Tag Archives: Mark Hamill

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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Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993, Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm)

There are a lot of excellent things in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, but maybe my favorite thing is the end credits music. It’s smooth jazz. It’s this smooth jazz love song over the cast and when you see names like Abe Vigoda and Dick Miller and John P. Ryan in an animated Batman movie, you want to enjoy the moment. With smooth jazz.

But, just wait, it’s not only smooth jazz. It’s a Tia Carrere song. Who knew there was such a thing as a Tia Carrere song but there is in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which makes it special. It’s not bad, either. It’s fine. Phantasm is this fifties melodrama style mixed with impossibly big buildings–which matches the lushness–and it’s a perfectly reasonable way to end the movie.

I wish they hadn’t done the “and Batman’s adventures continue” tag, but the finale of Phantasm has a number of problems. The movie starts exceptionally strong but the writing in the first act is stronger than the second and momentum runs out. It’s still really good–there are frequent action scenes and they’re phenomenal–it’s just not as good as it seemed like it might be.

Because Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is breathtaking. The designs are gorgeous, the animation is gorgeous. And it’s a solid outing for Batman; Kevin Conroy’s Batman is far more likable than anything else. He’s got personality, but not too much and not jaded personality either. It’s accessible to the kids, which is an inevitable.

But the screenwriters do a good job getting everything onto that chastened level–Conroy’s romance with Dana Delany, Hart Bochner’s sliminess. Not Mark Hamill’s Joker, however. It’s the one thing Phantasm never backs down on. It’s a very strange sensation because you’re watching a cartoon and somehow Hamill makes the character into a show-off. It shouldn’t be possible, but he’s so good, so well-timed. It’s kind of freaky, especially the editing on the Joker’s murder sequences. Al Breitenbach’s editing is great throughout, but it’s something special on those Joker sequences. It’s scary.

Good music from Shirley Walker. She has some cute nods to the Tim Burton scores.

Almost all of the acting is good, Delany and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in particular. In addition to Hamill, of course. And Conroy’s real good. Stacy Keach doesn’t impress though. It just doesn’t work.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is pretty darn good. It’s got a beauty pace–directors Radomski and Timm take their time with the shots, it’s cinematic through its pacing, not just its action sequences. It’s got some great acting. It just has some second and third act problems. But it’s pretty darn good; it’s often spectacular.

And it does end with a Tia Carrere ballad, which defies reality–a perfectly fine and appropriate Tia Carrere ballad too, which defies reality even more.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm; screenplay by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Paso and Michael Reaves, based on a story by Burnett and characters created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger; edited by Al Breitenbach; music by Shirley Walker; produced by Benjamin Melniker and Michael Uslan; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Conroy (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Dana Delany (Andrea Beaumont), Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Alfred Pennyworth), Bob Hastings (Commissioner James Gordon), Hart Bochner (Arthur Reeves), Stacy Keach (Carl Beaumont), Robert Costanzo (Detective Harvey Bullock), Abe Vigoda (Salvatore Valestra), Dick Miller (Chuckie Sol), John P. Ryan (Buzz Bronski) and Mark Hamill (The Joker).


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Return of the Jedi (1983, Richard Marquand)

Nothing really works out in Return of the Jedi. Even the opening, which is about as good as it can be with director Marquand’s inability to direct the actors and do the special effects, doesn’t exactly work out. Jedi’s problems keep bumping into each other, knocking over the good stuff.

What good stuff? Jabba the Hutt. The Jabba the Hutt puppet is truly amazing. Carrie Fisher. For the first hour of the movie, Fisher gets a whole bunch to do and she’s great at it. Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas’s script doesn’t have much good about it–at its best, it’s just barely competent–but it does structure a good role for Fisher. And she nails it, even with Marquand’s lame direction. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t have anything for her to do once the Ewoks show up.

Are the Ewoks good? The walking, adorable warrior teddy bears?

The costumes are good. But then, all of Jedi’s special effects are well-designed. The special effects sequences are often cut terribly and Alan Hume’s photography leaves a lot to be desired, but the visual concepts are strong. One desperately wants to cut Jedi some slack, just because it seems like things should be working. They just aren’t. Not even John Williams’s score. He has his moments, but there’s no overarching feel to the score. And it’s even bad at times.

As far as the actors go… besides Fisher, the best performances is probably Billy Dee Williams. Williams has a pointless role and he works at it anyway. Harrison Ford has a really weak opening and then is just supposed to charm his way through most of the film. Even when there is a possible good moment, Jedi doesn’t deliver.

And Mark Hamill’s bad. It’s not his fault, but he’s not good. He’s better than Ian McDiarmid though.

Jedi works hard without trying anything. It’s a real disappointment, especially for Hamill, Ford and Fisher. They deserved a lot better.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Marquand; screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas, based on a story by Lucas; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Sean Barton, Marcia Lucas and Duwayne Dunham; music by John Williams; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Howard G. Kazanjian; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), David Prowse (Darth Vader), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Frank Oz (Yoda).


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The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Irvin Kershner)

The most amazing aspect of The Empire Strikes Back is its effortlessness. The film is clearly exceptionally complex–the three story lines have different sets, different actors, different tones, not to mention entirely different special effects requirements–not to mention Frank Oz’s Yoda–but it all appears effortless. Director Kershner is infinitely confident, infinitely assured. He simultaneously manipulates the actors while trusting their abilities entirely.

A lot of Empire’s success is due to Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay. The relationship between Mark Hamill and Oz, the one between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher–not to mention the beautiful acknowledgement of the first film–the little character moments, acknowledging the time they spend together, Anthony Daniels getting to acknowledge the “unreality” of the film, every little thing is so good. There’s a beautiful flow to the film.

And John Williams is responsible for a lot of that flow. Kershner, Williams, cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, editor Paul Hirsch, production designer Norman Reynolds. Those five people are responsible for Empire’s lush, emotive style. It’s a treat. It’s meant to be a treat. These five people get to flex their abilities. They get to show off. But they don’t, because it’s even better to produce something magnificent. Empire is, hands down, my favorite example of a well-produced film. So I guess Gary Kurtz is the most responsible.

Anyway. Williams. Williams and the music. It’s entirely possible between Williams, Suschitzky and Hirsch, no one could give a bad performance in the film. There’s no way to test the theory, unfortunately, because all of the actors are phenomenal. The script–and Kershner–acknowledge the cast’s chemistry and different styles and molds Empire around them. What’s most strange is when Billy Dee Williams arrives, he fits in with them perfectly. Of course, perfect is the only word to describe the film’s performances.

I’m at a bit of a loss as how to close. I thought about talking about how Brackett and Kasdan borrow a lot of plotting techniques from Westerns, but Kershner doesn’t, which actually makes for a more interesting discussion but not a closing.

The Empire Strikes Back is sort of a humanist, escapist picture. Kershner and the rest of the crew–I mean, come on, the special effects are astounding and the way Kershner builds to bigger, then smaller, sequences is breathtaking–they do an amazing job. Everyone does. It’s singular.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Irvin Kershner; screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, based on a story by George Lucas; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by John Williams; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Gary Kurtz; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), David Prowse (Darth Vader), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Kenny Baker (R2-D2) and Frank Oz (Yoda).


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