Category: batman


I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend (2014) by Martin Short and David Kamp: Martin Short’s memoir is breezy and funny despite all the tragic bits. And there are tragic bits. Short, a native of Hamilton, Ontario (his father was an executive for Stelco), lost his oldest brother, his mother, and his father in separate incidents, all before Short was 20. 

But Short’s memoir focuses on the good times and, failing that, the funny ones throughout his life while explaining how early tragedy shaped his character — and in some cases his characters. Periodically, the narrative gives way to two or three pages about the creation and evolution of Short’s most famous sketch characters. There’s Ed Grimley, of course, along with Jackie Rogers, Jr. and Irving Cohen and Jiminy Glick and several others. Fans of Short will be delighted by revelations about the backgrounds of these characters.

The memoir also reveals the astonishing creative hotbed that was Toronto in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s — Short, Victor Garber, Gilda Radner, Andrea Martin, and Eugene Levy (to name five) all worked on the same production of Godspell in the early 1970’s. Many others would soon be at the Toronto Second City — John Candy, Dave Thomas, Catherine O’Hara — when Short joined that ensemble later in the decade.

Short’s decades-long love affair with his wife, Nancy, forms a constant thread throughout. So, too, his friendships with various actors and comedians, most notably Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, Nora Ephron, and Paul Schafer. There are a lot of laughs here, along with the occasional odd revelation (Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell bought a home in Ontario’s Cottage Country because they so liked Short’s cottage). There aren’t any dark revelations or secrets exposed here — it is, like Ed Grimley, sweet and a bit odd. Recommended.

Dark Night: A True Batman Story (2016): written by Paul Dini; illustrated by Eduardo Risso: Writer Paul Dini remains best-known for being one of a handful of creators who made Batman: The Animated Series such a joy in the early 1990’s. Set in the early 1990’s, Dark Night: A True Batman Story is Dini’s memoir of the injuries he suffered in a vicious attack, his subsequent withdrawal from work and friends, and his road to recovery.

Of course, it’s not just about physical problems. Dini painfully details the depressed head-space he occupied in the early 1990’s, infatuated with a starlet who didn’t love him and obsessively concerned with his own ‘coolness’ even at the fringes of Hollywood — Warner Brothers animation, to be exact. Dini traces some of his childhood experiences in order to explain how he got where he got, and how he then got out of there.

It’s an excellent memoir with elements that many outsiders and geeks and nerds will find often harrowingly familiar and poignant. It would be fitting if DC Animation made an animated movie out of this. 

Eduardo Risso’s art is the best work I’ve seen from him. Best-known for NuNoir art on Brian Azzarello’s hard-boiled 100 Bullets series, Risso here delineates the normative and the fantastic here with an equal conviction. It’s marvelous — I don’t know that I thought Risso was capable of this sort of art. This is the sort of Batman story that people with no real interest in Batman might nonetheless find absolutely compelling. Highly recommended.

Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist (2015) by Bill Griffith: Winner of the 2016 Eisner Award for Best Writer/Artist for his work on this graphic novel, Bill Griffith is best-known for his decades of work on the loopy world of Zippy the Pinhead (“Are We Having Fun Yet?”). But in this 200-page memoir, Griffith goes places as a writer and artist that are often astounding to behold.

Invisible Ink sees Griffith investigate his own past, and the central place of his mother’s affair with a famous cartoonist/writer during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Griffith’s mother answered an ad placed by that cartoonist, Lawrence Lariar, perhaps best known for his editing work on the Best Cartoons of the Year series that ran from 1942 to 1971. The job develops into an affair that Griffith’s mother tells her children about on the day of their father’s funeral.

Griffith’s cartooning is brilliant throughout, fine-lined and detailed and firmly grounded in the ‘real.’ He also redraws some of Lariar’s cartoons. The history of the affair drives the narrative, but the memoir also deals with Griffith’s family history and with Lariar’s career. The frame story sees Griffith visiting his uncle (his father’s brother) in the present day to talk about his mother and to share the story of the affair with him. It all works beautifully, with a light touch that never uses the various narrative threads for laughs.

Invisible Ink also works as a narrative about ‘making it’ as a cartoonist — Lariar pursuit of the Holy Grail of a successful, nationally syndicated strip is one of the historical sub-plots, with Griffith recreating a selection of his attempts, often to intentionally absurd effect as Lariar and his syndicate rework a strip into versions farther and farther away from its original setting and cast of characters.

Griffith’s mother nonetheless dominates the text, trapped between a distant husband (sometimes literally — Griffith’s father was a career military man who was often abroad) and an illicit love affair that fulfills her emotionally but which will never be formalized. She’s a tragic, stalwart character. And Invisible Ink is a moving, funny, major work of graphic story-telling. Highly recommended.

Task Force X!

Suicide Squad (2016): written and directed by David Ayer; based on DC Comics characters and situations created by John Ostrander, Luke McDonnell, Gerry Conway, Paul Dini, Bob Haney, Howard Purcell, and many others; starring Will Smith (Deadshot), Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Viola Davis (Amanda Waller), Jared Leto (The Joker), Joel Kinnaman (Colonel Rick Flag), Cara Delevingne (June Moone/ Enchantress), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Killer Croc), Jay Hernandez (Diablo), Jai Courtney (Captain Boomerang), Adam Beach (Slipknot), Alaine Chanoine (Businessman/ Incubus), Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne/ Batman), and Ezra Miller (The Flash):

I’d love to see the David Ayer director’s cut of Suicide Squad. Did it include as many music-video sequences? More importantly, did its first 45 minutes seem like the film adaptation of Who’s Who in the DC Universe I’ve been waiting 32 years to see? 

Ayer is a solid, gritty director of manly men doing violent, manly things in movies that include Fury and End of Watch. And Ayer has definitely seen The Dirty Dozen, which did this sort of Rogue’s Team-up with flair — an early death in Suicide Squad bounces right off the first death in The Dirty Dozen in visual terms. Lee Marvin would really help this movie, or even someone Lee-Marvin-esque rather than Joel Kinnaman’s somewhat bland portrayal of team leader Colonel Rick Flag. Was Stephen Lang available? Stephen Lang would be a killer Rick Flag.

Dismantled and reassembled by a team of panicked Warner Brothers executives after the widespread vitriol that attended Batman V. Superman back in March, Suicide Squad is a strangely enjoyable mess that seems to be missing vital connective tissue at several points in its narrative. The changes in mood — from zippy to grim to sentimental to music video to Ghostbusters — are striking and sometimes off-putting.

But like a lot of DC Comics movie offerings (and very few Marvel movie offerings, regardless of their box-office success), Suicide Squad is stylistically interesting and, at times, visually bold. The plot may sag or jump, but visually David Ayer manages a number of striking moments, along with some awfully good live-action visual adaptations of comic-book costumes. Say what you will about these DC movies, but they’ve yet to foist upon the viewing public as crappy a superhero costume as Marvel’s lame-ass visualization of the Vision.

But people like plot. Plot, plot, plot. And I wish this one was more coherent. Hell, I wish they’d included a scene that actually named one of the two supernatural Big Bads (Incubus) rather than leaving that job to the closing credits. Hmm. Incubus. And another super-villain is named Slipknot. That’s some weird musical stuff.

Everyone’s already talked about Margot Robbie (pretty good as Harley Quinn, not so good as psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel) and Jared Leto (underwhelming and underused as the Joker, who really should be stuck trying to save the world at the climax because that really would be funny). I liked Jay Hernandez and his character Diablo, which visually is a crazy gang-banging stereotype but as written and performed is instead the movie’s most noble and nuanced character. Viola Davis is pretty much on-point as Amanda Waller, who will do anything to save the world. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje  gets buried under a ton of make-up and a mumble-mouthed Cajun accent as Killer Croc, but he’s still pretty good.

And Will Smith does that twinkly Will Smith thing as principled assassin Deadshot while wearing a mostly faithful recreation of Marshall Rogers’ striking re-design for the character from the 1970’s Batman comics. Why Warner wasted Smith here and didn’t get him on-board the Justice League movie as Green Lantern John Stewart baffles me. It seems like a major missed opportunity. Oh, well. 

The last hour is pretty much that Ghostbusters reboot you didn’t expect to see in a comic-book movie. And I liked a lot of the visual work on all the monstrous tentacles and crawly, misshapen, monstrous hell-soldiers running around a supernaturally invaded Midway City, (Midway City being the name for Toronto on Earth-DC, at least judging by all the recognizable Toronto locations that make cameos in Suicide Squad). The Enchantress looks creepy in her earlier appearances, though her later belly-dancer get-up underwhelms. Techno-organic hell-god Incubus also has some visual moments, along with an underwhelming death. 

That the movie should end with Harley Quinn killing the Joker seems like a real lost opportunity to freak out the Internet. But it would totally be a great idea. And clear the way to someone better than Leto playing the Joker because that guy never stays dead anyway! Suicide Squad straddles a line between lightly recommended and recommended. Your experience may vary. 

Dark Knight Detectives

A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014): adapted by Scott Frank from the novel by Lawrence Block; directed by Scott Frank; starring Liam Neeson (Matt Scudder), David Harbour (Ray), Adam David Thompson (Albert), Dan Stevens (Kenny Kristo), and Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley (T.J.) : Scott Frank’s adaptation of one of Lawrence Block’s great Matt Scudder mystery novels is a dandy modern hard-boiled detective/noir. Liam Neeson does marvelous, sorrowful work as Scudder, that dark knight of New York, as does Brian Bradley as homeless genius T.J., whose orbit intersects with Scudder’s during an investigation of some horrible killings. That it wasn’t the hit it deserved to be robs us of more Scudder adaptations from Frank and Neeson, which is a great, great shame. Highly recommended.

Mr. Holmes (2015): adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from the novel by Mitch Cullin; directed by Bill Condon; starring Ian McKellen (Sherlock Holmes), Laura Linney (Mrs. Munro), Milo Parker (Roger Munro), and Hattie Morahan (Ann Kelmot) : Lovely, character-driven piece about Sherlock Holmes in twilight, bee-keeping in the country just after World War Two. McKellen does fine work as a memory-loss-plagued Holmes in his 90’s and, in flashback, Holmes prior to his retirement just after World War One. 

Laura Linney and Hattie Morahan are fine as the main female supporting characters in the present and past, respectively, while Milo Parker is a refreshingly non-annoying child actor. Parker plays the son of Holmes’ housekeeper Linney in the 1940’s sequences, fascinated by the life and career of the World’s First Consulting Detective. 

The narrative plays around with what we ‘know’ of Holmes’ life from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories by playing with Doyle’s own literary conceit that Holmes was a real person whose adventures were recounted — and sometimes embellished — by Holmes’ friend Dr. Watson. The mysteries in Mr. Holmes aren’t great ones. It’s the film’s engagement with memory, loss, and regrets that makes it so moving. Highly recommended.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015): written by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt; directed by J.J. Abrams; starring Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), and Andy Serkis (Supreme Leader Snoke) : Still a zippy ride on the small screen, where the greatest strength of the film — its terrific casting and direction of the new characters — stands out more than ever. And BB-8. Can’t forget BB-8. Highly recommended.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016): written by David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio; directed by Zack Snyder; starring Ben Affleck (Batman), Henry Cavill (Superman), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), and Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor): A second viewing made me think that the movie might have been better had the entire section of Batman actually fighting Superman been excised in favour of a brief conversation between the two. I like the idea of a movie entitled Batman v. Superman that doesn’t actually include a battle between Batman and Superman. 

With a nod to Chekov’s gun, the Excalibur reference on the wall in the first Act goes off in the third. Hoo ha. At least it attempts to be a movie and not just another slab of Marvel Movie Product (TM). And Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman really is Da Bomb once she gets into battle. Still, it feels like Aquaman really should have showed up with that spear at the end. Recommended.

Four Movies, 9000 Characters

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016): written by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle; directed by Dan Trachtenberg; starring Jhn Goodman (Howard), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Michelle), and John Gallegher Jr. (Emmett): Delightful psychological thriller with several fine twists. The writing is sharp, the direction from first-time helmer Dan Trachtenberg precise, and the acting superb. And that’s all I”m telling you so that you can go spoiler-free. Highly recommended.

San Andreas (2015): written by Carlton Cuse, Andre Fabrizio, and Jeremy Passmore; directed by Brad Peyton; starring Dwayne Johnson (Gaines), Carla Gugino (Carla), Alexandra Daddario (Blake), and Paul Giamatti (Dr. Hayes): Goofy, implausible, impossible shenanigans involving a massive, San Francisco-centered earthquake. Dwayne Johnson, playing a Los Angeles fire-department rescue pilot, is having major marital issues with estranged wife Carla Gugino because Of Course He Is. But when earthquakes come a-knocking, Johnson pilots helicopters, cars, SUVs, boats, and airplanes to save his wife and 20-year-old daughter, who’s in San Francisco. 

This is the sort of movie in which visual effects carry pretty much everything. They’re OK, and the direction by Brad Peyton is mostly brisk. Among other things, San Andreas gives us an impossibly large tsunami that couldn’t actually happen in the San Francisco area. And it’s going the wrong way. Maybe this is a remake of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Certainly no worse than the disaster movies of the 1970s. Lightly recommended.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016): written by David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio; directed by Zack Snyder; starring Ben Affleck (Batman), Henry Cavill (Superman), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), and Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor): A lighter touch on both the writing and directorial ends could have made the 2 1/2 hours of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice pass a lot more smoothly. However, for all the darkness of his colour palette, director Snyder at least aims for something epic and movie-like, which is more than I can say about 90% of all Marvel films, most of which are filmed as if they were the most expensive, stylistically inert TV movies ever made.

Ben Affleck is perfectly fine as Batman, Henry Cavill is solid as Superman, and Gal Gadot is a hoot as Wonder Woman. There’s a plot explanation for Jesse Eisenberg’s loopy Lex Luthor, but it’s in the deleted scenes. Amy Adams plays Lois Lane as the film’s one real ray of light. The bombastic sturm-und-drang of the battle sequences may actually play better on a small screen, where they’ll be less sonically and visually overwhelming. And hey, a Mother Box! Parademons! Batman with goggles! A Boom Tube! An early Excalibur (1981) reference that pays off visually in the climax! Recommended.

The Princess Bride (1987): adapted by William Goldman from his own novel; directed by Rob Reiner; starring Cary Elwes (Westley), Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya), Chris Sarandon (Prince Humperdinck), Christopher Guest (Count Rugen), Wallace Shawn (Vizzini), Andre the Giant (Fezzik), Robin Wright (Buttercup), Peter Falk (Grandfather), and Fred Savage (Grandson): Still a gold standard for light-hearted meta-fantasy after all these years. William Goldman’s screenplay is slightly sweeter than his even more meta novel. The cast is great, though Billy Crystal remains somewhat jarring — he’s a little too tonally off to be funny enough to justify. Andre the Giant steals the show, though, as the amiable, reflexively violent Fezzik. A movie from the time when giants walked the Earth, and the giants were funny! Highly recommended.