DVD Review Text Reviews

DVD Review: Superman – Doomsday

Superman – Doomsday is the first in DC’s direct-to-DVD animated features utilizing some key storylines from DC Comics rich history. This one starts it, and then next year will see Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier and then Marve Wolfman’s and George Perez’s Teen Titans story The Judas Contract following that. If Superman – Doomsday is any indication at all, DC and Warners are going to make one hell of a mark in original DVD productions, because this first one is absolutely fantastic.

Superman – Doomsday tackles one of the biggest and best Superman stories ever, The Death and Return of Superman and it certainly does take some liberties with the original story. You won’t find the Justice League involved with the battle with Doomsday, and you won’t see the appearances of Steel, Superboy, the Eradicator and the Cyborg in the return part, as the movie is only about 70 minutes long. This compresses the event considerably, but it never loses the flavor of the piece, and the result is a tightly paced, extra dynamic and highly emotional (in the good way) film that at least in my estimation makes this one of the finest Superman stories ever brought to any sort of filmed medium.

That’s saying a lot, I know, but with Bruce Timm, Andrea Romano and the Warners animation team behind this, based on their past track records, it was already in good hands. Timm and his crew have re-designed all the characters, and if there’s any caveat at all it’s that a couple of lines have been added to Superman’s face that makes it a little disconcerting to see when you first see him, but by it’s end, I was used to it, and in some angles it actually works really well. The look that they’ve come up with is closer to the animated look that you’re used to seeing, but this Superman is a little leaner and more chiseled, and in sort of an animated reflection and amalgam of all of the artists who worked on the feature at the time. All of the supporting characters have undergone some re-designs as well. This literally is not at all supposed to be seen as a continuation of the original animated series, but something brand new and designed to stand on it’s own, and in my opinion, it really succeeds.

There’s little salutes and homages to all sorts of versions of Superman in the past too, from little details in the backgrounds, like seeing one of the Mechanical Monsters from the Fleischer cartoons in the fortress, and the statues of Jor-El and Lara as depicted by John Byrne’s re-vamp to a little flying sequence that virtually mimics the way Christopher Reeve did it in the first movie, this is a true treasure trove for a Superman fan.

As always, the Warners voice work is head and shoulders above anyone else’s out there. Adam Baldwin is the voice of Superman, Anne Heche is the voice of Lois Lane and James Marsters provides the voice of Lex Luthor amongst others in the film. Heche and Marsters are particularly good here, and I think Heche is the real standout in one scene in particular where Lois Lane goes to meet with Martha Kent.

This is also the first ever PG-13 rated Superman movie, and it earns that rating, being more mature than other films, and much more violent. I was pleased to see that they really let themselves cut loose here.

The disk also includes some very nice extras. The centerpiece being a very long piece that focuses on the comics at the time and interviewing all of the creators involved, even showcasing some video of he creators at work during one of the Superman summits that DC conducts regularly. For comic fans, this one is a real treat. There’s also a nice short on the voice casting of the film, and I always find those things, particularly on the Warners pieces, to be fun viewing. And Warners has even tossed in a 10-minute featurette on The New Frontier as well, and that looks like it might re-define these movies all over again.

I cannot recommend this one enough, if you’re at all curious, just go ahead and buy it, and if you’re a Superman fan, this will really be treasured in your collection, I know it is in mine anyway. Go get it!!

Text Reviews Theatrical Review

Theatrical Review: Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton is an attorney for the New York law firm of Kenner, Bach & Ledden and he’s what’s described as a “fixer” or a “janitor,” the type of guy who’s called in to handle the extremely unpleasant occurrences, he’s supposed to clean them up and keep them as quiet as possible (think of a more real world version of Winston Wolf, the character Harvey Keitel played in Pulp Fiction). A colleague of Michael’s, Arthur, does a similar job for an agricultural chemical company called UNorth, and Arthur has found himself at the end of his rope, living and breathing a class action suit against the company for the last six years, and knowing what he’s doing in defending the company when they knew there was a danger is the wrong thing to do- Arthur snaps, and Michael Clayton is brought in to handle this. Michael, of course has his own demons, and in trying to do what he can for his friend, starts to find that they weigh heavily on him as well… and of course, hijinks ensue…

That’s the basic premise to Michael Clayton the new movie from star George Clooney and director Tony Gilroy, who’s better known as a screen writer, in particular for the Jason Bourne movies. What they’ve delivered is a very taut legal thriller that also serves as a great character study. It’s also a great puzzle drama, that has you putting together the pieces as they unfold in a non-linear way. It doesn’t lead you by the hand and it certainly doesn’t ask you to turn you brain off as you’re watching it. It’s very much for mature audiences, not for anything of a violent or sexual nature, but more for it’s realistic portrayal of people who have jobs to do and having to face their consequences over those jobs.

Clooney is also a producer on the film as is his longtime collaborator Steven Soderbergh (together these two are one of my favorite teams of filmmakers working today), and that Soderbergh “feel” is certainly there in the filmmaking, right from the unobtrusive opening titles all the way up to a very bold way to end the film. Gilroy has certainly incorporated these tactics well, making a great thinking man’s film.

I think Clooney definitely wants to get an Oscar in his career and for the right reasons, delivering great performances, and he’s certainly on his game here, particularly in the film’s final moments where the ambiguity of Michael’s job starts to really weigh heavily into the film’s climax- it’s just a great, yet subtle, well rounded performance. He’s certainly backed up with some great top talent, including Tom Wilkinson as Arthur, Tilda Swinton as the lead counsel for UNorth and director and sometimes actor, Sydney Pollack as Bach, one of the partners of Kenner, Bach & Ledden. All three of them give great performances, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see either Wilkinson or Swinton get some sort of supporting actor nominations. Not to slight Pollack in the least, but Pollack is delivering the type of performance that he usually gives in films, he’s solid, and certainly has credibility, but it’s not the stretch that either Wilkinson or Swinton delivers.

Michael Clayton is an absolutely terrific film, and if you’re in the mood for some mature drama, it’s probably one of the best thing out there for you to see right now. Really well done and of course, highly recommended…

Text Reviews Theatrical Review

Theatrical Review: The Kingdom

After a stunning opening credits sequence in which we’re presented with a simplified by-the-numbers version of the United States involvement in Arab Oil production, our scene shifts to an American community of oil workers in the Saudi city of Riyadh, where men posing as Saudi police charged with the protection of the Americans stage a devastating terrorist attack killing many of the people in the city and taking out any sort of FBI involvement present there. The FBI are charged with the protection and investigation of these sorts of American events abroad, and once word has come down, FBI forensics agent Ronald Flury and his team find their hands tied at even getting into Saudi Arabia to actually investigate what has happened. After a little political manipulation, they are allowed to send in four agents to investigate, but only at the whims of the Arabian Prince in charge. Flury and his team, and a Saudi police officer named Faris Al Ghazi, after some initial head-butting, come together to piece together what happened and who is responsible.

And with that, you have the basic premise of The Kingdom the newest movie from director (and actor- he’s in the film) Peter Berg, who amazed me with his prior efforts, The Rundown and Friday Night Lights and he amazes me again with The Kingdom delivering what I think is right up there with the very best that I’ve seen this year.

What’s amazing to me in ths film is that for once, the terrorists in the movie are actually Muslim terrorists, without any sort of secret-y, shadowy American involvement. It’s not handled in the cynical Hollywood way, which more often than not points the finger and says, “We have seen the enemy and the enemy is us” which is at this point getting to be the most tired cliche in movies now that try to say anything at all about American involvement in the Middle East. The last movie that I saw that handled this this fairly was United 93 which was definitely my favorite film of last year. Berg’s film is obviously a fictional account, but it seems well researched, and it’s more concerned with the obvious feelings of revenge that first set in after devastating events such as these occur. In other words, thank goodness, he doesn’t come in to politicize what has happened and as a result, you’ve got something here that handles this quite fairly showing all sorts of points of view. To somewhat simplify it, this sort of reminds of taking a movie like Syriana and crossing it with films like Peacemaker or Black Rain.

In some reviews that I’ve seen, this movie is sort of being indicted as the type of thing which will further an anti-Muslim resentment in the US, and I don’t think that’s so at all, because really it’s more than fair in showing the Saudi’s Prince of his region earnestness in wanting to solve this crime and even more so in it’s treatment of Faris, who becomes this character that you really give a damn about by the end of the film.

Berg has assembled as unlikely a team of actors working together in a project like this as I’ve ever seen. Jamie Foxx plays Agent Flury and he’s backed up by Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman as his team, and these four really work well together, there’s a “lived-in” quality to both their work and their personal relationships that feels honest. Jeremy Piven and Danny Huston play State department officials who more take on the cynical Hollywood side of these events, but they’re not at all force-fed to us, and their portrayals again feel right. I did not catch the name of the actor who plays Faris, but he does one hell of a job here, and his relationship with Foxx, which first starts as head-butting, and then moves to cooperation again feels just right.

Berg’s films have gotten more technically proficient with each one, and The Kingdom is no exception. He employs a handheld camera style (that of course others complain about yet again) that works here, and works dramatically well especially in later parts of the film where all sorts of chaos erupts. Danny Elfman provides a very cool more techno and drumbeat influenced score that also keeps the pace moving quite effectively.

I cannot recommend The Kingdom enough, from it’s riveting opening credits to the absolutely chilling last lines of the film, it’s one hell of a ride and one great story, superbly shown and acted out. Don’t miss this one…

Text Reviews Theatrical Review

Theatrical Review: 30 Days of Night

In Alaska, some places undergo a natural phenomenon where they go a full month with absolutely no sunlight whatsoever, one of those places is the small town of Barrow, and right as this is about to occur, the small town is prepping for it with a full 80% of the town leaving for the period, just not being able to stand it. In the midst of this, the sheriff of the town Eben Oleson and the fire marshal, his wife, Stella, are going through their own personal crisis. But as darkness comes to Barrow, the population takes a slight increase as a group of vampires come to town, ready to feast and take full advantage of the natural phenomenon.

And that’s the basic premise to the new movie 30 Days of Night from director David Slade (who previously gave us the pedophile revenge/creepfest Hard Candy) and producer Sam Raimi, who’s obviously no stranger to horror films at all. This is adapted from the graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, and as a comic reader, I’m sad to say that I’ve never read the book, so I’m really no judge about how faithful it is, but at the same time, it almost doesn’t matter to me, because what’s on-screen is one tremendous and very tense piece of horror entertainment right from the word “go.”

One thing I really admire is the approach taken with the vampires, they’re not these suave and sophisticated Euro-trash that’s all cliches (like seen in the Underworld films), though they are European, there’s still something quite different from what we’ve seen before, obviously looking like they’ve come from some refinement in their dress, their physical make-up is much more frightening, almost more of something out of Nosferatu and they speak purely in what sounds like a Slavic tongue, adding more to their intrigue.

The other thing that I really like with Slade’s very stylish film is that by it’s very set-up, it takes the vampire film and sort of crosses it with aspects of a zombie movie, with small groups of people barricading themselves and hiding from these monsters, all while trying to stick out the 30 days of terror in front of them. I tend to think that Zombie movies have a real immediacy about them that at least for me makes them really compelling to watch, and 30 Days of Night has that in spades.

There’s a good cast at work here, with Josh Hartnett and Melissa George playing Eben and Stella, and they’re solid as rocks here, being our eyes into this world of terror that’s come into their town. The always good Ben Foster (who’s chameleon abilities transform him into something different in every movie he’s in- compare him here to The Angel who he plays in X-Men 3) is suitably creepy as a drifter who becomes the key to the vampires coming into town. But special note has to go to Danny Huston, son of the great John Huston, who plays the leader of this pack of vampires, who’s just absolutely terrific in his part. Huston’s been showing up in a lot of movies lately and he’s always a great addition to any cast, but here… here he really stands out.

If you’re in the mood for a great horror movie, then really look no further than 30 Days of Night because this one is something that’s really special and just a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Here’s another one that definitely moves into consideration for my own Top 10 of 2007. Obviously, highly recommended… don’t miss it…