Stephen reviews: All Star Superman (2011)

1699114Starring James Denton, Christina Hendricks, Anthony Lapaglia, Edward Asner, Alexis Denisof, Steve Blum, John DiMaggio, Robin Atkin Downes, Michael Gough, Matthew Gray Gubler

Directed by Sam Liu


Another comic book adaptation, All Star Superman also carries over the visual style of its original artists, this time Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant. The look isn’t as striking as Public Enemies, but it’s still noticeable. They improved the animation a bit, but not so much the CG. This give and take makes it balance out about the same.

The film is a throwback to the olden days of comic books. All the crazy plot devices from comic’s Golden Age are brought back without shame, and that’s exactly how you’ll need to take this film. It’s full of harebrained events like an army of reptile monsters from the center of the Earth, Superman’s house key which was carved from a dwarf star and weighs half a million tons, or the audio book reader that Lex Luthor uses to dig a tunnel out of prison by reciting literature at incredibly high-pitched frequencies. Anyone who loves the good ol’ days of comic books will find tons to love about this film.

If this kind of implausible campy fun makes your eyes roll, however, then you aren’t going to enjoy this much. But I say to those people: Superman is an alien who conveniently looks exactly like a human and gains incredible superpowers from sunbathing. How can you whine about having a serious storyline when his entire concept is absurd? This film imagines the wild excesses of the Golden Age as half homage, half modernization, half philosophical musing, and a hefty dollop of parody. Nowhere outside of an anthology of old comic books will you find so many improbable plot devices in one spot than here.

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Batman & Robin (1997)

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, John Glover, Elle Macpherson, Vivica A. Fox, Vendela Kirsebom, Elizabeth Sanders, Jeep Swenson

Directed by Joel Schumacher

Expectations: High, but also incredibly low. I’ve been looking forward to watching this one a lot.

On the general scale:

On the B-Movie scale:


As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate different things. Philosophy, screaming into a pillow, and shitty movies all spring to mind initially, and while I’d love to say that Batman & Robin brings all three of these pastimes together, alas it only touches on the final entry. So yes, Batman & Robin is a shitty movie, let’s just get that out of the way. You agree, I agree, we all agree… but what I’m here to tell you today is that Batman & Robin rises above its inherent shittiness to create a very over-the-top, very comic book film. Looking back on this initial series of Batman films, it’s clear they are simply big-budget versions of the campy Adam West TV show, and this is never more clear than in Batman & Robin.

Where this quality is somewhat subdued or obscured in previous Batman films (especially Burton’s), Batman & Robin presents itself immediately as the trashy film it knows itself to be. Most other shitty movies would make you sit through 90 minutes of mediocre, trying plot until you get to that realization, so you should only be blaming yourself for your bad Batman & Robin experiences. Anyway, it opens with a “suiting up” montage complete with close-ups of Bat-Asses and Bat-Crotches, and then proceeds into a lengthy intro battle with Mr. Freeze where our caped crusaders eventually hit buttons on their utility belts that make ice skating blades pop out of their boots, which of course leads to Robin playing hockey with Freeze’s minions. The action quickly moves into space (yes, space, as in no one can hear you scream) and we’re treated to a very James Bond style intro complete with Batman & Robin surfing down from space on the exploded doors of the space pod’s escape hatches. After a scene like that, how can anyone but a 12-year-old boy take this shit seriously? Yet there are numerous serious reviews of this film floating around. Lighten up, punks, this one is directed strictly at the fun-lovers, just like the Batman of yore.

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Batman Forever (1995)

Starring Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Drew Barrymore, Debi Mazar, Elizabeth Sanders, Rene Auberjonois

Directed by Joel Schumacher

Expectations: High, but guarded. I was all about this shit in the 90s, but times have changed.


If I went into re-watching Tim Burton’s 1989 version of Batman with trepidation, then I pushed play on Batman Forever with abject terror. I was thoroughly obsessed with this film from the moment I saw it in the theater until a few years later. I bought the VHS the day it came out and watched it whenever I could get the chance. It had dropped during my (and the world’s) love affair with Jim Carrey, so how could I not love it? Anyway, that kind of love doesn’t generally translate well to adulthood, but I’m here to tell you that Batman Forever holds up admirably, for me anyway. It appealed to the wild sense of fun that I love to see films embrace, and while it definitely treads in over-the-top territory, it’s a sugary sweet, neon-tinged version of over-the-top that goes down just right.

After the debacle that was the story of Batman Returns, the general framework of Batman returns and provides us with something of a tried and true formula, but turned up a notch at every available opportunity. Now instead of the hot blonde seducing Bruce Wayne, she’s falling for both Wayne and Batman, creating something of a love triangle that mindfucks Bruce into rethinking his life. Two-Face is creating a menace in Gotham (no word on if he was also drinking his juice in the hood), and Edward Nygma quickly turns insane and starts dropping riddles after a failed conversation with his idol Bruce Wayne. The game is afoot, and all that…

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Batman Returns (1992)

Starring Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Michael Murphy, Cristi Conaway, Andrew Bryniarski, Pat Hingle, Vincent Schiavelli, Steve Witting, Jan Hooks

Directed by Tim Burton

Expectations: Moderate. The last time I saw this, it wasn’t all that hot.


Batman Returns is proof positive that bigger is not always better. I’m sure there are people out there that thoroughly enjoy this one, but I found it overlong, stupid and without much of the charm of the original. There’s a lot of potential here for a good Batman movie, but therein lies my biggest problem with Batman Returns: it’s not a Batman movie, it’s a Penguin movie. If they wanted to title it correctly they’d have gone with something like Penguin Begins or The Dark Penguin Rises, or perhaps they could have gone completely obvious and went with Penguin and Catwoman.

Batman Returns opens with Paul Reubens and his wife, disgruntled with their flipper-handed infant. They decide to throw him off a bridge, thus giving rise to the most annoying Batman villain ever to make it on-screen. I’ve never been a Penguin fan, and this fucking movie isn’t doing him any favors. There’s also the Catwoman’s origin as a sub-plot and Batman’s literally just along for the ride. Michael Keaton probably had no more than twenty lines in the entire movie… give or take a few.

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Batman (1989)

Starring Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance, Jerry Hall, Tracey Walter, Lee Wallace, William Hootkins

Directed by Tim Burton

Expectations: High. This was THE movie when I was a kid.


Like Alien, Tim Burton’s Batman is a film I saw a lot as a kid. I will be unable to truly critique it objectively, but I’ll do my best to make the review something more than an adult reminiscing about his faded childhood years. I haven’t seen this one in many years, as I’ve always been somewhat afraid to do so, fearing that its ability to completely enthrall me would be lost. This is definitely not the case, though, as Batman continues to be a solid piece of superhero cinema. This isn’t the gritty world of Christopher Nolan, nor is it the wholly comic style of Adam West’s era, instead it is something of a middle-ground between them both. It works like a charm, and still remains one of film’s best examples of the superhero genre. Superman may have kicked off the genre in earnest, but Batman took that shit to the next level. I was a tender 8-year-old boy when I walked into the local cinema to view Batman for the first time, and I emerged with a new outlook on the world. The comics that I loved so dearly were up on the big screen; it was a glorious thing to watch two great loves of mine join forces. Tim Burton’s Batman has its share of flaws and missed opportunities, but it was the perfect film of my youth.

Watching the film today, I instantly noticed what was so great — and refreshing — about Batman. Where every first film in a series nowadays spends most of its time devoted to the character’s origin story, Batman just jumps into Batman being Batman right from the first scene. As Vicki Vale becomes more interested in Batman and Bruce Wayne, she eventually explores his past and some of the moments that made Wayne become Batman are revealed. Burton doesn’t spend too much time on these; Batman’s origin is nothing more than another of the film’s running sub-plots to be explored in the down moments. If only another superhero movie would have the balls to do something like this. As I write this the newest Spider-Man film has just been released. We’ve had three Spider-Man movies over the course of the last 10 years or so, not to mention 50 years of comics and general mainstream awareness of the character. But yet we are still faced with a Spider-Man movie that insists on re-telling the origin story. This is a big reason why I don’t care to see it in the slightest. Maybe I’ll come around to the sequel after all the bullshit is done.

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Dracula (1958)

Dracula (1958)
AKA Horror of Dracula

Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh, Olga Dickie, John Van Eyssen, Valerie Gaunt, Janina Faye, Barbara Archer

Directed by Terence Fisher

Expectations: High. Love Dracula, loved the first Hammer movie I saw.


Based on the success of The Curse of Frankenstein, Hammer decided to make more movies in a similar vein and Dracula was next in line. It seems like a natural fit for the studio, with intense characters and gothic visuals bursting forth from the source material. While I don’t think it’s as good of a film as The Curse of Frankenstein was, Hammer’s Dracula (Horror of Dracula in America) is an engrossing, enjoyable slice of celluloid cake. As with all of these standard horror monsters, the stories are all part of our culture. From a young age, we teach our children about vampires and their weakness to garlic and sunlight. All of these vampire bullet points show themselves here, but what makes Dracula interesting is the slightly varied take on the events of Bram Stoker’s classic novel and the wonderful performances from the entire cast, just like in The Curse of Frankenstein.

Peter Cushing is absolutely phenomenal as Dr. Van Helsing, playing the cool, collected vampire hunter with an ease rarely seen on-screen. He’s all hero here, tracking Dracula’s movements and staking vampire hearts. The difference in the character from Baron Frankenstein, and Cushing’s ability to make Van Helsing his own, shows just how good of an actor he is. Perhaps this shouldn’t be worth mentioning, but in this day and age when we have people like Tom Cruise and Will Smith that literally bring the exact same style and cadence to nearly every role they are given, I think it warrants a quick aside. And let’s not forget Christopher Lee as Dracula! Lee played Frankenstein’s monster as well, and his ability to inhabit both characters so flawlessly is impressive. After seeing Dracula, it’s clear to me that the success of Hammer Studios wasn’t simply due to the filmmaking or the enhanced violence for the time. It is thanks in large part to the wonderful work of their cast, of which Cushing and Lee were the stalwart anchors.

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