Caught in Gorilla Grodd’s scientific machinations, the caped crusader (Koichi Yamadera/Roger Craig Smith), his extended support network and a collection of his rogues gallery find themselves transported through time and space to feudal Japan. Discovering that the Joker (Wataru Takagi/Tony Hale) has taken over the country, Batman must rally his allies and set things right, as well as finding a way home.
If you had asked me before watching Batman Ninja if I would ever get bored of watching Batman and the Joker fight, I would probably have said no. And boy would I have been wrong. The bluntly titled Batman Ninja is a one-trick pony – the unique setting – and when called upon to fill its amazingly long feeling 82 minutes it resorts to an endless rehash of the same fight over and over again, until you begin to wonder if even Heath Ledger’s version was a bit much.
As far as I am concerned, there is only one reason that a film like this exists, and that is so these well-known characters, somewhat drained dry in terms where you can take them in the conventional canon, can be dropped down somewhere new in terms of setting and, more importantly I would suspect, art style.
And that art style is interesting, spectacular even. Warner Bros Studios does a great job of planting Batman and his various hangers on in Japan, with that anime look, mixing in a few alternative designs here and there, like in a Joker-centric flashback sequence around the mid-point. Takashi Okazaki, the man behind the visuals of Afro Samurai, has crafted something altogether unique and experimental here, a strange yet pleasing mixture of CGI cel-shading and 2D backgrounds, meshing western design in the base characters with Japanese details.
But the plot is just not deep enough, which is bizarre considering how short the film is. We go from Batman vs Grodd to Batman vs Joker to Batman vs Grodd again to Batman vs everyone to Batman vs Joker again, with a very strange interlude in the middle where Joker and Harley go through a reformation of a sort, one that even hoodwinks Batman for plot convenience reasons.
There’s bits about an ancient society dedicated to helping Batman, cute animal sidekicks and Catwoman is around for the requisite flirting and meaningful looks, but at the end of day the point of any scene where fighting is not happening is to get to the part where the fight is happening. I was joking about Ledger before: how many times does Batman actually fight the Joker in that film? About 90% less than here, and guess which film is better off. Problems in the translation between versions may be partly responsible, but I have a feeling this film could have been translated flawlessly and it would still struggle to impress.
At least the fight scenes are…interesting? The steam-punkish megazord battles are so insane that you can’’t help but find them a tad endearing in a Kung Fury kind of way, a creative anomaly that calls to mind the sort of message The Lego Movie was trying to make about the boundless possibilities of pure creativity. But you still need to wrap it around something, otherwise it might as well be a demo reel. It’s memorable, for sure, but not for all the right reasons. Not recommended.
In 2015, Ireland voted overwhelmingly in favour of the 34th amendment to the Irish constitution, legalising same-sex marriage. The 34th tells the story of this referendum through the eyes of the people who got it put on the table, got it passed and were affected the most by it.
The passing of the SSM amendment remains, and will always remain, one of the greatest moments of popular democracy in the history of this planet: the first time that an electorate not only approved same-sex marriage, but did so in a landslide victory, rejecting an appalling opposition campaign based on falsehoods, fear and outdated, bigoted thinking. It’s past time that we got a documentary that aimed to examine the campaign and the people involved in it.
You want an outline of the struggle and The 34th gives you that. The criminalisation of homosexuality, the casual violence exhibited upon homosexuals, the legal battles to get basic recognition and human rights. It’s a painful and at times sickening process, as we are reminded that we are not all that far from a country where murder exhibited on “sodomites” was something a significant proportion of the population was perfectly happy with.
You want a look at the inside of the SSM campaign, which the film gives you, focusing on the divide between the Marriage Equality organisation and GLEN, with the later characterised as being largely satisfied with civil partnerships, and the subject of much scorn because of it. In truth, I felt some of the veiled and not so veiled criticism of GLEN and its memberships to be decidedly unpleasant, but there is a method to the madness: having spent so long seeking what they are aiming to get, those who seem happy to settle for less are automatically seen as the enemy. The 34th at least crafts an engaging narrative of this enmity, and how it later, logically, turned to a production cooperation.
You want to see the progression of the campaign, which at times was a vicious, hurtful affair. The 34th does not shy away from the prejudice, the lies and the sheer disgrace that was the “No” campaign who plumbed new depths in Irish political depravity in an effort to hoodwink the Irish public, but it is always through the eyes of those being targeted, many of whom, much to their discomfort, took a back seat when it came to the more public kind of campaigning.
And you want to see those people, the Katherine Zappone’s, the David Norris’, the Eoin Collins’ and everyone else, the ones who were obligated to ask the entire nation if they could have the right to get married. The interviews and talking head segments are all strung together quite well, and one can appreciate the extra attention given to Zappone, whose wife Ann Louise Gilligan lived to see the passing of the vote but passed soon after.
If there are problems, it may be simply a matter that the documentary does not have and does not seek any greater revelations or truly in-depth examination but doesn’t really need to discover them. Sensitive, moving and a great tribute to the very human story of the SSM campaign, this comes highly recommended.
They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead
In the swansong of his career, legendary actor and director Orson Welles finally got the chance to commence production on his dream project: an experimental dual film entitled The Other Side Of The Wind. From inception to filming, Welles’ vision ran into difficulties, and remained unfinished at the time of his death, with both director and film the subject of this documentary.
I could, of course, watch hours and hours about the life of Orson Welles (where is that mini-series HBO?). The man was simply fascinating, and his career ran the gauntlet from medium-defining success in Citizen Kane to car crash mortification in those now infamous wine ads. He personified a certain era of film and a certain type of creative mind, and that is to the forefront of They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (the title being a possible apocryphal quote from Welles, not that he would have minded the sentiment I’m sure), the Alan Cumming hosted affair working as a basic biography of Welles as well as an in-depth look at the near mythical The Other Side Of The Wind.
As a biographical affair, They’ll Love Me… crafts an interesting picture of Welles, obviously focusing on his 1940’s years in terms of both his apogee in Citizen Kane and his nadir with his studio disputes, that led to self-enforced exiles in Europe for large stretches of the following decades. Utterly dedicated to his own visions, Welles saw conspiracy and backstabbing everywhere when challenged on them, probably influenced by a harsh childhood which the documentary briefly touches upon. Some of the key influences on Welles’ later life all get some time, most notably Oja Kodar, who stars in one of The Other Side… more explicit scenes.
As a look at The Other Sid…, things are a bit iffier. The film was as experimental as they come, a look at an aging director making his last film interspersed with that last film, that Welles insisted was not autobiographical. It contained strange and somewhat unwholesome elements, produced sharp dispute between Welles and very close admirers (most notably Peter Bogdanovich, who features prominently) and the Iranian aspects to its financing, halted after the revolution in Tehran, could be a documentary all on its own.
The two sides of the coin produce an interesting character portrait of Welles, obsessed with getting back into a higher level of film-making he felt he had never been too since Citizen Kane, but whose personality and production choices continually prevented him from doing so. His fallings out with certain people, his financial issues and, yes, his weight gain and regrettable dependence on television endorsements, all paint a picture of someone losing control of his life. They’ll Love Me… pulls few punches with Welles, though one suspects the creators might be a touch too reverential when it comes to the film itself, depicted solidly throughout as a lost master-piece, though it seems from a cursory glance that it could be an easily confusing mess.
Welles died at a relatively low point, with one of his last credits being a voice in Transformers: The Movie, which he privately mocked, and with his last attempt at grabbing the film spotlight unfinished. And yet, here we are, still talking about him, and with Netflix providing a home for this final opus, to probably be seen by far more people than it would have been if released in the 70’s or 80’s. This documentary does credit to the man and his vision and will be enjoyable to any film aficionado. Recommended.
(All images are copyright of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, COCO Television, and Netflix).