Batman: The Killing Joke DVD Review (The Hollywood News)

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DC’s Cinematic Universe is getting a rough deal with critics, but the brand can take solace in the fact its animated division is a runaway success story by comparison. From Batman: The Animated Series onwards, they’ve maintained a consistently high standard and it made sense for the company’s best-loved graphic novels to start getting the adaptation treatment.

Classic Joker tome The Killing Joke had everything going for it on paper: innovative writing, striking art and a definitive stand off between two iconic characters. Unfortunately for movie producers the book is on the slender side. In attempting to expand it to feature length director Sam Liu and writer Brian Azzarello wind up hitting some obstacles.

Overall the script captures the main and somewhat controversial events of the source material. Following an uninteresting additional segment in which Batgirl attempts to earn her stripes alongside the Dark Knight, we get to the meat of the matter – the Clown Prince of Crime’s diabolical and kinky plot to unhinge Commissioner Gordon as a fatal blow against his mortal enemy.

In what is seemingly his swan-song as the animated Joker, Mark Hamill bows out in customary style. His voice has notably aged, giving the villain’s machinations a rich and deeply sinister quality. He’s by far the strongest element of a production that is seriously close to the bone by Saturday morning cartoon standards. However in presenting the tale within the awkward framework of a tinkered narrative Azzarello and Liu highlight the film’s main flaw: the story works much better on the page. The tragedy of the Joker’s past and the ruminative nature of his “final” confrontation with Batman is perhaps best appreciated in pencil and ink, where comic writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland‘s masterpiece could be absorbed at a slower speed. Here they’re brief and intriguing but nothing like as powerful.

Fans of the novel might also be disappointed that Bolland’s work is paid lip service only, replaced by a standardized animation style that doesn’t make an impact outside of the odd intricate backdrop or movie reference (if you liked Christopher Nolan‘s take, there’s a brief moment that’ll tickle you).

Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (Tara Strong) is given more to do, but the development tails off, with an epilogue of sorts tacked onto the conclusion and arguably fudging it. The famous ending is recreated from the book whilst also cutting through its ambiguity.

I’m really not sure what the character of bog standard Romeo gangster Paris Franz (Maury Sterling) was supposed to bring to proceedings. He merely adds to the icky atmosphere of sexual violence that wasn’t strictly required. Kevin Conroy goes gravelly as Batman, though disappointingly the cowled hero fades into the background for this outing. Twin Peaks legend Ray Wise voices the Commissioner – while Wise is a great actor his performance for me was too genial. I’d’ve paid good money to hear his version of the Joker though!

The result pales next to the original, but then that was always a safe bet. Reworking Moore (uncredited as usual) showed a level of insanity befitting the movie’s antagonist and a straight and shorter translation of the text could have hit home harder. Despite this, The Killing Joke gives an impression of the pitch black innards of the novel, and for that at least it deserves some praise.

This review first appeared on The Hollywood News

Dem Bones In Da Movies

JA 2We’ve all got them. We just don’t like to think about them. Nevertheless bones are everywhere in the movies. Most commonly they’re used in horror flicks to get a quick and easy shock reaction. Nothing reinforces the grim reality of death better than a skull, or spectral finger pointed in the audience’s direction.

Dig a little deeper however and you’ll find bones have been employed creatively throughout cinema history. Whether entertaining children or even hinting at the nature of the universe, there’s a lot more to the matter than meets the eye… well, ocular socket anyway.

So make sure you’ve drunk your milk because I’m taking you on a rattling good tour of the various ways in which moviemakers have made us aware of what lies just under the skin…

INDIANA JONES & THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL

IJ CS​​Harrison Ford may find his next foray with a fedora and bullwhip rather poignant, as the pensionable adventurer excavates yet more danger and derring do for Indiana Jones 5. Spooling back to 2008 though, his last outing featured the remains of an ancient civilization, but one of the like he’d never seen before.

Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull brought Indy face to face with a bonce of unimaginable power, in a belated tale of father-son bonding, flesh-eating ants, Cate Blanchett going the full smoked ham and the important advice that you can avoid a nuclear blast by hiding in a fridge.

The big finale, set in an Amazon temple, saw the crystal artefact’s true purpose revealed – in a first for the series Dr Jones got introduced to aliens, and director Steven Spielberg wasn’t in the mood to make them cuddly. The producers put all their eggs in one basket for a climax that had something for everyone… and at its centre was that eerie, all-knowing skull.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE RED SKULL ​                                                            RS

The star-spangled shield slinger is really up against it in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at present. Having battled Ultron, he’s locking horns with former friend Iron Man for his third movie, Civil War. But there’s only one true nemesis for Captain America – old war foe The Red Skull.

His terrifying appearance was due to an attempt to become a supersoldier like Chris Evans’ title hero, an experiment which went ever so slightly wrong. Cap then took on Skull over possession of the fearsome Tesseract, a relic capable of giving its user unlimited energy.

This bald bad ass has the full complement of evil credentials. He’s a Nazi. He has an insatiable thirst for power. And above all he’s only got half a face. Woe bedtide the underling who suggests he needs a nose job.

DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK: TOOTH FAIRIES

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Mad Mexican helmer Gullermo del Toro has a tendency to take established ideas and give them his own warped spin, to great critical and commercial effect. An obscure TV movie about goblins became a passion project for him forty-odd years after it first aired – 2010’s Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark.

Handsome yet haunted couple Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes moved into a perilous pile of prime real estate that unbeknownst to them had a history of carnage, care of some child-seeking tiny creatures. The dark dynamo reworked these as tooth fairies, though left the directing honours to comic book guy Troy Nixey.

Why tooth fairies? Because they liked to feast on your pearly whites of course! The monsters enjoyed getting their teeth into your teeth, a concept del Toro had previously explored in Hellboy sequel The Golden Army.

ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING: APATOSAURUS SKELETON

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​While you’re marvelling at the rampaging skinless T-Rex at the centre of the Night At The Museum franchise, spare a thought for the movie that came first in that predatory respect –  1975’s One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing.

The Disney classic featured the Natural History Museum as the venue for slapstick-fuelled mayhem. The multi-boned Apatosaurus exhibit was chosen as an unlikely place to hide a microfilm by crusading Brit Lord Southmere (Derek Nimmo). From there ensued a battle of wits between the Chinese government and, erm, some nannies.

The film is well-remembered for the spectacle of the former flesh eater being driven around London on the back of a steam lorry. The presence of Peter Ustinov as ethnically questionable character Hnup Wan – alongside Carry On stars Joan Sims and Bernard Bresslaw – also raised eyebrows.

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS: JACK SKELLINGTON

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One of the most famous onscreen skeletons of all wasn’t made of calcium but modelling clay. Tim Burton proved the perfect candidate to create a heartwarming family tale based on his dark verse, which made Jack Skellington the all-singing, all-dancing focus. Henry Selick sat in the director’s chair, moulding the movie’s plasticine legs.

The story is as well-known as a Grimm’s fairy tale, but in case you’re out of the loop, here it is. Skellington was the toast of Halloween Town, until he stumbled upon Christmas Town, and his whole attitude to life changed as he attempted to bring the two sides of the coin together for a bizarre and brutal festive experience.

Jack had quite a pedigree behind the scenes – his elegant vocals came courtesy of regular Burton composer Danny Elfman, but his lines were delivered by Chris Sarandon, better known as vampire hunk Jerry Dandrige in the original Fright Night.

JURASSIC PARK: RAPTOR CLAW

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​Sometimes the smallest things can be the most powerful, an idea ably demonstrated by Steven Spielberg in 1993 game changer Jurassic Park. It wasn’t all giant scaly horrors running around the place gobbling up lawyers and giving Newman from Seinfeld a venom facial.

Before we even saw a “living” dinosaur we were introduced to rebel paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill), who gave a mouthy young scamp an education on velociraptor hunting habits at a dig site. His illustrative tool? A rather nasty-looking claw. As the accompanying picture shows it wasn’t long before the kid was seeing those so-called relics in a whole new light.

It was in many ways a quiet scene, but one underscored by a playful bite. Neill’s laid back tones, contrasting with the vivid subject matter being described, set the scene for the theme park-based action horror fest to come. The actor returned for Jurassic Park III. Sadly the claw didn’t.

THE SKULL

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Though Hammer Studios made a lasting mark on the British horror film it’s easy to overlook the contribution of Amicus Productions, who specialized in gore-filled compendiums. These typically depicted several grisly chapters under the umbrella of one movie. In the mid-Sixties they had a go at beating Hammer at their own game in our next bony slice of terror, The Skull.

Based around the idea of the late Marquis de Sade’s noggin being detached, enabling the decapitator to use its evil powers, the story (by Psycho’s Robert Bloch) starred Peter Cushing as a supernatural anorak who came into possession of the title object, complete with terrifying telepathic abilities. This inanimate neck topper left a trail of death and destruction in its cranial wake.

The Skull has unfortunately not survived well against the likes of Dracula: Prince Of Darkness and The Devil Rides Out, but it carried a welter of talent both in front of and behind the camera: Christopher Lee and Michael Gough shared the screen with Cushing and Freddie Francis lined the lurid lenses.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY: BONE THROW

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​The most important bone on this list (stop sniggering) is also the most important in human history, according to Stanley Kubrick’s epic 1968 collaboration with Arthur C Clarke. Trying to get the story of 2001 down in one paragraph would be stupider than a neanderthal eating his own dung, but here are the basics.

Back at the dawn of intelligent life on Earth a monolith appeared, heralding a strange, ominous, mysterious and beautiful introduction into the world of an interplanetary power. Got that? Good. In a lengthy opening sequence we hung out with primitive humanity as they eked out their existence on the barren landscape.

One particular primate discovered the power of a bone as the way forward for his species – an emblem of Mankind’s capacity to create and destroy. He promptly chucked it into the air, where Kubrick cleverly cut from its spinning trajectory to that of a ship hanging in space. The scene straddled our primal past and hi tech future in one striking gesture.​

PREDATOR 2: XENOMORPH TROPHY

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This nod to the Dark Horse comic looked like a throwaway thing, but turned out to be the biggest blink and you’ll miss it moment of recent times. ​It was just a fleeting appearance, but the in joke of a xenomorph skull on a spaceship in the latter’s Arnie-free sequel created a momentum that led to a whole other horror franchise.​

Danny Glover felt too old for the shit of Lethal Weapon, but was the right age it seemed for this crock of urban action, which relocated the title monster from the great outdoors to the City of Angels. The climactic scenes saw Glover access the Predator’s crib where he stumbled on its macabre trophy collection.

Over a decade later the potential was capitalized on with Alien vs Predator. It didn’t receive a red hot reception, but gave rise to a bizarre follow up, in addition to the dreadlocked death dealer taking centre stage again for Predators.

JASON & THE ARGONAUTS: UNDEAD ARMY

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Animator Ray Harryhausen was one of the driving forces behind stop motion production. If he hadn’t sat there patiently manipulating and snapping all those fantasy creations we wouldn’t have had the spectacles of the Sinbad movies or Clash Of The Titans. From Minotaur to Medusa, he gave generations of kids nightmares.

Jason & The Argonauts, my final entry, was one of his crowning achievements. The bronzed and bearded Todd Armstrong went on a quest across the exotic and creature-strewn Colchis, in search of the fabled Golden Fleece. He encountered various fully-poseable beasties, but Harryhausen saved the best and indeed boniest for last.

The final section of the film showcased a massive swordfight between Jason’s men and a team of skeletal warriors brought up from the earth by the evil Aeëtes​. He even used the teeth of the fearsome Hydra as seeds from which to grow the menace. This sequence is so perfectly executed, blending actors and effects, that it still looks as impressive now as it did back in 1963.

Jason Mewes Talks ‘Bling’ & ‘Mallrats 2’ (The Hollywood News)

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When was the last time you saw a movie about jewellery and robots? The answer to that unusual question is something Google Play are banking on for Bling, the first animated film to be distributed via the platform. Best of all it’s free!

Concerning the calamity that ensues when a hopeful man’s engagement surprise is mistakenly acquired by a supervillain, it features attention-grabbing elements such as positronic primate Kit, voiced by Jay and Silent Bob star Jason Mewes.

Putting on our best suit, and with our best inquiries boxed up and ready to be sprung, we took Mr Mewes to the nearest restaurant in the hope he’d accept our proposal. Along the way we couldn’t help but talk about his most famous role and working with friend and quietest Bob in history Kevin Smith for the past couple of decades…

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What was your reaction when you were told about the concept?

I was very excited. Anything with robots is good, but when I was told I was playing a monkey robot, that was a bonus!

How did you approach the role of a monkey robot, if that isn’t a silly question?

I ate a bunch of bananas, that’s how I prepped. (Laughs) No, I just had fun with it man. The animation was already done and I just had to synch up to it. I had some fun and played with it, in order to be the best monkey robot I could be! It was nice because I got to ad lib inbetween and stuff, when my character’s back was turned or when he went offscreen, I got to ad lib some dialogue. You get to see what’s going on, Kit twirling through the air, or landing on top of a car. That made it a little easier and more fun, the process isn’t always like that.

Did you get to meet your fellow cast members, such as James Woods or Carla Gugino?

It was just me in the booth by myself. There are pros and cons doing it both ways, but it was nice. Because I was on my own I felt like if I messed up I could redo it, and get to know the director and all that stuff. It would have been fun doing it with the rest of the cast as well. The only animated movie I’ve ever done like that is Noah’s Ark: The New Beginning and it was nice because I got to work with Michael Keaton and we were able to bounce off each other.

Another upcoming project you may have been asked about once or twice is Mallrats 2! Did you ever think you’d be playing Jay twenty-odd years on from Clerks?

Never! Never… I didn’t expect to play Jay’s character. I was shocked when Clerks was bought and Kevin got a new picture deal and said ‘Hey I’m going to do another movie called Mallrats and I wrote our characters in.’ That was awesome, then with Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back… I didn’t expect to play the character more than once, let alone be playing it twenty years later. I think it’ll be a blast, playing them again before we get too old! (Laughs)

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Comic book movies have mushroomed over the past decade. Are there plans to do anything more with Bluntman and Chronic?

Me and my friend wrote a Bluntman and Chronic Super Groovy Cartoon Movie (following Jay and Silent Bob‘s movie of the same name). Kevin needs to read it and approve it for the characters and such. And if he approves we’re going to start working on that, so hopefully that will get done soon and we can do a Groovy Movie 2. And then who knows if Kevin will want to do a live action Bluntman and Chronic… but if we did I’d really like to do it like the Avengers movies, Captain America fighting, The Winter Soldier. That would be cool, fighting in that type of style!

What other projects do you have in the pipeline that you can tell us about?

We have a video game coming out, Jay and Silent Bob: Chronic Blunt Punch. Me and Kevin are doing a show called What’s In The Box? for Screen Junkies Plus, where people send us boxes and we don’t know what’s in them. It’s usually toys and all sorts of fun stuff, we started doing that a couple of months ago.

Right now I’m really trying to get this movie off the ground, there’s no title for it yet, but it’s a script by a friend of mine from London. I did a movie called Devil’s Tower with him, and he’s written this script based on an idea we had, and hopefully I’m going to direct it and that will be the first feature I direct. I’m looking forward to that getting off the ground. I’ve done music videos and a short film, and I really want to direct a full feature!

This interview appeared on The Hollywood News.

All Wool Be Revealed! Interview With ‘Shaun The Sheep Movie’ Directors (The Hollywood News)

Richard-Starzak-Mark-Burton-Shaun-The-Sheep-MovieShaun The Sheep Movie is about to be released on DVD and Blu-ray after a baa-rilliant reception on the big screen. In many ways the original farm heroes saga, its story follows Shaun and the gang as they head into the big city to rescue their gibberish-speaking custodian, the Farmer.

The film was praised for its echoing of old school slapstick comedy and hopes are high for a follow up. So while the gears of the studios whirr in contemplation over that, we sat down with writer/directors Richard Starzak and Mark Burton for a good old bleat…

Shaun-The-Sheep-Movie-2Shaun The Sheep on TV is only a few minutes long. How did you go about expanding the concept to feature length?

Richard: That was the big challenge. That’s why I think me and Mark work as well together. Mark’s had much experience of writing feature scripts and we had to find a story that could sustain that long. We had to dig deeper into the characters, a lot deeper than we do in the series. The series could be quite surface, you know, one of the episodes could be just the characters getting stuck together with a tube of glue. We had to think of a bigger story for this…

You needed a bigger tube of glue almost.

Mark: Massive tube of glue!

Richard: A tube of emotional glue…

Mark: The other thing was taking characters out of their comfort zone, take them into a few worlds, so we took them into the big city.

I use this word in inverted commas, but what was an “average” day like on the set?

Richard: Me and Mark got together at 8 in the morning, and we’d go through all the shots we’d be shooting that day with our production team. Make sure everyone knows what’s happening… and then we’d go onto the studio floor, see the progress of the shots. We treat the animators like actors, so we brief them on the set, tell them what we want. We want to know what the character’s thinking. We go through all the detail when everything’s set up and lit, like a live action shoot. But at the same time we’re also having to deal with music, with editing, any other story issues that come up… the day lasts from 8 till 8 at night.

Mark: And weekends as well.

Richard: And a few weekends. So it’s a very intense time really.

Mark: It’s not really a 9 – 5 job. You’re very involved and engaged in everything. Like all directors we’ll say we’re power mad and trying to keep an eye on all aspects of the film, right up to the marketing really.

Omid-DjaliliMoving onto the cast, you’ve got a lot of comedians in the film, notably Omid Djalili. What dynamic did they bring?

Richard: Omid was great because he’s a comedy star, he’s been in some Hollywood movies… and we wanted him to grunt and make some noises!

Mark: He rose to the challenge because he got the point, which was that it’s not really about the dialogue in that sense, it’s about non-verbal communication. So he brought a lot to the character of the baddie, Trumper. He was totally up for it, and not just in terms of being funny. He’d have that range where he’d go from these very small little verbal things we could use, right up to big, Omid-type screaming. But he could bring a level of subtlety to it.

Shaun-The-Sheep-Movie-Trumper-Omid-DjaliliThat’s what he brought, and I think John Sparkes (Absolutely) – who obviously works on the series – and Justin Fletcher (Mr Tumble)… they kind of rose to the challenge. Like a big Hollywood movie we were were going to take these characters’ emotions very seriously, so the comedy worked and the emotion worked… we stretched them out. It was a slightly bizarre process sometimes as you can imagine, but ultimately it was quite a rewarding and illuminating one.

Talking of dramatic intrigue, how did Nick Park’s cameo appearance come about?

Richard: The joke came about first I think. We had the idea of the bird spotter, the twitcher, getting revealed and attacked by the birds he’s spying on. He’s a bit of a voyeur. Then we remembered that Nick Park’s a very keen bird spotter.

Mark: He had a great sense of humour about it.

Nick-ParkAnimation gives you more free rein than in reality, but was there anything you wanted to do that you couldn’t achieve?

Richard: The story went through lots of iterations, but it was quite meticulously-planned so we knew what we’d be doing…

Mark: There’s a little bit of begging and bartering that goes on. Obviously we’ve got a production crew working to tight deadlines. So sometimes when we’d want to do a shot at the end, maybe we weren’t quite happy with it, or if we wanted to see more characters… to be fair, what’s great about the Aardman team is that they’ve done it for so long they can accommodate that. It was very rare you’d get told “no”! A bit of chin stroking sometimes, a bit of “hmm”. But they always try to facilitate the directors.

Richard: What was interesting with the city was that the size of the sets, and the size of the shots, were kind of prescribed by the physical size of the space. We were in this crazy warehouse down on the outskirts of Bristol, where the production is done. And sometimes the camera would hit the ceiling! That’s as far as it goes. It’s like, you want to get a nice, big, swooping top shot and we literally hit the sky, so that’s it. But that’s okay, you kind of work into that…

Why do you prefer working with stop motion animation? I like it, but it seems quite laborious compared to CGI…

Richard: I don’t know whether it is any more laborious. I think you have to go through all the same processes as other forms of animation. I just love the way it feels, the way you engage with it. It’s visceral, you go down on the sets, you’ve got real sets, real props, real lighting cameramen up ladders… it’s great, like doing live action very slowly. I think the audience likes to know that the things are real. The exhibitions are very popular as well, we’ve got one in France at the moment and it’s very successful. People love to see that stuff.

Mark: I think the audience gets more out of that. I mean, we love CGI, don’t get us wrong, you can press a button and have huge crowds and great big swooping shots of giant cities and everything, and you can’t do that in stop-motion, you’ve got to think about it another way. But that can also be quite empowering!

What are the pair of you working on next? Shaun The Sheep was a spin off from Wallace & Gromit – are there any characters in the movie you think could have their own spin off…?

Richard: Slip the dog has proved to be very popular…

Mark: It would be nice to do some more Shaun The Sheeps, if possible.

Richard: There could well be a sequel. We’re planning for it just in case! The signs are good, I’m currently working on a Shaun The Sheep half hour, called The Farmer’s Llamas, which I’m overseeing. That’s going to be out at Christmas and will be fairly global…

Mark: You may know Nick Park’s working on a new movie. I think he’s unveiling it at Cannes.

This turned out to be Early Man, a prehistoric tale and another collaboration with StudioCanal. Here’s the teaser poster…

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This interview appeared on The Hollywood News.