Released: February 2016

Director: Jon Cassar

Rated R

Run Time: 90 Minutes

Distributor: Momentum Pictures

Genre: Western, Drama, Action

Kiefer Sutherland: John Henry Clayton
Donald Sutherland: Reverend William Clayton
Brian Cox: James McCurdy
Michael Wincott: Gentleman Dave Turner
Aaron Poole: Frank Tillman
Demi Moore: Mary-Alice Watson

Great Westerns are generally very hard to come by, these days.  Half of the Westerns released nowadays go straight to video.  There just doesn’t seem to be a HUGE market for Westerns anymore.  That doesn’t mean the genre is dead.  Far from it.  In fact, over the past decade, we’ve seen a resurgence of sorts of the genre in films like the 3:10 to Yuma remake, Appaloosa, Seraphim Falls, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight.  These are prime examples of how a film maker takes the time to craft an interesting story with compelling characters.  That’s what helps drive a Western, and movies in general.  Without those two components, the film falls apart completely.  The Western has been one of my favorite film genres over the past 20 years.  It’s really hard to imagine a genre like that without legendary films like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Hang ’em High, Pale Rider, or Tombstone.  I could go on for hours listing all of my favorite Westerns.  As I said, what drives a Western is a good story with great and compelling characters with great actors.  It pleases me to review one of the best Westerns I’ve seen in a long time: Forsaken

After going to war and spending ten years after that as a hired gunman, drifter John Henry Clayton returns home to Fowler, Wyoming to reconnect with his father, Reverend William Clayton.  However, during his absence, John’s mother passed away which leaves both men somewhat angry at each other.  After a heated argument, John heads to the nearby woods to start clearing out a patch of land.  He’s greeted by a former flame, Mary-Alice Watson, who seems surprised to see him.  Meanwhile, a gang of hired mercenaries under the employ of one James McCurdy, are threatening nearby farmers, John realizes that he must reluctantly return to a life he swore to leave behind.  If any of this sounds somewhat familiar, it should.  It’s a narrative that’s been used many times over the past 70 years or so in the genre.  It’s a tried-and-true narrative that can still work when handled properly.  Thankfully, under the direction of  Jon Cassar, Forsaken has a pretty good story here.  Again, it doesn’t break any new ground, but it really doesn’t need to, as long as it’s well made.

The story moves at a pretty quick pace, but it doesn’t leave the characters standing on the sidelines.  Oh, no, the characters are what drives the story, and the characters here are really, really good.  What good are characters if you don’t have great actors to play them?  In the lead roles, we have real-life father and son, Kiefer and Donald Sutherland play the Claytons.  This is the first time that these two have shared scenes in a movie.  Let me tell you, it’s movie magic.  Their real-life relationship actually helps develop the on-screen duo’s relationship by making that much more personal.  Kiefer is an intense, but his father, Donald, is just as intense.  There are moments in the movie between these two that are touching and heartbreaking.  I’m genuinely surprised that these two have never acted in a scene together before Forsaken.  The chemistry between the two is legitimate.  Everybody else does a damn good job.  Michael Wincott’s character of Dave Turner is a very interesting one.  The character is a hired gun, but would rather not escalate a situation to where he would have to shoot somebody.  Don’t get me wrong, he’ll do it, but he’d rather do it the peaceful way.  That gives the character a unique dimension in that he’s not a straight-up villain.  Wincott, with his signature gravelly voice, gives the character grace AND grit.  It’s awesome.  Brian Cox, is the obvious villain, but he does it very well.  Demi Moore is fantastic as Mary-Alice Watson.  She brings grace and humanity to a character that could have easily been John’s wife.  All the characters feel real and three dimensional, which is rare for a film with only a 90-minute run time.

Now, this being a Western, there are certain things that one tends to expect from the genre.  While Forsaken doesn’t have any Indians, there are some serious gun-fights peppered throughout the film, and they are pretty vicious.  The stunt-work is fantastic with characters being shot off horses and off buildings.  It’s a gritty and yet very exciting film to watch.  With some solid editing, we can see what’s going on, and with such gorgeous backdrops, it’s an absolutely stunning picture.

Are there any negative aspects to the film?  Honestly, not really.  For a film that didn’t see a lot of screen time in theaters, it’s a surprisingly compelling experience.  I suppose you could say that it follows certain tropes too closely, but because the film is anchored with such amazing performances and a solid story through-out, all those complaints are just little nit-picks in what is other-wise a very stellar Western.  Kiefer and Donald Sutherland really give the film its heart and soul.  Michael Wincott is one of my favorite actors and I’m happy that he’s given a more meaty role than I’ve seen him in before.  The gun-fights are awesome and the performances are great, but it’s the smaller character moments that really make the film for me.  Especially when you see Kiefer’s and Donald’s characters begin to reconcile.  For me, their performance is worth the price of admission alone.  While I don’t think that Forsaken will go down in history as one of the greatest Westerns ever, it does more than enough to be a great movie on its own terms.  I don’t think I can recommend this movie enough.  If you’re a fan of either actor or Westerns in general, this is a must-see, if not a must-own film.

Final Score: 10/10.

Batman: The Killing Joke

Released: July 2016

Director: Sam Liu

Rated R

Run Time: 77 Minutes

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Genre: Animated, Action

Kevin Conroy: Batman/Bruce Wayne
Mark Hamill: The Joker
Tara Strong: Batgirl/Barbara Gordon
Ray Wise: Commissioner Gordon
John DiMaggio: Francesco
Robin Atkin Downes: Detective Bullock
Brian George: Alfred

Batman has a lot of enemies.  His Rogue’s Gallery is extensive: Two-Face, The Riddler, Deadshot, Deathstroke, Poison Ivy, Bane, Ra’s Al Ghul, Scarecrow, The Penguin, and the Croc, just to name a few.  As you can imagine, the Dark Knight tends to have his hands full most days.  But the one villain that keeps coming back and most people recognize is The Joker.  The Joker is quite frankly, the most iconic comic book villain ever created.  He is essentially Batman’s opposite.  Whereas Batman represents order, The Joker represents chaos.  He’s intelligent, quick-witted, colorful, violent and absolutely insane, and he just doesn’t care.  But what do we really know about the character and where he comes from?  Depending on the comic you read or the movie you watch, he’s either a failed comedian or a mobster that was betrayed by his boss.  While there have been many comics and movies that deal with the Joker, perhaps none are as well-known or revered as The Killing Joke.

Opening on a dark night in Gotham City(oooh….ominous!) we see Batman and Batgirl chase down a truck that’s being driven by a couple of hoodlums lead by Francesco, the son of a local mob boss.  After failing to catch the criminal, Batgirl sets out to try and find Francesco and ends up getting in trouble again….and again.  After Francesco gets apprehended by the police, we learn that the Joker has escaped from prison and is on the loose.  If you haven’t read the graphic novel by Alan Moore or seen this movie yet, I’m not going to spoil some of the story for you.  The story in The Killing Joke is one of the most well-known and shocking stories told in the DC Universe.  A great many people consider it to be the definitive Joker story.  I would have to agree, it is phenomenal.  The writing is tight, dark and brutal.  That’s if you get past the whole Batgirl part of the film.  See, the film makers wanted people to empathize with Barbara Gordon, so they threw in a subplot involving Batgirl and a local mobster.  It wouldn’t have been so bad if the film-makers had actually respected the characters during the first 30 minutes of the movie.  See, what happens is that Batgirl gets the attention of Francesco who seems to have a fetish for her and leads her into a trap.  Luckily for her, Batman is not too far behind, but they end up getting into an argument, at the end of which, they fight and….have sex.  Yep.  On the rooftop in the middle of the night, Batman and Batgirl get down and dirty, even though we don’t actually see it.  This bothers me on so many levels.  It’s not the fact that they put in a Batgirl subplot to pad out the movie a bit, it’s that they treated Batgirl as a whiny, spoiled girl who has the hots for her mentor, Batman.  If that’s not creepy, I don’t what is.  This part of the film was not handled properly.  I’ll go into detail into how they could’ve fixed later on.  When the film gets to the actual Killing Joke plot, the movie gets infinitely better and it’s amazing.  From the moment Barbara gets shot to the final showdown between Batman and the Joker, the film never fails to keep your attention.  The story is GREAT.  It’s incredibly well-written(with the exception of the first 30 minutes of the film, of course) and goes to some VERY dark territory, but it is handled very well.

I’ll tell you what the film does have going for it:  The performances.  The voice-acting is superb.  You’ve got Kevin Conroy, who’s voiced Batman for the Animated Series and nearly every animated Batman film, including Mask of the Phantasm.  He’s got this great heavy voice that means business and gets the job done.  Tara Strong is…well…strong as Barbara Gordon, and even though her character isn’t handled well at the beginning of the film, she gets her time to shine.  The one to watch and listen to, though, is Mark Hamill as The Joker.  The Joker has been played by many actors including Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson and the late Heath Ledger.  Each actor gave the character their own unique spin and each performance is iconic.  However, it’s Mark Hamill that gives The Joker his most distinctive voice.  That maniacal laugh is unlike anything I’ve heard anybody do for the character.  Hamill just steals the show.  He’s also played the Joker the longest, as he was a part of the Animated Series, along with Mr. Conroy.  Just listen:

Some of the artwork and animations aren’t exactly the greatest here.  The character designs are alright, but the backgrounds aren’t exactly…popping out at you.  Honestly, I’ve seen better artwork from Mask of the Phantasm which was released back in 1995.  I understand that they were trying to keep to the art-style of the graphic novel, but some of it just seems…wrong.  The action is fine and keeps coming, so it’s never boring at least.  The music isn’t the greatest either.  There’s nothing here that stands out as far as the music goes.  Then again, it’s probably really hard to put music to such an iconic story.  There’s also been a lot of hullabaloo about the film’s R rating.  It definitely earns that rating, but was it really necessary?  A lot of the extra violence happens in the first thirty minutes.  There’s a lot of blood spilled in this film.  Then there’s the aforementioned shagging session between Batgirl and Batman, which I’m pretty sure was put in there to provoke a reaction.  That’s the feeling I’m getting here.  I’m not opposed to the extra violence.  When you consider the source material, some of it was necessary.  Barbara getting shot through the spine was a huge part of the story, and it affected everyone involved, including Batman.

I’m getting back to the story here, as there’s a lot of psychological underpinnings that run throughout the entire film.  It basically shows the origins of the Joker and how he becomes the character.  He basically has one REALLY bad day, and it sends him over the edge.  But you also see some parallels between him and Batman, as Batman himself had a very bad day when his parents were killed.  That’s kind of the whole point, that all it takes is one bad day and it changes things forever.  So, the idea that The Joker and Batman are not so different is extremely interesting.  Their reaction to their given situation is the only real difference.  It’s fantastic.  Going back to the beginning of the film, they could have avoided certain issues by not making Batgirl whiny, cutting the entire idea where she has sex with Batman and eliminate the scene where she gives Batman her uniform.  That lessened the emotional impact of what happens to Barbara later.  That would have solved my problems with the movie.  Overall, though, the film gets more right than it gets wrong.  It’s kind of hard to really talk about the Killing Joke part of the film when the first half-hour of the film failed so hard.  But my overall impression of the film is that it’s a pretty good movie.  For me, it’s an 8/10.  The first half-hour could have and should have been handled better considering the source material.  When The Killing Joke actually starts, it’s a 10/10.  Even at it’s worst, the film isn’t half-bad.  I still recommend it.

A Look Back: Summer 2016

The biggest season for movie is usually summer when the kids are out of school, or in December during Christmas time, when kids are also out of school for the holiday.  The summer usually brings in the biggest draws of the year and has the biggest releases of the year.  The summer movies were usually big-budget blockbuster films like The Avengers, Aliens, and Batman.  The one thing that these movies generally have in common is their enormous budget, usually on the plus side of 100 million bucks.  While every summer since the dawn of film making has seen its successes and failures, I don’t think I’ve seen so many high-profile failures that the summer of 2016 brought.  Of the number of movies that were released this summer, only one has managed to truly impress me in a good way.  This year is really strange, because despite the fact that the summer brought in 4.4 billion dollars to the industry, people really didn’t react very well to the movies that came out.  There are a number of reasons for this.  For one, a lot of these movies were well over 100 million dollars in terms of budget, so they were massive movies.  Putting that much money behind a movie isn’t always a good thing.  Another is that many of these were released within two to three weeks of each other.  When you have such an influx of giant movies, people are going to have a hard time choosing which one to go to.  It gets to the point where people just don’t even bother anymore.  The market this summer was so over-saturated with movies that there was absolutely no way that anybody was going to be able to see them all.  What I’m going to do for this post is go over some of the movies that I’VE seen this summer.  Some of them I have reviewed, so you may find them by hitting the Reviews tab at the top of the page.

X-Men: Apocalypse

When X-Men: First Class was released back in 2011, it was a real breath of fresh air, with a new cast taking over.  James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender would play Xavier and Magneto respectively, and the film would focus on them.  It was surprisingly awesome, especially since they set the film during the 60’s.  It was cool.  In 2014, we got the first sequel in the new trilogy of films called Days of Future Past.  Drawing on the comic story of the same name, Days of Future Past combined the new and the old cast members in a brilliantly epic entry into the X-Men universe.  So, when a third film was announced with Apocalypse being announced as the main villain, I was excited.  The pictures that showed up prior to the film’s release were…odd to say the least, but they managed to get the right guy to play the character.  Here’s the problem:  The movie tried to go bigger than Days of Future Past and as a result the film suffered in a number of areas.  One: Apocalypse was not a particularly compelling villain as he should be.  He only grows giant one time, and that’s inside somebody’s head.  That was one of Apocalypse’s defining powers:  He was  able to manipulate his own molecules as well as transfer his spirit to another body.  Jennifer Lawrence didn’t spend as much time in the character’s actual form of Mystique, and it looked like she didn’t want to be there.  Bryan Singer tried to put too many characters into the movie and the focus was all over the place, as a result.  I didn’t hate the movie, it was just underwhelming, and a movie of this scope should NEVER be underwhelming.

Independence Day: Resurgence

This was an unfortunate victim of bad timing and not having Will Smith in the cast.  A sequel to the 1996 box-office juggernaut, Independence Day: Resurgence was intended to be an epic follow-up, but ended up being very generic and mediocre.  The real saving grace of the film is Jeff Goldblum as David Levinson.  He and Brent Spiner basically help keep the film from being just another run-of-the-mill alien invasion flick.  When you consider it’s almost the same movie as the 1996 film, it’s even more disappointing that the film wasn’t as good as it could have been.  It took itself far too seriously and it relied way too much on CGI, whereas the original film was a perfect combination of practical, CG and miniature effects.  The original Independence Day was one of the last movies to do that.  Had Resurgence come out about a decade ago, it might have done better.  It’s one of those unnecessary sequels that unfortunately had the gall to set up for a third film, which it might not get.  I was unpleasantly disappointed with this one.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

I honestly didn’t have a whole lot of expectations for this one.  Yeah, it had Rocksteady and BeBop, but it also had Krang in it, so when I saw the trailer, I was actually curious.  When I first saw it in theaters, I wasn’t overly impressed, but I was fairly entertained.  They actually managed to make it a genuine Ninja Turtles movie.  The film actually gets better when you watch it a second time.  Believe it or not, I really like the design of the turtles in these new movies.  However, when they decided to make Krang the main villain instead of the Shredder, it was mind-boggling.  Krang was always the master behind the scenes manipulating everything.  We don’t actually get to see Shredder being Shredder here.  Yeah, he gets his helmet towards the end of the movie and looks positively bad-ass, but he’s immediately sidelined for a battle with Krang instead.  LAME.

Captain America: Civil War

This was the defining summer blockbuster as far as I’m concerned.  This was the movie that impressed me the most.  After Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I didn’t think they’d be able to top that movie.  I was right, but they came really, really close with this one.  I like this one because it takes the Avengers and focuses on the consequences of the battles they had fought for the past 4 years.  Faced with a decision to either sign an agreement limiting their power to the oversight of a UN committee, or forced retirement, Captain America decides to go off the reservation because he believes that the team should go where they are needed without permission.  This tears the entire team apart and the ramifications of what’s happening is very emotional and action-packed.  You see both sides of the argument, but it’s very hard to side with one over the other.  Civil War did such a great job with its characters and story, that I can’t wait for what happens next in the MCU.  This was definitely the movie to see in the summer.


…And this is the one that took the wind out of my sails for the summer season.  This was the last movie that I saw in theaters, and after I saw it, I became depressed, because I was kind of hoping that there would be more than ONE movie to really shine during the summer.  Ghostbusters wasn’t it.  Aside from being plagued with really piss-poor marketing and shit PR, the film felt like it was trying to say, “Hey, look at me, I’m a Ghostbusters movie!”  It really didn’t work.  The main cast was fine, in fact, I really loved Kate McKinnon’s character.  Chris Hemsworth was a hoot as the idiotic receptionist.  The problem is that the villain was extremely lame, the constant references to the previous films were not particularly good, and the cameos from the original cast grinded the film to a halt.  Bill Murray’s cameo was the most egregious.  He clearly didn’t want to be there.  Don’t get me started on the new theme song from Fallout Boy and Missy Elliott.

Those were the films that I caught in theaters this summer, and I was not overly impressed.  You had all these huge movies that were being promoted and with the exception of one, didn’t live up to the hype.  This was NOT the best summer for movies, I can tell you that.  Next year’s summer movies look fairly promising, but so did this year’s.  Take that for what you will.  The year isn’t over yet, and there are still more movies to see including Rogue One: A Star Wars Story which looks amazing.  I’m still working on that Best Marvel list, so you’ll probably see that hopefully by Friday at the latest.

The Best of DC Entertainment

In my post yesterday about the Marvel Cinematic Universe Vs. the DC Extended Universe, I laid it all out as to which universe had the upper hand in the comic book film arena.  While Marvel clearly has the upper hand at the moment, that doesn’t mean that DC doesn’t have it’s successes.  It really does.  But when it comes to the DCEU, they got off on the wrong foot, and I hope they get on track with movies like Wonder Woman and Justice League.  For a while, DC movies were pretty much the only game in town, up until 1997, for somewhat obvious reasons: *cough* Batman And Robin. *cough*  I should warn you that this list will be somewhat limited to Batman and Superman right now, because those two characters are the ones that are getting the most attention right now, for better or for worse.  We won’t see Wonder Woman in her own movie until next year, and the same goes for Aquaman and The Flash.  I will be including some animated features on this list, because some of them are simply amazing.  With that in mind, let’s get into some of my favorite DC-based movies.



When it comes to superhero movies, Tim Burton’s Batman is one of the most memorable, because it was the first Batman film to take the character into a much darker territory, and it really worked wonders.  People were really skeptical about Michael Keaton as Batman, as he’s more of a comedian.  Anybody who has seen the film now can tell you that Keaton’s performance was exceptional.  The Batsuit was/is one of the most iconic superhero outfits of all time.  But a great superhero needs a great supervillain, and The Joker is Batman’s greatest adversary.  Jack Nicholson’s performance is completely off the charts.  He nearly steals the show in every scene that he’s in.  The design of the film was unique, as was the design of the Batmobile which was very sleek, stylish and intimidating.  The whole movie dripped with atmosphere and it was a whole ton of fun.  It remains one of my favorite movies ever.

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice

This one may come across as a controversial decision on my part, but I really, really like this movie.  Honestly, if you’re going to see this movie, watch the extended version.  It’s a much better film than the theatrical release.  I happen to be a big fan of Zack Snyder as a director.  He has a very unique way of shooting his movies, and I like the darker tone of his interpretation of Superman.  While the overall tone of Batman V. Superman may come across as a bit too grim-dark, there really is no denying the talent that’s on display here.  While Henry Cavill is still good as Superman, it’s Ben Affleck that steals the show as Bruce Wayne/Batman.  He brings an older and much harder edge to the character than we’ve seen before.  I mean, he makes the character legitimately scary, and that’s a good thing.  Jeremy Irons is also fantastic as Alfred.  He’s Bruce Wayne’s conscience as it were, as well as his mechanic and butler.  The more I watch the film the more I’m actually digging Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.  Yeah, he comes across as a bit goofy at times, but with the extended version of the film, you start to understand how manipulative the character really is.  While people are still questioning the appearance of Doomsday in this film, not many people can deny that Wonder Woman’s appearance is something to behold.  This is the first time that we’ve seen the character of Wonder Woman in a live-action film.  Gal Gadot gives it a 110% and proves that she can hold her own with the big boys.  I’m legitimately looking forward to her solo film.  While the film is more or less a mixed bag, I actually really like it.

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

When Superman: The Movie was released back in 1978, most people didn’t realize that Richard Donner had actually filmed both Superman and Superman II at the same time.  The problem was is that the Salkind’s didn’t particularly care for the way that Richard Donner was going to take Superman II, so they fired him and brought in Richard Lester to reshoot most of the movie.  While Lester’s version was serviceable, there was something missing from that film.  About 12 years ago, a group of film-makers along with Richard Donner had found the footage that he had shot for Superman II, and with some updated visual effects, and the use of some rehearsal footage, Richard Donner finished the movie that he had set out to create so many years ago.  The result is a completely different look at Superman II.  A lot of Lester’s elements were completely removed, along with the entire terrorism in Paris plot-line.  Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is more in tone with the original film as it should be.  It even uses John Williams’ real score instead of Ken Thorne’s interpretation.  It feels more like a legitimate sequel this time around.  I highly recommend it.

The Dark Knight Trilogy

I’ve decided to include an entire trilogy here, because Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is absolutely amazing.  After the disastrous Batman and Robin, Warner Bros. took some time to rethink how to approach the character of Batman again, without becoming a total joke.  In 2005, with Christopher Nolan at the helm, we get Batman Begins, an extremely solid, realistic and entertaining film that feels more like a crime drama than an actual superhero movie.  However, it was the sequel, The Dark Knight, that gave Batman the boost that he needed, with Heath Ledger’s mesmerizing performance as The Joker.  It was dark, violent, and extremely compelling.  The Dark Knight Rises, while not as good as the previous film, ends the trilogy on a high note, with a confrontation with one of Batman’s most notorious villains: Bane.  Tom Hardy is unrecognizable as the masked terrorist.  Anne Hathaway is stunning as Catwoman and Joseph Gordon-Leavitt is great.  The Dark Knight Trilogy is one of the best trilogies that I have had the pleasure of watching.  These are great movies, every single one of them.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is significant for a number of reasons.  One:  It’s the first full-length animated movie produced by Warner Bros.  Two: It shows us a side of Bruce Wayne that we have never seen before.  There are moments in this film when we see Mr. Wayne actually happy when he meets his girlfriend, and yet he seems very guilty for feeling that way.  He’s known almost nothing but hate, anger and sadness for the death of his parents.  The film was released during the height of the popularity of the animated series in 1993, but it doesn’t feel like a kid’s movie.  There’s a good deal of mature subject matter that the film deals with that really isn’t suited for children.  I find that very refreshing in an animated feature.  It’s just a shame that Mask of the Phantasm didn’t get the attention it deserved when it was first released.  I managed to procure a copy of the film on DVD, so I’m proud to have it as a part of my collection.  It’s a really good movie with solid voice acting from Kevin Conroy(Batman) and Mark Hamill(The Joker).  I don’t think I can recommend it enough.

Superman: The Movie

This is it.  This is the one.  This is the movie that really got DC Comics into the movie business.  While there have been live-action adaptations of the Man of Steel, none have come even close to what Richard Donner has achieved with Superman: The Movie.  The tag line for the movie was:  “You will believe a man can fly.”  Many consider this one to be the greatest comic book movie of all time, and it’s genuinely hard to argue with that assessment.  It’s phenomenal.  It has a phenomenal cast featuring Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Terence Stamp and Margot Kidder.  But the real star of the show was Christopher Reeve as Superman/Clark Kent.  I don’t know what else I can say, except nobody else played Superman the way Reeve did.  You also can’t forget that amazing soundtrack by John Williams.  Wow is the best word to describe Superman’s theme.  It’s phenomenal.

Well, there you have it:  My list for the best movies that DC Entertainment has produced over the years.  While recent films like Batman V. Superman may have stumbled and fallen on their faces, DC still has time to turn things around and hopefully craft a universe that’s as compelling, if not more so, than Marvel Entertainment.  So, I’m hoping that they can get their act together and start really producing some top quality films.