Tag Archives: Ray Wise

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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Robocop (1987, Paul Verhoeven), the director's cut

There are a lot of acknowledged accomplishments to Robocop. Pretty much everyone identifies Rob Bottin and Phil Tippett. Bottin handled the startling makeup, Tippett did the awesome stop motion. Director Verhoeven gets a lot of credit–rightly so–and Basil Poledouris’s score is essential. Big scene or small, whenever Poledouris’s music kicks in, the film hits every note better.

One scene in particular is the Robocop in his old house sequence–which is just after Peter Weller starts to get the role as a character and not an automation; seeing Weller make that transition is amazing because he can’t do it with expressions, only pause.

That scene’s also fantastic for the unacknowledged Robocop accomplishment–Jost Vacano’s photography. He’s the one who makes the film feel real. Well, along with Verhoeven and the writers distaste for the cool-looking future they create. The writers are able to get in some great observations, but they never let the future get too real. It focuses the story’s attention unexpectedly well.

It doesn’t hurt the film’s perfectly acted. Easy examples are Kurtwood Smith and Miguel Ferrer, but everyone’s great. Nancy Allen is the perfect sidekick for Weller. Given how fast their characters get established in the film, they have to work well together immediately and they do.

Verhoeven’s the real star–he, Weller and Bottin, actually. Without Bottin and Weller, Robocop wouldn’t seem real, but without Verhoeven the film wouldn’t work. His approach to the violence–and the quiet–are essential to Robocop’s success.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Verhoeven; written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner; director of photography, Jost Vacano; edited by Frank J. Urioste; music by Basil Poledouris; production designer, William Sandell; produced by Arne Schmidt; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Peter Weller (Officer Alex J. Murphy), Nancy Allen (Officer Anne Lewis), Dan O’Herlihy (The Old Man), Ronny Cox (Dick Jones), Kurtwood Smith (Clarence J. Boddicker), Miguel Ferrer (Bob Morton), Robert DoQui (Sergeant Warren Reed), Ray Wise (Leon C. Nash), Felton Perry (Johnson), Paul McCrane (Emil M. Antonowsky), Jesse D. Goins (Joe P. Cox), Del Zamora (Kaplan), Calvin Jung (Steve Minh), Rick Lieberman (Walker) and Lee de Broux (Sal).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | THE ROBOCOP TRILOGY.

Swamp Thing (1982, Wes Craven)

Swamp Thing succeeds–to the degree it does–both in spite of Wes Craven and because of him. Craven is not an inventive low budget filmmaker. He does nothing to compensate. The Swamp Thing costume is bad, has lots of movement below the chest. Craven shoots it head-to-toe instead of obscuring it. There’s a real disconnect between Craven’s handling of the costume and with the special effects in general and the film in general, because Craven’s not playing Swamp Thing for laughs. The other big problem Craven brings to the table is his inability to film an action scene or scenes in the open (on open water, with a clear sky). Swamp Thing cuts from good composition to bad composition almost every shot during the middle. It’s extremely disconcerting.

But, like I said, it still succeeds… because even with turning Louis Jordan into a wild boar, Craven takes the film seriously. Swamp Thing is not smart. Craven’s script is riddled with holes and is, at times, dumb. But he’s earnest. He creates two excellent character relationships–Swamp Thing and Adrienne Barbeau and then Barbeau and her teenage sidekick, played by Reggie Batts. The most successful thing about the Swamp Thing romance–well, it starts when it’s still Ray Wise as the human version–is Craven sells it in a short amount of time. The whole movie takes place over three or four days and the establishing romance takes place in–story-time–a few hours the first day, at most. But Craven, Barbeau, Wise and later Dick Durock sell it.

A lot of the film’s earnestness has to do with the actors. While Jordan (gloriously) adds relish to his ham, Barbeau, Wise, and Durock all play it straight. Barbeau runs around in skimpy outfits–heels in the swamp too–but her performance is great. The stuff with her and Durock, who I never realized was so affecting in the Swamp Thing costume before, is great. But the stuff with her and Batts is somehow even more touching, since the romance is kind of expected, but the genuine human concern element is not.

Craven shoots all of the swamp scenes on location, both a good idea and bad (those wide open spaces I mentioned before), and the film does have some lovely cinematic moments. Especially when the Harry Manfredini score is in its soft parts and not the action ones (Manfredini’s action music is a fit for Craven’s action direction). Unfortunately, the scenes in Jordan’s villainous hideout… a mansion, leave a lot to be desired. Craven’s script is short on establishing Jordan’s character other than giving him a staff of young female assistants and dumb macho mercenaries.

Because the film’s so short, because it moves so fast–and because the action scenes are impossible to remember–Swamp Thing leaves a good impression. One remembers the successes–thanks to Barbeau and Batts–and excuses the failures. But some of it, the haunting beauty, does come from Craven… though he gets crucial help from the natural locations and Manfredini’s score.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Craven; screenplay by Craven, based on the DC comic book by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson; director of photography, Robbie Greenberg; edited by Richard Bracken; music by Harry Manfredini; production designers, Robb Wilson King and David Nichols; produced by Benjamin Melniker and Michael E. Uslan; released by Embassy Pictures.

Starring Louis Jourdan (Dr. Anton Arcane), Adrienne Barbeau (Alice Cable), Ray Wise (Doctor Alec Holland), David Hess (Ferret), Nicholas Worth (Bruno), Don Knight (Harry Ritter), Al Ruban (Charlie), Dick Durock (Swamp Thing), Ben Bates (The Arcane Monster), Nannette Brown (Dr. Linda Holland) and Reggie Batts (Jude).


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Good Night, and Good Luck (2005, George Clooney)

George Clooney directs Good Night, and Good Luck with an absolute confidence. It’s Clooney’s second film, but he doesn’t just know how to make a restricted setting story (the film takes place in the CBS building, a bar, and two to three other locations) exciting… he also knows how to make an informative docudrama into an affecting and revealing look at people working together. So, Good Luck is about citizenship and working together. And some great filmmaking.

Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov have their main story–the plot–Murrow and McCarthy, but they add these subplots, some small, some very big. For example, the plight of secretly married couple Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson parallels the film’s main plot. But there’s also Ray Wise’s story (Clooney introduces Wise being filmed in studio, so discreetly, I thought it was a cameo). Or the relationship between Clooney’s Fred Friendly and David Strathairn’s Murrow, which is deceptively (at least as the film starts) deep. Their partnership is what enables the film’s main plot. It’s an incredibly interesting narrative, because the film is so short and… for the most part, most of the characters are only recognizable by their faces, not by names. Clooney cast a lot of good people who do good work, but they’re important to the film because they work with Strathairn and Clooney, not for any other reason (Downey and Clarkson being exceptions).

As for Strathairn’s performance… he brings an inestimable humanity to Murrow. His physical performance is perfect, of course, but there’s this sensitivity, which makes Murrow almost so real he’s fiction.

The film draws some definite parallels between the film’s era and the modern one, when the television industry has turned news in to an even cheaper, even more exploitative reality show (something Murrow warns about early on). But Clooney closes with Eisenhower, reminding modern conservatives Republicans weren’t always evil-minded idiots and, presumably, liberals too.

The use of historical footage should be distracting, but isn’t. Even when, while watching, I noticed modern “news reporters” on television got a lot of their interviewing technique from McCarthy… I’m not sure how Clooney got away with it–some of the footage is cleaner than the rest and it’s all supposed to be on television, but it presumably would have looked better–maybe he made it part of the black and white film agreement… you’re watching Good Night, and Good Luck and it’s in black and white and so you’re going to accept what follows. Somehow, the film’s reality and the news footage works hand in hand, the footage making the other scenes more real.

It’s a significant achievement, not just for a second-time director. Lots of decent directors go whole careers without pulling off anything this assured and there are lots of great ones who only manage to do them sporadically. The film’s exquisite.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Clooney; written by Clooney and Grant Heslov; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Stephen Mirrione; production designer, Jim Bissell; produced by Heslov; released by Warner Independent Pictures.

Starring David Strathairn (Edward R. Murrow), George Clooney (Fred Friendly), Patricia Clarkson (Shirley Wershba), Robert Downey Jr. (Joe Wershba), Frank Langella (William Paley), Grant Heslov (Don Hewitt), Ray Wise (Don Hollenbeck) and Dianne Reeves (Jazz Singer).


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