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Batman: The Long Halloween (2021 Animated Film)

Did you read The Long Halloween and wished there was a movie adaptation of it other than the Dark Knight trilogy taking inspiration from it? You’re in luck! Earlier this year, a two-part adaptation of this critically acclaimed graphic novel was released.

I went into the plot pretty well in-depth in my 2019 post linked above, so here’s a quick recap:

Johnny Viti, nephew to Gotham mob boss Carmine Falcone, is murdered on Halloween night. A Jack-o-Lantern is placed next to his body. He had been ready to testify against Falcone in court and provide evidence of his wrongdoings, so in Commissioner James Gordon’s mind, this can’t be a coincidence. He, District Attorney Harvey Dent, and vigilante Batman make a pact to take down the mob by whatever means necessary – within the law. However, as the year (“The Long Halloween” as it’s called by Gothamites) goes on, and the murderer they dub “Holiday” kills more and more people inside the case on each major holiday, the three men begin to suspect one another. Can they keep the promise they made to each other a year ago – if they’re even the same men anymore?

The movie did well by being split into two parts. The pacing wouldn’t have felt right if it had been condensed into one. This is a slow-simmering noir story and it only benefited from the extra run time.

This also allowed extra story elements to be incorporated. For example, there is more background to Harvey and Gilda’s relationship, a bit more insight into Jim’s home life, and more significantly, more screen time devoted to Batman and Catwoman. Some of these extra elements are more successful than others. What was supposed to be Catwoman’s motivation and then big character development moment was not well-executed and didn’t go anywhere, it was just… dropped. Perhaps this was supposed to add to her mystery, but it could have been omitted from the movie and it wouldn’t have been missed. We would have accepted at face value that she was acting in her own self-interest as is usual.

The voice acting was well-done. Jensen Ackles as Batman is a treat, as he previously voiced Jason Todd in 2010’s Batman: Under the Red Hood. Josh Duhamel’s Harvey Dent/Two-Face was by turns vulnerable, brash, and intimidating. Billy Burke as a tired dad Commissioner Gordon was a great choice as well. Troy Baker as Joker almost had Husband and I fooled thinking it was Mark Hamill! The late Naya Rivera’s Catwoman was smooth and sultry. There truly was not a bad performance to be heard.

This movie sees a welcome departure from what’s become the standard DC animated movie style. It looked and felt as if the creators and animators made an effort to match the illustration style of the graphic novel. This is most obvious in the title cards, which were beautiful! The backgrounds literally look like they were painted on watercolor paper; the texture is distinctive. The characters are modeled after their comic counterparts, and therefore are less sharp and angular than most DC animated movies. The coloring is darker and less stylish than in the book, however, and the stark shading that made the book work so well is also missing (to the animator’s credit, this may have been hard to pull off). While it doesn’t totally get away from the “standard” DC animated style, it does veer off in another, more stylistic direction, to pay homage to the source material. I hope future animated features do this, too!

If you’re looking for something to watch this Halloween weekend, look no further! Both parts are available to stream on HBO Max and to buy on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Kathleen

Palmer, Chris (director). Batman: The Long Halloween. 2021.

Kiki’s Delivery Service

It’s been quite a summer for me. I hit a milestone birthday, got promoted at my part-time job and am now down to 1 (ONE!) full-time job, and just this past weekend: moved into my husband’s and mine first house.

My body still aches from moving – I’m not as young as I used to be 😉 Not being able to go to the gym for over a year couldn’t have helped either. So this morning instead of unpacking more I had a feeling I needed to watch a Ghibli movie. Howl’s Moving Castle is my favorite, but – it didn’t seem right. Kiki was calling my name for some reason. So I curled up on the couch and clicked “Play.”

Kiki is a witch who has been waiting for the perfect night to leave home. As is tradition, 13-year-old witches leave their homes for a year to begin their training. On a clear midnight under a full moon, Kiki and her black cat Jiji take off on her mother’s broom and are drawn to a city on the southern coast near the sea. While searching for a place to live, they witness a baker attempting to give back a pacifier one of her customers dropped. Kiki offers to deliver it on her broomstick, and the rest, as they say, is history. The baker, Osono, gives Kiki her attic room and use of her phone for Kiki’s new flying delivery service in exchange for occasional help around the bakery. As time goes on, Kiki and Jiji gain customers, make deliveries, and find friends in aviation enthusiast Tombo and painter Ursula. After a delivery gone wrong, Kiki becomes depressed and slowly begins to lose her powers: flight and talking to Jiji. Will she be able to recover them and resume deliveries?

I see why I was drawn to this movie: it was just what I needed. Kiki is finding her independence and becoming self-reliant, but she also needs help occasionally from her loved ones. When she starts to lose her powers, she needs to look inside herself and find her inspiration again. After her introspective period, she doesn’t go back to exactly how she was before. She still can’t talk to Jiji, but she adjusts and accepts it. In her letter to her parents, she admits that while she’s having a great time and finding her way, she still gets homesick. By the end of the movie, she has grown through her “artist’s block” (as it were) and learned to be vulnerable and ask for and accept help when needed and offered – while still maintaining her independence.

The animation – oh, the animation! – is just lovely. It has a painterly feel to it. There are multiple points throughout the movie where there is just a pause. A pause to take in the scenery, or the character standing still. These points taking place in Kiki’s attic room reminded me of Johannes Vermeer’s paintings, most of which he composed and worked on in his attic room in Delft. While the characters’ movements and expressions are buttery-smooth, the big draw of these films for me are the scenery and attention to detail of everyday life. You can smell the bread and pastries in Osono’s bakery. You can feel and smell the wind coming off the sunlit sea. I was astounded by the sound direction: the pattering of Jiji’s feet on a wood floor, Tombo’s voice being distorted through the propeller on his invention. The thing that makes Ghibli movies so successful and immersive is this high attention to detail.

Immersed I was, so immersed that I’m fully awake, fixed my tea, and am rolling up my sleeves (well, I would if I weren’t wearing a tank top) to get cracking on unpacking before my second first day at work tomorrow. Just like Kiki, I have found my inspiration and am ecstatic to be starting many new chapters of my life all at the same time.

Kathleen

Miyazaki, Hayao. Kiki’s Delivery Service. Original Japanese release 1989; English dub released 1997.

Wonder Woman 1984

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

In order for me to fully critique the movie, it’s easier to spoil it. The movie is still in theaters, and will be on HBO Max until January 25th, so there is still ample time to watch it even from home =)

A young Diana participates in a contest on Themyscira. Though she performs admirably for most of the race, she cheats to get to the end. Her Aunt Antiope pulls her out of the race, explaining that no good thing is worth getting dishonestly.

In the present day, it is 1984 in Washington, D.C. Diana works at the Smithsonian while moonlighting as Wonder Woman. A new coworker, Barbara Ann Minerva, is asked by the FBI to identify articles from a robbery. Diana has taken a liking to Barbara and offers her help (also, Diana was the one to stop the robbery, as Wonder Woman 😉 ). The two women become friends, but Barbara begins to grow jealous of Diana.

Businessman Maxwell Lord also takes an interest in Barbara, but for a different reason. He was behind the attempted robbery and is after one of the artifacts: the Dreamstone. It can grant one wish to anyone who holds it. It has unknowingly been used by both Diana and Barbara: one wish for more time with a loved one, and one wish for becoming like someone else. Maxwell Lord wishes to become the Dreamstone, so he can make everyone else’s dream’s come true – but at a terrible price. For as the wishes get granted, something gets taken away. In Diana’s case, Steve Trevor being back means the gradual loss of her powers. How can she let go and renounce her wish, when she finally has everything she ever wanted?

I’m sure you guys have been wondering for my take on this movie. I’ve been putting it off because… I didn’t like it. I was entertained enough to sit through it once. Don’t get me wrong. My expectations weren’t very high to begin with. I figured they wouldn’t be able to top the first movie, and I was right on that. I just wasn’t expecting it to be… that bad.

My biggest issues were with the length of the movie and the writing. It could easily have been 45 minutes shorter. WW84 suffers the Aquaman problem of wanting to use more villains in a single movie than they know what to do with. As Aquaman underutilized Black Manta, his arch nemesis, in favor of Orm; WW84 did the same thing with underutilizing Cheetah, her arch nemesis, in favor of Maxwell Lord.

And, oooh boy, did they mess up with Cheetah. It felt as if they tried to do the New 52 route, where Diana and Barbara were close before Barbara’s transformation. But it was so rushed, so little time dedicated to building their relationship, to where it might as well not have been in the movie at all. I was SO hoping and looking forward to seeing Diana build a female friendship equivalent to Carol Danvers’ relationship with Maria Rambeau in Captain Marvel (Nancy’s review and my comparison of CM and WW). These relationships are so, SO important and I was hoping there would be more of it in the DCEU after CM’s release. Instead, we got one work scene, one dinner scene, one gross scene of a drunk guy trying to assault Barbara, wherein Diana saves her and leading Barbara to make her fatal wish – and that was it. That was the only time dedicated to their relationship. At that point they may has well plopped Cheetah into the movie as an arch nemesis, with no context, as was the case with some villain introductions over comic book history.

Speaking of gross guys… this movie is full of them. And full of the gross, blatant misogyny that made Captain Marvel so insufferable for me to sit through. I get that it was the ’80s, and maybe it is a somewhat realistic representation of what women went through at the time, but I was totally surprised at the lack of subtlety from the first movie to this one. The microaggressions that were so effective in the first movie are totally missing here, in favor of the insultingly obvious “jokes,” unwanted advances, and the like. “They Captain Marvel‘d it,” I said to my husband later: an inside joke with us that means a complete and total lack of subtlety.

I don’t know that much about Maxwell Lord in the comic book lore, and I’m not opposed to the character making an appearance in the DCEU, but I do believe that the movie focused way too much on him, to Cheetah’s detriment. To me, he felt like the epitome of the ’80s sleazeball character, though I believe he’s supposed to be a Lex Luthor equivalent. I would have liked to see less of him – perhaps him effectively stealing the stone back, but not much more than that – in favor of a more developed relationship between Diana and Barbara, and a more gradual transformation from woman to Cheetah, from friends to enemies. They still could have had their showdown in the end. Diana’s speech about truth and honesty would still have been effective had she just been talking to her friend instead of the whole world.

(My bias could be because I’m just not a fan of Pedro Pascal… but I think my point about the writing still stands)

The best part of the movie for me, hands down, was Steve and Diana’s role reversal. This time around, Steve is the naïve one, the fish out of water, and Diana is his mentor. Of course, Gal Gadot and Chris Pine were able to recreate their magical chemistry from the first movie. But that was about the only carryover. I did also appreciate that Steve was able to lead Diana to more of her powers developing, namely the ability to make an invisible jet, and the power of flight. The contest at the beginning was a welcome scene, as we never got a “traditional” contest of Amazons to see who would be worthy to take up the mantle. I was so excited to see the same young actress who played little Diana in the first movie to reprise her role!

I found no issue with the cinematography or editing. It was a nice movie to look at, but in a different way than the first. The look of these movies reflected the times they were set in. The first movie, set in World War I, was more toned down and monochromatic. There was a bit of a sepia tone overall. WW84 was brighter, more vibrant without being as garish as the decade is known for being. Unfortunately, due to all the issues I have with it, I found it to be all beauty and no substance.

Of course, my very favorite part was the mid-credits scene… if you know, you know 😉

I have seen people both love and hate this movie. I can see it both ways. Fans of Wonder Woman the character will always love anything Wonder Woman that comes out. Fans of Wonder Woman comics will always be critical.

I can see it both ways, and I find myself more in the middle. As a fan of Wonder Woman the character, I was entertained enough by the movie. It was nice to look at, the action sequences were adequate, and Hans Zimmer’s score was effective. The message of truth and honesty is much needed in these times. But as a fan of Wonder Woman comics, I was so shocked with the nosedive the quality of the writing took, and Cheetah being cheated out of adequate character development and screentime, that ultimately… this movie was a miss for me. I didn’t love it by any means, but neither do I hate it. I meant to watch it again before reviewing, but I honestly couldn’t bring myself to. Truly, you are not missing anything if you don’t get around to seeing it. I was hoping to see it in theaters later, perhaps a re-release when it’s safer, but now I don’t think I will.

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Kathleen

Jenkins, Patty. Wonder Woman 1984. 2020.

Kathleen’s Annual Spooky Musical Marathon

Well-known fact about me: Halloween is my favorite holiday. Little-known fact about me: I love musicals. Whether they are movies with songs or written for the theater, I love them all. I hum show tunes under my breath while doing every day tasks. I love to dress up, do my makeup, and go to the theater with my fiancé to see them on stage. The experience of live theater is simply unmatched. However, most of the time, tickets are too expensive, or we’re too busy – luckily for me, many musicals have been recorded or remade into movies 😉 I have an annual viewing of these musicals every Halloween:

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  • Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas/Corpse Bride

I mean, come on! You can’t have a spooky musical marathon without a little Tim Burton animation 😉 Of the two, I personally favor Corpse Bride, in which Victor accidentally marries himself to a corpse named Emily while practicing his vows for his arranged marriage to a girl named Victoria. The muted color palette of the land of the living versus the color of the land of the dead challenges your expectations; you’d probably assume it would be the other way around! The three main characters’ struggle to reconcile their misunderstanding and make the most of a bad situation is inspiring to me. While Nightmare is a classic, it just doesn’t do too much for me. I find the Nightmare-inspired levels in Kingdom Hearts more fun than the actual movie… however, Zero is just the cutest lil ghost puppy and I love him.

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  • Jim Henson’s Labyrinth

This cult classic starring the late David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly is a new addition to this year’s rotation. In a moment of frustration, the imaginative Sarah wishes the Goblin King would take her baby stepbrother, Toby, away. To her astonishment, the Goblin King shows up and abducts Toby. Sarah must navigate his realm, where nothing is as it seems, and outwit the master trickster himself to save her baby brother. The world building is whimsical and dark. All of Jim Henson’s creatures are crafted beautifully. And, of course, who doesn’t enjoy Bowie’s music?

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  • The Phantom of the Opera

This classic Beauty and the Beast type story takes place in Paris in 1881, where we see the titular Phantom’s obsession with chorus girl Christine Daaé unfold. For her part, Christine is caught between her fascination with, physical attraction to, and desire to save the Phantom, but also her love of her childhood friend and betrothed, Raoul. Joel Schumacher’s rendition is beautifully rendered in a gothic style. While not particularly “scary” in the traditional sense, it’s frightening to see the lengths that an obsessed man will go to win the heart of a woman, and frightening how the Phantom is cast as a tragic figure more often than a creepy one… But if it’s Gerard Butler, it’s okay, right??? /sarcasm

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  • Repo! The Genetic Opera

I was introduced to this movie by a high school friend, and was instantly fascinated. In a not-so-distant future, a corporation called GeneCo offers transplants to the population of a world that’s suffered from an epidemic of organ failure. There is a price to their services, however. If a patient fails to pay, the Repo Man will hunt them down and take the organ back by any means necessary. Science fiction, horror, black humor, drama, and tragedy are blended here in a catchy rock opera format. You are drawn into the world and not let go until the end, when you sit back and ruminate upon it some more.

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  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

This Stephen Sondheim production based on London’s urban legend is my favorite musical. I’ve seen the Tim Burton movie, and a YouTube upload of the original 1982 run with Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury, dozens of times. I’ve seen two different live productions: one with a boy not worth mentioning during my college years, and one with my fiancé just a few years ago. That last production was easily the best I’ve ever seen.

Now, you might be thinking. Why the heck is THIS your favorite musical, Kathleen? It’s about a couple of crazy cats who kill people and bake them into pies! Well, yes, but also no. It’s the allegory that really makes it my favorite. The entire story is a metaphor for the way society “eats,” or takes advantage of, the lowly, the disadvantaged, and the castoffs. It’s why the climax of the story is so satisfying, when one of those castoffs finally gets his comeuppance against the high society person who wronged him.

… Or something =P

Any of these musicals your favorites, too? Any more spooky ones to add to the list for next Halloween? ;D

– Kathleen

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