minute runtimes in hopes of syndication sales down the line and they never broke that mold. Killing Joke was going to run too short. There’s an explanation for why they made these choices, but it’s not an excuse. They don’t get a pass. It’s about not taking those adaptations seriously enough. They’ve had standouts over the years, but they’ve missed a lot of opportunities in some cases and just made terrible films in others. Would The Killing Joke be worth it as a short? No. Hamill’s great. The animation is pretty good with too many exceptions, particularly the boring Batman. Conroy’s not my thing. He’s not good with the dialogue. It’s not the right casting or not the right direction, which means commercial wins over artistic there too.

Real quick–the “feature” characterization of Strong’s Batgirl (but just alter ego Barbara Gordon) is pretty lame. Azzarello doesn’t care. But he’s not hostile. She actually gets something of an arc. And Strong is worse in the feature part than she is in the opening. In the opening she’s just got a crap script. In the feature, she’s got a less crappy script but more dramatic necessity and she doesn’t bring it. Though she’s not good. Even with Azzarello’s writerly misadventures trying to ape the original comic writer’s dialogue style; she should get to chew on those lines, but she doesn’t. It wouldn’t be such a big deal except she started the damn movie as narrator–the “prologue” has very nice bookends–which doesn’t figure into the rest of the film. It hangs Strong out to dry. She went from being dumb high energy to smart low energy. I mean, as is, The Killing Joke just begs for discussion–the movie kind of one-ups Superman II, which ethically castrates the Man of Steel for eternity, by ending up implying Batgirl making Batman acknowledge his sexual attraction for her meant she should end up paralyzed so she could never know similar male affections, and never again from him. It’s weird how intentionally gross it all works. It’s like someone at Warner Animation hates Liu and Azzarello and loves they’re credited on all this nastiness. Because the feature part does all right by Strong’s character. It doesn’t do well, but it does all right. Liu does have some missteps with the implied nudity (because it’s not a cartoon if it doesn’t have nudity, you know, for kids), but he finds his footing. He’s not doing cheap butt shots like in the prologue. He’s not interested in the female character enough to do anything, positive or negative; he’s there for Hamill.

When The Killing Joke was announced, I assumed it’d be crappy. When it started, with that super-cheap animation, I wasn’t surprised. DC animated movies never surprise me with their cheapness. But the “feature” portion is better than I would’ve thought, but it’s still not good. Liu’s enthusiastic but he’s not good. He’s not creative enough, especially not considering you’re taking the super-realism of Brian Bolland and turning it into a not at all super-real cartoon. It’s all supposed to be good enough because the idea of Killing Joke as an animated movie with Conroy and Hamill is cool. That prologue is supposed to get a pass because they just had to make the movie a certain length for the theatrical screenings or something. It’s Killing Joke as a cartoon, give it a pass.

It doesn’t not get a pass because of the prologue. I mean, it won’t get a pass with that prologue, I’m not going to argue for that kind of Vanilla Sky appeasement. But its fail is in Liu’s limited imagination and fundamentally weak rendering of the story. He’s too static, he’s too faithful to the original panels and he’s utterly tone deaf with this characterization of Batman.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Liu; screenplay by Brian Azzarello, based on a comic book by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland and characters created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger; edited by Christopher D. Lozinski; music by Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion and Lolita Ritmanis; produced by Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett and Sam Register; released by Warner Home Video.

Starring Kevin Conroy (Batman), Mark Hamill (The Joker), Tara Strong (Barbara Gordon / Batgirl), Ray Wise (Commissioner Gordon), Maury Sterling (Paris Franz), Brian George (Alfred) and Robin Atkin Downes (Detective Bullock).


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Frankenstein (2011, Danny Boyle), the second version

Maybe Danny Boyle isn’t the right guy to direct a stage play of Frankenstein. When he goes to close-ups–this Frankenstein being a filmed performance, with a lot of overhead shots and close-ups to make it somewhat filmic (along with terrible music choices)–he doesn’t seem to recognize some of his actors aren’t really doing enough emoting for a close-up.

Jonny Lee Miller does fine emoting. Miller plays the Creature. Miller’s captivating. Phenomenal. Breathtaking. Every nice adjective one could come up with. Even when he’s got some really weak dialogue, Miller nails it.

Nick Dear’s play–loosely adapted from the novel with some familiar movie details thrown in–gives the Creature a lot to do. It doesn’t give Frankenstein much of a character, but Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t put much into the performance so it evens out. Otherwise, he just stands around waiting for Miller to finish something amazing.

There are some cute nods to the Universal films, set design, a really cute music one. Also the humor. There’s a lot of humor in Frankenstein, presumably to compensate for the darkness. Except Dear (and Boyle in his filming choices) go real dark. So why not own it?

Well, they don’t own their good choices so why should own their bad ones. Bad choices like George Harris as Frankenstein’s father. He’s awful.

Naomie Harris is excellent as Elizabeth though. She and Miller’s scene together is heart-wrenching.

Cumberbatch’s disinterest aside, the script’s the problem. But Miller gloriously overcomes it.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Boyle; play by Nick Dear, based on the novel by Mary Shelley; music by Karl Hyde and Rick Smith; released by National Theatre Live.

Starring Jonny Lee Miller (The Creature), Benedict Cumberbatch (Victor Frankenstein), Naomie Harris (Elizabeth Lavenza), George Harris (M. Frankenstein), Ella Smith (Clarice), Mark Armstrong (Rab), John Stahl (Ewan) and Karl Johnson (de Lacey).


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