Posts Tagged ‘Lauren Montgomery’

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Some stories — whether we’re about talking movies, comics, novels, novellas, short stories, TV shows, you name it — are so dependent on one single,solitary plot twist and/or revelation for more or less all of their dramatic impact that, if you’ve had said twist/revelation “spoiled” for you going in, there’s really not much point in watching or reading the actual work itself. I believe it’s called “putting all your eggs in one basket” or, if you’re feeling a bit more vulgar, “shooting your whole load at once.”

2012’s DC Universe direct-to-video animated feature Justice League : Doom is a prime example of what I’m talking about, and since I’d heard about the movie’s supposed “surprise” going in, I was pretty well underwhelmed by the longer-than-these-things-usually-run-for 75 minutes  of the film as a whole, which is probably going to result in me giving it a somewhat more tepid review than perhaps it deserves — unless, of course, it does deserve it precisely because it offers so little apart from the “gotcha!” moment we’re talking about here.

Or not talking about, as the case may be. Unlike the IMDB (whatever you do,  avoid reading their entry on this flick there before seeing it!), I’m not going to blab the nature or details of the surprise just in case you, dear reader, have neither seen it yet nor read the fairly-well-regarded Mark Waid-scripted comics (adapted for the small screen quite adequately by the, sad to say, late Dwayne McDuffie) upon which it’s based (if not, don’t sweat it, you’re going to enjoy this all the more — but again, only if you studiously avoid any and all “spoilers” floating around the internet). That’s just the kinda guy I am, always looking out for my “peeps.”

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So here’s what I can give you as far as plot rundowns go while still preserving the big secret : second-tier villain Vandal Savage (who’s always struck me as being a kind of low-rent Ra’s Al Ghul, only with a name that would make him a better adversary for Conan The Barbarian — voiced here by a guy name Phil Morris who is, I’m assuming, not that Philip Morris) has assembled the ol’ gang of fellow also-ran baddies like Mirror Master (Alexis Denisof), Cheetah (Farscape‘s Claudia Black), Bane (Carlos Alazraqui), Metallo (Paul Blackthorne), and Star Sapphire (Olivia d’Abo) to take on their adversaries in the Justice League (here featuring the vocal talents of Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tim Daly as Superman, Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman, Michael Rosenbaum as Flash, Bumper Robinson as Cyborg, Carl Lumbly as Martian Manhunter, and Firefly/Castle fan favorite Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern) one last time — and I say “last” because our guy Vandal has finally learned each member’s individual weaknesses and has devised a (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) cunning  master plan to bring ’em all down.

Sound interesting?  That’s the problem — in and of itself, it’s really not. But where and from whom he got all this top-secret info , not to mention why  they even had it in the first place — now, that’s interesting. And that’s  the point at which I dutifully STFU.

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As you can probably tell from the run-down I just gave, voice director Andrea Romano has assembled an intriguing collection of newcomers and returning veterans in these roles (my bad, I forgot to mention frequent DCU voice actor GreyDeLisle turns up here as Lois Lane in my earlier cast run-down, but since she’s neither a hero nor a villain but is, instead, one of the few genuine side characters in this flick, where was I supposed to put her?), and they all do a nice job, as does the film’s director proper, Lauren Montgomery, who keeps things moving along at a brisk little pace, but it’s really not enough to save a milquetoast plot that absolutely hinges on a lone, albeit quite cool, contrivance.

Justice League : Doom is definitely worth a look if you don’t know anything about it going in, and maybe worth at least a disinterested look even if you do, and should you decide to go ahead and do so it’s available on both DVD and Blu-Ray from Warner Premier. I got the DVD from Netflix and found it to be, as is par for the course with these DCU titles, free of extras apart from promo stuff for other movies in the range, but I’m sure the Blu-Ray has a few goodies not found elsewhere. The widescreen picture and 5.1 sound mix are, as always, top-notch.

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So that’s the book on this one, then. Perhaps not the most informative review you’re likely to find about it, but trust me — the less you know, the more you’re apt to like it.

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What the hell, these reviews of titles in Warner Premiere’s “DC Universe” straight-to-video animation line seem to be getting a reasonably healthy response around these parts, so let’s plug away and do at least a couple more until I’m bored with the whole thing and feel like getting back to horror, exploitation, and all that other good stuff, shall we? And seeing as how our first entrants in this little sidebar series took a look at the two-part Dark Knight Returns, based on Frank Miller’s justifiably legendary take on the “omega” phase of Batman’s crime-fighting career,  it seems only right that we next turn our attentions to 2011’s animated adaptation of Batman : Year One, based on Miller and artist David Mazzuchelli’s take on the Caped Crusader’s “alpha” period.

Again, a little background for those not steeped in comic lore : hot on the heels of the success of The Dark Knight mini-series, Bat-books editor-at-the-time Denny O’Neil (a fairly accomplished author of numerous well-regarded Batman stories in his own right), approached said title’s creator, Frank Miller, with a proposal to essentially give him carte-blanche to retell the Gotham Guardian’s origin story as a way of “re-setting the table” on the regular monthly Batman series. Miller agreed, but only wanted to write it, bringing in as his artistic partner on the project one David Mazzuchelli, with whom he had collaborated on a recent run of stories for Marvel’s Daredevil book. Mazzuchelli bought a distinctly noir-ish and cinematic sensibility to the proceedings, and the end result , while admittedly a fairly basic, if extrapolated, take on events we already knew which sees Bruce Wayne return to Gotham to embark on his one-man war on crime, form an uneasy alliance with then-Lieutenant Jim Gordon (who seems to be one of the few honest cops in town), have his first series of encounters with a prostitute-turned-cat-burglar named Selina Kyle, and go after the beating heart of the city’s organized crime operation in the form of Carmine “The Roman” Falcone, is nonetheless a deeply resonant character-driven piece with a pleasing “pulp detective” artistic sensibility that feels both nostalgic and oddly contemporary at the same time. If the word timeless comes to mind from the brief run-down just provided, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark, as this brief-but-no-doubt historic four-issue Batman run, which has since been collected in near-innumerable paperback and hardcover iterations, feels as fresh and vital today as it did when first published way back in 1987.

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The real genius of what Miller chose to do story-wise,though,  is that, despite the fact that we are granted numerous takes on the events depicted from the vantage points of both Batman and Catwoman, this is more or less Gordon’s tale, and we see get to see both the cesspool of corruption and vice that is Gotham City, as well as witness the dawn of a new age of weirdos in costumes, through his eyes. Miler’s version of Gordon is hardly a flawless hero — he’s stepping out on his pregnant wife with one of his colleagues on the force (who long-time Bat-fans will know becomes the second Mrs. Gordon at some unspecified future point), for instance, but by and large this is a decent guy trying to make sense of circumstances, and a city, that he can’t quite get his head around.

The powers that be in the suits at Warner and DC wisely decided to retain this Gordon-centric narrative structure when they adapted the story for home video release in 2011, and even more wisely opted to cast Bryan Cranston as Jimbo’s voice ‘artist,” so needless to say — expect some great things here. Yeah, okay, again it would have been nice (and frankly pretty gutsy) for directors Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery to have their animators hue a bit more closely to Mazzuchelli’s visual style, but the finished product probably would have been considered somewhat inaccessible for, at least, a non-comics audience (although I gotta wonder how much a “non-comics audience” would even care about this thing in the first place), but at least most of the characters in this one look like real people rather than the non-green Hulks of (the otherwise generally excellent ) The Dark Knight Returns.

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As far as the rest of the cast goes, Ben McKenzie positively nails it as Bruce Wayne/Batman, GreyDeLisle is pitch-perfect as the suffering-in-silence Barbara Gordon, Katee Sackhoff is suitably sultry as the object of Jim’s extra-curricular affections, Detective Sarah Essen, supposed “nerd culture” sex object Eliza Dushku inhabits Selina Kyle/Catwoman quite nicely, and it’s an out-and-out treat to hear the great Alex Rocco giving vocal “life” to Falcone. It’s Cranston’s show all the way, but these folks add plenty of spice to the stew.

On the technical specs front, Batman : Year One is available on three different home video formats : single-disc DVD, single-disc Blu-Ray, and a double-disc DVD “special edition.” All three feature superb widescreen picture and a genuinely dynamic 5.1 sound mix, as well as a rather risque but otherwise generally uninteresting Catwoman short, and a smattering of promo stuff for other entrants in the “DCU” line. The Blu-Ray and two-disc DVD also feature a pretty sold little mini-documentary on the genesis  of, and influences on,  Batman : Year One in its original comic book form, and a couple of episodes of the Batman animated TV series that are at least tangentially related to the main course on offer here (again with the food metaphors, sorry — haven’t eaten lunch yet).

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Final verdict, then : as with Miller’s Dark Knight, this is a seminal Bat-story that most definitely live up to all the hype, and its home video animated offspring is a faithful, exciting, well-constructed work that sticks to the character-driven narrative design of its printed-page progenitor for a highly-accessible translation that retains both the boldness and simplicity of Miller/Mazzuchelli while smoothing out its rough (but oh-so-lovely) edges just a bit.

Hell, just writing about it puts me in the mood to watch it again.