Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Nolan Watch: Dunkirk (2017)

These days, I'm not writing up every movie I've seen.  And I'm not going to write up this one.  But I'm suggesting you catch this one while it's still in theaters.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Great Andrea Romano, Voice Director for Animation, is Retiring

Like every other DC Comics nerd, I know Andrea Romano's name from watching my Batman, Superman and Justice league cartoons a little too closely.  And, of course, the extras on the DVD sets.

It seems she's hanging up her... headset?  microphone?  and passing off her duties as she heads into well-earned retirement.

It's hard to say how one measures the skill of a voice director for cartoons, but here's a sample of shows she's worked on:

  • Chip N' Dale Rescue Rangers
  • Duck Tales
  • Tiny Toon Adventures
  • Animaniacs
  • Batman: The Animated Series
  • Freakazoid
  • Superman
  • Batman Beyond
  • Static Shock
  • Justice League
  • Teen Titans
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold
  • Spongebob Squarepants
  • The Boondocks

and a whole lot more

I know the folks 10 or 15 years younger than me will disagree because they've got nostalgia on their side, but I couldn't ever figure out what was wrong with the acting in the Marvel cartoons of the 1990's (or, heck, today).  The voice acting always sounded rushed, like people just shouting lines into a mic.  But DC's work always sounded natural, like a radio show or movie, just animated.  Her characters were distinct, had their own cadences and personalities.

And when you think of shows like Animaniacs or Tiny Toons - those voices were so specific and as much a part of the characters as any cell animation - you can't really separate the two.  Hell, the Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister) still bounce around in my head in perfect pitch.

Yeah, that's because WB has a great stable of voice actors, but they've also been working under Romano for decades now.   She brought in name talent like Clancy Brown for Superman, and she found a fellow by the name of Kevin Conroy and made him "the" Batman for two or three generations of fans, no matter who was putting on the cowl in the feature films.

Back when I was still buying DVDs and BluRays of DC movies and series, I'd always jump immediately to the extras and hope they'd have an interview with Romano, who was casual but a total pro every time she was on camera.  Her feel for the characters and, really, how to work with actors was superb, and it played out in every story, in every series and movie and arc.  And even though she's not associated with Justice League Action - which all of you should be watching - the show's production carries so much of her stamp, such is her legacy at at WB Animation.

I'm sad she's retiring, because it means less of her work, but it's important to say a big thanks to Ms. Romano, who has been such a huge part of so many hours of entertainment we've all been able to enjoy, and who's amazing abilities elevated an artform that many thought of hokey kid stuff.

Here's to you, ma'am.

Sam Shepard Merges With the Infinite

Actor, Playwright, Director and pretty-cool-guy Sam Shepard has passed at the age of 73.  He had been dealing with ALS for some time.

Shepard appeared in one of my favorite films, The Right Stuff, as real-life hero and pilot Chuck Yeager.  It's one of those roles and performances I imprinted on at a young age, and I still marvel at each time I watch the movie.

He'll be missed.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Espionage Watch: Atomic Blonde (2017)

It didn't occur to me that smoking was something that would become something people forgot to know how to do, let alone show on film.  The early 00's saw the end of smoking in film and as an acceptable habit for white urban and suburban middle-classes as well as a sign of rebellion or cool in film and television.  So when smoking - something that makes total sense for your 1989-era spies to be doing - becomes something they don't look like they know how to do, and your movie can't quite figure out that drawing attention to smoking (unless you're David Lynch) is antithetical to cool, anyway, you become somehow less cool than had you never tried in the first place.

Somewhere in the plot-drenched Atomic Blonde (2017) there's a deeply smart movie fully capable of keeping an audience used to cookie-cutter plots on its toes.  This movie also features one of the more ground-breaking action sequences you'll see in any movie this summer, merging the seamless combat sequences of Marvel's Daredevil show with the manic life or death choreography of one of the better Jason Bourne films - and it may be worth the price of admission just for that set-piece alone.

Unfortunately, it's a movie that relies of the same @#$%ing MacGuffin of most spy/ espionage films of the past 20 years - someone has a list of all the covert agents and our hero has to get it back before blah blah blah - while also trying to lift from Le Carre's moral DMZ of Cold War Berlin, and maybe trying to riff on Bowie and other late 20th Century musician's leaning on Berlin as a sort of crucible of self.  But that is giving someone's sexy spy actioner more credit than it's due, at least in presentation rather than intention.

The end result is an overly long movie which seems to believe it's delivering on style while dropping the ball on what 1989 looked like, fails to develop any characters - up to and including our lead - and lets James McAvoy run around looking like a Brad Pitt character a decade early.  But don't worry - someone went to Spotify and filtered for "'80's" and applied period-specific pop songs with a Zack Snyder-esque penchant for making the song so on-the-nose you start thinking about the mechanics of how this movie got made.