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Uniquely Geekly Reader 8-5-13






Justice League the Flashpoint Paradox (DC/WB Animation, available on DVD, Blu-Ray or VOD)- I think that I speak for more than just myself when I state a great admiration for the Bruce Timm/ Paul Dini period of WB animation, especially their work on the Batman, Superman and Justice League animated series and, starting with Superman/Doomsday, full length animated direct-to-DVD features adapting some of the biggest and best stories in the DC Universe, including The New Frontier, The Dark Knight Returns and Batman Year One.


And in line with the big changes in the DC Comics with the somewhat recent launch of their New 52, DC Animation too is getting an overhaul. James Tucker now heads the animation division, not Bruce Timm. The house style for the various DC animated projects is gone in favor of a more anime-influenced look. The voice cast (with a few notable exceptions) has been changed  from what we had grown accustomed to. And, most tellingly, the DC Animation division announced that, going forward,  they will only adapt stories set in the DCnU, with this feature, the Flashpoint Paradox, kicking off that policy, much the same way the Flashpoint event in DC Comics launched their new status quo. This is a new approach, a new look and most importantly a new universe to portray.


Justice League: the Flashpoint Paradox tells much the same story as its comic book source material: The Flash is stranded in an alternate timeline where Earth is torn apart by a war between the Atlanteans lead by Aquaman and the Amazons lead by Wonder Woman with the human race caught in the crossfire, and his only ally is the Batman of this world, Dr. Thomas Wayne. Its a classic timeline-gone-wrong story with a pretty interesting if on-the-edge-of-armageddon world. We get a lot of cool Flash moments (hey,  whoever is doing the new Flash series on CW take some notes), some interesting cameos and epic showdowns, and a few storyline branches that end up going absolutely nowhere. Justin Chambers is good as the Flash, maybe a bit more serious than Michael Rosenbaum’s take on the Scarlet Speedster, and he played well with Kevin McKidd’s Batman.


The paradox for me here is how much I liked parts of this feature and how much I really didn’t. The new art style is clean and obviously influenced by anime, not the chibi style of Teen Titans Go! but closer to the art style of the last series to include these characters, Young Justice. Except for the oversized peanut head on Aquaman I thought it was okay. The voice cast is excellent across the board, directed by Andrea Romano, a holdover from the Timm/Dini days, mixing JL alumni like Kevin Conroy as Batman, Dana Delany as Lois Lane and Nathan Fillion as Hal Jordan with newcomers like Sam Daly as Superman (son of Tim Daly who played the Man of Steel in Superman: the Animated Series) and C Thomas Howell as the villainous Reverse Flash. The story moved along briskly and was a well-crafted streamlining of the comic.


So what’s the paradox? First of all, the violence in this feature is off the charts for an ostensibly PG13 movie. Normally violent content isn’t an issue for me at all but anyone out there thinking that because its the JLA and animated that it must be made for kids should perhaps reconsider.Characters are mutilated, stabbed, burned, and shot with alarming regularity. One character cuts another’s arm off, and another character, one we know as one of the most popular heroes in the DC stable, brutally murders a child. The sheer level of violence in this film was unnecessary, over the top and most of all, a distraction from the story itself. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not squeamish. I love Oldboy, Kill Bill, Dawn of the Dead, etc. it just seemed out of place here to me.


Second, while the gloss of a story that spanned 5 issues and a couple dozen comics was admirable in its kinetic plot-driven storytelling, some of the points they did gloss over seem to be pretty important to the story. I can’t go into too great a detail without spoiling major parts but a few key omissions bugged me. Just a minor annoyance and not a dealbreaker by any means.


Overall, Justice League The Flashpoint Paradox is a bold new direction for the future course of DC Animation, but one, like the DC Comics New 52 comics themselves, that might not be to everyone’s liking. For me the feature is an overall win but your mileage may vary. The next animated feature will be Justice League:War which will be an adaptation of the first six issue story arc of the new 52 Justice League comic, and it too will be in this new style.   3 and ½ giant Aquaman heads out of 5




Clash in the Clouds-(downloadable content for BioShock Infinite, $5 or 400 MS Points)  A long time ago there was Gears of War. And it was good. And then GOW released Horde Mode. And it was very good. And a thousand thousand games went forth and ripped off the Horde idea. Well OK not a thousand thousand but a bunch, including Halo (who improved upon it with their variant Firefight Mode) and Call of Duty (whose Horde variant Zombie Mode has become a whole sub-phenomenon of its own). Now, as the first salvo of what seems like a long-delayed triumvirate of downloadable content for BioShock Infinite, the masterminds at Irrational Games have released Clash in the Clouds, an interesting Horde variant in which you, as Booker DeWitt, fight your way through wave after wave of Columbia’s deadliest opponents in areas culled from the main game and adapted for arena-style play.


If you like the game mechanics of BioShock Infinite and the idea of an ever-escalating enemy force intrigues you, then spend that 5 bucks without a moments hesitation. But if the main reason you played BioShock Infinite was to unravel its multilayered narrative and you found the combat of the game tedious and distracting, then I would wait for the next DLC, a two-part single player story that finds BioShock Infinite protagonists Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth embroiled in a noirish mystery in the city of Rapture from BioShock 1 in its heyday. The story is called “Burial at Sea” and the trailer shows a Rapture in its prime, before Andrew Ryan’s undersea utopia devolved into addiction, violence and madness, when the shining city in the ocean was still a beacon of Randian individualism. Clash in the Clouds is a fun diversion, an appetizer before “Burial At Sea”’s main course.         4 Handyman Heart Shot Bonuses out of 5




Europa Report- (Magnet Releasing, available on VOD, soon to be released on Blu-ray/DVD)- I know the subgenre of “found-footage” movies was seemingly played out with the interminable Paranormal Activity series, but lately a few new examples have breathed some life into this trope. VHS2 was a good example, surpassing not only its predecessor VHS but also going beyond most found footage style films both ih story and execution so much so that the Gareth Edwards segment “Safe Haven” IMHO is one of the most chilling horror film stories of the past ten years.


Europa Report is another take on the subgenre but with a few variations. The film is ostensibly the video record of mankind’s first expedition to Jupiter’s moon Europa, upon which the privately funded crew hope to find evidence of life beyond Earth, so the found-footage idea works well within the the logic of the story. The video is also shown out of chronological order, which gives the viewer the feeling of poring through hundreds of hours of footage to learn the fate of the crew, and supplemented by footage from before the beginning of the mission and interviews with the ground crew explaining their plan.


There are a lot of good performances in this film and every once in awhile the actors transcend what at some points can be a rather clunky script. Sharlto Copley is a stand out, showing off a well-executed American accent and giving depth to his character beyond, and sometimes in spite of, the dialogue, and Daniel Wu as the crew’s commander plays the quintessential type-A personality, who as the movie progresses, slowly loses his ability to control his environment to chaos. The movie isn’t a big budget AAA release, but the special effects are serviceable and the sets are appropriately spartan for the setting.


I love it when a small indie film exceeds my expectations and is better than its has a right to be. Europa Report only slips  in my opinion in the last few minutes where the story takes a step too far when it answers some questions that were best left unanswered. Despite that and my issues with the script, Europa Report is worth a watch. If it follows suit with many other Magnet releases it should be on Netflix streaming in a few months.    4 bad idea spacewalks out of 5