Tag Archives: Sam Liu

Batman: Year One (2011) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin

Batman Year One

Directors: Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery
Writers: Bob Kane (Batman created by), Tab Murphy, Frank Miller (Based on the graphic novel)
Stars: Bryan Cranston, Ben McKenzie, Eliza Dushku

Batman: Year One is one of my most anticipated films from my recent DC Animated Movie Series splurge. I have actually held back on watching this film until I had caught up with the DC releases as I decided a few months back to watch these in sequential order of their release and what a wait it was. Thankfully this animated movie did not disappoint and I personally hold this up there with any of the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight films. Yes, that’s how good this is.

Based on the 1988 graphic novel by Frank Miller I was interested to read that Batman: Year One was almost adapted as a live-action film to be directed by Darren Aronofsky from a screenplay by Miller. The studio scrapped the project in favour of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005). I’m kind of glad as I loved Batman Begins and to be honest without that film we wouldn’t have The Dark Knight. You could say that fans of Batman got the best of both worlds in this case. I am intrigued and curious to see what Batman: Year One would have looked like as a live action movie. Certainly the casting of Bryan Cranston as Gordon would have worked in that format more than Ben McKenzie as Bruce Wayne / Batman. Interestingly, McKenzie would go on to appear as Gordon in the television series “Gotham” and did a damn good job of that. Appearance wise, he ain’t a Bruce Wayne / Batman sadly.

Batman: Year One is predominately about the characters of Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne. It takes place when Bruce has returned from afar in what I can only assume as time away from Gotham to complete his training with The League of Shadows and his mentor Ra’s Al Ghul. It doesn’t focus too heavily on this part of his life but you get the jist of it. Jim Gordon’s story interested me more as we see another side of him. He isn’t the perfect person by any means and between the darkness it Batman and the white knight of Harvey Dent we have this character in the shadows who flits between black an white to adapt to the situation in Jim Gordon. I loved what the did with this character and how his personality was captured in the story.

The animation in this movie is, dare I say it. Classic comic book style. The colours and shading are perfect and the look of these characters was something different from previous Batman animation that I have witnessed. The look of Batman was the Grey suited crime fighter which isn’t my preference it seem to fit the bill in the style of the film. The cityscape and surrounding captured a very gritty and desperate Gotham that longed for a saviour, a symbol and they got that in Batman. Gordon’s obsession on tracking down “The Bat” was a big part of the storyline but overall it was about two men with the same ideology and purpose before they would work together. It was also interesting to see and pick up that we never see Batman use any fancy gadgets. Nor do we get to see the famous Batmobile make an appearance in the film. I didn’t mind this as it reminded us that Batman wasn’t superhuman, or as they like to say in this universe a “Meta-Human”. Here he is the skilled fighter with the same goal and intent as Jim Gordon.

Overall Batman: Year One is a complete film in what you hope and expect from this character story arc. The film was well received by critics and fans alike on its release and having Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery in the Directors chairs makes sense to me with their previous experience in these films. As an animated film it is one of the best in my option. I’m unsure on if it is more difficult to translate a graphic novel into a live action film or animated as both formats would be challenging for different reasons. What I will say though is at some point I think this will be released as a live action film and if they stay true to the book then I’m on board. With the announcement of a stand alone Joker Movie separate from the DCEU, then anything is possible. I previously advised that if you are going into these animated series for the first time that I recommend watching them in their time of release. Here is the exception as after watching Batman: Year One you will be hooked. Highly Recommended.

Advertisements

All-Star Superman (2011) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin

All-Star Superman

Director: Sam Liu
Writers: Jerry Siegel (character created by: Superman), Joe Shuster (character created by: Superman) Dwayne McDuffie (written by), Grant Morrison (graphic novel) &
Frank Quitely (graphic novel)
Stars: James Denton, Christina Hendricks, Anthony LaPaglia

All-Star Superman is regarded as one of the most popular and humanisation of the character the Man of Steel. A dying Superman decided to fulfil his lifelong dreams after being poisoned by the sun’s radiation due to Lex Luthor overdosing him with solar radiation and having his own agenda whilst Superman’s quest is to leave the world in a better place than the one he came to as an infant.

What I enjoyed from the kick off is that part of the story is dealt with very quickly and sets us up for the rest of the movie. Don’t get me wrong, at times the pacing of the film is a little jolty and there are some unnecessary scenes involving Atlas and Samson which I felt were unneeded and pointless. One thing I did like was the fact that Superman knew he was dying and also knew that Lex Luthor was responsible for this. I think this is the first time since Superman: Doomsday we see the Man of Steel vulnerable and questioning his own mortality. 

The Animation in All-Star Superman is okay I guess. It didn’t have the high speed action sequences of Superman/Batman: Apocalypse or Batman: Under the Red Hood but most of the shots reminded me that this film was base off a specific comic book and I believe the animators have stuck to keeping it’s look in the film. Very much like Superman: Doomsday, Justice League: The New Frontier and Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, so I can appreciate that look and feel to this movie.

Sadly this would be a swansong for writer Dwayne McDuffie who sadly passed away 1 day before the movies release. His adaptation for All-Star Superman from the Graphic Novel by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely works mostly throughout although at times it comes across as a episodic experience. McDuffie’s experience in his field was phenomenal in video games like Spider-Man & Venom: Maximum Carnage from 1994 and Justice League Heroes in 2006 to television series like Justice League, Teen Titans, Ben 10 and Young Justice. His writing presence is evident in the DC Animated film I have already reviewed Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010) and a film I have watched but will review soon in Justice League: Doom from 2012. At the age of just 49 Dwayne McDuffie will be sadly missed.

James Denton as Superman at times was a little flat and emotionless. He reminded me a lot of Billy Crudup’s performance in Watchmen (2009) as Dr. Manhattan / Jon Osterman. Very cold and distant. In this case I suppose the predicament Superman was in kinda justifies this performance. Denton wasn’t bad in the role and actually portrayed a very good and convincing Clark Kent. Supported with Christina Hendricks as Lois Lane / Superwoman (Which was a nice surprise), Anthony LaPaglia as Lex Luthor (Who I have been a fan of since he appeared in So, I Married An Axe Murderer (1993) and Edward Asner as Perry White was great. I felt Hendricks portrayed the character well and for once had a prominent role and presence in these DC Animated Films. Lois Lane as Superwoman could have been naff but actually served the story well and as previously mentioned was probably over utilised in the pointless scenes involving Atlas and Samson. Believe me there was no need to this part of the film.

Overall and I have to be honest here, the film doesn’t flow well in parts  and effects the whole experience, not to the point of ruining the film but having that episodic feel doesn’t work in this film. I think Superman fans will enjoy this film and seeing their favourite character used in a different and vulnerable way. I’m unsure on how hardcore fans reacted to this film, whether it adapted well or not. My own experience is that although not my favourite DC animated film, it is still worth a watch and I would recommend giving it a go. One thing though, don’t pick it as your introduction to this world. Recommended.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin

Justice League Crisis On Two Earths

Directors: Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery
Writers: Dwayne McDuffie, Jerry Siegel (character created by: Superman)
Stars: William Baldwin, Mark Harmon, Chris Noth, Gina Torres, James Woods, Jonathan Adams, Brian Bloom, Bruce Davison, Josh Keaton, Vanessa Marshall

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths reminds me of a good episode of Red Dwarf, the highly successful and long running science fiction comedy from the BBC (2nd longest running Sci-Fi show after Doctor Who in the world) Here we have a good version of Lex Luthor from a parallel Earth who comes to the Justice League’s dimension for help to fight their evil counterparts, the Crime Syndicate. After witnessing Lex Luthor as President of the United States in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009) I didn’t think the character could be more further away from his usual persona. Here he is the good guy and a version of the Justice League in his reality are the bad guys and in particular Owlman. This is what I am enjoying about these DC Universe Animated Films. They take risks that the live action versions have yet to take. Is it more acceptable in an animated film? perhaps yes for various reasons.

Revisiting the Justice League I must admit to being a little skeptical. The reason? Well to be honest I didn’t think anything would come close to the really good Justice League: New Frontier. I felt in that film they covered the characters well and I enjoyed the storyline. Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths may not be a good but its still a pretty good attempt from Director’s Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery and Writer Dwayne McDuffie.

In what could have become an overblown and bloated cast as they are all here, Batman (William Baldwin), Superman (Mark Harmon), Lex Luthor (Chris Noth), Superwoman (Gina Torres), Owlman (James Woods), J’onn J’onzz (Jonathan Adams), Ultraman (Brian Bloom), The Flash / Aquaman (Josh Keaton), Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall), Green Lantern / Power Ring (Nolan North) and Johnny Quick / The Jester (James Patrick Stuart) at no point did it feel that way. One of the few negatives I got from New Frontier was the shoeing in of Arrow, Robin and Aquaman at the near end with no real purpose or contributions. Here that isn’t the case, everyone has a part to play and again the cast is amazing for an animated film. I know I keep saying this and it may sound like I should be surprised because it is “only an animated film” but that is not the case. I am just grateful that these fine actors are as dedicated and passionate about these films as much as the fans are.

Surprisingly I did read somewhere that James Woods phoned in his lines from an other location that wasn’t the recording studio, but hey ho. I used to be a massive fan of Woods in the 1980’s and still love those films from that era. Nowadays he is on some political rant via social media which seems to be the “thing” for actors of his era these days. Anyway, away from the politics and back to the film and as Owlman, a character that I wasn’t familiar with, Woods actually does fine here. That may sound patronising like I shouldn’t be surprised that such a fine actor is doing a “fine job” here, but what I mean is that Woods isn’t recognisable vocally in Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. In fact, if I didn’t read the credits I wouldn’t have known it was him. Was this deliberate on the actors part? who knows. As much as I enjoy the Kevin Conroy as Batman (and he is THE BATMAN in my book) and not forgetting Bruce Greenwood (Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018), William Baldwin is terrific as The Dark Knight, he brings that cynical moodiness to the character and Mark Harmon surprised me even more as Superman. I felt he understood the character and most of the dialogue for both these characters was written and delivered well by both Baldwin and Harmon.

I was just getting used to Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor and maybe not as prominent or recognisable in his voicing talents I felt Chris Noth did a good job. He is obviously most famous for his role as Mr. Big in the Television series Sex and the City and it’s movie spin offs. Here Noth isn’t given the chance to portray the evil elements of the character thanks to the story, but to be fair he delivers. Gina Torres as Superwoman is probably my favourite character in this film and Torres shows us why she is involved in this movie. Torres has a natural voice acting ability that works well in this character and the actor brings it to life. Having already portrayed Vixen / Mari McCabe in Justice League Unlimited (TV Series) from 2004-2006 and more recently Star Wars Rebels (TV Series) from 2015-2018 as Ketsu Onyo you can understand why the talented voice actor stands out in this film. The Character is prominent throughout the storyline and Torres just about owns every scene she is in.

Overall, I enjoyed the storyline and plot to Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. It wasn’t a patch on New Frontier but I never went into the film thinking it would top that anyway. I enjoyed the dialogue and the right on the money humour in particular between Batman and Owlman. The animation was pleasing on the eye and the action was cut almost like live action without any confusion or disorientation from the animation at any point. The pacing of the story wasn’t drawn out in anyway and at the same time although the running time was only 75 minutes it never felt rushed or crammed in anyway considering the lineup of superheroes and villains. Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths for me is an enjoyable comic book film that is justified in being up there with the releases around this time. I would recommend giving it a watch. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin

SUPERMAN BATMAN PUBLIC ENEMIES

Director: Sam Liu
Writers: Jeph Loeb (comic book), Ed McGuinness (comic book)
Stars: Clancy Brown, Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, Xander Berkeley, John C. McGinley

I have to say that i am enjoying my current DC Animated Universe binge-a-thon at the moment. Revisiting some great animated action and being introduced to some of the films that I missed the first time around, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies being one of them. Almost a decade old I feel pretty ashamed that I somehow missed out on this film on it’s original release. I have no excuses and for someone who claims to be a massive Superman and Batman fan, words fail me. I’m can only apologise for my ignorance.

Anyway, I was very excited to get my hands on a copy of this film and what a film it is. When Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown) gets elected US President, he uses the threat of an oncoming kryptonite meteor striking Earth as a rationale to frame Superman (Tim Daly). Even the thought of Luthor somehow becoming President of the United States of America gives me the chills, but somehow it works and I accepted it pretty quickly as the introduction in a old fashioned newsreel narrative we are introduced to a country torn and on the verge of collapse and implosion. Crime is everywhere, poverty is everywhere and although the narrative doesn’t really go into the nitty gritty on how the US ended up in this sorry state, society in desperation turns to Luthor as the saviour and quite honestly he does a great job in getting the country back on its feet.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think that perhaps Luthor pulled a Palpatine on everyone and somehow he was the cause of the collapse of a country. Let’s be honest, that’s totally a Lex Luthor thing to do. Nevertheless, with a looming kryptonite meteor heading in Earth’s direction it is up to Luthor to entice Superman to let bygones be bygones and work together to save the earth. In all honestly it’s a stitch up job by Lex into framing Superman and outcasting him (along with Batman (Kevin Conroy) and turning the nation on both Superheroes. Don’t get me wrong the Meteor situation is true and shows the twisted mind of a megalomaniac into thinking what he can get out of the crisis situation. With both Superman and Batman “Public Enemies” it is up to our heroes to clear their name. Do battle with Luthor and other Super Villains who have sided with Lex and stop the Earth from it’s pending doom from the rock in the sky hurtling towards their home.

I loved the fact that before Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) we had DC’s two most iconic characters teaming up in an unusual situation and although both heroes have different ideologies and methods it was interesting to see how Director Sam Liu along with writers Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness would handle this without taking the characters out of themselves. Sometimes their relationship was friendly and other times it was rough, but overall you could sense a respectfulness between both of them. The dialogue was excellent in both characters and overall the cast, but with the main leads and along with the great delivery of iconic voice actors Daly and Conroy you would think you are stepping into the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight world with the tone and feels to this film and that’s thanks to the excellent dialogue and screenplay. The inclusion of (to me) lesser known villains and heroes like Captain Atom, Captain Marvel / Solomon Grundy, Major Force, Power Girl, Metallo, Black Lightning and Toyman is a great way to involve these other DC characters and perhaps encourage the casual fan to investigate these comic books.

Overall Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is an enjoyable film that just wasn’t long enough. Seriously I could have watched another hour of this but perhaps that is its appeal. Making the audience wanting more. Sam Liu delivers an emotional storyline that is satisfying and entertaining. The cast of Clancy Brown, Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, Xander Berkeley, John C. McGinley to name a few is stellar and shows why these DC Animated films are respected and enjoyed by the fans (hardcore and casual) alike. If you haven’t seen Superman/Batman: Public Enemies yet then what are you waiting for. Highly Recommended.

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin

BATMAN GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT

Director: Sam Liu
Writers: James Krieg (as Jim Krieg), Brian Augustyn (graphic novel: “Gotham by Gaslight”)
Stars: Bruce Greenwood, Jennifer Carpenter, Chris Cox 

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is an alternative Victorian Age Gotham City in which Batman begins his war on crime while he investigates a new series of murders by Jack the Ripper. After enjoying The Killing Joke I thought I would investigate more of the DC Universe Animated Films from the past decade or so. 

I like the concept of familiar characters from a familiar timeline and presenting them in a different time period and almost like they are performing in a play that appears to be a world within a world. From the very first shot the impression I got from “old Gotham” was an old London, giving an almost Sherlock Holmes feel to it. I’d go one further and say there is definitely homage to the old English detective in Gotham By Gaslight and with the Jack the Ripper storyline you understand why the film has this feel to it. 

The killer going by the name of Jack the Ripper is stalking the streets and targeting women, whilst a masked vigilante known only as The Bat is also prowling the night in pursuit of the murderer. The big question is can Commissioner Gordon aided by Harvey Dent crack the case in time? The look in the scenes involving the killer are quite intense for an animated film and the settings do The Dark Knight series justice. 

One of the things I enjoyed about this film was the familiar characters of Batman apart from Gordon, Dent and Alfred all have different roles to which we aren’t used to seeing. Hugo Strange, Selina Kyle and Poison Ivy all have a duty in the storyline far from their “normal” selves. Even Batman isn’t his usual crime fighting self. Not that he doesn’t get in on the action but here he is more detective trying to solve the crime and uncover the truth about Jack the Ripper.

I also enjoyed the feel to this film. The Victorian look to the cityscape and the people who populated this version of Gotham act like they are from this time period and at no point pull you away from this era. Even when a man dressed as a Bat appears it still feels like a long time ago. Another element I enjoyed was the animation. I have read a lot of fans weren’t satisfied with the look and feel to the animation with some calling it lazy. I liked it as it combined that comic book feel with the animated series “Archer” I thought the storyline was well constructed and although the camera pans away from most of the gruesome violence, you still feel that edginess and darkness in the plot. 

Overall “Gotham By Gaslight” surprised me in its quality and I’m glad I gave it a view. The cast did very well and in particular Bruce Greenwood as Batman / Bruce Wayne. I felt his portrayal lived up to the character in his delivery and the darkness that surrounds him was well presented by Greenwood. He’s always been a reliable and very good actor so it was interesting to see him in a voice role and bring Batman to life. To describe this film I would say it is Batman meets Sherlock Holmes and the twist at the very end not only surprised me but I applauded the writers decision in the plot twist. It is ballsy and I’m sure if you have yet saw the movie you will agree.

“Gotham By Gaslight” is a great film for the “R” rating and an excellent story and different take for fans of “The Bat.” Highly Recommended.

Batman: The Killing Joke (2016) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin

Batman The Killing Joke.png

Director: Sam Liu
Writers: Brian Azzarello, Brian Bolland (based on the graphic novel illustrated by)
Stars: Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong

Based on the graphic novel of the same name, “Batman: The Killing Joke” is about The Dark Knight hunting down The Joker after he escapes Arkham Asylum and Kidnaps, humiliates and tortures Commissioner Gordon. Having not read the graphic novel I assumed perhaps I would struggle with understanding both Batman and The Joker’s relationship at this point. However, going into this with no expectations and fresh eyes I have to say that I quite enjoyed this animated movie.

I was already aware that the movie didn’t live up to the expectations of some diehard fans of the graphic novel, although I also have read that in most the film appears to be a direct adaptation of the famous novel, confusing or what?

For a movie running at 72 minutes I was surprised that for the first half of the movie was directed at Barbara Gordon and her struggle with her alter ego Batgirl. I could see what was trying to be achieved here in building the characters relationships and understanding their day to day (or night to night) routine in fighting crime. I honestly didn’t mind this although there was a slow build up before we finally get to see The Joker (around the 30 minute mark)

What I did enjoy the most about the film was the use of interspersed flashback scenes with The Joker and how he succumbed to a character of vicious madness and creepiness. Every flashback scene didn’t effect the pacing or distract from the main plot. In fact, The character of The Joker is perhaps the only character in the movie that the audience understands and I felt was the only one that was developed enough in the movie. Add Mark Hamill’s brilliant audio portrayal of this iconic character and you have the perfect comic book villain. Hamill’s energy wins the day and brings life to the mad clown.

Sadly Batman is more subdued and to be honest, uninteresting. The first 30 Minutes he hardly speaks and when he does he is mostly condescending towards Barbara Gordon. I felt this was a waste of Kevin Conroy’s talents and although I understand the focus was more on The Joker, I just felt there wasn’t enough there for Conroy to portray.

Feel and look, yes this was like a walking talking comic book. The filmmakers nailed these elements and Sam Liu should be commend for this. I loved the look of the movie and it’s dark grittier tones. Sadly the script suffered slightly and it’s saving grace was Hamill and Conroy. Overall, I did enjoy most of “Batman: The Killing Joke”
and wouldn’t say it was a bad movie. It had it’s flaws but I would still recommend giving it a watch.