Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Twilight Saga: New Moon posters...

Say what you will, but these are awfully stylish posters (it wouldn't be Twilight if Edward didn't look lame) . And after two trailers where she was basically hidden, Dakota Fanning now headlines her own teaser poster. For a detailed analysis of said posters, here's Brian Lynch's take.

Scott Mendelson

From a former frequent moviegoer...

This originated as a comment on The Hot Blog on a comprehensive survey about moviegoing habits and marketing techniques. I suppose it works here too. It has some stuff that I thought about awhile ago but never got around to writing.

Before I became a parent, I was dead-set against the whole 'same date for theater/video/on demand' release ideas that were being floated around. Now, I'd kill for that option. I still love the movies and the theater experience, but with time commitments and the inconvenience that comes with having a family, I must concede that the primary reason I go to a theater anymore is merely to see a given movie as soon as possible so as to participate in the discussion with peers and on sites like this. But with that comes the occasional feeling of going to the movies as homework if you will.

Do I still enjoy the experience of sitting in a theater and watching a new movie on opening weekend? Yeah, and I miss being able to do it without the inconvenience. But it's usually a hassle especially when it's something that the spouse wants to see too (so I can't sneak off on a light work day, but we actually need to make plans with a babysitter and what not). For movies that don't specifically demand a big screen experience (like Extract for example), I'd gladly pay 'full ticket price' to see it on my home system on opening weekend or even a few days after if that was the trade-off. For now, I'll just wait for the Blu Ray and rent it via Blockbuster Online.

The Air Up There may be one of the best films of the year, but the character-driven drama will probably be just as good (if not better I wouldn't feel the burden of hassle and lost time) if I were to watch it at home on my 56" DLP on its opening weekend. I probably shouldn't admit this, but there are at least a few movies that I saw on screeners where I was kinder critically than I probably would have been had I had to go to downtown Hollywood on a weeknight during rush hour to see just days before the theatrical release.

There will always be movies that demand a theater experience, but even those are in shorter supply, as seemingly every horror film, comedy, and action film has an 'unrated director's cut' on the eventual home video release. And really, why would anyone see a documentary in a theater when they can wait for the DVD and basically see another hour or so of extra footage that could have made up a quasi-sequel to said film? For example, No End In Sight on DVD is basically two separate 105-minute features. So many studios are almost mocking the audiences' willingness to throw down $10 for an arbitrary cut of a film when they know full well that the 'real version' will be available in just four months in the home format.

I used to see 50-60 movies in a theater in a given year. Now I probably see around 20-30. And I genuinely do miss it. I can't wait until the two-year old is able to sit through more than just second-run animated films. A slight digression, but if every bloody kids film weren't in 3D, I'd be more willing to try first run. When the time comes, I'll gladly take her to whatever craptastic kids film she wants to see. I can't wait till she drags me to the midnight screening of Twilight part 6 or Sex & The City 3. But until then, I only see what I absolutely must see in theaters, along with ones whose theatrical runs coincide with slow work days.

Finally, being a parent has taught me two very specific things about moviegoing (well, I thought I already knew these things, but I didn't truly 'get it'). First of all, parents drag their kids to every terrible kids film because they don't care if they personally enjoy it. Yes, G-Force in 2D second run was a terrible movie, but the kid loved every stupid second of it, so I was more than content watching her point at the screen and cackle. Second of all, there is a reason that dramas and 'nutritious' films don't do as well as us film-snobs think they should. When you're married with kids, do you really need to take time out of your life to learn what you already know? Do you really spend time away from your wife to learn that relationships are complicated and require hard work? Do I really need to spend money on a babysitter and not spend time with my daughter so I can go to the movies and learn to appreciate my family? It's not so much theatrical experiences as 'an escape' so much as the need to justify spending the time and money to see or view something that you can't get in your own life.

Point being, I still value the theater experience and still find it to be the optimum way to watch movies. But priorities have shifted and I'm sometimes willing to settle for second best in the name of convenience.

Scott Mendelson

Still Freddy's finest hour...

And it's also probably the best 'part 7' in cinematic history. Granted there isn't much competition in the limited realm of seventh chapters. Halloween H20, Friday the 13th: The New Blood, Star Trek: Generations, Police Academy: Mission To Moscow, and Diamonds Are Forever are the only ones that spring to mind. And while it may not be the only instance where part 7 is better than part 1 (Star Trek: Generations is better than Star Trek: The Motion Picture), it's certainly the only instance where part 7 is the absolute best in a franchise. Without question, Wes Craven's New Nightmare is the best Nightmare On Elm Street film of them all and one of the best horror films of the 1990s. This one is Wes Craven's masterpiece, bar none, and easily the best of the Nightmare On Elm Street series

Don't be an idiot. Buy the Wizard of Oz on Blu Ray.

Buy The Wizard of Oz on Blu Ray. It's really a no-brainer.

You can buy the whole big package anywhere. Unlike some of the other stuffed special editions that I complain to Warner Bros about, this one actually has worthwhile books and publicity reprints. There's no map of San Francisco or fake detective badge. No, the stuff in the box is actually worth keeping. But if you just want the Blu Ray contents, head on over to Target, which is offering just the discs for just $35. Good on Warner for giving customers the choice (Wal-Mart is apparently also offering a one-disc Blu Ray or $20).

Either way, if you have even the slightest interest in The Wizard Of Oz (and you have a Blu Ray player), you have no excuse for not picking this thing up. It has about 24-hours of extras. You have Oz-related documentaries, deleted scenes, hundreds of photos, trailer campaigns spanning 60 years, and goodness knows more. You have six prior film versions of The Wizard Of Oz and a TV-movie biopic of L Frank Baum. You have a six-hour documentary on the history of MGM which is only a little bittersweet as the once-mighty lion once again seems on its deathbed. DVDTalk did an exhaustive rundown of the complete contents, for those who don't like surprises.

But the real selling point is the video quality, which is in a word 'jaw-dropping'. This is easily the finest high-def remastering of an older film that I've ever seen. Heck, it's a better and more vibrant image than many new releases. You will see every tile in that yellow brick road. You will see the burlap that makes up part of the Scarecrow's face. Yes, there is grain as befitting the original theatrical image, but it in no way mars what is simply an astonishing piece of restoration (which is detailed in a 15-minute featurette). Warner Bros. may be hit and miss when it comes to newer releases these days, but no one puts more money, time, and care into restoring their timeless masterpieces as the Dream Factory.

So whichever version you buy, for goodness sake do not hesitate to pick this thing up. It truly is the 'ultimate collector's edition'.

Film - B+
Video - A+
Audio - NA
Extras - A+

Scott Mendelson

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Nightmare on Elm Street remake gets a trailer.

An official version is here.

Well, that's a little underwhelming. What's most apparent is that, aside from a few flourishes (the opening scene of Fred Krueger being burned to death, a pool-party scene that may or may not be cribbed from Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge), this is looking like something resembling a beat-for-beat remake. Frankly, if that's the route they go, it feels like a missed opportunity. Seeing Jackie Earl Haley and Clancy Brown right off the bat is a hopeful sign. Connie Britton of Friday Night Lights also lends gravitas at the adults table. Of course, if we are to believe Fred's dying declaration of innocence then the film may in fact be playing with a wholly different set of cards than the original.

I could do without the slow-motion sweater-reveal (although to be fair, I'm guessing that the jacket is supposed to be on fire, which they couldn't show in a green-band trailer). And it's genuinely difficult to discern who is playing whom unless you have intimate knowledge of the first picture. Kyle Gallner has been doing solid work in everything from Veronica Mars to The Haunting In Connecticut, so his appearance bodes well for improving upon the somewhat wretched teen acting in the original. And while I admire Platinum Dunes' willingness to go a completely different route with Freddy's makeup (freeze-frame at 1:55), the new makeup just isn't very frightening. Frankly, Krueger looks creepier in both Freddy's Revenge and Wes Craven's New Nightmare. While everyone seems to be trying harder than the gang behind Friday the 13th (and I rather liked the Amityville Horror remake as well as the two Texas Chainsaw Massacre redos), this feels like a fancier redo of something that held up pretty well in the first place.

Scott Mendelson

Review: The Invention of Lying (2009)

The Invention of Lying
099 minutes
Rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

The Invention of Lying is a film that trades in one simplification for another and fails to fully explore either of the two concepts that it pertains to be about. On the surface, it concerns an alternate universe where not one does no one lie, but everyone pretty much speaks whatever happens to be on their mind. This leads to simplistic scenes of waiters wantonly insulting their patrons, co-workers brutally berating their fellow employees, and hospital staff giving brutally honest medical diagnosis to their doomed patients. Cute, but the film never really explores whether or not society could actually function in a world where everyone simply blurted out their inter-most thoughts, be they sexual fantasies or irrational fears.

Review: Whip It (2009)

Whip It
111 minutes
Rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

Whip It is a textbook example of how you do a formula picture. The plot isn't the least bit original and you could chart the story using a Mad Libs puzzle. But the film has style and intelligence to spare. I wish it deviated from the cliché a bit more than it does, but the film as is remains a glorious piece of mainstream entertainment. While Drew Barrymore has been producing films for around fifteen-years, this is her first directorial effort. Based on the evidence present, she is well on her way to becoming a better director that she ever was as an actor (yes, that's a compliment anyway you read it).

Some plot - Bliss Cavander (Ellen Page) lives in the very small town of Bodeen, Texas. While her sister and peers are all too happy to spend their days participating in local beauty pageants, Bliss finds them to be a slow death. Opportunity knocks when she stumbles upon a somewhat underground league of female roller derby players who operate out of Austin. Pretending that she's 22 and telling her parents that she's taking an SAT-prep course, she sneaks off to try-outs and finds that her natural speed on skates make her a valuable commodity to the last-place Hurl Scouts. Will she flourish in this brutally violent sport? Will she be able to keep this all secret from her parents? How will she juggle the demands of her new activity with those of her more traditional mother and her left-out best friend? You probably know the answer to most of these questions, but getting there is quite a bit of fun.

What makes the picture work despite its reliance on formula is its low-key naturalism and high energy. The games themselves are not shot in a hyper-edited fashion to make them seem more intense than they are. Since the characters are exciting, the pacing is almost leisurely and the locations are muted and authentic. And everyone, from the disapproving mother (Marcia Gay Harden) to the rival star-player (Juliette Lewis) are kept firmly in the realm of realistic human behavior. Furthermore, these characters are allowed to maintain the moral high ground even in the stock third-act confrontations. The supporting cast is filled with wonderful actors, from Daniel Stern as Bliss's somewhat more understanding father to Kristen Wig as 'Maggie Mayham', the fellow skater who takes Bliss (or 'Babe Ruthless') under her wing. Even Jimmy Fallon scores laughs as the league announcer. Barrymore cameos as 'Smashley Simpson', a showboating but incompetent star player. Best of all is Andrew Wilson, who wrings nonstop laughs and a dollop of sympathy as the put-on and long-suffering coach.

The picture does deviate from formula just enough to be noticed. There is a stock romantic subplot, but it's handled in a relatively sweet and lackadaisical fashion and doesn't end as you'd expect. Frankly, the movie gets major bonus points simply for being a rare female-driven movie that doesn't completely revolve around romance or getting the guy. And while there is a climactic big game, the outcome is almost beside the point. Best of all, the film refuses to indulge in the sort of 'hey look, it's girls kicking ass - how progressive!' pandering that is often found in allegedly feminist films. The fact that these women really do whack the stuffing out of each other is simply accepted as a matter of course. While a nod is offhandedly made to the sex appeal of the sport ("Why would you think I wouldn't want to watch a bunch of hot girls on roller skates in fishnets beating the crap out of each other?", Bliss's coworker asks early on), the film never goes out of its way to sexualize the contestants. Whip It is the best kind of feminist film; it feels no need to comment on the fact that its heroes are in fact female.

Whip It is one of the most enjoyable film experiences of 2009. It's a formula picture through and through, but it is a truly entertaining one. Ellen Page cements herself as a lifelong actress if she so chooses, and Drew Barrymore cements herself as a triple-threat (acting, producing, and directing). This is the most promising directorial debut by a famous actor since Ben Affleck's Gone Baby Gone two years ago. The film looks great, it's exceptionally well-acted by a large game cast, and the screenplay by Shauna Cross (a real-life roller derby player in LA) is filled with smart dialogue and genuine wit. Whip It is a just-plain great movie.

Grade: A-

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Blu Ray Review: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
67 minutes
Rated PG-13 (for action violence throughout and a crude comment)
Available on September 29th on DVD, Blu Ray, On-Demand, and iTunes download

by Scott Mendelson

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is the Star Trek: Insurrection of the DCAU animated features. There wasn't anything really wrong with that ninth Star Trek film, but it still feels like little more than a two-part episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And if Public Enemies was merely a three-part episode of Superman: The Animated Series, it would be a good one. But it falls short as a stand-alone movie. It's certainly entertaining, colorful, and quite action packed. But it's also lacking in logical narrative and dramatic impact. The original comic book story that this is based on was the pay-off for nearly five-years of Superman story-arcs. However bubble-gum silly and widescreen spectacular the Jeph Loeb story was, it was preceded by years of build-up that gave the climax real weight. Without that continuity, this feature spin-off is the first DC Animated Universe original movie that truly feels like just a cartoon.

Some plot - Economic and social strife has left America so desperate that Lex Luthor himself now sits in the Oval Office. It would seem on the surface that Luthor has finally realized that the best revenge was living well, as he sits not on a hotbed of corruption but a stable economy and a safer populace. Superman can only seethe in the corner as he half-heartedly stops whatever crimes and/or accidents still occur in Metropolis. But trouble looms as a kryptonite meteor is apparently headed toward Earth. But a call for help from President Luther and the Man of Steel ends in tragedy and leaves Superman wounded and implicated in the murder of a super villain. Now with both heroes and villains hunting down the last son of Krypton, he turns to the only hero who still completely trusts him, the Dark Knight himself. Now Superman and Batman must unite to clear Superman's name and save the Earth from approaching disaster.

Unfortunately, once the plot is established around the twenty-minute mark, the remaining forty-five minutes give way to one super-powered smack-down after another. Character and plot logic goes out the window for a stream of epic battle scenes between Superman and Batman vs this pack of heroes or that pack of villains. The cameos are numerous (even Hush makes an inexplicable experience, which makes no sense if you know anything about the character), but the film's brief 67-minute running time leaves little room for plot or any real substance in between the fight scenes. What time there is for plot is spent explicitly explaining things that were taken for granted in the comics (and should be taken for granted in a fan-friendly adaptation such as this). This results in a flurry of rushed and on-the-nose exposition for a story that just doesn't have the time.

What does work is the character interplay between Batman and Superman. While this movie is obviously missing the back-and-forth thought bubbles that were a trademark of the Superman/Batman comic series in its early days, enough of the memorable wordplay makes its way onto the screen. And it's obviously fun to see Kevin Conroy (Batman), Tim Daly (Superman), Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor), and CCH Pounder (Amanda Waller) return to their animated series roles. Although that only makes it incredibly distracting when certain characters show up who have new voices this time around (for example, Alfred is inexplicably not voiced by Efrem Zimbalist Jr.). And furthermore, am I the only one who wonders just why George Newbern gets so little respect? The guy voiced a darn-solid Superman in 60 episodes of Justice League from 2001 to 2005. That's actually more than Daly, who voiced Superman from 1996-1999 in 52 episodes of Superman: The Animated Series. On the plus side, like in Batman: Arkham Asylum, Kevin Conroy is a more natural and low-key Batman than any time prior to Justice League.

In the end, this feature is as light as a feather, without the years of comic-book back story to make it more potent than it otherwise would be. Even the climax feels limper and more perfunctory, and the story alterations feel unnecessary and drain what emotional impact there was in the first place. If you want to watch an hour of Clancy Brown hamming it up and our two favorite heroes laying waste to much of the DC universe, then you'll get your fill. But this entry feels more like the Lionsgate Ultimate Avengers cartoons than the more artistically ambitious DCAU products. It lacks the ambition of Justice League: The New Frontier, the scope and angry feminism of Wonder Woman, and the noirish qualities of Green Lantern: First Flight. It's certainly more entertaining that Batman: Gotham Knights, but I expect better from the Timm/Burnett universe.

Grade: B-

The Blu Ray:
The image is hurts-your-eyes colorful and perfectly fits the cotton-candy nature of the story. The sound was just fine on my English 2.0 mono system. As for the extras, we have the usual 20-minute featurette on the dual natures of Batman and Superman, as well as spotlights on the prior DCAU titles. We have two bonus episodes of Superman: The Animated Series (the hilarious "Knight Time" and the dreadful "The Demon Reborn") as well as the four-part 'Cadmus' arc that closed out the stellar fourth season of Justice League (at around 85 minutes, it's just plain better than the main feature in nearly every way). We have a sneak preview of the next feature, Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths, a multi-verse story that apparently started as a planned story arc for the Justice League animated series. Best of all, we have a whopping fifty-five minute round-table 'dinner with DCU' interview with Bruce Timm, Andrea Romano, Gregory Novick, and Kevin Conroy. This segment is by itself worth the purchase or at least rental of the Blu Ray (the DVD version is allegedly shorter). It's a wonderfully insightful and funny conversation about everything from the origins of Batman: The Animated Series to the casting of Public Enemies. You'll love Kevin Conroy's story involving an encounter with a homeless person outside of his local post office.

We have a merely so-so movie, but with a glorious transfer and genuinely compelling extras. If you collect this stuff out of habit, I won't stop you this time. But casual fans might want a rental first. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is not a patch on the better DCAU films or cartoon shows, but it's pretty entertaining in its own right. For more information, go to the official site.

Movie - B-
Video - A
Audio - NA
Extras - B+

Friday, September 25, 2009

Mini-Review: Surrogates (2009)

89 minutes
Rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

is pretty good and occasionally great. It's a lean, thoughtful B-movie and is another solid triple for Jonathon Mostow (Breakdown, U-571, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines). I don't know why Disney has treated it like a near-dump, but it's absolutely worth seeing. It has similarities with I, Robot (free tip - keep James Cromwell away from futuristic technology), but like that picture it's at heart an old-fashioned film noir detective film. It sets up a real world where humanity lives their lives through robot doubles and takes real care to detail how such a society would function. It is NOT an action thriller. The one big chase set piece, at around the one-third mark, is the weakest scene in the film as it feels arbitrarily tossed in. The finale feels a little rushed, which may be explained by the mere 89-minute running time, but the movie works. It's well-written, well-acted, and genuinely compelling on an emotional and philosophical level. It is a solid piece of genre film-making, the kind of thing we used to take for granted.

Grade: B

SPOILERS - First of all, do not watch the trailer as it does in fact give away basically the finale of the film. Second of all, without going into details, the film once again takes the same tract as other 'what-if?' sci-fi parables (such as The Sixth Day or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) that consenting adults may not have the right to make their own decisions about new forms of technology. We may believe that cloning or having the ability to erase bad memories may be immoral or at least disturbing, but I'm always unnerved by films that basically state that intelligent adults of sound judgment do not have the right to partake in said technologies if they see fit. Maybe it's the social libertarian in me, but I've always believed in peoples' legal right to make bad decisions regarding their own welfare.

Blu Ray Review: Scooby-Doo: The Mystery Begins (2009)

Scooby Doo: The Mystery Begins
82 minutes
Rated PG (for 'some mild peril')
Available now on DVD, Blu Ray, On Demand, or iTunes Download.

by Scott Mendelson

If you treat the previous two Scooby-Doo feature films as the equivalent of Joel Schumacher's Batman pictures, then Scooby-Doo: The Mystery Begins is very much the equivalent of Chris Nolan's Batman Begins. The previous live-action adventures were over-the-top, wildly colorful, and garish in their bubble-gum excess. This new version, which aired to record-breaking ratings on Cartoon Network a week prior to the DVD/Blu Ray release, is a distillation of the classic formula, a back to basics reboot that honors and respects the traditions of the mythology without feeling the need to constantly comment on them. It's just 82-minutes, and there isn't an ounce of fat to be found. I'm not a particularly die-hard fan of the franchise, but I have a passing interest. I was shocked at how enjoyable this movie is. It just plain works on every level.

The cast of unknowns are surprisingly naturalistic and low-key, especially when compared to the stunt casting of Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr (Mazel tov on their new daughter, by the way). While some may carp over minor details (among alleged sins - Fred's hair is black, Shaggie drives the eventual mystery machine), the newbies have the confidence to play these iconic roles as if they are inventing their characters from the ground up. Nick Palatas's Shaggy doesn't quite reach the brilliant heights of Matthew Lillard's astonishing mimicry, but Palatas earns points for not doing a carbon copy of the Casey Casem vocals. His Shaggy is the original Shaggy, just not as unhinged and thus a little smarter. Best of all, the kids are not introduced to us as obnoxious brats and/or bullies who must put aside their differences to become friends. Rather, they are friendly, cheerful, and outgoing kids who discover they have a common bond in their love of mysteries. Palatas and the rest of the gang work so well together that Scooby himself (a CGI creation voiced by Frank Welker) often fades into the background.

Unlike the previous films which tried to blend older-teen-friendly plotlines with childish humor, this new one is both perfectly appropriate for young children and not the least bit condescending to any age group. The film is rated PG for 'some mild peril', but it's strictly G-rated all the way in my book. And because writers Daniel Altiere and Steven Altiere take pains to make their teen protagonists genuinely intelligent and/or intellectually curious, the story itself avoids the trap of dumbing itself down for the young audience. It's certainly not a complicated narrative, but the movie does go out of its way to set up several would-be suspects in the central mystery, so the solution isn't completely obvious until at least the half-way point. And thankfully, none of the suspects are portrayed by a famous character actor (hey look, it's Martin Donovan as the janitor!). The much lower budget of this go-around actually works to the picture's advantage, as the film feels more down-to-earth and plausible. While the film is still cheerful and colorful, it feels more like it's actually taking place in any small town in Ohio. And since the filmmakers can't indulge in unending special effects or dazzling locations, they put the money where it counts - the script and the acting.

At the end of the day, Scooby-Doo: The Mystery Begins is still a Scooby-Doo movie. But thanks to a tight script, solid acting, decent production values, and genuinely likable protagonists, it's an awfully good Scooby-Doo movie. This reboot is every bit as satisfying for Scooby fans as Batman Begins was to a Bat-geek such as myself. All that's missing is an epilogue hinting at the devious machinations of Scrappy Doo for the inevitable sequel. And yes, I'd look forward to said sequel.

Grade: B+

Extras on the Blu Ray -
- Coolsville Yearbook - The actors who play Fred, Velma, Daphne and Shaggy reveal even more of their character’s back-story including what they do in their spare time, their favorite foods, what they want to do when they grow up, and a secret time capsule message for the future that can be solved by finding clues hidden within the DVD enhanced content.

- Velma, Daphne, Fred or Shaggy? Personality Quiz - Are you a brain, a drama queen, a jock or a loveable nerd? By navigating a series of questions, you can decide which member of the Mystery Inc. gang you are most like.

- Character Pop Up Factoid Track - Velma gives scientific and trivia factoids, Daphne offers stylish and dramatic interpretations, Fred flexes his muscles, and everything reminds Shaggy of food. Available on Blu-Ray only.

- Behind-the-Scenes, Shout-Outs and Out-Takes.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


The initial teaser for the remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street will allegedly be premiering next weekend with Zombieland. I guess that's another reason to check out the allegedly terrific horror comedy next Friday. Oh, and I finally saw Sorority Row this afternoon. And yeah, alas my fear was confirmed. Poor Tawny didn't make it to the 45-minute mark.

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

FYI - Fox Searchlight to hold nationwide sneak of Whip on Saturday night.

National sneak previews are pretty rare these days, so I thought you'd want to know about this one. If I can make it I'll review it accordingly. Apparently, there will be free T-shirts! The following is a press release.


Proudly Presents


**Free T-Shirts at Every Location**

WHEN: Saturday, September 26th

TIME: 7:00pm – 11:55pm (times vary by location)

LOCATION: Check your local listings

Click the following for additional details:

Review: Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)

Capitalism: A Love Story
123 minutes
Rated R (for three 'f-bombs' that Moore should have bleeped for a teen-friendly PG-13)

by Scott Mendelson

More so than any of his recent projects, Michael Moore the messenger is fatally undone by Michael Moore the showman. Time and time again we cut away from worthwhile factual analysis or a compelling anecdote in order to let Michael Moore have a moment in the spotlight. More so than in any of his recent projects, Michael Moore chooses to undercut the brutal effect of simply stating the facts in order to toss out a lengthy side story that attempts to pull heartstrings yet falters under objective analysis. For the first time that I can remember, a Michael Moore documentary/propaganda piece is less about the subject at hand and more about Michael Moore himself.

Some plot - The film purports to be a cliff-notes version of the financial scandal/stock-market meltdown that crippled the economy in September 2008. Hitting all the usual stops along the way (Regan's deregulation of business, the complete destruction of the manufacturing industry, Bush Jr's cozy relationship with fear, etc), Moore attempts to form a deconstruction of the myth of the practical and moral superiority of the economic mode known as capitalism. Along the way, we of course are invited to share in the pain and suffering of ordinary Americans who have been caught in the economic downturn that is not of their own making. And we are again treated to the occasional Michael Moore stunt, but these gimmicks are both useless and counterproductive and serve to take away from the narrative and reveal the director as a self-indulgent entertainer first and a social crusader second.

Most problematic is not so much his preaching to the converted, but his narrative choices that render the film downright confusing to someone who already doesn't know what he's talking about. What's a sub-prime loan? You won't find out in any detail in the film, only that they are really evil. What exactly did Ronald Regan do in order to bring about the eventual decline of the American middle class? I couldn't tell you just from the film itself. The film scores some of its best points detailing the abysmal wages of airline pilots, yet makes no specific mention of Regan's deregulation of the airline industry or his firing of striking air-traffic control workers in 1981. Michael Moore's films have always worked best as a jumping-off point for liberal and progressive politics, so it can't be expecting to be the Shoah of anti-capitalistic screeds. But this one is so hell-bent on demonizing the somewhat demonic politicians and businessmen that it neglects to mention just what they did in the first place.

This refusal to deal with the nitty-gritty also extends to his portraits of victimhood. As with most Moore projects, we see various vignettes of tragedy affecting the working class of America. While these stories are meant to pull at heartstrings, it's tough not to notice how carefully Moore avoids explaining how each family got into their current foreclosure nightmare. This is doubly foolish, as it allows critics like me to wonder how much blame they share while also neglecting a crucial opportunity to expose theoretically criminal lending practices that are as much to blame as the dreaded sub-prime mortgage. The filmmaker spends a good 10-15 minutes on the ghoulish practice of companies who take out life-insurance policies on their own employees. Yes it's morally icky and a troubling symptom of corporate culture, but 'dead peasant' policies are not illegal and don't really play a direct role in the financial mess that the film attempts to sort out. Yet it remains a token chunk of the film so Moore can have scenes of mourning family members cursing those no-good bureaucrats.

As expected and justified, Michael Moore places the majority of the blame on Ronald Regan and George W. Bush (Bill Clinton gets a slap on the wrist and Senator Chris Dodd takes it on the chin). But he also slams Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers, while neglecting to mention that President Barack Obama has put these two in charge of his economic policy. Maybe he's saving the presidency of Barack Obama for his next movie, but considering how similar he's been on economic issues to his predecessors, it's unintentionally humorous to see the election of Obama treated as the dawning of a new day. And Michael Moore's trademark 'stunts' are lacking both in purpose and panache. Holding a mock funeral for a man whose health-insurance policy won't cover his liver transplant is at least attempting something productive, as is taking 9/11-rescue workers to Cuba for free medical care. Driving an armored car from bank to bank demanding that the bailout money be returned is only about self-aggrandizing.

Time is much better spent detailing shocking examples of greed intermingling with public works with disastrous results. The most potent segment involves a cold detailing of a backroom deal between a juvenile court judge and the owner of a privatized juvenile-detention facility that ended with hundreds of kids being sent to the prison for things as trifling as arguing with friends in the mall, arguing with parents at dinner, or smoking a joint at a party (this was actually dealt with in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit late last season). He is also brutally effective in detailing how the September 08 market crash and subsequent corporate bail out may have been more than just an accidental pre-election surprise.

But despite the running thread tying the film to his first picture, Roger & Me (Moore argues that unregulated capitalism has threatened to turn all of America into Flint, Michigan), the picture feels for at least half of its running time like a novice filmmaker doing their take on a stereotypical Michael Moore film. Just because I agree wholeheartedly with the thesis does not mean that the film propagating said message is a good one. While Capitalism: A Love Story gets its shots, it falters and plays safe and simple rather than serving as a true primer of the issues at hand. Maybe Michael Moore is right when he chimes at the end that 'I can't do this anymore'. If for only one film, the creator of the modern muckraking documentary now looks and feels like one of the pretenders.

Grade: C+

Q&A with actor Kevin Conroy, starring as Batman in Superman/Batman Public Enemies

A review of this title will be coming very soon. But in the meantime, here is a transcript of the Comic-Con session with actor Kevin Conroy that Warner Home Video has provided.

Kevin Conroy returns to seminal role as the definitive voice of Batman in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. Batman: The Animated Series star reunites with Tim Daly and Clancy Brown brings in all-new DC Universe Animated Original PG-13 Movie for distribution Sept. 29 While the debate rages among fans over who might be the best live-action actor to play Batman, there is no such controversy when it comes to the voice of The Dark Knight – Kevin Conroy stands unchallenged for that title.

As the voice behind the landmark series Batman: The Animated Series, Conroy set a standard that has cast a wide shadow over any other actor attempting to fill the role for nearly two decades. Conroy once again dons the animated cowl for the September 29 Warner Home Video release of Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. So pleased with his return to the role is Conroy that he made his first appearance in six years at Comic-Con International this past summer to promote Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, and the crowd greeted their beloved Batman voice with multiple standing ovations. For those fans that couldn’t hear Conroy’s words in person, here’s the recap of a chat with the actor during that weekend…

You’ve been doing this role for nearly 19 years. Are there still challenges to doing the voice of Batman?

I guess the biggest challenge to doing any kind of animation voice work is that you only have your voice to tell the story. And you want to keep it real and you don't want to get cartoony, especially now because the audiences are much more sophisticated. Anything over the top is going to read over the top. So it's a very fine line that people walk. For Batman, I think the biggest challenge is the timber of the voice that I established early on. I just kind of improvised it and it stuck. It's very deep in my register – very throaty – and whenever it gets emotional, it’s a difficult sound to create with a lot of volume technically without blowing your chords out. So there's all kinds of tricks you learn along the way of how to produce a sound, how to produce it without injuring yourself, and how to juice it enough. It's a delicate, funny balancing act.

Recording Superman/Batman: Public Enemies was actually easy because of the cast that Andrea (Romano) put together. Tim (Daly) and Clancy (Brown) – all of us have worked together a lot over the years, and there's a real shorthand when you're dealing with people who have done a lot of it and know what they're doing. Which is really a pleasure. Andrea doesn't have to say very much for me to know what she wants.

What do Tim Daly and Clancy Brown bring to their respective roles?

Tim brings to Superman that strong voice, but there's also a real humanity to Tim as an actor and that really comes through. So there’s strength but there's a great sensitivity, and that's unique about his take on Superman.

Clancy is great at being crazy. He's a very talented actor. He's got that great sound, that resonate voice. And yet when you've got that kind of power under you, you can afford to be very casual with it. It makes his sinister quality so much more frightening when this guy with this voice is just being very debonair.

What can people expect to find different about Superman/Batman: Public Enemies than most crossover stories?

There's definitely more humor in this because of the relationship they've created between Superman and Batman. It was really fun doing it with Tim because it almost became like a buddy cop kind of thing. There are not a lot of people that Batman can fool around with like that – that can take it and can dish it back. So I really enjoyed that aspect of the script.

Batman and Superman have all these amazing foes. And yet Lex Luthor has no super powers. What makes Lex a great villain, and how does Clancy make him greater?

Actors always want to play the villain – they’re a lot more fun. Think about it. The hero is just about being a good guy and, in life, we all want to be good guys. But when you're playing at something other than yourself, it's fun to do what is taboo. I played Edgar in a production of King Lear that John Houseman directed for Lincoln Center. Edgar is the good son in Lear and it's probably the hardest role in the play. I thought I did a pretty good job at it – although one critic was particularly unkind. Years later, I did a production at the San Diego Shakespeare Festival of Lear and I played Edmond, who is the force of evil throughout the play. The plot really revolves around Edmond's machinations. It was so much more fun to play Edmond because of the joy he took out of being evil. This guy is planning the downfall of his family, and laughing about it, and delighting in it. And it was a real blast to me. A couple years earlier I was busting my back for
Houseman, doing Edgar every night, working so hard on a role that the audience doesn't care about. They want to cheer Edmond and how evil he is because it's so much fun. Clancy brings that joy to Luthor and the more ease he does it with, the more frightening it becomes. And he's really good at that.

So what does Kevin Conroy bring to Batman?

I guess I am basically most comfortable when I'm alone. As a kid, I was very much a loner. I love long distance running and long distance biking. A director once pointed out that those are all very isolated exercises you do for hours at a time. I think Batman taps into that quality of me, because my initial take on the character was that Batman wasn't the performance. Bruce Wayne was the performance. Batman is where he's most comfortable. The cave is where he's most comfortable. And he puts on this persona of incredible sophistication to be able to deal with the world just like I think everybody puts on a mask to deal with the world. Everyone has a private self and a public self. With him, it's taken to a real extreme. And I think I related to that aspect of him. I am basically a pretty shy person – I think a lot of actors are. That's why they get into acting – because it's easier to be free emotionally when you're pretending to be someone else than to be free emotionally when you have to be yourself. And I think Bruce has the same problem.

Is there still a cool factor for you to be the voice of Batman?

Oh, yeah. It’s something that I'm reminded of a lot from people who enjoy the show. That's a very cool thing. I don't ever take for granted how cool a job it is and how lucky I am to have landed in it. It was the first animation job I ever auditioned for – and it just happened to all come together so well. But it was just pure chance.

Were you a comics reader as a kid?

I had an interesting childhood in that my parents were older. I was a late child, and they were children of immigrants. So the connection of the family to Ireland was very close. I have an Irish passport – I went to school there a bit when I was younger. So my parents were very old world, and they grew up during the Depression. They were kind of like my friends' grandparents – my family kind of skipped a generation that way. I was put in very conservative Catholic schools – the nuns had habits to the ground, and the boys and the girls were separated. It was very old school. And comic books just weren't allowed. It just wasn't part of my world. I didn’t read them because I didn't like them – I didn't even know about them. (he laughs). Comic books weren’t part of the planet that I was raised on. Of course, once I heard about them, I liked them a lot. (he laughs)

Do you have a collection of Batman paraphernalia?

I'm no dumb actor (he laughs). Do you remember the Warner Brother stores? One of the most lucrative parts of those stores was the galleries – they ran them like real art galleries. They'd have people who did the voices come in and do so signings, and when they asked me, I said, “Do I get some kind of compensation?” They were trying to get us on the cheap, but I thought there had to be something to make it worth my while. I said “Why don't you give me a cell?” And they said “Oh, that's a great idea.” So I said, “Why don't we make it two?” (he laughs) And so I started doing appearances at the stores and my compensation was two cells – and now I've got about 60 or 70 cells. It's very cool. I have a great apartment in New York and they're all on this wall. Everyone who walks into that apartment turns into a 12-year-old boy. They all walk in and say, “Oh. Wow. Cool.” And it is. (he laughs)

What makes Batman the greatest super hero?

Oh, that's easy. The thing that makes Batman unique as a super hero is that he has no super powers, and the darkness of his personal story. Everyone relates to having a personal dark story – his is just much more dramatic than most people's. Everyone is handed adversity in life. No one's journey is easy. It's how they handle it that makes people unique. Batman took adversity and turned it into something enormously powerful and positive without any superpowers.

For more information, images and updates, please visit the film’s
official website.

Warner Bros press release for Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut

The following is a press release from Warner Bros home video...





The limited quantity multi-disc set includes a whole new movie:

Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut, which weaves Watchmen: Tales from the Black Freighter into Zack Snyder’s Director’s Cut.

Be the first to own the must-have collectible for Watchmen fans when Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on November 3 from Warner Home Video. From director Zack Snyder, this new and complete version of the action-packed blockbuster weaves Watchmen: Tales from the Black Freighter, the animated story-within-a-story into the Director’s Cut of the film, creating a true ultimate version of the critically acclaimed story.

Available in a limited quantity of 70,000, Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut also features new commentary by Dave Gibbons and Zack Snyder along with almost 3 hours of extras, including Hollis Mason’s animated tell-all, Under the Hood. Also included is Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic. Overseen by "Watchmen" illustrator Dave Gibbons and produced by Snyder, Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic contains all 12 chapters of "Watchmen," the most celebrated graphic novel of all time, adding motion, voice and sound to the book's strikingly drawn panels, spanning everything from the mysterious demise of the Comedian to the crisscrossed destinies of loosely allied superheroes to their fateful impact on the world.

From Director, Zack Snyder (300, Dawn of the Dead) Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut stars Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children, Semi-Pro), Malin Akerman (27 Dresses, The Heartbreak Kid), Billy Crudup (Mission Impossible III, Almost Famous), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (TV’s Grey’s Anatomy, Supernatural), Patrick Wilson (Lakeview Terrace, Little Children), and Carla Gugino (Race to Witch Mountain, Night at the Museum).

Someone’s killing our super heroes. The year is 1985 and super heroes have banded together to respond to the murder of one of their own. They soon uncover a sinister plot that puts all of humanity in grave danger. The super heroes fight to stop the impending doom only to find themselves a target for annihilation. But, if our super heroes are gone, who will save us?

Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut will be available on Blu-ray (4 discs) for $59.99, and DVD (5 discs) for $43.87.


· Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut film

· Audio Commentary with Zack Snyder and Dave Gibbons

· The Phenomenon: The Comic that Changed Comics (RT: 28:50) - Learn how the subversive, thematically complex, award winning comic that changed literature, inspired analytical debate, and won countless fans, was created.

· Real Super Heroes, Real Vigilantes (RT: 27:28) - Explores the fascination and psychology behind real-world vigilantes and where that behavior crosses over into actually donning the hood and behaving as superheroes.

· Mechanics: Technologies of a Fantastic World (RT: 16:46) - The creators of Watchmen had a great understanding of engineering and science, allowing for plausible mechanics in their characters tools and the world itself. This featurette will guide the viewer through the filmmakers process of turning these technologies into cinematic reality.

· Watchmen: Video Journals

· My Chemical Romance video Desolation Row (RT: 3:16)

· Under The Hood (RT: 36:00) - A retrospective look on the biography by Hollis Mason – the original Nite Owl – and the world of those who stood for hooded justice.

· Story Within A Story: The Books of Watchmen (RT: 26:00) - Weave through the nuanced layers of detail to see how a comic-within-a comic acts as parallel commentary to the acclaimed work of Literature, Watchmen.

· Digital Copy of the Theatrical Version

· Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comics



4-Disc Blu-ray set $ 59.99

5-disc DVD set $ 43.87

Standard Street Date: November 3, 2009

Languages: English, Quebec French, Latin Spanish

Subtitles: English, French, Latin Spanish

Running Time: 215 min

Rating: R (for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language)


The Credits
With operations in 90 international territories Warner Home Video, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, commands the largest distribution infrastructure in the global video marketplace. Warner Home Video's film library is the largest of any studio, offering top quality new and vintage titles from the repertoires of Warner Bros. Pictures, Turner Entertainment, Castle Rock Entertainment, Village Roadshow, HBO Home Video, and New Line Home Entertainment.


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