BATMAN VS. TWO-FACE (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 12 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Action, some mild Language and Suggestive Content

Directed by: Rick Morales

Written by: Michael Jelenic & James Tucker

Voices of: Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, William Shatner, Steven Weber, Jim Ward, Thomas Lennon, Lynne Marie Stewart, Jeff Bergman, Wally Wingert, William Salyers & Sirena Irwin

Last year, DC failed to deliver any great live-action superhero films. BATMAN V SUPERMAN was a disappointing chore, SUICIDE SQUAD was dumb fun (though a lot of people really didn’t like it), and, even, the animated KILLING JOKE suffered from big problems. A pleasant surprise came in the form of BATMAN: RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS. While most Batman stories are brooding, dark and serious, CAPED CRUSADERS was a refreshingly fun return to the campy 60s BATMAN (complete with voices from the original cast). I was excited to discover a sequel recently hit home video, especially as it seems to serve as an appropriate swan song for the late Adam West. BATMAN VS TWO-FACE is a step beneath its predecessor, but remains goofy fun nonetheless.

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After an experimental machine (guaranteed to remove all of the evil from Gotham’s supervillains) backfires, district attorney Harvey Dent (voiced by William Shatner) is hideously disfigured and turns into the evil duality-obsessed Two-Face. Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) have seemingly endless fights with Two-Face, but their most recent one has ended with Harvey Dent as a seemingly changed man…complete with his old face back. However, Two-Face somehow seems to still be running rampant in Gotham. Could another villain be trying to terrorize and frame Harvey or might there be something stranger occurring? It’s up to the caped crusaders to save the day before Gotham is turned into a bunch of half-scarred lunatics.

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As BATMAN VS TWO-FACE began, it seems to be appropriately hearkening back to the 60s BATMAN series. From the cheesy opening credits to the sheer light-hearted mood, the film is silly entertainment that’s absolutely appropriate for the entire family. The fights are complete with on-screen words (like “Pow!” and “Whack!”) and it’s impossible to take any of this seriously, which is part of the point. However, there are annoying spots where that 60s style seems to be forgotten. A fight without the iconic on-screen words feels drastically out of place and seems to have been missing these funny bits as a massive oversight.

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As far as the voice cast is concerned, Adam West and Burt Ward are having a blast in their original roles of superhero and sidekick. Burt Ward is especially hilarious as Robin this time around, while West’s Batman attempts to gets a more dramatic story arc as he tries to salvage his friendship with Harvey Dent. Julie Newmar is fun as Catwoman and Lee Meriwether receives an amusing cameo. RENO 911’s Thomas Lennon is sadly underused in the role of Chief O’Hara, and Steven Weber gets in a few lines as Alfred.

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The voice cast’s newest addition is William Shatner in the dual-role of Harvey Dent and the gravely-sounding Two-Face. Shatner’s distinct vocal mannerisms are pretty easy to recognize, though that’s part of why his inclusion as Two-Face is so damn fun. The film also squeezes in lesser villains like Bookworm and King Tut, but doesn’t seem to have nearly as much fun with the Riddler, Joker, and Penguin this time around. Also, the presence of both Dr. Harleen Quinzel and Dr. Hugo Strange feel like afterthoughts.

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Though I have praised a lot about BATMAN VS TWO-FACE, this film falls noticeably short in the areas of writing and pacing. The first CAPED CRUSADERS was ridiculously fast paced, constantly upped its silliness, gleefully mocked the more serious incarnations of Batman, and was creative from beginning to end. It was difficult to predict exactly where that film’s plot was heading, which led to it being completely engaging. TWO-FACE’s storyline is far more predictable. There are also stretches where the pacing lags and the movie threatens to overstay its welcome, even though it runs at only 72 minutes in length.

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Even though BATMAN VS TWO-FACE is a noticeable step down from its refreshingly wacky predecessor, it contains goofy fun for those enjoy the sillier side of Batman. This film also seems like a good note for Adam West’s final film, because he kept doing what he loved up until his final days (being the “Light Knight” as opposed to the “Dark Knight”). It’s sad that we won’t see any more CAPED CRUSADER animated features (you simply can’t replace Adam West’s voice as Batman), but it’s great that both of these animated renditions of the 60s BATMAN series even exist. If you enjoyed the first CAPED CRUSADERS, you’ll likely enjoy this one too. Just lower your expectations a bit and you’ll have a good time!

Grade: B

MONSTER TRUCKS (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Action, Peril, brief Scary Images, and some Rude Humor

Directed by: Chris Wedge

Written by: Derek Connolly

Starring: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Amy Ryan, Rob Lowe, Danny Glover, Barry Pepper, Holt McCallany, Frank Whaley & Thomas Lennon

To be completely honest, I walked into MONSTER TRUCKS with low expectations. The trailer made this film look like the 2017 equivalent of NINE LIVES. This film had been juggling release dates since 2015, before finally landing in January (a dumping ground for movies). To boot, Paramount took a 115-million tax writedown on this film because they knew it was doomed to fail at the box office and the former studio president was fired for letting his 4-year-old son come up with the idea for this movie. This film also boasts an astonishingly high budget of 125 million dollars. With all of these warning signs, I was surprised that MONSTER TRUCKS wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be. It’s certainly not a good film, but it’s not necessarily bad either.

Tripp (Lucas Till) is a high school student working at a junkyard. His latest project is a beat-up truck and his everyday life is quite dull, but this changes when a monster escapes from a nearby fracking operation. This monster is the tentacled, butt-ugly Creech (short for Creature) and feeds on gasoline as a food source. Tripp and his nerdy love-interest Meredith (Jane Levy) take a liking to Creech and discover that the monster can actually hide/function as the inside of Lucas’s in-progress truck. With Creech serving as his vehicle, Tripp tries to save this friendly monster from the evil oil company that wants to kill its entire species.

MONSTER TRUCKS has a simple stupid idea at its core. What if monsters lived inside of trucks? Hence, the title of the film. It’s very evident that this idea came from the studio president’s 4-year-old child. Surprisingly though, the film gets a few solid points for having unexpectedly redeemable qualities. To me, the biggest standout of the cast is easily Frank Whaley as Tripp’s deadbeat dad. In most family films, there would likely be a heartwarming resolution as the neglectful father comes back into his son’s life. In MONSTER TRUCKS, Whaley’s deadbeat dad character remains a deadbeat dad and the son is heartbroken about that. There’s no fixing certain terrible parents and I feel that this is a valuable lesson for kids to learn. I certainly didn’t expect that message to come from MONSTER TRUCKS (of all movies), but I’ll take it.

This film also has some rather good effects during its scenes of vehicular destruction. There are a couple of legitimately good chase scenes as Tripp, Meredith and Creech have to “drive” fast and furiously away from the evil oil company employees on their tail. The final race against the clock is very fun to watch and sticks out as the film’s best sequence. Surprisingly, some of the script’s humor that earns a few legitimate laughs too. A punchline to a joke that is laid down far in advance is easily the most unexpectedly clever chuckle in the movie, while the wholesale destruction of a scummy car dealership is quite entertaining.

MONSTER TRUCKS’s momentum sputters in being a by-the-numbers E.T. knock-off. This is definitely better than other E.T. rip-offs (e.g. MAC AND ME), but it’s still not very good in deviating from that formula. There’s nary an unpredictable scene in this film, save for the refreshing deadbeat dad story arc and a heavy-handed environmental message. Another problem comes in Lucas Till and Jane Levy both being easily identifiable 20-somethings at a high school. I get that 20-something actors play teenagers all the time, but these two stick out more than you’d want in a kids movie. It’s especially noticeable when a dorky admirer of Till’s character is in the same scene and looks like he could almost be Till’s son.

While I didn’t have a major problem with the butt-ugly monsters in the trucks, it’s worth noting that these monsters aren’t cute in any way, shape or form. I know that Nickelodeon was likely planning on selling toys of these creatures, but they simply do not look visually pleasing. Creech and the two other main tentacled creatures appear to be dumb, gas-guzzling versions of Lovecraft monsters.

The evil oil company trying to capture/kill these monsters aren’t very established. Rob Lowe is supposedly the main big wig villain, but only appears on-screen for about five minutes of screen time. Lowe likely wanted quick cash and agreed to do one day of shooting. The proper antagonist is Holt McCallany as Lowe’s main henchman, who almost seems too menacing for a children’s film (e.g. threatening torture with a cattle prod and then later trying to straight-up murder a teenager). Also, Danny Glover and Thomas Lennon are in this movie…just because they felt like it?

MONSTER TRUCKS is far better than I ever imagined it would be. After seeing the laughably bad trailers and every conceivable red flag being raised, I went into this film with expectations of tearing it apart and walked out with a fairly middle-of-the-road experience. This film has surprisingly good qualities alongside the expectedly bad ones. There’s a refreshing message about sometimes not being able to fix the problem of a crappy parent, which I never expected to see from the likes of this film. The chase scenes are fun and some of the humor works. However, the film is a formulaic rip-off of E.T. (with trucks and tentacles) and most of the performances aren’t good. Overall, MONSTER TRUCKS is an okay film to stick on in front of young children to shut them up for almost two hours of quiet time. Nothing more, nothing less.

Grade: C

BATMAN: RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 18 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Action, Suggestive Material and Rude Humor

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Directed by: Rick Morales

Written by: Michael Jelenic & James Tucker

Voices of: Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, Jeff Bergman, William Salyers, Wally Wingert, Jim Ward, Steven Weber & Thomas Lennon

2016 has been a year of underwhelming Batman movies. BATMAN V SUPERMAN was disappointing for many reasons, despite Ben Affleck’s great portrayal of the Dark Knight. BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE was stellar for the last 40 minutes, but dragged beyond belief during its unnecessary first half. SUICIDE SQUAD was entertaining, but not nearly as good as it could/should have been. In the wake of three very dark stories in the DC Comics Universe, BATMAN: RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS comes as an unexpected surprise. This far more light-hearted take on Batman is a throwback to the campy 60’s TV series, complete with spinning logos, words that pop up during the fight scenes, bad puns, and three returning cast members vocally reprising their roles.

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After a long day of crime-fighting, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Adam West) and Dick Grayson/Robin (Burt Ward) are winding down with a TV show called “Gotham Palace.” However, their evening of mindless entertainment is cut short by four supervillains who are up to no good. Batman and Robin are off to take down alluring temptress Catwoman (Julie Newmar), the wise-cracking Joker (Jeff Bergman), the umbrella-wielding Penguin (William Salyers), and the intellectual Riddler (Wally Wingert). A TV show hijacking was just the beginning of an even more diabolical plan from the villainous team of baddies. Things become more complicated as a strange duplicating device comes into play, the dynamic duo take giant leaps into new frontiers, and Batman begins to experience a darker change in his usual do-gooder personality.

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When taken as a homage to the cheesy 60’s show, CAPED CRUSADERS is damn near perfect. This animated movie is filled with words popping up in front of the action, scene transitions through various spinning logos, the unforgettable BATMAN theme that will surely be stuck in your head for hours, and ridiculous plot developments. CAPED CRUSADERS expands upon the 60’s BATMAN world by going into territory that the show never could, mostly for lack of budget and special effects. In this way, the homage is a loving addition to that universe too and never once plays things purely for laughs. The straight-faced way in which the plot progresses, despite being extremely silly, makes for a ton of fun and plenty of comic relief without an obvious wink or nudge.

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Two actors and one actress from the original series return for this animated feature. Adam West sounds exactly like he did back in the day and seems to be having a blast reprising his iconic role as Batman. His jovial line delivery and upbeat attitude kept a grin plastered on my face for the entire film. Arguably even more impressive is 71-year-old Burt Ward, who doesn’t sound like he’s aged since the show, slips into cartoon tights as Robin the boy wonder. Julie Newmar (who starred in two seasons) returns as the diabolical dominatrix Catwoman!

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Though many cast members have passed away since the 60’s series ended, CAPED CRUSADERS brought in great substitute voice talent to capture the unique vocals of those supporting actors. Jim Ward stars as Commissioner Gordon, while Thomas Lennon (of RENO 911 fame) gets lots of laughs in his dead-on impersonation of over-the-top accented Chief O’Hara. William Salyers fills in for Burgess Meredith’s smarmy Penguin, while Wally Wingert turns his dark Riddler from the ARKHAM video games into a wacky imitation of the 60’s version. My only complaint is that Jeff Bergman sort of sounds like the 60’s Joker, but it feels like more effort could have been put into making him resemble Cesar Romero (complete with painted-over moustache).

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Unlike the hotly anticipated KILLING JOKE from earlier this year, RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS has vibrant, detailed animation that looks like it was made to be seen on the big screen. There isn’t a single wasted second of the 78-minute running time as the plot moves by quickly and you’ll never have a chance to get bored. I won’t spoil the ludicrous surprises and plot twists, but I will say that CAPED CRUSADERS is far smarter than I expected it to be. This light-hearted romp frequently pokes fun at the later, darker versions of BATMAN, while never going into full-blown spoof territory and paying respect to them the whole time.

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Adam West once referred to his version of The Dark Knight as the polar opposite “Bright Knight.” There’s a lot of accuracy to that statement and plenty of fun to be had with his campy iteration of the character. In a time where superhero movies are so concerned with keeping things serious, constructing cinematic universes, and paying more attention to doom and gloom over entertainment, RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS is a refreshing treat! Not every joke works and a little more could have been done with the Joker, but the rest of this film is spot-on in being hilarious, unexpectedly clever, and absolutely ridiculous. I never thought that this would be the best DC Comics movie of 2016, but the undeniably charming RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS certainly holds that position!

Grade: A-

THE TEN (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Strong Crude Sexual Content including Dialogue and Nudity, and for Language and some Drug Material

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Directed by: David Wain

Written by: David Wain & Ken Marino

Starring: Paul Rudd, Adam Brody, Winona Ryder, Gretchen Mol, Ken Marino, Oliver Platt, Liev Schreiber, Rob Corddry, Michael Ziegfeld & Jessica Alba

THE TEN flaunts a potentially fun concept. The writer/director of WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER and ROLE MODELS crafts an anthology centered around 10 comedic tales that cover the ten commandments. That sounds like a blast. David Wain is known for his weird and totally random sense of humor. His oddball jokes helped fuel a cult following in SUMMER and also supported a hilarious season of the Comedy Central’s bizarre short-lived STELLA. Unfortunately, David Wain isn’t at the top of his game in this messy anthology. THE TEN has some enjoyable segments, but succumbs to downright unfunny and lame skits that feel way too desperate. Paul Rudd serves as a narrator introducing each new commandment and his wooden delivery doesn’t do any favors to the film either. I’ll keep my descriptions of the segments/commandments vague (as some a couple of them last for two minutes tops), but will dive into my criticisms or praise to be found in each.

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THOU SHALT NOT WORSHIP NO GOD BEFORE ME: After falling out of an airplane, a man becomes an unexpected celebrity and this newfound fame consumes him. This short plays out like a joke with no punchline. Though there are two brief chuckles, the best I can say about this segment is that it’s very brief (five minutes). The first commandment feels like a throwaway joke that was stretched on for five minutes. D

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THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THE LORD’S NAME IN VAIN: A virginal librarian has a fling with a mysterious man in Mexico that produces an unexpected revelation. This short had some potential in its execution, but mostly plays out like a one-note joke. Again, it made me chuckle a couple of times, but that’s about all the reaction it got out of me. This is slightly worse than first segment, which doesn’t exactly kick off the comedic anthology on a strong note. D-

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THOU SHALT NOT MURDER: A doctor pulls a prank that has deadly consequences for his patient and dire ones for himself. This segment felt like a decent College Humor skit made its way into this film. I was amused, even if the laughs ranged on moronic. The short also sets up characters in two of the better segments down the line. B-

HONOR THY MOTHER AND THY FATHER: Two black children demand to know the identity of their biological father and their white mother goes to extreme lengths to give them the answer. This segment felt so awkward, stupid, and bad that it just stuck out like a sore thumb as easily the worst of the 10 shorts here. F

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THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR’S GOODS: A pompous asshole (played wonderfully by Liev Schreiber) competes with his neighbor after an impromptu CAT scan machine purchase. The situation spirals out of control. I was cracking up during multiple parts of this segment and wish that the rest of the commandments were as entertaining. Easily the best tale of the bunch. A-

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THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR’S WIFE: The doctor from the third segment finds himself in prison. He’s cell mates with an abusive rapist but falls in love another prisoner (Rob Corddry). Though I can see most folks not enjoying this segment, Rob Corddry usually brings up the quality of any project he’s in. The dead-pan seriousness that this “romance” plays out in is also quite funny. B-

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THOU SHALT NOT STEAL: The seventh commandment is very hit or miss. A woman (introduced in the first segment) falls in love with a ventriloquist dummy. The serious execution of this unconventional romance bring most of the successful jokes, but there are almost an equal number of misses. The sheer stupidity of the tale will turn people off, but I enjoyed it as a bit of a guilty pleasure. C+

THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS: A heroin addict asks about the origin of a special brand of heroin. This leads into an impromptu piece of animation that aims for shock value and forgets any laughs to be had. This really felt like the turning point in which the movie (which already wasn’t great by any means) decided to throw everything at the wall and see what stuck. Unfortunately, nothing stuck at all. F

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THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY: Paul Rudd, already acting as a lifeless narrator in the wraparound, gets him time to shine here and the writing doesn’t do him any favors. Rudd would go on to be hilarious in later efforts (he’s arguably the funniest part of KNOCKED UP), but there’s no effort put into this brief segment from either Rudd or Wain. F

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REMEMBER THE SABBATH AND KEEP IT HOLY: The tenth commandment centers a man who would rather be naked at home on a Sunday than at church with his family. His newfound nudity gains popularity among his friends. Though this final segment may have gotten a brief chuckle out of me, it feels like this was a potentially funny joke that might have made for a small scene in a narrative feature, but gets stretched out to an excruciatingly long 10 minutes. It’s an ever so slight improvement above the last two tales, but sends the overall jumbled anthology out on a sour note. D-

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THE TEN has a cool premise, but doesn’t fully utilize it. The only commandment that I out-and-out loved was “Coveting Thy Neighbor’s Goods” as the dark sense of humor and Schreiber delivered solid laughs. There are also three that range between are okay (Shalt Not Murder, Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife, and Shalt Not Steal). The rest of the stories feel like a simple jokes stretched to their unfunny breaking points or phoned in attempts at shock value. In the end, I can’t recommend THE TEN. I’m sure somebody’s already said this before, but Thou Shalt Not See This Movie!

Grade: D+

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