Warner Premiere

Justice League: War (2014, Jay Oliva)

Justice League: War raises the “interesting” question of whether or not superheroes are any fun to watch when they’re vain, selfish bullies. It sort of leaves the answer unresolved, though it’s definitely a lot more entertaining when Alan Tudyk’s Superman leaves for a while. Tudyk’s performance isn’t any good but it’s probably not his fault. Heath Corson’s script is lousy, with very few of the characters remotely likable.

Some of the voice acting is all right. Michelle Monaghan does okay as Wonder Woman when the script isn’t too bad, Justin Kirk and Christopher Gorham are both nearly likable. The rest of the cast? Well, the script’s so bad it’s hard to say.

At its best, War reminds of the old “Super Friends” cartoons from the eighties, only the Warner guys want to appear tough so they throw in some curses in order to juice up the MPAA rating. Because why watch a cartoon about superheroes if they aren’t nasty and shallow.

Oliva’s direction is atrocious. Almost all of the action scenes–except the huge one where they sort of rip of The Avengers–take place in enormous warehouses. Metropolis is just full of gigantic, empty, multi-story warehouses. The action sequences are nonsensical, poorly animated and often dull.

Kirk and, occasionally but not often enough, Sean Astin bring some life to the big final battle. War plays like a spin-off from a toy line, only without the toys.

Steve Blum and Bruce Thomas are especially lame as the villains.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jay Oliva; screenplay by Heath Corson, based on comic books by Geoff Johns, Jim Lee and Scott Williams; edited by Christopher D. Lozinski; music by Kevin Kliesch; produced by James Tucker; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring Justin Kirk (Green Lantern), Jason O’Mara (Batman), Shemar Moore (Victor Stone), Michelle Monaghan (Wonder Woman), Christopher Gorham (The Flash), Sean Astin (Shazam), Alan Tudyk (Superman), Zach Callison (Billy Batson), Rocky Carroll (Silas Stone), Ioan Gruffudd (Thomas Morrow), George Newbern (Steve Trevor), Bruce Thomas (Desaad) and Steve Blum (Darkseid).


Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013, Jay Oliva)

You know what would have been nice? If the makers of Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox had any idea what they were doing. In the last act, there’s all this Flash action–he’s running around, fighting at super speed–and it’s all fantastic. Even with a cruddy director like Oliva. But there’s none of it before the third act and, worse, Justin Chambers’s voice acting in the role is hideous. He nearly ruins Flashpoint before it even gets going.

Then Kevin McKidd as a tougher, meaner Batman shows up and he’s good. Michael B. Jordan’s really good (earnest goes a long way). Sure, Cary Elwes is laughable as Aquaman (an evil warlord) and Vanessa Marshall is lame as Wonder Woman (another evil warlord), but a lot of the other supporting actors make up for them.

James Krieg’s script isn’t any great shakes either. All of the cartoon hinges on something Oliva and Krieg hide from the viewer, something they should have divulged. But, had they, Flashpoint would have needed to be judged on its scene to scene merits and–in their only self-aware move–the filmmakers realized it couldn’t. They needed to rely on a third act gimmick.

Fantastic little turns from Dana Delany (who should have been the protagonist) and C. Thomas Howell. Howell has a great time. Natahn Fillion’s good too.

Flashpoint’s dumb, Oliva’s a bad director and Krieg’s writing is lame, but it still could have been okay. Chambers–and the weak animation–bury it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jay Oliva; screenplay by James Krieg, based on comic books by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert; edited by Christopher D. Lozinski; music by Frederik Wiedmann; produced by James Tucker; released by Warner Home Video.

Starring Justin Chambers (The Flash / Barry Allen), Kevin McKidd (Batman / Thomas Wayne), Michael B. Jordan (Cyborg / Victor Stone), C. Thomas Howell (Professor Zoom / Eobard Thawne), Cary Elwes (Aquaman), Vanessa Marshall (Wonder Woman), Kevin Conroy (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Sam Daly (Superman), Nathan Fillion (Green Lantern / Hal Jordan), Steve Blum (Lex Luthor), Ron Perlman (Slade Wilson), Jennifer Hale (Iris), Dana Delany (Lois Lane), Danny Jacobs (Grifter), Danny Huston (General Lane) and Grey DeLisle (Nora Allen).


Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 (2013, Jay Oliva)

The strong parts of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 make the weak ones often easy to ignore. But nothing’s strong enough to overcome the weakest spots. First is the misogyny. I assume it’s straight from the comic. The filmmakers chose to embrace it (the fidelity to the source material is a lot of Part 2’s problem); it’s obvious–the new, female police commissioner ignores her smarter male elder juxtaposed against the new, female Robin who embraces hers–and tiring. Director Oliva really enjoys showing Batman punch out women too.

The second problem is Michael Emerson as the Joker. He’s awful and turns half of Part 2 into something of a waste of time. It has no emotional impact. Oliva’s action direction, Christopher Drake’s score and Christopher D. Lozinski’s editing are fantastic throughout. Part 2 is a great visual experience.

The second half has Mark Valley’s Superman and Valley does a fine job voicing him. Screenwriter Bob Goodman–and Miller–portray Superman as Reagan’s goon (the film keeps the eighties setting and Ronnie as the president), which doesn’t give Valley much to do, but he does well with what he’s got.

Peter Weller’s still good as Batman; but he too has little to do. He has maybe three real scenes in the entire runtime. Ariel Winter’s a little better as Robin than she was before, but maybe just because she’s in it less.

The filmmakers stick to the source material. They don’t improve it; it definitely needs improving.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jay Oliva; screenplay by Bob Goodman, based on the comic book by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson and the character created by Bob Kane; edited by Christopher D. Lozinski; music by Christopher Drake; released by Warner Premiere

Starring Peter Weller (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Ariel Winter (Robin / Carrie Kelley), Michael Emerson (Joker), David Selby (Commissioner Gordon), Maria Canals-Barrera (Ellen Yindel), Mark Valley (Superman / Clark Kent), Michael Jackson (Alfred Pennyworth), Carlos Alazraqui (Congressman Noches), Tress MacNeille (Selina Kyle), Michael McKean (Dr. Bartholomew Wolper), Conan O’Brien (David Endocrine), Paget Brewster (Lana Lang), Frank Welker (Mayor Stevenson), Robin Atkin Downes (Oliver) and Jim Meskimen as the President of the United States.


Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 (2012, Jay Oliva)

It’s interesting to hear Peter Weller voice Batman in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 (is that title long enough?) since Dark Knight Returns, the comic, always felt like Batman meets Robocop. Not so much because of the tone, but because Frank Miller uses media intercuts to flesh out the setting just like Robocop does. In the film, director Oliva does the same thing. He and screenwriter Bob Goodman keep it all… even when the story turns into Miller’s fascist daydreams.

The film’s best at the beginning, with Weller and David Selby (as Commissioner Gordon) deal with aging. And then the return of Batman is well-done; the real stars of Returns, besides Weller, are director Oliva, composer Christopher Drake and editor Christopher D. Lozinski. They imagine Batman as an unstoppable slasher movie villain–Drake’s score even has the seventies synthesizers going–and the film transcends its low budget animation.

The problems arise once the story of Part 1 begin, which involve Batman fighting a big gang. Gary Anthony Williams voices the gang’s leader, so you have an obviously black guy voicing a big white skinhead. There’s a real disconnect.

Goodman’s script faithfully–at least as I recall–the comic, meaning the character development makes all sorts of silly jumps and the pacing is weak. The script gleefully wallows in Miller’s anti-progressiveness, like it alone will make Returns daring.

Weller and Oliva nearly make the entire thing worthwhile, but even they can’t combat the script’s insipid plot developments.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jay Oliva; screenplay by Bob Goodman, based on the comic book by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson and the character created by Bob Kane; edited by Christopher D. Lozinski; music by Christopher Drake; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring Peter Weller (Bruce Wayne / Batman), David Selby (Commissioner Gordon), Ariel Winter (Carrie Kelley / Robin), Wade Williams (Harvey Dent / Two-Face), Michael Jackson (Alfred), Gary Anthony Williams (Mutant Leader), Michael McKean (Dr. Bartholomew Wolper), Paget Brewster (Lana Lang) and Richard Doyle as the Mayor.


Catwoman (2011, Lauren Montgomery)

So in the mind of writer Paul Dini, human traffickers take women from the United States and ship them overseas. I really hope he’s not heading a commission for the U.N., because that situation isn’t accurate.

Catwoman opens, in an attempt to show just how grown up DC’s cartoons are, in a strip club. I wonder how many parents are going to buy this movie for their kids and then realize the filmmakers think mature storytelling means pornographic implications.

Sadly, director Montgomery is excellent. Though Catwoman’s really silly—she swings around on a whip, doing Spider-Man stunts—the direction is amazing. Until the final shot, which is too goofy, there’s not a single false moment.

The cartoon’s fast, which is nice, but can’t disguise the mediocre voice acting.

Eliza Dushku is okay (nothing more) as Catwoman, but John DiMaggio’s weak as the villain.

Besides the writing, it’s essentially competent.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Lauren Montgomery; screenplay by Paul Dini, based on the character created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane; edited by Margaret Hou; music by Christopher Drake; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring Eliza Dushku (Catwoman), John DiMaggio (Rough Cut), Kevin Michael Richardson (Moe) and Liliana Mumy (Holly).


Batman: Year One (2011, Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery)

Batman: Year One should be much, much better. As it stands, as animated adaptation of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s comic books, it’s a fantastic proof of concept. It’s no surprise, given much has already been adapted, albeit uncredited, into Batman Begins. I guess Christopher Nolan doesn’t know how to cite.

But co-directors Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery are so reverential of the source material, they don’t seem to realize certain obvious things… like having a date appear every thirty seconds, as it does in some sequences, doesn’t work in a moving picture like it does in a comic book.

It’s a period piece, set in 1983 or so, which should be great, but the animation’s cheap and often lifeless. The car tires usually don’t move.

It should be better.

But it’s well cast for the most part. Bryan Cranston, as someday Commissioner Gordon, is amazing. He sells the first person narration and he sells the dramatic dialogue sequences. As Batman, Ben McKenzie’s earnestness works for the narration, though he doesn’t make the talking scenes work. Year One, as a movie or a comic book, isn’t about Batman talking.

Jon Polito and especially Fred Tatasciore are good as bad guys. Alex Rocco isn’t. Eliza Dushku’s Catwoman’s without presence (and her character has been whitewashed in terms of skin tone from the comic).

Christopher Drake’s music practically does the whole thing in occasionally.

The adaptation often reminds of the excellent comics. But as a standalone piece, Year One’s lacking.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery; screenplay by Tab Murphy, based on comic books by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli and characters created by Bob Kane; edited by Margaret Hou; music by Christopher Drake; produced by Montgomery; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring Bryan Cranston (Lieutenant James Gordon), Ben McKenzie (Batman / Bruce Wayne), Eliza Dushku (Selina Kyle), Jon Polito (Commissioner Loeb), Alex Rocco (Carmine Falcone), Katee Sackhoff (Detective Sarah Essen), Fred Tatasciore (Detective Flass), Jeff Bennett (Alfred Pennyworth), Grey DeLisle (Barbara Gordon), Liliana Mumy (Holly Robinson) and Stephen Root (Branden).


Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown (2011, Andrew Beall and Frank Molieri)

Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown is probably the first Peanuts film I’ve seen in twenty years. In those twenty years, the Complete Peanuts newspaper strips have started coming out (the film has a scene of the first Peanuts strip, which is nice) and the voice cast has changed.

Unfortunately, the new voice cast isn’t very good. Grace Rolek is an awful Lucy and Trenton Rogers is a mostly weak Charlie Brown.

Overall, Warm Blanket suffers from its thin plot (about Linus losing his blanket). Mixed in—making it insufferably long—are various, unrelated single strip adaptations.

Mark Mothersbaugh’s music is lovely though and Austin Lux is fine as Linus.

It’s okay for a bit (it’s nicely retro), but forty-five minutes is way too long. Beall and Molieri seem to acknowledge the franchise is both for kids and long-time fans, but don’t know how to serve both.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Beall and Frank Molieri; screenplay by Stephan Pastis and Craig Schulz, based on the comic strip created by Charles M. Schulz; animated by Darlie Brewster; edited by Mike Mangan; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; produced by Margaret M. Dean; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring Austin Lux (Linus), Amanda Pace (Sally), Trenton Rogers (Charlie Brown), Grace Rolek (Lucy), Shane Baumel (Pig Pen), Blesst Bowden (Violet), Ciara Bravo (Patty), Andy Pessoa (Shermy), Trenton Rogers (Schroeder) and Andrew Beall (Snoopy).


All-Star Superman (2011, Sam Liu)

All-Star Superman, the comic book, is maybe the best Superman comic book. Based on empirical observation (i.e. the other animated DC Comics movies from Warner Premiere), I assumed All-Star Superman, the animated movie, would be awful.

I was wrong. It’s wondrous.

It’s not without its problems, of course. The movie is based on the comic, but it feels like one of the Superman movies. It needs better music. Christopher Drake has the chops to do a video game score, not this film.

Second, the character designs are often weak. Proportions are absurd.

Third, Alexis Denisof is terrible. He doesn’t have a big part, but he opens and closes the movie. It hurts.

Now, on the good stuff. All-Star Superman is about two things–Superman and Lois and Superman and Lex Luthor. About twenty-five minutes is just Superman and Lois having a date. Sure, she’s got temporary superpowers and they’re flying around, but it’s just a date. It’s lovely.

The Lex Luthor stuff comes later and is consistently entertaining.

James Denton is great. Anthony LaPaglia gives the film’s best performance. Christina Hendricks is all right (she’s best in her scenes with Denton, which is odd, since they probably didn’t record together). Everyone else is solid–Arnold Vosloo is excellent.

The script hurries a lot, but manages to sell every sequence, even if it starts problematically.

The movie does what the comic book did–it turns the traditional Superman story into a fable of unbridled enthusiasm.

It’s great.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Liu; screenplay by Dwayne McDuffie, based on a comic book by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely and a character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; edited by Margaret Hou; music by Christopher Drake; produced by Bobbie Page and Bruce W. Timm; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring James Denton (Superman / Clark Kent), Christina Hendricks (Lois Lane), Anthony LaPaglia (Lex Luthor), Alexis Denisof (Dr. Quintum), Edward Asner (Perry White), Matthew Gray Gubler (Jimmy Olsen), Kevin Michael Richardson (Steve Lombard), Steve Blum (Atlas), John DiMaggio (Samson), Linda Cardellini (Nasthalthia), Arnold Vosloo (Bar-El), Finola Hughes (Lilo-El), Robin Atkin Downes (Solaris), Michael Gough (Parasite) and Frances Conroy (Ma Kent).


Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam (2010, Joaquim Dos Santos)

Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam is not particularly good. It has a lot of problems, which I’ll enumerate, but it also has a lot of undeniable strengths.

I’ll start with those….

I mean, it’s got James Garner voicing an old wizard. That casting alone makes it worth some kind of look.

And Dos Santos conceives some good action sequences (they’re all based on Superman and Superman II), but set to the delicate electronic score, they work.

Unfortunately, the writing’s weak. Michael Jelenic is fine on dialogue, but the plotting is dumb (why is a thirteen year-old living alone—who pays rent, buys groceries?).

Additionally, there’s some terrible CG and acting. Arnold Vosloo does a Bela Lugosi impression and George Newbern’s a weak Superman.

Plus, the end is—from Superman II again—a superhero beating up a regular person for kicks.

Still, it only runs twenty-five minutes….

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos; screenplay by Michael Jelenic, based on DC Comics characters created by Joe Shuster, Jerry Siegel, C.C. Beck and Bill Parker; edited by Margaret Hou; music by Benjamin Wynn and Jeremy Zuckerman; produced by Bobbie Page and Dos Santos; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring George Newbern (Superman / Clark Kent), Jerry O’Connell (Captain Marvel), Arnold Vosloo (Black Adam), Zach Callison (Billy Batson), Josh Keaton (Punk), Kevin Michael Richardson (Mister Tawky Tawny), Danica McKellar (Sally) and James Garner (Shazam).


Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010, Lauren Montgomery)

Kevin Conroy has been doing the Batman voice for, off and on, almost twenty years. If his work in Apocalypse is any indication, he’s gotten a little tired of it. At least there’s only one aspect of a phoned-in voice performance. Some of it might be the awful script from Tab Murphy (probably taken verbatim from the awful comic book by Jeph Loeb), but Superman-regular Tim Daly manages to be earnest–even with the absolutely dreadful animation.

Montgomery’s direction is occasionally okay–she did a fine job on the Wonder Woman animated (unfortunately she handles that character terribly here)–especially at the beginning, with a complex action sequence involving Supergirl arriving on Earth. It’s idiotically written, but choreographed well.

Besides Daly, the voice work is pretty lame. Andre Braugher is terrible as the big bad guy, who looks like he should sound like Darth Vader but instead sounds like Frank Pembleton. The animation on that character, Darkseid, looks unfinished and just plain cheap.

Summer Glau might be good as Supergirl, but it’s hard to tell, since the character is so reprehensible. She’s vapid and materialistic–I’m shocked no one at Warner has thought of making an animated “Simple Life” for the character.

Apocalypse fails at really simple stuff–the big joke of having Ed Asner play an ugly woman doesn’t work when the animation is so bad it’s unclear she’s supposed to be female.

These Warner superhero cartoons are just getting worse and worse.

Besides Daly, of course.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lauren Montgomery; screenplay by Tab Murphy, based on comic books by Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner and characters created by Bob Kane, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, William M. Marston and Jack Kirby; edited by Margaret Hou; music by John Paesano; produced by Bobbie Page and Montgomery; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring Tim Daly (Clark Kent / Superman), Kevin Conroy (Bruce Wayne / Batman), Andre Braugher (Darkseid), Summer Glau (Kara Zor-El), Susan Eisenberg (Wonder Woman), Julianne Grossman (Big Barda), Rachel Quaintance (Lyla) and Edward Asner (Granny Goodness).


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