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Friday, October 20, 2017

Review: Batman vs. Two-Face

Adam West vs. William Shatner

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: October 17th, 2017 – U.S.
Rating: PG
Genre: Animation, Action, Comedy
Running Time: 72 minutes
Director: Rick Morales
Writers: Michael Jelenic, James Tucker
Cast: Adam West, Burt Ward, William Shatner, 
Julie Newmar, Jeff Bergman, Sirena Irwin, 
Thomas Lennon, Lee Meriwether, William Salyers, 
Lynne Marie Stewart, Jim Ward, Steven Weber, 
Wally Wingert 

In the 1960s, Adam West's Batman and William Shatner's Captain Kirk were two of the most iconic characters in all of television. In "Batman vs. Two-Face," a sequel to the wonderful "Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders" set in the colorful "Whap! Pow! Bang!" universe of the 1960s "Batman" show, West and Shatner are together at last – terrible TV movies notwithstanding – as both best friends and archenemies. Thanks to the powers of animation, they haven't aged a day since the '60s.

At the beginning, we are introduced to Dr. Hugo Strange's latest invention: a device that sucks out and isolates the evil from Gotham's super-villains. What could possibly go wrong? With a quack like Strange at the helm, it doesn't take long to find out. Things go awry – because of course they do – and undefeated lawyer Harvey Dent (who bears a striking resemblance to a young William Shatner) is transformed against his will into the villainous Two-Face. I was not expecting that in the first five minutes of the film.

After rehabilitation and plastic surgery, Dent is allowed to practice law again. However, the former legal ace is now reduced to being the assistant to the assistant district attorney. It's quite a fall from grace – and a ready-made formula for a super-villain origin story. Or is it? When Two-Face (Shatner) inevitably resurfaces, Batman (West) refuses to believe his "old chum" Dent is the man behind the dual identity this time – despite the repeated protests of a jealous Robin (Burt Ward).

"Return of the Caped Crusaders" featured such a memorable rogues gallery of villains – The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler, and Catwoman – that any sequel would be hard-pressed to top them. While Shatner's Two-Face is a more-than-worthy adversary, he's not the only one who makes an appearance. "Batman vs. Two-Face" dips deep into the lore of '60s Batman show and trots out a couple of suitably corny c-level baddies: the felonious pharaoh King Tut (Wally Wingert) and the literary lout The Bookworm (Jeff Bergman). If you didn't just smile, you've never seen the magical TV series all of this is based on.

(And if you're a fan of the other villains, don't worry: there are several cameos and a surprising deleted scene – hidden in plain sight on the Blu-ray – featuring arguably the most popular criminal adversary in Gotham City nowadays.)

Adam West and Burt Ward have never sounded better. Julie Newmar's Catwoman also returns in a reduced role (along with another cat-related surprise I won't spoil). Shatner is surprisingly restrained in his voicing of Two-Face – if you were expecting his usual long pauses and various Shatner-isms, they're not really there – but he does a nice job of making Dent and Two-Face sound distinctive from each other.

Like "Return of the Caped Crusaders" before it, "Batman vs. Two-Face" feels like an extended episode of the old show – and that's exactly how it should be.

Which movie is better? I slightly favor the first because I remember feeling so so giddy with glee watching a reunion unfold before my very eyes that I never thought would be possible. But I've heard from Bat-fans who prefer this one. Either way, you're going to have a great time.

In one of the extras, Burt Ward revealed that he and Adam West have been submitted to "The Guinness Book of World Records" as the only two actors who have worked together over the span of 50 years. "Batman vs. Two-Face" ended up being Adam West's final role before his death at the age of 88. The very end of the credits features a touching text tribute to the "Bright Knight" that is guaranteed to make even The Joker shed a tear or two. These are special films, and we're lucky to have them.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Review: The Babysitter

A Gory Good Time

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: October 13th, 2017 – U.S.
Rating: TV-MA
Genre: Horror, Comedy
Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: McG
Writer: Brian Duffield
Cast: Judah Lewis, Samara Weaving, Robbie Amell, 
Hana Mae Lee, Bella Thorne, Emily Alyn Lind, 
Andrew Bachelor, Leslie Bibb, Ken Marino, 
Samuel Gilbert, Zachary Alexander Rice, Doc Duhame, 
Jean Claude Leuyer, Miles J. Harvey

"The Babysitter" is a fun movie. It won't change the world. It may not contend for any awards. It probably won't make any top ten lists (except maybe mine). But none of that matters – because when it comes to pure unbridled enjoyment, few films this year have been better.

This is the kind of movie where you know what the last line of dialogue will be before it even begins, but that doesn't matter either. There's comfort in its cliches. Even though "The Babysitter" sticks to the same basic framework we've seen countless times before in other horror movies, it's keenly aware of the tropes it's embodying and parodying.

It's a horror-comedy that's probably more comedy than horror, but blood gets shed here by the gallon; as exaggerated as the effect is, it's certainly not for the squeamish.

Cole (Judah Lewis) has to be the biggest baby on the block. He's the only kid in his class who still has a babysitter. But he has convinced himself to be okay with that, because his babysitter, Bee (Samara Weaving), looks like a 1980s pin-up model with her long flowing blonde locks and thick pink lipstick. Why does he need a babysitter? I assume it's because he's seemingly afraid of everything. Cole asks his mother (the always welcome Leslie Bibb) if he's a coward – he uses a less PG word, of course, in a funny scene. Out of earshot, she agrees that he is. His list of fears include spiders, needles, bullies, even driving a car. I have no idea why his father (Ken Marino) is giving him driving lessons in the first place, though. That initially made me assume Cole must be close to 15 – really too old for a babysitter. As it turns out, he's only 12 – which is probably still slightly too old. Still, the scene does build to something later on. That's one of the strengths of the screenplay – all of the quieter early moments do eventually pay off in big and small ways.

On the school bus, Cole's best friend, Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind, of the prolific Alyn Lind family that's all over the place), convinces him to stay up past his bedtime to see what babysitters do after their little charges have been tucked in for the night. The naive boy googles an "adult" word he's just learned but he remains confused by the meaning. He doesn't know quite what to expect as he crouches down by the stairwell in his jammies to spy on his babysitter and her friends (played by Robbie Amell, Hana Mae Lee, Andrew Bachelor, and Bella Thorne). A game of Spin the Bottle leads to a few racy kisses and the other usual teenage shenanigans.

Then the murder, mayhem, and bloodshed begins!

Young Cole is traumatized by what he has just witnessed, but he knows he has to act fast. From this point on, "The Babysitter" becomes a chase movie, as the little boy is forced to outrun, evade, and somehow outsmart his suddenly twisted babysitter and her warped cadre of cronies.

The inevitable kills are gruesome but creative. The situations surrounding them are comical: Robbie Amell's murder-happy character is shirtless for most of the movie, for no apparent reason, while Bella Thorne's vapid cheerleader repeatedly laments losing a (presumably) surgically-enhanced breast during the melee.

All of this works because of the believable bond established between babysitter and boy. In a sweet early scene, they discuss who would be on their "Intergalactic Dream Team" composed of various science-fiction characters – such as Captain Kirk, Picard, and Jeff Goldbum from "Independence Day," among others. It's heartwarming to see Bee channel her inner geek to make Cole feel more at ease – she's clearly familiar with these shows and isn't just pretending to share a common bond with the kid for the sake of a paycheck. Therefore, despite her depraved desire to take the "blood of an innocent," she remains oddly likable throughout the film.

"The Babysitter" is over-the-top in its blood-soaked violence and wildly suggestive dialogue, but it also has an innate niceness about it that makes it a very enjoyable – and yes, pleasant – way to spend a dark, stormy night.

You can watch "The Babysitter" on Netflix.