big red rambling 012: blu-ray review/links to get you through the week of 10-04-2010

Blu-ray Review: Superman/Batman: Apocalypse

Lets get the elephant out of the room. This movie is well animated but ultimately held back by the designs of Michael Turner. All due respect to the dead, I was never a fan of his style, due in part to an awkwardness in his characters that I found off putting, especially his male faces. The Clark Kent/Superman close-ups really highlight this, as every time the film did a close-up of the luscious, pouty lipped Man of Steel, who would not look out of place of Ziggy Stardust era David Bowie album cover, it was all I could do not to burst out laughing. Also problematic was the design for Batman, whose overdone cowl and a lower facial design prevent any emotion registering even when the voice acting implies otherwise. His female characters are somewhat better, when he is not dressing them in completely ludicrous outfits (I am looking at you highly inappropriate for the supposedly 16 year Supergirl costume, that thankfully unlike the comic only shows for the last couple minutes of the film).Ultimately the visuals did not kill the movie for me, and I freely acknowledge your mileage may vary.

Moving on, this is the second movie based off of Jeph Loeb’s 25 issue Superman/Batman run, a series that was always at its best when it dropped the overwrought melodrama and simply allowed itself to glory in its silly popcorn summer movie nature. The film version is no different, and in matter of fact is far stronger than it’s source material for one simple reason: NO NARRATION! Amazing how much better the story plays out divested of the horrible, overdone narration captions that infected Loeb’s entire run on the book. You need to understand, these things would show up on practically every page, featuring the never ending dual monologue of Supes and Bats. The device would often devolve into self-parody, as it did for example when Loeb recently employed it again in his last issue of Hulk, and is probably best captured in this disturbingly accurate parody: http://www.shortpacked.com/2008/comic/book-7/08-the-cartoonist-proposes/supermanbatman/ Now imagine 25. Issues. of. THAT! And you start to get the idea. With the unfortunate/unnecessary narration gone, the various character beats, some of which are surprisingly effective, are given more room to shine through. Shame the same cannot be said for the plot, which remains a fairly flaccid affair, filled with predictable beats and oddly quick character turnarounds. While not as crazy as Public Enemies (and let’s face it anything trying to compete in craziness with a story that featured a giant composite Superman/Batman robot as a major plot point is going to be hard pressed) or the later issues of the comic, Apocalypse still features plenty of wonky moments, such as a battle between an army of amazons and an army of Doomsday clones. Sure its gratuitous at times, but it is mostly the fun kind of gratuitous, which makes it alright. The finale also features some smart changes and additions that set it apart from the original comic, adding to the films overall impact. Plotting has never been Jeph Loeb’s strong point, with even his best works often little more than a series of really well done moments loosely strung together, but with something like Apocalypse, a poor plot/story is hardly surmountable and undoubtedly not the primary reason someone chooses to watch.

What is likely a major reason is the action, and here S/B:A delivers in spade. Fights are plentiful, especially in the films second half. All of the actions scenes are worth the price of admission, overcoming the various story weaknesses with all the appropriate sturm und drang that any fan of people beating the crap out of each other stylishly could ask for. Live action superhero movie makers take note, THIS is how you stage a super powered fight sequence with style.

Despite the title being Superman/Batman, Wonder Woman has a surprisingly large role getting almost as much screen time as the other two member of the trinity. She also features in one of the movies best sequences, featuring WW, Big Barda, and the Female Furies in a perfectly choreographed brawl. Actually its Batman who comes off the most as a third wheel, contributing little to blot beyond random moments of dickery, and never really getting a showcase action sequence of his own. It’s hard to escape the feeling that he could have been replaced by Mister Miracle or cut from the movie entirely and no one would notice. At least he has definitive Batman (vocal or otherwise) actor Kevin Conroy voicing him, so that what little moments he does get, come off entertaining. Honestly this film really left me hoping that in the future we might get to see this voice cast (more on that in a moment) in a adaptation of Matt Wagner’s excellent relatively recent Trinity mini-series, which made proper use of ALL its characters. (The fact that we would also get to see his wonderful art style applied to animation is hardly displeasing either.)

Voice acting, as mentioned earlier, is almost spot on, except for Darkseid who sounds way to normal to be THE dark cosmic overlord/god to end all dark cosmic overlords/gods. After years of the wonderful Michael Ironside giving the character a chillingly menacing yet strangely seductive feel, Andre Baugher’s competent yet unmemorable performance just does not cut it. The choice not to use Ironside is made all the more confounding by the fact that in addition to once again casting former Tim Daley and Kevin Conroy as their respective heroes, the feature also brings back Justice League/JLU Wonder Woman Susan Eisenberg and Ed Asner as Granny Goodness. Thankfully the rest of the voice cast, especially Summer Glau as Supergirl, come through great, adding some real depth and emotion to what could have been a completely shallow affair.

The prime extra for the film is a Green Arrow short that is unfortunately nothing special, especially compared to Specter and Jonah Hex shorts that came before it. While those featured either strong visuals identities, stories from the comic, or both, Green Arrow feels far more generic, not unlike something from the old Super-Friends cartoon, albeit somewhat more PG-13 than those ever got. The short is not really hindrance, but it hardly helps either. The rest of the extras include some fun, if fairly basic from the hardcore fans point of view, documentaries on the New Gods and Supergirl and, on the 2 disc DVD and Blu-ray, 4 episodes of the Bruce Timm Superman cartoon featuring Supergirl and/or Darkseid.
While not a perfect film by any the standards, the enjoyable high powered beat downs and clever visual staging combined with a mostly first rate voice cast and enjoyable bonus features ultimately outweigh the silly plotting and at times awkward designs. This is a film well worth an automatic purchase for DC fans and at least a rental for everyone else.
4 out of 5 stars.

So its October, which means one thing and one thing only: HALLOWEEN! Understand that growing up Halloween was always tied with Christmas for my favorite holiday (Yes I am Jewish and no we did not celebrate Christmas in the slightest, it was more I was in love with the secular aspects of the holiday, particularly the good will to all, that transcended any specific religion. Cheesy? Sure, but then I love cheesy. See: Halloween.) So there is no way I am not going to take the opportunity to have some fun with the Holiday now that I am writing this column. This week, do to extreme school based business, I am going to keep things fairly short, but fear not (or do fear as might be more appropriate) more is to come. Lets bring on this weeks spooktacular links.

Links to Get You Through the Week of 10-4-2010

Getting things started off right, here is a video that really sums up at least part of what made me fall so in love with Halloween as kid.

So I thing every city has at least one of THOSE houses. You know the one I mean, that spooky, run down house, either abandoned or inhabited by some broken down individual just waiting for their days on the planet to end. It’s just a natural by-product of shoving a lot of people together into a fairly small location geographically. But what if it wasn’t? What if, just possibly, something more was going on? What if these houses were all really the same house? And what exactly would that mean…?

Personally I have always found the abandoned remains of our civilization to be as creepy as any ghoul or ghost and far more real. Just something disturbing at a glimpse of what our world would look like if we ended up screwing up ourselves out of existence. Here take a look I what mean, and see if something does cold dose not creep up the back of your spine.

So what is scarier than a good horror movie? Some really bad ones of course.

For this week’s online comic entry, I am directing you to the something a little different. I have twittered before about the Left 4 Dead comic written and drawn by the amazing Michael Oeming. Well the fourth and final part is posting in a few hours. Even if you have never played Left 4 Dead, this is a terrific piece of horrific writing and perfect for a read on a cool, damp, windy October night, with all the lights turned off.

Speaking of turning the lights off so as to scare yourself silly, its video game time. A couple of weeks ago, I linked to the wonderfully moody and atmospheric fright fest that is The House. Well if by some chance, if you managed to get through that with pants unsoiled, here is the sequel. MWAHAHAHAAA!!!!

Not every game on this site is winner, but there is at least enough spooky fun to be worth a click or two.

This site is gloriously cheesy in all the right Halloweenie ways.

And now for this week’s Deliciously Deviant(art).

Going to keeps things short this week and start out with frequent favorite artist of this column, B1nd1, who gives us four frighteningly sexy images deep from her twisted mind appreciate.

This next piece of art is also from B1nd1, and I’m calling it, this may just be the scariest thing on Deviantart you will EVER see.

While not as scary as our last entry, and honestly what could be, this little comic certainly features a topic that frightens me almost to death. 🙂

Dennis aka Cardboardpunk, this one goes out to you.

Lets ends things right, with a wonderfully fully painted piece celebrating that most iconic of all Halloween iconography, the pumpkin.

That is it for this week’s links, see you Friday for the first edition of… Big DEAD Rambling.


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