Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: July 2008

Thursday, July 31, 2008

DVD Review: Diva and The Red Violin - A Classic and a Cult Favorite are Rereleased for a New Audience

by Tony Dayoub

Lionsgate Films' new Meridian Collection debuted in May. It is intended to showcase foreign films in newly remastered editions with more extras than previously available on DVD. The first two films to launch the collection are the classic Diva (1981) and a cult favorite, The Red Violin (1998).

In Diva, Jules (Frédéric Andréi), a postal worker, secretly records a famous opera singer's performance. The tape is in high demand since the performer, Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez) has stated she would never allow any recordings to be made of her voice. When the recording is switched with a tape exposing the leader of a prostitution ring, a chase involving the police and the underworld ensues, with the postal worker caught in the middle.

Directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix, this classic film was at the forefront of a movement of filmmakers, like Luc Besson (Nikita), and Leos Carax (Les Amants du Pont-Neuf), collectively known as the "Cinema du Look". Panned by critics upon release, the film was accused of being pleasing to the eye, but ultimately shallow. Americans were having similar reactions to Paul Schrader's American Gigolo (1980), and Michael Mann's Thief (1981). Taken all together, it may be true that these films would ultimately inspire the Michael Bays of the world to stimulate moviegoers visually with no regard for complexity in story. But Beineix, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot (who would go on to greater acclaim with some well-known films like Dangerous Liaisons), and production designer Hilton McConnico were essentially pioneering the a neo-noir. Visually expressionistic like its antecedents, the film now had the luxury of introducing color into film noir's palette. It still, however, limited the hues, focusing on the high contrast as the earlier noir films did, but in monochromatic blues and yellows instead of black and white. The neon sheen of this film and its American counterparts predates, and no doubt influenced, later fare such as Scarface (1983) and Miami Vice (1984).

The Red Violin is a triptych revolving around a violin that is being auctioned to high demand. After a prologue depicting the violin's "birth", a framing story follows an appraiser (Samuel L. Jackson), through the auction house's authentication process. The viewer is then treated to a "biography" of the musical instrument. Three stories, set in different countries and periods, give us a glimpse into the violin's "life", and its mystical ability to curse all who own it. The complex structure of the story centers around the dual mystery of whether this is the actual Red Violin everyone in the film has been pursuing, and why the legendary instrument is red.

This cult favorite has a wonderful Oscar-winning score by John Corigliano, and features passionate performances by Jason Flemyng, Don McKellar (who also cowrote the screenplay), and Greta Scacchi. While not a true classic on the level of Diva, The Red Violin has an aura of beauty and mystery that rewards both the new and repeat viewer.

These two films are definitely worth adding to your collection, and a step in the right direction for Lionsgate. I can't wait to see what the next films in their Meridian line will be.

Stills provided courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Movie Trailer: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

by Tony Dayoub

Here's the trailer for a new documentary, which like yesterday's trailer, gives us a look at Vice President Dick Cheney's rise to power.

Oops, it's actually the trailer to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which gives us a look at Lord Voldemort's rise to power.

Can you see how I could have confused the two? The movie is set for release on November 21.

Click on the picture above to be redirected to the official website for a look at the trailer.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

DVD Review: Route 66: Complete First Season Television Series - Classic TV Series Is Worth a Second Look

by Tony Dayoub

Tod Stiles (Martin Milner), Yale grad, inherits a new Corvette from his father, who died unexpectedly penniless. Buz Murdock (George Maharis) is a friend he met while working for his dad. Also an orphan, Buz joins Tod on a cross-country soul-searching trip through America's cities and rural areas. The young men take on odd jobs when in need of money, and often become embroiled in drama of some kind with the people they run across.

This was the premise of one of TV's classic series, Route 66, which ran from 1960-1964. Writer Stirling Silliphant, who went on to win an Oscar for his screenplay for In The Heat of the Night (1967), was responsible for a sizable amount of the show's literate and highly involving dramatic scripts. The stories showcased some now-famous talent at early points in their careers, including Alan Alda, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Lee Marvin, Julie Newmar, Robert Redford, William Shatner, and Martin Sheen. The chemistry between the fiery, darkly handsome Maharis (The Sword and the Sorcerer), and the laid-back, boyishly good-looking Milner (Adam-12), was influential to many future "buddy pics".

But the most innovative aspect of the series was its location shooting. TV series today are frequently based in LA or Vancouver, and will use those cities to double for a myriad of other locations whenever necessary. Route 66 was, and maybe still is, unique in that whatever town Tod and Buz happened to be the setting for the story, the episode would actually be shot there. This gave an authenticity to the background and regional supporting players that has never been duplicated on television on such a regular basis since then. And man, did these guys travel. Leaving the titular Route 66 behind early on in the series, they travelled all across the U.S. from California to Maine to Florida. The series almost serves as a visual historical document, capturing the life of the open road as it was in 1960, before commercialization and interstates all but destroyed the backroads of America's heartland.

Couple that with the hit instrumental theme composed by Nelson Riddle, and the first extended look at a true American classic, the Corvette, and it is easy to see why the show still has its vocal fans. So vocal that when the series debuted on DVD in split season volumes with dingy visuals, fans complained loudly. Infinity Entertainment Group listened. They've digitally remastered the program, and are now rereleasing the series in season-long box sets.

Strongly recommended for fans of drama, due to strong acting from the guest stars, as well as a showcase of Maharis' early potential (which sadly is little heard of these days), get Route 66 on DVD next week.

The first set will be released on August 5th on DVD. It includes all thirty episodes of the first season, classic TV commercials, filmographies of the cast and guest cast, and a classic Corvette photo gallery with specs.

Movie Trailer: Oliver Stone's W.

by Tony Dayoub

Here's the trailer for Oliver Stone's new movie W., about the George W. Bush presidency, coming this fall.

The all-star cast includes Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men) as "Dubya", Richard Dreyfuss (Mr. Holland's Opus) as Dick Cheney, and other luminaries you'll recognize. But I'll let you see for yourself, as that's part of the trailer's charm.

The movie is set for an October 17 release.

Click on the picture above to be redirected to YouTube for a look at the trailer.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Movie Review: The X-Files: I Want to Believe - More Intimate and More Rewarding than the First Film

by Tony Dayoub

I fear this may be the last time we see The X-Files for some time, if not ever. It's not that the film is bad. In fact, it's quite a solid and suspenseful thriller that even someone unfamiliar with the sci-fi TV series can enjoy. But with 20th Century Fox showing little inclination to promote it, opening it the week after one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year, it is doubtful the film's box office will approach what it needs to in order for a sequel to be greenlit. Managing to keep the plot details secret from the show's fans, the anticipation built by its director and show creator, Chris Carter, is invariably going to lead to a big let-down for them who are probably expecting a bombastic return for Agents Mulder and Scully.

Running nine seasons, the series was a critical and commercial hit for Fox, but started petering out midway through its run, shortly after the theatrical release of The X-Files: Fight the Future, a movie that dealt with the show's mythology about an alien conspiracy. Maybe a third of the show's episodes posed more questions than it answered about said conspiracy, and the loyal core group of its fans were excited at the prospect that the movie would answer all of its questions. It didn't, of course, instead serving more as a summing-up of what fans had learned thus far, and propelling them into the sixth season of the show. Soon Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), lead FBI agent, would leave his partner, Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) to fight the future with other less popular partners. Even the tired hardcore fans felt betrayed when the final episode, "The Truth", meant to finally close the book on the alien conspiracy, simply revealed that viewers already had all the pieces to the puzzle, and that it took little effort to rearrange them to get to the truth. Slogging through the alien conspiracy episodes when watching the show now can seem like a major chore.

After a six year absence from the airwaves, the stand-alone horror-tinged tales that were covered by the other two-thirds of the series are much more interesting. Thankfully, this movie has no connection to the first one. Carter smartly chooses to pare down his film's ambitions, and focuses here on the kind of story covered by those episodes. He and writer Frank Spotnitz tell the story through Scully, this time. And why shouldn't they? Mulder's one-man crusade had become taxing even to the actor who played him. Anderson's role was always the more difficult, and more interesting. As Mulder's skeptical foil, the Catholic Scully was grounded by science, yet open enough to take religious leaps of faith, if not alien-influenced ones. As we see at the outset of I Want to Believe, getting Mulder to return to the FBI and the X-Files is easy enough. This film is about Scully's dilemma, deciding whether she still has room in her life for Mulder, and all the darkness that both follows and fascinates him.

Out of respect to the creators, I won't reveal much more. The film is equal parts creepy, and humorous. You get many glimpses into the interesting dynamic between Duchovny and Anderson, which was always the best part of the show. The two leads still have that chemistry even in their quietest moments. And save for a few throwaway lines, and a supporting character, there is little series continuity to bog down the plot. The movie moves at quite a surprising clip all the way through the end of the credits, which if you're a fan, you'll want to stay for.

With I Want to Believe, Carter bravely risks his franchise, successfully giving us a more intimate version of The X-Files, one that rests squarely on the shoulder of its arguably less popular second lead, Gillian Anderson. Let's hope fans and the general audience are brave enough to sample it.

DVD Review: The Deal - Political Drama Not Exactly a Prequel to The Queen

by Tony Dayoub

The Deal is an interesting exploration of the rivalry between Britain's current Prime Minister, Gordon Brown (David Morrissey), and the former one, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). Produced in 2003, for British Television, it was first aired in the U.S. last year, on HBO. This probably wouldn't have even happened, had it not been produced by the same creative team as the popular film starring Helen Mirren, The Queen (2006). Like that one, it is written by Peter Morgan (The Last King of Scotland), directed by Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons), and it has the same actor playing Blair. So one can choose to view it as a prequel, though their storylines are not really tightly connected. Still it should be of interest to fans of that movie, and observers of British politics.

Brown and Blair came up the Labour Party ranks together, their association starting in 1983. Though ostensibly peers, Brown had the benefit of being involved with the opposition party since he was handing out leaflets in his teens. Blair, though born in working class Scotland like Brown, had a more privileged upbringing. Brown took Blair under his wing, and together the odd couple became a popular pair within the party. Both showed potential to be the leader of the newest generation in their organization, and perhaps the best chance at wresting Britain away from the Thatcherite Conservative party.

However, though Brown's experience made it seem he would be destined to take the reins, Blair quickly surpassed him in popularity. As we all know, it was Blair that became PM first. This film reveals the deal the two made leading to the fateful decision as to who would best be qualified to lead the party and eventually Britain itself.

In "A Conversation with Director Stephen Frears", a special feature in the new DVD, the director opines that the movie would be hard to follow for anyone outside Britain, so he hadn't dreamed of releasing it in the U.S. Indeed, the intricacies of British politics can be a bit alien to Americans unfamiliar with the parliamentary form of government. But Frears and Morgan keep it simple. They simply present the information in a mixture of dramatic recreations and documentary footage, and allow the viewer to sort it all out. So even those with little knowledge of British politics can understand what is essentially a story about a talented, hard-boiled leader having his position usurped by a slick, but less experienced, newcomer.

The actors capture the essence of the two politicians with different degrees of success. Morrissey is captivating as the rough Brown, imbuing the character with a code of honor that he valiantly holds onto despite his friends' betrayals. Sheen is not as effective playing Blair's arc from fresh-faced party neophyte to slick, underhanded candidate. Of course, one has the benefit of seeing where he takes this role in the follow-up, The Queen. In that movie, he underplays the more cruelly ambitious aspects of Blair's personality. But in this one, a fair interpretation of the man eludes him, and he chooses to lapse into a subtle villainy rather than a more even-handed portrayal.

Those expecting a character study like The Queen should let go of that notion. The Queen centered around a very specific moment in time known to many around the world, the death of Diana, and the monarchy's response to it. The Deal is more of a political expose, and one's enjoyment hinges on their interest in such stories.

The Deal will be available on DVD this upcoming Tuesday.

Still provided courtesy of
Genius Products and The Weinstein Company.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Movie Review: Bottle Shock - California Wine's Triumph Makes for Great Date Movie

by Tony Dayoub

Bottle Shock could be that little-film-that-could that appears sometime after blockbuster season every year. You know which one. The one that may not open at #1 in the weekend box office tallies, but hangs out in the top ten for 6-8 weeks. Last year it was Juno. The year before... was it Little Miss Sunshine? Slowly building word of mouth, these critical successes snowball into popular ones as well. We shouldn't expect this one to be the year's Juno (heck, I didn't even expect Juno to be that year's Juno), and win any Oscars. But its quiet, amusing, engaging story is a welcome break from the summer bombast that currently populates the multiplex.

Based on a true story, the film follows Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman), a wine expert, if not an outright wine snob, as he organizes a wine tasting. It is 1976, however, and the French still have the corner on the wine market. So challenged by his his friend, Maurice (Dennis Farina), an American expatriate, Spurrier decides to make it interesting by having the French wines compete with wines from the emerging Napa Valley market. Visiting California to decide whether the local wines are up to the task, he meets local vintner, Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), and his "hippie" son, Bo (Chris Pine). Since this actually took place, I won't be revealing much by saying that it is their Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that won over the French wines in a BLIND tasting.

The down-to-earth California vintners are contrasted with the elitist French wine establishment often. Rickman, in particular, is very funny delineating the upper-crust sensibility that Spurrier aspires to, while poking fun at the character, who incrementally learns to appreciate the local flavor of the underdogs. Spurrier's mixed feelings about his part in bringing down the establishment are captured perfectly in a silent scene where he pauses to pull out a map while lost in Napa. Sitting on his front seat is a bucket of KFC he just bought. He opens it and grabs a bite. While initially turned off at the crude flavor, he nonetheless is attracted to the fast food, and a look of fascination spreads over his face.

Otherwise of note is Chris Pine as Bo, a slacker justifying his laziness by indulging in a retro lifestyle. His part is pivotal in the film, first playing the underachieving male bimbo, then shining as the son trying to save his father's business. Sympathetic, funny, and persuasively entertaining, this actor is one to keep an eye on. His boyish good looks, and charming swagger will probably be used to greater effect next year, when he plays the young James Kirk in May's Star Trek reboot.

Another reason to see this movie is the beautiful Napa Valley scenery. Sometimes the camerawork gets a little overindulgent in capturing it, hampering the beauty of a setting that needs no assistance to stand out. But one still feels seduced by the possibility of travelling there to enjoy the wine-making firsthand.

This is a great date movie to see on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Bottle Shock opens on August 6th in theaters across the country.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

TV Review: The Ex List- New Series May Prove as Popular as Sex and the City

by Tony Dayoub

CBS sent me the pilot to their new romantic comedy, The Ex List, set to debut on October 3rd. Based on a hit Israeli TV series, Mythological X, it was developed by Diane Ruggiero (Veronica Mars) and stars the charming Elizabeth Reaser (Grey's Anatomy).

The premise is intriguing. Reaser plays Bella, a cute, but self-absorbed, flower shop owner. Out for her sister Daphne's (Rachel Boston) bachelorette party, they visit a psychic. The psychic is shockingly accurate regarding Bella's recent breakup with Elliot (Mark Deklin), telling her she must get married within the year or she will never marry anyone the rest of her life. If that isn't enough pressure, the man she is supposed to marry is someone she has dated before, leading to the creation of the titular ex list.

This sets up a premise that follows one of the more interesting aspects of another female fan favorite, Sex and the City. Where Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle have failed is in trying to duplicate the Sex and the City formula too closely, four women with some dissimilarities brought together by their travails in the dating world. Don't forget that the chemistry between the four was developed over time as the actresses brought their individuality to each role. But the original premise was a lot simpler. It was about the women's dating experiences with men, and the quirks one encounters in these transactions. Rather than forcing casting chemistry down our throats, The Ex List pursues this lesser premise to greater comedic effect.

Bella reunites with an old beau (Eric Balfour), a singer she broke up with because he was too emotional. He now leads a grittier punk rock band when she sees him in concert, where he opens his set with a song called "Bitch!" that we quickly realize is about her. As she tries her best to convince him that she should get another chance, his tough facade slowly erodes, revealing the same sensitive soul inside. But is she able to deal with a softie all over again?

The glamour and gender-centrism of Sex and the City are dropped, and The Ex List instead focuses on the dating nightmares as Bella and her slacker support group swap dating advice. Her closest friends in that group include (straight) males as well as females, and she bonds with them while surfing one afternoon, a decidedly more down-to-earth backdrop than the standard NYC club of the week. This gives The Ex List a fresh take on a generic rom-com premise while still hearkening back to its popular HBO antecedent.

Reaser recalls Sarah Jessica Parker, in a petite yet tough kind of way. And the west coast locale suitably spins the premise away from the cliche territory of the current crop of like-minded comedies. Also, nice to see that her family will have some say in her dating life, with sister and Dad (NYPD Blue's Gordon Clapp... nice to see you back) in the mix, a notable dimension that was unrealistically missing from Sex and the City, where we never met Carrie's family.

I do wonder how they'll handle that one year marriage deadline if the show goes beyond the first season. And I worry that, at this point, her most recent ex, Elliot, predictably seems to be the one destined to marry her. But I'm interested in seeing who Bella's next ex/prospective husband will be.

Keep in mind that pilots frequently change before airtime. But if viewers get to sample the show as I did, I think they'll keep coming back.

TV Trailer: Caprica

by Tony Dayoub

If you've seen the current incarnation of Battlestar Galactica, then you know it does for science fiction drama what The Dark Knight does for comic book movies. It elevates it past its genre trappings to reflect on today's world events.

But for those who don't buy into spaceships and the like, for those who like their drama a little more grounded, comes a prequel called Caprica. More of a multi-generational story of rivalry between two families, the Adams and the Graystones, in the vein of Dynasty or the current Dirty Sexy Money, Caprica is set fifty years earlier.

It tells of how the events now playing out on Galactica first began in a setting not too different from our own. Starring as Joseph Adams is Esai Morales (NYPD Blue, La Bamba) and as Daniel Graystone, Eric Stoltz (Pulp Fiction, Mask). Also cast so far are Polly Walker (Rome) and Paula Malcolmson (Deadwood).

No word yet on the exact premiere date, but it will appear on the Sci Fi channel. I'll update you with more information as it becomes available.

Click on the picture above to be redirected to the Battlestar Galactica website where you can catch a preview of Caprica.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Movie Review: The Dark Knight - Gotham Story: The Tragedy of Harvey Dent, or Part Two: The Actual Film Analysis

by Tony Dayoub

Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is the second act of the epic he started in Batman Begins (2005). It is now becoming clear that he is not satisfied in simply rehashing the familiar story of The Batman (Christian Bale). Slowly emerging from behind the vigilante's cape is a more ambitious crime saga that is really an examination of the corrupt, made-up city of Gotham. There are nods to other directors that have with equal ambition taken on the dissection of a crime-ridden burg. But Nolan has the advantage that Gotham is fictional, and its tale is represented in the tragedy of the movie's true protagonist, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).

The movie picks up shortly after the end of the first film. The Batman has inspired a wave of copycats that hinder more than help in his crusade against Gotham City's criminal elements. Mobsters like The Chechen (Ritchie Coster) and Salvatore Maroni (Eric Roberts) are uniting against this common enemy. Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) of the Gotham police has now formed a Major Crimes Unit staffed by his most trusted cops, some of which may have fallen to the corruption plaguing the town. All of this is just setting the stage for the introduction of two important players. The Joker (Heath Ledger), an element of chaos, is a psychotic who reflects the evil underbelly of Gotham. Harvey Dent, an element of order, is the new District Attorney. Though coming up through the ranks of Internal Affairs investigating some of Gordon's own MCU cops, he is not above bending the law as a means to an end, the salvation of Gotham City. Dent represents Bruce Wayne's best hope for stepping out from behind the mask allowing him to reunite with the love of his life, A.D.A. Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Together The Batman, Gordon and Dent form a powerful troika that is Gotham's best chance for vanquishing its criminals. But will the new unknown variable of The Joker disrupt the equation?

That all of these protagonists share the stage serves to spotlight that it is in this chapter that Gotham City emerges as the central character. It had been alluded to earlier, in Batman Begins, when Ra's Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) explained that his goal was to bring down the morally compromised Gotham. Thomas Wayne (Linus Roache), Bruce's father, had been at the opposite end of the spectrum, trying to save the city. Both served as metaphorical fathers to The Batman, the outcast with his finger in the dike, trying to keep the flood of evil from overtaking Gotham, but resigned to the fact that his battle may be a perpetual one.

Nolan took great care in the casting of the fictional Gotham. Perhaps it is no coincidence that he chose Chicago, a city whose past is rooted in corruption as well, to double for Gotham. It's geography serves Gotham well, with its elevated trains running high over the dangerous streets. Its prohibition era story of outlaws hijacking the law, as told in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables (1987) is obliquely referenced, when The Batman intimidates Maroni on a rooftop, and the response is laughing skepticism that The Batman would ever kill a criminal and break his moral code. This scene is a quote of De Palma's finale when G-Man Elliot Ness similarly threatens Capone henchman, Frank Nitti.

More explicitly referenced is Michael Mann's Heat (1995), in the film's opening bank heist scene. Loud, violent, and committed in broad daylight, like in the climactic bank heist of the previous film, the nod to that film is made more apparent by the appearance of William Fichtner. Playing a doublecrossing financial mastermind in Heat, here he plays a bank employee literally packing some heat, as a gun-toting bank manager protecting his mob employers' financial interests. And like in this movie, the crime saga Heat is an exploration of the moral decay prevalent at all levels of the law in a city, L.A.

Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker is haunting. I won't say much about it here, because it has been talked about plenty. But it does merit all the praise being lavished on it, and it is sad that it is Ledger's final role. The spectre of evil hangs over this Joker like no other one before. While Jack Nicholson's iteration of the role seemed to erase any notion of Cesar Romero in the part, Ledger's take on it reduces Nicholson's performance to a mere postmodern, hipper imitation of Romero's. Because the character bursts forth fully formed, that is with no origin story to tell you how he became The Joker; because Ledger so completely subsumes himself into the part; and because of Ledger's untimely death, there is a spooky dimension to the performance that so disarms the viewer, that the very appearance of the villain in the frame is cause to sit on the edge of one's seat.

The rest of the cast, from Christian Bale to the smallest cameo by Tiny Lister, is equally exemplary, without the added attention brought to their performances by an unfortunate death, as in Ledger's case. But Aaron Eckhart must be singled out for his ferocious, swaggering performance as Harvey Dent.

Dent is the "White Knight" to The Batman's "Dark Knight." He is the local boy, who rose up through the ranks of Gotham's corrupt political system the hard way. Not born to privilege like Wayne, not working outside the law like The Batman, Dent has had to play by the city's rules to withstand its evil influences. Fighting corruption from within, he shows a sardonic tendency to nonetheless be open to it. Bending, though not breaking, the law, he has been able to circumvent the city's decay, and emerges as a heroic option to take up the crusade started by The Batman, bringing it out of the shadows and into the light. So it is all the sadder when The Joker's metaphorical defacing of Gotham leads to the literal defacing of Dent himself.

Taking on the nickname given to him while at Internal Affairs, Two-Face, The Batman and The Joker now serve as the metaphorical fathers to Gotham's twisted new incarnation of fairness. Harvey "Two-Face" Dent now embodies both justice and vengeance, order and chaos. Trusting his two-headed coin - one fine, one scarred - to make all of his decisions, Dent now personifies the only system he's ever considered to be fair, random chance.

At the end of this film, it is on the edge of this two-headed coin that Gotham stands, precariously capable of falling to either side depending on whether The Batman's crusade succeeds or fails. Gotham's story... to be continued?

Movie Review: The Dark Knight - My Dark Night, or Part One: How My Wife Always Comes Through in a Crunch

by Tony Dayoub

All summer, I had slowly been getting caught up in the Batmania gripping the country this weekend... as I did when I was a five-year old catching episodes of the Adam West series on The Skipper Chuck Show on WTVJ in Miami... as I did in June of 1989, when I went to the midnight screening of Tim Burton's Batman at the General Cinemas' Miracle Center 10... as I had been doing now, trying to convince my wife to find us a babysitter for this weekend so we could go see the movie together. Movie geekouts are so much more fun to share with someone else. And the hype on this movie had built to such a crescendo.

Alas, my wife displayed little interest. Who could blame her? Knowing only the Batman from TV and cinema, she was not far off when she explained that the character always seemed a little stiff, especially compared to the more dynamic Marvel characters she knew from the multiplex. I, of course, knew the seventies-era Darknight Detective interpreted by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams, the one we got a glimpse of in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins (2005)) where he faced Ra's Al Ghul, an O'Neil and Adams creation. Would I be expecting too much in hoping we'd see more of him in The Dark Knight?

I secured tickets for one of the many Thursday midnight screenings blanketing North America, ostensibly an effort to have my review up on Friday, but really caught up in a Batmania relapse. This action may seem unimpressive, but in fact, it is pretty major once you consider that I have a tendency to fall asleep at any movie I start watching after 10pm. This results in me confusing it with hating the movie since the only other movies I fall asleep at are ones that I despise. However, when I am confident that I can have a nap sometime during the day before catching the movie, I can neutralize any ambivalence I have towards seeing it so late.

Yeah, I know... I'm only 36, but I've got one foot in the nursing home already.

I make it to the theater, sit through some astounding trailers for Ridley Scott's Body of Lies, Quantum of Solace, Watchmen, and the teaser for Terminator: Salvation. The film starts, and immediately my attention is riveted by the opening bank heist scene. As the movie rolls past the one hour mark, I continue to grow enthralled. Just after the police funeral march setpiece, many of my fellow theatergoers start running out of the theater and yelling. Suddenly, the movie stops, and the theater management comes in to explain that a reel of the film was spliced out of order. I've had bad luck with this before. Due to the late hour, they aren't able to fix it, or keep the theater open since their staff will be leaving soon for the night. So we are all given two passes to make up for the problem.

Have you ever been at the dead center of an angry mob with no way out? I was seriously fearing for my life about the time that one guy that always instigates these kinds of things starts yelling, "I don't want your stupid passes. I paid to see The Dark Knight tonight, and I'll wait till 3 or 4 a.m. if I have to. And I think everyone here will do the same," with echoes of "Yeah, Dark Knight," heard throughout the mob.

Needless to say, we were unable to see it that night. I lost precious sleep and time for no good reason, and I couldn't get my review up on Friday as I had hoped.

But the good news is that my wife moved heaven and earth to get us a babysitter last night, and slipped out of work on time (which is rare for her line of work on a Friday) allowing us to see the film together in its entirety... which is, funny enough, the way I wanted to see it in the first place. I was happy. I loved the film. She loved it, and all is right in my world, again.

This article is therefore dedicated to her for being so supportive of me, this site, and my sometimes obsessive love of cinema. I love you, Dee.

Gotham Story: The Tragedy of Harvey Dent, or Part Two: The Actual Film Analysis will follow later today.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Movie Trailer: Watchmen

by Tony Dayoub

The release of The Dark Knight today, and the upcoming San Diego Comic Con, bring us the start of a new wave of publicity promoting next year's genre films.

One to definitely keep your eye on is Watchmen, Zack Snyder's adaptation of the graphic novel widely considered to be one of the best of all time, and in fact, one of the best pieces of literature of the last hundred years (by Time Magazine, no less).

Click on the picture above to be directed to the revamped website, where you can see the new trailer, and learn more about the story, relatively unknown by the mainstream.

Let me know what you think of it.

First Look: J.J. Abrams' Star Trek

by Tony Dayoub

Take a good look! That's not Leonard Nimoy or William Shatner in the picture. Starting counterclockwise from bottom left, that's Zachary Quinto (Heroes) as Spock, Chris Pine (Bottle Shock) as James T. Kirk, Zoe Saldana (Vantage Point) as Uhura, and Eric Bana (Troy) as the villainous Romulan, Nero.

This is the first image promoting the cast of 2009's eagerly anticipated Star Trek, as reimagined by J.J. Abrams (Lost). It appears on this week's Entertainment Weekly Comic Con Preview edition.

I am a big Trek fan so expect more coverage as information becomes available.

More Star Trek coverage:

J.J. Abrams' Star Trek - Speculation on What to Expect

Star Trek Week Begins

Blu-ray Review: Star Trek: The Original Series - Season 1 (1966-67)

Movie Review: Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek Podcast, Part 1

Star Trek Podcast, Part 2

Thanks to for bringing it to our attention.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

DVD Review: Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins - Success Versus the Importance of Family Life Played for Laughs

by Tony Dayoub

Released last month on DVD, Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, starring Martin Lawrence, is a surprisingly enjoyable and laugh-filled comedy that should find some fans in the post-release market. I sound surprised because I'm not generally a fan of Lawrence's over-the-top humor. Watching his sitcom was like running nails down a chalkboard for me, perhaps because a little of him goes a long way. Here he shares the screen with an astounding cast of actors and comedians, mitigating the amount of screen time he gets, to the benefit of the movie. Credit director Malcolm D. Lee (The Best Man) for approaching the material with a lighter touch than usual, never allowing the gags to shine at the expense of the central story.

Dr. R.J. Stevens is living the life he's always dreamed of. He has a successful morning talk show, and is about to get married to the sexy, competitive Bianca Kittles (Joy Bryant), winner of the most recent Survivor. Never mind that his young son Jamaal (Damani Roberts) has never met his extended family, living in rural Georgia. Stevens decides to visit them, timing it to coincide with his parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary, and a family reunion. The hilarity starts once we realize that R.J., a proponent of the "Team of Me" philosophy he created, turned his back on his life as Roscoe Jenkins, Jr., to escape being picked on by his large, raucous family.

An accomplished cast fills out those roles. James Earl Jones (Clear and Present Danger) and Margaret Avery (The Color Purple) play Papa and Mamma Jenkins. R.J.'s siblings are played by Mo'Nique (The Parkers), Mike Epps (Next Friday), and Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile). Cedric the Entertainer (Barbershop) plays his lifelong rival, cousin Clyde. And Nicole Ari Parker (Soul Food) plays former prom queen, Lucinda, the object of Clyde and R.J.'s rivalry. Epps, a great mimic, ad-libs a lot, imitating cartoon character Boo-Boo the Bear to compare R.J.'s multi-colored pants to a picnic cloth. Mo'Nique, demonstrating her disdain for his fame-seeking girlfriend, always comes up with a different name to call her; Binaka, Blanca... anything but Bianca. Jones, Avery, and Parker anchor the story emotionally, never letting the hijinks take over the movie.

I should stop here to single out Duncan's performance. As Sheriff Otis Jenkins, he manages to balance the humor with a more down-to-earth sensibility. Whether quickly reacting to Mo'Nique's hijacking of the podium at the anniversary party with a round of applause to drown her out, or blocking Cedric from interrupting a family moment between R.J. and his parents, Duncan is adept at shifting between comedy and sentimentality with equal aplomb.

Director Lee continues to make small films that capture the African-American experience without feeling the need to tread into politically sensitive areas, or give in to comedic stereotypes. As in his last film, Roll Bounce, he instead focuses on a small microcosm of middle-class black life. In that one, it was seventies-era roller disco culture, and in this one, it is the dichotomy of the African-American professional with the rural upbringing. Lawrence is never quite believable as even a pop psychologist. But if you ignore the particular profession, and just see him as someone who "made it," then it is easy to enjoy the film. At the heart of Lee's film is the conflict that R.J. feels in trying to fit in to society, providing the life he never had to his child, without denying his roots.

Whether played for laughs or not, that is something anyone can relate to.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

DVD Review: The Bank Job - Intricate Heist Thriller is Worth a Look

by Tony Dayoub

My DVD pick this week is this spring's sleeper hit, The Bank Job, directed by Roger Donaldson (Thirteen Days). This little gem surprised me. I admire its streamlined "all business" procedural attitude, and the fact that not a minute is wasted on extraneous character touches. Note the use of the word "extraneous," for it doesn't mean that character personalities are ignored. Just the opposite, as each character's personality facets appears as an organic result of the ever-moving plotline. And each actor ably highlights their respective moment without forgetting to support the overall story or stumbling to outshine their costars.

The film takes place in the seventies, and Britain's Princess Margret is photographed having a three way tryst while on vacation. A black militant (Peter De Jersey) in possession of these photographs hides them to protect himself from reprisals from the authorities over his activities. Beautiful Martine (Saffron Burrows) is used by MI5 to get to the photographs, hidden in a safety deposit box in a bank on Baker Street in London. Martine convinces her childhood pals, a rough lot led by Terry (Jason Statham), to rob the bank, ostensibly for the money since she doesn't make them aware of the real object of the heist. As Terry and his crew discover, there is much more going on under the surface, and Martine may have just endangered not only their lives, but their families' as well.

Though it is supposedly based on true events, there is little information available to confirm these claims. But that does not hinder one's enjoyment of the film. Its period setting evokes the classic British gangster films of the seventies, such as Get Carter, with their slick style and cold brutality.

Statham (The Transporter) is used to great effect here, bringing humor and a lion's ferocity to the role of down-on-his-luck family-man Terry. While there is an obvious attraction between childhood friend Martine and himself, the movie never wastes any time pursuing this incidental plot point up to its predictable dead end. It wisely focuses on the intricate plotline that eventually involves the seedy Soho porn industry, an S & M madam, and even the House of Lords.

Burrows (Deep Blue Sea) again proves herself to be more than just a pretty face. The former model is easily able to create the aura of casual glamor that the grownup Martine projects, while also evoking the more down-to-earth childhood pal that the heist crew grew up with. Equally comfortable carrying on her affair with a mysterious MI5 spy, but naive enough to fall prey to his manipulations in pursuit of the scandalous pictures, Burrows demonstrates she's got acting chops to spare.

Available today on single and 2-disc standard DVD, or 2-disc Blu-Ray, the single disc standard is a movie only disc, while both 2-disc versions contain extended scenes, the "Inside The Bank Job" and "The Baker Street Bank Raid" featurettes, the theatrical trailer, and a Digital Copy version of the film.

For those who miss the cool efficiency of the heist film, or the expert drama of seventies-era film, The Bank Job is the perfect DVD to see this week.

This entry first appeared on Blogcritics on 7/15/2008.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Movie Review: Hellboy II: The Golden Army - Everyone Involved Stands to Win Big with the Summer's Latest Comic Book Hero Installment

by Tony Dayoub

Mexican Guillermo Del Toro has had a curious bifurcated career thus far. While the average viewer would claim that he is simply a horror/fantasy director, that slash has been a much wider one than one would think. In this country, he's been known for his fun horror flicks, Mimic, Blade II, and Hellboy, which are terrific B-movies. On the other hand, his Spanish language films, while rooted in horror, are more in the fantasy vein. Their tragic stories, usually revolving around a child, carry no small amount of poignancy. And while Cronos and The Devil's Backbone (aka El Espinazo del Diablo) flew under the mainstream radar, Pan's Labyrinth (aka El Laberinto del Fauno) finally brought him the attention he's been due. Lucky for the big, red Anung un Rama, Hellboy to you, because if not it's doubtful that Hellboy II: The Golden Army would have gotten made. And we get a much more assured filmmaker in this one, as the two divergent career paths he's forged finally converge in this film, on the way to his next big production, The Hobbit, a prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Like in his earlier American films, The Golden Army enjoys poking fun, and having fun with our hero and the motley crew of compatriots he fights evil with at the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Development, or B.P.R.D. Beginning with a flashback to 1955, where a young Hellboy is eagerly awaiting Santa with his adopted dad Professor Bruttenholm (John Hurt in a cameo reprise from the first film), we get a look at the humorous dichotomy that our hero personifies. At once cute and fearsome, young Hellboy holds the same attraction that Blade held in Del Toro's earlier film. Blade was the most badass in a group of badass vampires, but also the most vulnerable, and human. The grown-up Hellboy (Ron Perlman), fearful of his destined role in vanquishing mankind, holds on to any vestige of humanity he can, keeping pet kittens, smoking Cuban cigars, drinking Tecate, a Mexican beer (I'm guessing this is a Del Toro touch).

He's now shacking up with pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), who discovers she's pregnant early on in this film. Sherman, unsure of their future, keeps it secret while the B.P.R.D. gets roped into its latest adventure. They must stop Elf Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) from warring on the humans to reclaim Elfdom's place in the world. Amphibian psychic Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), meanwhile, falls in love with Nuada's twin, Princess Nuala (Anna Walton). And the whole crew is shaken up by the assignment of a new leader, the ectoplasmic spirit, Johann Kraus (voiced by Family Guy's Seth McFarlane), who Hellboy objects to principally because of his German nationality, an allusion to his time fighting Nazis in Mike Mignola's comics.

The movie benefits from some of the trappings of Del Toro's Spanish language fantasy films. The Angel of Death that the B.P.R.D. crew encounters is very reminiscent of his Pan's Labyrinth creatures. And the slow fade into obscurity of Nuada's kind is a poignant plot point that gives the movie more emotional weight than the first Hellboy's more Lovecraftian storyline. Here we are as fascinated by the Elf Prince's stubborn refusal to let his fairy-tale world disappear as we are by the elegant mythic world Labyrinth's Ofelia loses herself in when she is in distress. In fact the two world's bear a strong resemblance to each other, and nowhere is this more evident than upon the B.P.R.D.'s visit to the Troll Market, populated by its odd fairy-tale menagerie.

The single most representative moment in which Del Toro's poignant sensibilities and his appreciation for B-movie humor converges in a film full of such small moments is in a scene with Hellboy and Abe. Hellboy gets drunk after Liz asks for some space and he overhears a Barry Manilow song emanating from a room down the hall at home base. He discovers a miserable Abe lamenting his unrequited love The two otherworldly creatures share a Tecate as they both join Manilow on a chorus of "Can't Smile Without You" in a scene that's as touching as it is amusing.

So thanks to Pan's Labyrinth's success, Del Toro gained enough cachet to be able to rescue this Hellboy sequel from the dust bin. Universal bought the rights from Sony, as they are reportedly seeking to get into business with more international directors. And with Del Toro's anticipated triumph as Peter Jackson's handpicked successor in The Lord of the Rings saga, Universal takes advantage of Sony's shortsightedness. Dark Horse Entertainment, Hellboy's comic book distributor has now hung its film production shingle at Universal for the next three years. And Del Toro successfully finally merges pathos and humor in this film, great practice for the similar effect he'll have to achieve in The Hobbit. Consider this dry run a triumph in that respect.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Movie Marketing Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

by Tony Dayoub

The Indiana Jones franchise, while loved by many, appeals to adults more than Star Wars (1977), which is a lot more kid-friendly on its face. Nineteen years since the last Indy film, all the kids that knew him have grown, and the character had dropped out of the public eye to a larger degree than Star Wars ever did. Many of them have started to share the first trilogy with their children, and George Lucas and company have helped merchandise Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to new heights by cashing in on both the generational nostalgia, and on educating kids specifically on who this adventurous archaeologist is.

Lucas pioneered movie merchandising when Star Wars debuted. It wasn't that the market hadn't been explored before. Movie serials and TV shows aimed at children in particular had always used cheaply produced tie-ins such as decoder rings and the like to promote themselves. But Lucas was smart enough to control the rights, likenesses, and require quality of said products. He realized that the right products, produced with care, could ultimately be as profitable, if not more so, than the actual movie it was tied to. And the release of such products, timed to the release of his films, would serve to market the film, as well as maximize revenue for those involved.

To that end, this new movie has seen marketing its take some curious forms. With licensing deals that include displaying Harrison Ford's likeness on everything from Kellogg's cereal boxes to Dr. Pepper cases, perhaps the most clever was when Blockbuster and Lucasfilm sponsored Marco Andretti in this year's Indy 500 (get it?) which was run the same week as the film's opening. Not only did the car have the Indiana Jones logo prominently displayed, but Andretti wore a race suit designed to mimic the archaeologist's now famous outfit.

Here are some notable products designed to appeal to the older crowd:

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Soundtrack, by John Williams - If you want to relive the movie without actually going to see it again, or even if you didn't like the movie, but you love John Williams' music, one thing's hard to argue. This soundtrack is great. Not only does he revisit themes from previous movies like a revisit of the Raiders' "Ark" theme in "The Spell of the Skull", but he creates new ones like "Call of the Crystal" and "Irina's Theme". Just as Williams patterned the original trilogy's score on the old movie serials' scores that those films paid homage to, here he pays tribute to fifties movies by evoking one of that era's most prominent composers, Bernard Hermann. "Call of the Crystal" is a theme that recalls Hermann's opening theme for Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. And Williams combines variations of "Crystal" and "Irina's Theme" to great effect in "Jungle Chase", elevating one of the weaker chase scenes in the film. Released by Concord Music Group, look for them to release a 4-disc set containing the original trilogy's long out-of-print soundtracks, just in time for Crystal Skull's DVD release, no doubt.

The Complete Making of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films, by J. W. Rinzler and Laurent Bouzereau - This 300 page trade paperback contains a wealth of information on the film series. With just about all the major cast and crew participating, it traces the series from its inception through its newest film. Rich with color photographs (including some spoilery ones of the latest film, so don't buy the book till you've seen it), it even covers some of the lesser known aspects of each film's production (the mine-car chase scene from Temple of Doom was actually a holdover stunt from Raiders). Rinzler is a historian at Lucasfilm, and Bouzereau is a documentarian primarily known for his making of featurettes on all of the DVDs of Steven Spielberg's films.

Products targeted specifically to kids include The Lost Journal of Indiana Jones (below, left), a book designed to acquaint kids with any adventures they may have missed, LEGO playsets capturing famous action setpieces from each film (center), and a new game by LucasArts entitled LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures (right) for Nintendo DS, Wii, XBox 360, Playstation and PC.

Here are some other products designed for appeal to kids:

Indiana Jones Action Figures, by Hasbro - Designed to lure kids who are into Hasbro's popular Star Wars line, the detailed figures might instead spark a nostalgic interest from their dads. It certainly has with this dad. Having the original Raiders figure spec references at their disposal (Hasbro bought Kenner a while back), the line should fill the void left by Kenner who failed to capitalize on Raiders' appeal to kids. The original film wasn't designed to appeal to children, but became popular with them after their dads dragged them along to see it. And fill the void they have, already producing waves of figures based on Raiders, Last Crusade and Crystal Skull, with Temple of Doom just announced. Highly poseable for maximum play, but accurate in its likenesses with collectors in mind, this product should appeal to both parents and children. If the Star Wars line is any indication (with new figures still being released annually), the Indy line may be around for a while, too.

Indiana Jones: The Ultimate Guide, by DK Publishing - Older kids might be familiar with DK's Ultimate Guide line already. They get some well known character/s from pop culture and create an encyclopedia like reference book filled with the character's history, timelines, maps, and color art. Just like Superman, the X-Men and James Bond before him, Indiana Jones has finally got one as well. While a little light on info about the newest film, it covers everything you'd want to know about Henry Jones, Jr.'s life, from his birth, through his adventures in the Young Indiana Jones TV series, through the trilogy, and even beyond into graphic novels and books. For those looking to fill the gap between The Last Crusade and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, this book's got the goods.

Skeptical of the current popularity of an action franchise that has been absent for close to two decades, naysayers underestimated the nostalgic allure of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. With a current worldwide gross of over $700 million, against a budget estimated at $185 million, an estimated marketing budget of $150 million, plus the cut that exhibitors take for playing the movie in their theaters, only now is the film even close to breaking even for Paramount Pictures. But the ancillary deals have already started to pay off for Paramount, Lucas, Spielberg, and anyone else contractually in for a piece of the pie.

Monday, July 7, 2008

DVD Review: Superhero Movie - Comic Book Movie Genre Spoofed by Airplane! Producer Zucker

by Tony Dayoub

The proliferation of superhero movies in the last decade is evident. Just take a look at the summer movie calendar. You've got Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Wanted, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, The Dark Knight, and one from the new emerging subgenre of postmodern takes on comic book heroes, Hancock. And I can't shake the nagging doubt that I forgot one. So it should seem as no surprise that David Zucker, producer of such classic spoofs as Airplane!, The Naked Gun, and the Scary Movie series, would finally get around to spoofing this type of film. In fact, how could he let the opportunity slide, given that the superhero genre walks with a virtual bullseye on its back, begging to be spoofed. His latest comedy, Superhero Movie, debuts tomorrow on DVD.

It follows the travails of Rick Riker (Drake Bell), a high school nerd with a crush on his hot neighbor, Jill Johnson (Sara Paxton). While on a field trip, Rick gets bitten by a genetically altered dragonfly, giving him superhuman abilities and the proportional strength of... a dragonfly. As Dragonfly, he must contend with Lou Landers, the evil Hourglass (Christopher McDonald), and prevent him from a mass murder which immortalize him both figuratively and literally.

In this type of movie, when the lovely Jill says she wants to be a dancer... well, Rick spies her in her bedroom doing her morning spin around the stripper pole, er, bed post. In this type of movie, Rick's Aunt Lucille (Happy Days' venerable Marion Ross), spoofing Spider-Man's Aunt May, doles out motherly advice such as, "Shave your pubes. Nobody wants to go down on a tumbleweed." Leslie Nielsen plays Uncle Albert, and is up to his usual deadpan shenanigans. Like in Happy Gilmore, McDonald is always fun to watch as an exasperated heavy. And Kevin Hart, who plays Rick's pal Trey, steals every scene he's in, like the one where he is explaining to Rick all the different clicks on the schoolbus, "There are the jocks, the emos, the Frodos [camera pans over to some Hobbits], the Scarface Society [camera cuts to bunch of kids dressed like Tony Montana]..." There are plenty of the now traditional cameos by the likes of Pamela Anderson, Keith David, Robert Hays, Tracy Morgan, Brent Spiner, and Jeffrey Tambor.

But aside from some chuckles here and there, the movie never rises past its obvious sources of inspiration. With scenes lifted from X-Men, Batman Begins, Fantastic Four, and other films of this ilk, the movie actually doesn't stray that far from being a traditional superhero movie itself. Now, I don't know if that's a comment on this movie, or the ones it makes fun of. But what I do know is that I expect to laugh more when it comes to Zucker's films.

I hear that like its progenitors, this movie is going back to the well for a sequel. Here's hoping that one is funnier.

Stills provided courtesy of Genius Products and The Weinstein Company.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

DVD Review: Batman: Gotham Knight - Finest Take Yet on the Dark Knight

by Tony Dayoub

Why someone hadn't thought of this yet is a surprise to me. Available on July 8, Warner Premiere's newest direct-to-DVD release, Batman: Gotham Knight, is an anime-influenced feature that ostensibly bridges the gap between Batman Begins and the yet to be released The Dark Knight. It is reminiscent in tone and design to Warner's earlier tie-in to the Matrix trilogy, The Animatrix. But just as that film proved to be superior than the two Matrix sequels, Gotham Knight is much more than a promotional tie-in.

Written by some of the Batman's most well known storytellers, and directed by some of Japan's most renowned animators, the six segments that comprise the film can be enjoyed separately or taken together. Together, as veteran Batman comic book writer Denny O'Neil points out in the commentary, the stories form a mosaic of different perspectives on Gotham's guardian that inform each other, and are greater than the sum of its parts.

"Have I Got a Story For You" - dir. Shoujirou Nishimi (Akira), writ. Josh Olson (A History of Violence) - In this first segment, three skaters each tell their versions of personal encounters they had with Batman during his fight with the criminal Man in Black. A fourth friend who has never seen Batman (Kevin Conroy, reprising his voice acting from the animated series) is then put in the position of being an active participant in the continuing battle. Reminiscent of other stories, in both comics and cartoons (including animated episode, "Legends of the Dark Knight"), in which outside characters introduce different iterations of the Caped Crusader, it is clear why this one opens the film. It sets the tone for the rest of the film, informing the viewer that each segment will have a different take on Batman. Among the versions seen here, look for the one that resembles a certain Marvel hero tearing up the summer box office.

"Crossfire" - dir. Futoshi Hiashide (Air), writ. Greg Rucka (Gotham Central) - Here we get Batman as seen through the eyes of Gotham Major Case Detective Crispus Allen (Gary Dourdan). Unconvinced of the heroism by what he sees as just a simple vigilante, his partner Anna Ramirez (Ana Ortiz) tries to convince him to the contrary as they deliver the Man in Black to Arkham Asylum. Rucka, who wrote Gotham Central for DC Comics, uses his affinity for Gotham's detectives to show us a more objective view of the crimefighter. His comic characters play a central role here, although Renee Montoya was changed to Anna Ramirez in this film. Apparently, Ramirez ties to a plot point in The Dark Knight that mandated the change. Look for an appearance by another longtime character who'll cameo in the new film, gangster Sal Maroni, and mentions of how the Narrows became Arkham Island after the climactic asylum breakout of the last film.

"Field Test" - dir. Hiroshi Morioka (Tsubasa Chronicle), writ. Jordan Goldberg (associate producer of The Dark Knight) - This one continues the feud between Maroni and rival gangster, The Russian. Bruce Wayne's tech expert, Lucius Fox, provides him with a special suit designed to ward off any dangerous projectiles. When it unwittingly causes another person harm, Batman reconsiders using the technology. Notable primarily for being the closest interpretation to anime in the whole film.

"In Darkness Dwells" - dir. Yasuhiro Aoki (The Animatrix), writ. David Goyer (The Dark Knight) - Goyer follows up on a loose end from his Batman Begins story. After his escape, Jonathan Crane, that film's evil Scarecrow, has taken up residence in the city's sewers, where he controls the monstrous Killer Croc. Batman must save a prominent kidnap victim from certain death, after getting a dose of Scarecrow's fear toxin courtesy of Killer Croc's bite. This segment is most reminiscent of the Darknight Detective's comic stories.

"Working Through Pain" - dir. Toshiyuki Kubooka (Lunar), writ. Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets) - Perhaps the best story of the bunch, Batman, still suffering from his wounds, calls Alfred (David McCallum) to help him out of the sewers. While managing his pain, he remembers training he received in that skill from Cassandra (Parminder Nagra), an outcast in India. The flashbacks to India give the movie scope. Cassandra serves as a great counterpoint to the young brooding Batman-in-training, and a welcome female presence. Look for a sad, and loaded, metaphorical image at the end of this segment that will surely be remembered by Batman fans for years to come.

"Deadshot" - dir. Jong-Sik Nam (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe), writ. Alan Burnett (Batman: The Animated Series) - Straight up action at top speed as we wrap up the movie with marksman/assassin Dead Shot lining up his sights on Lieutenant Gordon. The plot is pretty straightforward, save for a reversal midway through the action on a hurtling elevated train. This one probably has the best animation of the entire movie. Dead Shot's costume redesign is flamboyant, but inspired.

On standard DVD, Gotham Knight includes a great commentary by Kevin Conroy and Dennis O'Neil with Gregory Noveck moderating. It also has a sneak peek at Warner Premiere's upcoming direct-to-DVD feature Wonder Woman starring Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion , and Rosario Dawson. On two-disc standard DVD and Blu-Ray, look for additional extras such as four episodes of the animated series that might inform your viewing of the film, and two documentaries, one on Batman's creator, Bob Kane, and one on his villains.

This entry first appeared on Blogcritics on 7/3/2008.

Still provided courtesy of
Warner Home Entertainment.