Posts Tagged Comics




DICK TRACY – (1990)

Director: Warren Beatty
Starring: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Madonna
Screenplay by: Jim Cash, Jack Epp Jr.

It takes a real badass to wear bright colors in public and get away with it. Steve Harvey can do it. Pimps can do it. But the original ass-kicking, gangsta-punching detective, Dick Tracy, rocked the yellow trenchcoat way before it was (ironically) cool. Chester Gould debuted this comic back in 1931, and it’s still referenced to this day. Dick was a symbol of good in a world of corruption and grotesque criminals whose crimes matched, albeit metaphorically, the deformities of their physical appearance.

Dick Tracy also introduced a high level of violence in his comics, among other unique features, such as actual investigations, forensic discoveries, serious dramatic relationships, and a rich backstory of character developments. Still running till this day in certain newspapers, the franchise reached a pinnacle of sorts with the release of this film during the first wave of comic book movies in the earlier 90s—back when campy was considered the only way to produce them (see Batman, Phantasm, The Shadow, The Rocketeer, etc.)

NOSTALGIC LENS: I’m kinda excited. I’m entering the list of films that I hardly remember, so I’m pretty much watching this for the first time. All I remember is Flattop and Itchy (Itchy was my favorite, although I distinctly remember being disappointed that Itchy hardly scratched himself in the film), bright colors, and a sweet shootout in the end, where everyone is killed. Oh, yeah, this movie was pretty hardcore back then.

DOES IT HOLD UP: Somewhere in this movie is a good movie. It wants to be good. It needs to be good. I liked a lot of it truth be told. But there are some parts that are just god-awful and flat-out stupid. Imagine hanging out with some friends, and you’re having a great time, laughing and socializing, and one of them says the most fucked-up thing you’ll ever hear. Everyone stops laughing and the mood is completely killed. But at least you can start up the awesome again.

You can tell the kind of movie this will be in the first ten minutes (apologies to the horrid French over-dubbing—it’s the only version I could find):

After a vicious massacre by Flattop and Itchy, the mood is killed by a bizarre moment when Dick is called into the scene from an opera, glances at the damage, then returns to the opera. What!? And the line readings during Tess (Dick’s girlfriend) and Dick’s walk down the street are ridiculously campy. I mean, the movie is campy overall, but that scene is just way in outer space (which is ironic, since Dick Tracy did have an outer space story arc in the comics.)

Luckily (or strangely), things start to calm down as the movie progresses, and becomes at the very least a normal-campfest. Dick is caught between catching the bad guy (a hilarious Big Boy played by Al Pacino) at all costs, staying within the confines of the law, and his dual attraction between Tess and Breathless (and taking care of The Kid, AKA, Dick Tracy Jr.). The movie is much easier to swallow at this point, but there are still a lot of missteps.

I blame Beatty, clearly an inferior director trying to tackle something so monumental. He’s inconsistent in stylistic choices, and isn’t particularly keen on fixing the mistakes in the screenplay. He lets everything just play out whether it makes sense or not. The back-and-forth edits between Breathless’s singing and Dick’s action scenes aren’t good at all, although the montages with Breathless’s songs overdubbed are much better (the songs themselves are also very good, so that helps). Sound cues are just terribly done, as if they screwed up during shooting, and had to be dubbed in later by an incompetent sound studio (why is Dick and Tess so distinctly heard when the camera is 500 feet away from them? How much does it cost for an echo effect?)

The worse scene for me had to be when Dick saves someone from “the bath” (being covered in cement within a box.) He opens the box to save him. Cut to the bad guys coming after them. Cut back to Tracy—who for some reason put himself in the box. Tracy is now covered in cement and his gun doesn’t work! Well, fuck, you should have thought about that before you jumped to the wet cement. A creepy character called No-Face saves him, though.

So, the movie fails there, but succeeds in others. Big Boy tries to choreograph a Breathless dance number, which is hysterical, since he only slaps her, bumbles around and just gets in the way. Dick and The Kid have some rather poignant scenes together, and after that street scene, Dick and Tess have their moments too. The criminals are sufficiently monstrous, with Flattop stealing the show just by being a sadistic murderer.

Heck, when the plot gets going, it gets going pretty well, with a delightful number of setups and double-crosses, bribes and backstabbing, and even a sweet ass, well-done fame job of Tracy. But for all those great moments, as mentioned, some stuff just makes you cringe. I rolled my eyes pretty hard when Big Boy’s bugged room is exposed by—get this—a spilled cup of coffee. There’s also an odd scene where Dick has to climb down from a building, even though it’s rather unclear how the hell he got up there in the first place. And I don’t even want to discuss the inanity of the see-saw scene.

Hey. Hey. Hey, hey, hey. You know who was surprisingly good though? Madonna. I knooooooooooow. Actually, sarcasm aside, Madonna kind of showed a bit of decent acting chops in this film and A League of Their Own, and here, she’s the only one (aside from the other side characters) to understand the right tone of campiness needed, especially to play a femme fatale such as herself. Warren Beatty, on the other hand, never seems to quite get a grip on Dick. When he’s not just kicking ass and taking names, Dick kind of flounders, stutters around Tess, and pointlessly stares at pictures of cars and No-Face sketches. Although, to be fair, I think it’s mainly done to reflect how terrible Tracy is at desk jobs. I just didn’t think he’d be THAT terrible.

But he kicks crazy ass in the climax:

Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler.

IN A NUTSHELL: This movie is a roller coaster of awesome and fail, a back and forth inconsistent film filled with as many great moments as there are terrible ones. I didn’t like this more, nor did I hate it… I just strung along for the ride. Please, if there is any Dick Tracy fans out there, drop some knowledge on me and the rest of the comment board.

July 27th: FernGully: The Last Rainforest
August 3rd: An American Tail


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This shot is too epic for witty words.

This shot is too epic for witty words.


Director: Eric Radomski, Bruce W. Timm
Starring: Kevin Conroy, Dana Delany, Mark Hamill
Screenplay by: Alan Burnett

Tell all the modern Batman Begins and Dark Knight fans to go jump off a cliff, since us “real” fans knew how awesome Batman already was via “Batman: The Animated Series”. Christian Bale and (RIP) Heath Ledger are nothing compared to the Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill voices that showcased the airwaves for three seasons (1992-1995). And, truth be told, Conroy’s Batman voice is a hell of a lot better than that raspy, sandpaper noise that emerged from Bale’s mouth when he donned the black mask.

Of course, I’m exaggerating. I certainly enjoyed Batman Begins and The Dark Knight a whole heck of a lot. But the rich, deep, dark Batman everyone knows and loves now was fighting crime back in 1992 every afternoon. In retrospect, it certainly was an excellent show, but other than a few awards and a die-hard fan base, I don’t think anyone watched it. The series debuted Mask of the Phantasm to theaters in 1993, and pretty much broke even at the box office. Gee, I sure wonder how the show/movie would perform now…

NOSTALGIC LENS: I remember little about this movie. I vaguely remember the flashbacks and I do remember (SPOILERS) that the Joker was the one who managed to solve the identity of the Phantasm before Batman did. I was pretty young, so to be honest, I don’t remember much about the animated series other than being enamored by it, and Batman whipping some series ass. Also, I do remember hearing that the show was animated on black backgrounds to really bring out the dark aesthetic. The specifics, however, are gone from my memory.

DOES IT HOLD UP:  This movie is fantastic.

Now, granted, I fully understand why the movie failed at the box office. First, there was little to no marketing of the movie prior to its release. Secondly, the story engages in a lot of tropes and ideas that stem directly from the TV show. In other words, if you didn’t watch the series, you were a few steps behind. It’s not that the plot is too complicated; it’s more that the overall style doesn’t quite cater itself to the movie-going audience, especially those hard-bent on Tim Burton’s vision or delighted more in campier versions of the masked vigilante. To say nothing of those misguided souls that automatically peg animation as “kids fair”.

That final point is more significant than you may think, since the movie is rated PG.  A number of Netflix and IMDB reviews seem to be disappointed by this “kiddie” rating, expecting, perhaps, a PG-13. Well let’s just say in this day and age, it would have certainly received that rating—but the real wonder of the film is how it delves into such strength, drama, action, and danger without dropping curse words or ramping up the blood.

As a new masked vigilante starts killing mob bosses, Batman is wrongly implicated for their murders, which has the police on his tail. Meanwhile, former lover Andrea Beaumont returns to town, which causes Bruce Wayne to relive some painful memories of his past. It seems Wayne and Beaumont were lovers, which left Bruce stuck between giving in to the love of his life or the vow to his parents. (By the way, the exact nature of this vow—to fight for vengeance in terms of righteousness—is never quite explained. I can’t even say for sure it’s implied, either. So it’s bit tricky to expect audiences to know what exactly is troubling Wayne, unless, again, you’re keen on to the TV show.)

But even if you’re not aware of the details, the movie really drives in some serious emotions:

The story is intriguing enough that it works perfectly for the elements that the film tries to convey, even though it’s really just a prolonged episode of the TV show. But the conflicts are full blown (Batman’s escape from the police is a tour-de-force in animated action) and all the ideas we know now about the Batman oeuvre are present here. An early scene of pre-Batman-Wayne fighting criminals near a warehouse perfectly compliments a similar moment in Batman Begins. Regarding The Dark Knight’s theme of people going over the edge of sanity? Why, the Joker (Mark Hamill is on top of his GAME) here delights in the idea that Batman may have finally snapped, too!

Again, the story isn’t too complex, which involves some vague, past mob threats and a unique (if not too original) plot-twist. But for PG movie with a short running time (76 minutes), there’s a lot of subtle drama with dark edges and overtones, making this a great and satisfying way to kill an hour with absolutely no regrets. Also, the animation is gorgeous. Who ever said it doesn’t date well is severely mistaken.

IN A NUTSHELL: Excellent movie, despite a few minor flaws here and there (some specific voice readings are kinda awkward, and there seems to be a misstep, plot-wise or timing-wise, in a few early scenes). Otherwise, though, it works in so many ways, and the animation is quite good—Batman was doing hardcore art-deco before Bioshock made it COOL. Check out this dramatically powerful yet understated ending sequence:

I want a full, HD poster of the shot at 0:41.

June 15th: The Rescuers
June 22nd: The Rescuers Down Under


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Think Four Brothers, but with mutant turtles. Also, if it was good.

Think Four Brothers, but with mutant turtles. Also, if that movie was enjoyable.


Director: Steve Barron
Starring: Judith Hoag, Elias Kotaea
Screenplay by: Bobby Herbeck, Todd Langen

Say what you will about the 80s and early 90s animated television scene: it was pretty shameless (not as shameless as “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” though; think of it as a precursor). Completely geared to market the “cool” and “radical” onslaught of toys, video games, action figures, posters and merchandise to young, pubescent pre-teens, the excessive number of action-mutants that filled my Saturday morning and weekday afternoon was, to say the least, overwhelming. (Don’t believe me? Just look here and here.)

Still, for all the horrible shows (“Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Battletoads,” “Super Mario Bros.”), there were some gems (the OTHER “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Transformers,” “Biker Mice from Mars,” I guess). And no other one made more headway than “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” The show was a “kiddie-fied” version of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s darker-toned comic, but it was so popular that inevitably an independently-funded (!) movie was made. So, what of it?

NOSTALGIC LENS: I didn’t love TMNT. I liked the show a lot. I liked the characters a lot. I enjoyed “TMNT: The Arcade Game” and ADORED “TMNT: Turtles in Time” (that first NES game can lick my goddamn taint). But I never grew attached to the fandom behind it. So it’s really no surprise that I don’t remember too much about the movie, other than it being darker than the cartoon (in more ways than one) and being confused by the pacing for some reason. A couple of lines stick out in my mind (“Can we keep her?”), but other than that, nothing much else.

DOES IT HOLD UP:  I came to a disturbing realization while watching this movie. After dealing with the TMNT in some form or another over countless years, via gaming or toys or television or their various film exploits, it is only now that it finally dawned on me that there is one, incredible, astronomical concept central to the entire meaning behind this group that defines the essence of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

They’re goddamn teenagers.

Laugh all you want, but I seriously doubt most TMNT watchers realized that those four brothers were somewhere between the ages of fifteen and eighteen. That’s probably because 90s teenagers were saying “phat” and “psyche!” and not so much “gnarly” and “radical”. The slang was off by ten years. Which make the Ninja Turtles in some sort of timeless trap, forever clung to late 70s/early 80s vernacular, a realm completely foreign to a 90s kid like myself. (That being said—I wonder if it was done on purpose. Like, Laird and Eastman were aware of 80s-ooze-born mutant turtles would be forever tarnished by their wacky, out-of-date terminology. It would be damn clever of them.)

Color me surprised, then, when I realized that a lot of this film comments on teenage angst and attitudes, the alienated youth of the early 90s, and the discordance between parent and their adolescent offspring. Of course, it’s simplistic, exaggerated, and over the top. Check out the beginning of this scene:


Even in its obvious lameness, there’s a sense of understanding, or an attempt to understand, the lost, complex teenage mind, and the ease to which frustrated teenagers can fall into the wrong and dangerous crowd. In an alternate world, this could be a decent critique on the influence of the gang-mentality. But this is all a washed in the days of “Say No to Drugs” and “Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the president?” (Believe me, I am.). Also, we just want to see some goddamn turtles kicking some ass.

And we get that. Many long, proactive scenes of the four brothers whipping some Foot Clan butt fill this movie, with some rather impressive moves for people stuck in animatronic rubber suits. (Props to the Jim Henson crew, but you can clearly see where the mechanical head meets the neck.) These fight sequences don’t date too well, though. After seeing the one hundred Agent Smith fight in Matrix: Reloaded, the one hundred Foot Clan fight just falters in Thug Cliché #41; that is, at most only two clan members can fight the turtles at anytime.

The turtles themselves are just as young as the teenagers in the clip, and just as lost. When Splinter, their mentor, teacher, and “father,” is kidnapped, the ninja-experts appear at April’s doorstep like helpless orphans. Leo and Ralph bicker like brothers wont to do (but JESUS, is there any TMNT story that doesn’t involve emo-loner Ralph bitching with his leadership-lacking brother? Is Donny too much of a nerd to be given a story? Is Mikey regulated to comic relief forever?). But in a surprisingly well-shot and somewhat-artsy set of scenes, the brothers, after escaping a rush of Foot Soldiers with a wounded Ralph, heal, bond and grow up a little out at April’s farmhouse. (She and universal cutie Casey Jones get closer too, but no one really cares about that).

They return, fight some Shredder, save Splinter, and free ALL the teenage runaways in the process. It’s all way too cheesy to be given any more credit than what you get, and wraps up too nicely. But, again, in that alternate world theory, Danny’s plea to his father to just call him Dan at the end speaks volumes, so you can’t really fault the filmmakers for not trying to be at least a little deep. But, then again, between the hokey dialogue, mediocre plot, awkward fight scenes, and the COUNTLESS shots of product placement, maybe you can.

IN A NUTSHELL: What can I say? It is what it is. It’s kind of disappointing that for all the rich stuff the film does touch upon, it doesn’t really go anywhere with it. As for a movie about turtles kicking tail: well, like I said, its impressive, but you can get a lot more exciting stuff via the comics/cartoons/video games. This may have been the coolest thing ever in 1990, but nowadays, it’s hard not to be harsh on it. At least it’s fun for the most part, and tries to say something, unlike, say, Batman & Robin.

June 8th: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
June 15th: The Rescuers


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