Joker Review: A Medley Of Madness

By Drew Kiess

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Joker stars Joaquin Phoenix and is directed by Todd Phillips. Based on the villain we all know and love to hate from DC Comics, Joker is a one-and-done psychological thriller that has no franchise ambition, which is something that the comic book movie sub-genre is sadly lacking. Sequels and franchise-starters are the name of the game, and if nothing else, maybe that trend will finally be bucked. One can dream.

Once upon a time, I wrote about how dumb of an idea I thought a Joker movie was. I am happy to report that in the case of this film, I was dead wrong. Joker is a freight train and it hits hard. Like its subject, the film slithers and contorts as it weaves an uncomfortable story about the relationship of mental illness and violence, as well as explore, more superficially, how a character like the Joker could possibly come to exist.

This film is not unique in its depiction of madness. As has been pointed out by many before me, Taxi Driver, King of Comedy, and American Psycho all have shown a main character fall into murderousness. But when you take the most high profile villain in the most high profile subgenre of film and entertainment and give him a similar treatment, people are going to react. It’s not part of the plan. And that reaction has been harsh. Some are simply trying to score woke points in a world where clicks equal dollars (I don’t get paid to write these reviews, by the way). Others are striking against a preconceived idea of what a film like this ought to be. But Joker has opened up conversations like no other movie in recent memory, regardless of its quality.

Luckily, it is quite good. I will even dare to say that Joker is great. It is repetitive at this point to praise Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Arthur Fleck and Joker, but I will do it anyways because it is deserving of the praise. What Phoenix manages to pull off is incredible. He is physically unlikable at all points in this movie, yet somehow manages to maintain a certain quality of helplessness that it is reasonable to feel some empathy towards him early in his downward spiral. However, that quality of helplessness vanishes as we reach the final stage of development in this two hour thriller. Fears that Joker would somehow make the Joker’s violence attractive are, in my opinion, unmerited. In any other story, a likeable character would choose option “A” at critical moments in his narrative. Arthur, every time, chooses option “B”, moving him further away from the character we as an audience empathized with at the beginning. The film, instead of glorifying the violence, makes us mourn for the fall of the offender. We wanted better for him and he fell short of that hope. It is a tragedy, which is nothing new to the arts. Just ask Bill Shakespeare.

It is a shame that we will never see this Joker get punched in the face by a man dressed like a bat, but for once, the Joker will get all the press in this film. But if you are a Batman fan, fear not: there are so many nods to other iterations of the character, and his eighty year legacy is honored well by the Phillip’s script. From references to Cesar Romero and Heath Ledger, to plot points ripped from the pages of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, this elseworld’s tale does not shy away from its comic book lineage. There is a wonderful blend of source material and creative license that keeps us on our toes while never straying away from the black heart of the clown prince.

Joker is one of those movies that it is hard to fully commit to an opinion on. It is deserving of long conversations and quiet reflection. While the internet is buzzing about whether or not it will lead to gun violence, it bluntly asks whether our monsters are born in a vacuum, or are they born out of a society going to hell? Perhaps in a climate of over-sensitivity and stark black and white morality, this question lands with a dud, but, it might just be the kind of important questions we need to be asking as our handbasket closes in on its final destination.

The film is not for everyone. It is audacious, violent, uncomfortable, and beautifully gross. It is also fascinating, thought provoking, and provocative. It is tempting for me to believe that those who do not see the message in the film are those who want to avoid it, but I also think that there are many who are simply not ready to have that conversation just yet. How are we responsible for our monsters? What have we done to create the awful world our villains live in? These are the questions that we are left with, and I hope that we begin to ask them.

Final score: Full House

Batman Ninja: A Beautiful Frustration

By Drew Kiess

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Oh, boy… where to start with this one?

I suppose I will start by admitting that this is a review of the dubbed version of Batman Ninja. I am not an anime fan, so watching the movie with subtitles would have been a chore for me. For some, that may disqualify me altogether from reviewing this. That would be fair. I can only approach this from the standpoint of being a Batman fan, so that is the angle from which this review is written.

There. The qualifier is done.

Batman Ninja is the newest addition in the long line of DC Animated movies, this time from Warner Bros. proper and not from any of its subdivisions, such as Warner Premier. This movie will see a theatrical release in Japan, and I sincerely wish it all the success in the world there. The film was directed by Junpei Mizusaki, with Roger Craig Smith providing the dubbing for Batman, Tara Strong for Harley Quinn, Grey Griffin for Selina Kyle, and Tony Hale for the Joker.

When Gorilla Grodd’s time travelling experiment sends Batman, his allies—Nightwing, Red Robin, Robin, Alfred, Red Hood, and Catwoman—and his greatest foes—Joker, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Penguin, and Deathstroke—back in time to feudal Japan, Batman must learn the ways of the ninja in order to return everyone back to Gotham. As the movie opens, the CG animation is striking. The movements look fluid and the action is more captivating than anything DC animation has put out in some time.

This quality in the visuals is almost constant throughout and the eyes never get bored watching the movie. The one strike against this is a baffling change in style about midway through the film that seemingly serves no storytelling purpose, but this alone does not sink this movie.

What keeps this movie from being great in my eyes is its over reliance on its own medium. The film sets itself up in ”our Gotham”, and then transports the familiar back in time to feudal Japan, but the rules of feudal Japan are not the rules of “our Gotham”—it exists very much by the rules of anime.

And this would be fine, if the movie set itself up as an anime first, set in an anime world. By trying to its cake and eat it, too, the film loses its punch. If fighting mechanical castles were necessary to the overall arc of the film, perhaps it would have been better to simply establish that the world that this Batman lives in is that kind of world, and not bother with the whole time travel ruse (It’s hard not to feel like Randall from Clerks, here. “I don’t appreciate your ruse, ma’am. Your cunning attempt to trick me).

What saves this movie for me is the characterization of Batman, which never feels false to the character, and the aesthetic. It is also incredibly refreshing to see a DC animated movie that doesn’t feel reliant on sophomoric sexual overtones that have become tiresome in recent entries. The characterization of the other characters, however—save, perhaps, Selina Kyle—is all over the map and not really as true as I would prefer.

Overall, I am lukewarm on Batman Ninja. This very well may be a great movie that simply wasn’t made for me. What I can say is that the film is absolutely gorgeous, and the marketing on just how good this film looks was not overstated. If you are a Batman fan or an anime fan, I would say that Batman Ninja is worth checking out. But if you are not as into anime as you are into Batman, then this may not be for you, either.

 

Final Grade: B-

 

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OP ED: Why Matt Reeves Deserves Creative Control over ‘The Batman’

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By

John McKee

For a while, it looked like Matt Reeves just might not direct our next Batman film. News spread like wildfire that he had backed down and wouldn’t take the project, despite reaching “final talks” just weeks before. Per Birth. Movies. Death. Matt Reeves had “finally seen Batman v Superman and run away while he still could.”

Interestingly enough, Reeves signed on about a week and a half later to direct The Batman. Perhaps he had seen Batman v Superman and decided to add his name to the incredibly talented DC Universe. But what kept him from signing on in the first place? Money is an unlikely answer; Warner Bothers knows how much they have to shovel out for Batman films. The most obvious issue was creative control.

Seth Graham-Smith, Michele MacLauren, Rick Famuyiwa, David Ayer. All names of directors in the DC Universe who either left due to “creative differences” or in the case of Ayer, stayed on only to witness his film carved up and rehashed by test audiences and studio interference. Zack Snyder was demoted a tad on Justice League and Ben Affleck promoted as a way to respond to Batman v Superman’s reviews (ironically brought about mostly by the studio’s interference—we got the 2.5 hour slap job instead of the masterpiece Snyder originally had in mind now called the Ultimate Edition). So Warner Bros., the studio with a history of letting directors do their thing, has been unafraid of late to say “no” to a director.

Which is why Matt Reeves must be given full creative control over The Batman (and probably has) in order to make the film as great as possible. Ben Affleck wanted less to shoulder when he stepped down from The Batman. If WB/DC wants Affleck to make a Batman trilogy then it all rests on The Batman’s success. There is no indication (as Affleck said) that he will leave the role prematurely—there are huge loose ends to tie up, such as the Knightmare sequences in Batman v Superman. There is so much to explore with this character. So in order to keep Reeves on and make the film great, the studio needs to do what they did before—hand it over and TRUST the director. Tim Burton in 1980s. Christopher Nolan in early 2000s. Matt Reeves 2010s.

Great Batman films come from a healthy director-actor relationship. Affleck has gone on to say the director is the “artist” who makes Batman look right on set and in post: Affleck and Terrio write the comics and the director draws them to life. Matt Reeves has a history with the Apes franchise of not only rescuing it last minute, but intuitively realizing which character to focus the films on. With that kind of eye for filmmaking and characterization, Reeves can easily get The Batman off the ground and possibly help top The Dark Knight as the most widely acclaimed Batman film of all time. All that needs to happen is Warner Bros. taking a step back. They have done their job to this point by signing Affleck, Reeves, Terrio, and the rest. They need to trust Matt Reeves to handle the film and give him carte blanche to do what he needs to do to make the very best Batman film that he can.

Shanlian On Batman Episode 48 wsg Greg Rucka

This week’s SoB features comic book writer Greg Rucka! He has written many novels and comic books including the series Gotham Central, Batman: No Man’s Land and the ongoing Lazarus. Sit back and enjoy listening to what the man has to say about all sorts of different topics ranging from his early career, the TV show Gotham, and much more!

Shanlian on Batman Episode 46 wsg Athena Finger

This week the guys talk some Batman and DC news that has been going on in the past few weeks. Jared Leto talking about the joker, Batman V Superman trailers during Super Girl, and Batman Beyond news. Then SoB gets an interview with the Granddaughter of Bill Finger, the co-creator of Batman. Athena’s story of what she did for the credibility of her grandfather’s name is quite an amazing one.

Shanlian On Batman Episode 43 wsg Paul Dini pt. 1

This week on Shanlian on Batman we talk to the legendary writer Paul Dini. Paul answers all of our questions about his career and what it was like to be such a huge part of writing so many of our favorite shows. You are in for a real treat with this SoB podcast, so get ready to enjoy another great episode of Shanlian on Batman with our special guest Paul Dini!

In memory of Lenny Robinson

There are notbat_story_ne3 too many people this day in age that stand for pure good and kindness, We at Shanlian on Batman feel that Lenny Robinson was an exception to this rule. For those of you that do not know of Lenny’s work long story short Robinson had put together an amazing Batman costume, drove a blacked out Ferrari (before purchasing an actual 66 Batmobile), and used his own personal funds to drive from city to city to Children’s Hospitals around the country to give gifts and a spark of hope to sick children. Lenny fist appeared on the internet and gained popularity with the police dash-cam recording of him being pulled over by a Montgomery County police officer while in full Batman attire. Lenny was most unfortunately fatally stuck by a vehicle on I-70 near Hagerstown MD after his Batmobile had reportedly broken down on his way home from a car show in West Virginia on Sunday, August 16, 2015. The fact that this man took the time out of his busy life, funds out of his wallet, combined that with hard work and dedication, all to bring a smile to the faces of unfortunate kids tells us exactly what kind of man Lenny Robinson really was. Reading through comments and message boards full of condolences many people throw out words to describe Kenny, words like Hero, Kind, Loving, Gracious, Generous, Honorable, etc, but the only word that sticks out to me while scrolling through, the only word that makes sense and sums up the impression that Lenny made on this earth is “Batman”. We here at Shanlian on Batman would like to send our condolences to the family and friends of Lenny B. Robinson in these hard times.triblive1

Episode 41 Shanlian On Batman

The guys asked twitter and the fans spoke! This week SoB does a commentary track for the animated film, Batman: Under the Red Hood, written by Judd Winick and directed by Brandon Vietti. You guys gotta listen to this one YOU asked for it. So sync up your copy of this film and enjoy this commentary track of Batman: Under the Red Hood Shanlian on Batman style.

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Shanlian on Batman Episode 40 The Anniversary Episode

The guys sit down and recap their favorite moments of Shanlian on Batman from the last year, they also answer a variety of questions asked from their fans/followers on Twitter. Everything from their favorite episode to their favorite aspects of podcasting and where it has led them today will be gone over. So “Happy Anniversary” to SoB’s first year and to many many more, and to you the listener because if you didn’t listen we would just be talking to ourselves ! Here is the 1 year anniversary episode of Shanlian on Batman!!!!!! Don’t forget to Comment and Like this post!

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SoB were the guests on the Scene N Nerd Podcast this week

SnN SoB 2Check out this weeks episode of The Scene n Nerd podcast, it was our first time actually being the guests on a show. It was a really nice change of pace and the dudes over at Scene N Nerd are really great! So see what we have to say when the questions are pointed at us and listen to this episode of Scene N Nerd wsg Shanlian on Batman! Don’t forget to “Like and Comment” on these posts and podcasts, it really does help us with the show and we almost always get back to you!

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