Tag Archive: animation

Film Quest – Episode 1

I was cast in a new animated web series called Film Quest. Here is the first episode. I play Dave the Raider, and contribute some background voices, too.

I had the distinct pleasure of joining my old friend Seth Everett to review the latest project from DC Animation: Superman vs The Elite DVD/Blu-Ray. Check out the Spreecast at the link below to see what we thought! (For some reason, WordPress isn’t letting me publish the video embed code.)


Originally Published: December 18, 2010, on Collider.com

Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam is the latest animated short to be released by the folks in charge of the DC Animated Universe. The Man of Steel, in his Clark Kent guise, is doing a newspaper piece on Billy Bastion, a young orphan with a heart of gold who tries to always see the good in the world. It is this eternal optimism that has also piqued the interest of a mystical being known as the Wizard Shazam. Unbeknowst to Billy, he has been marked by the Wizard in order for him to keep an eye on him. This mystical mark though is also acting as a beacon for the Wizard’s greatest failure, Black Adam.

Black Adam was originally a champion of Shazam, but his dark heart quickly led him to using his powers for evil and so the Wizard banished him to the farthest star system he could think of. With the powers of a god though at his disposal, Black Adam has been traveling back to Earth for centuries and now wishes revenge on those who had wronged him.

Now, left with no other choice, the Wizard must prematurely bestow Billy with the same powers as Black Adam to help protect Earth from all manner of villainy as he will now become the new Captain Marvel, Earth’s Mightiest Mortal. Billy must quickly learn about his powers and how to be a hero from Superman who, as always, conveniently shows up and together they must stop Black Adam once and for all.

Origin stories can be very fun if done properly and this animated short’s quick pace, great voice acting, and shiny stylized looking animation all come together very well on the Blu-ray format as probably the best short yet by DC’s animation gurus. All the major voice actors, George Newburn as Superman, Arnold Vosloo as Black Adam, Jerry O’Connell as Captain Marvel, and Kevin Michael Richardson as Mister Tawky Tawny also gave great performances and really made you believe in their characters motivations.

And Newburn continues to rival Tim Daly’s classic 1990s Superman voiceover portrayal here in more recent times. Even the changes they made to Bastion’s upbringing in order to make him a character that the audience could immediately get behind was forgivable for diehards and didn’t take anything away from the piece or the theme of the character.

The only real weak point of this piece is the most obvious one in that it is less than 30 minutes long for what easily could have been a full-feature all on its own for one of comics’ oldest heroes (first appearing in February of 1940 even though he didn’t become a DC property until 1972).

And since this adventure is less than 30 minutes long, it has been bundled together with the other DC shorts that were featured on their more recent full-length animated films. Extended versions of the Green Arrow, The Spectre, and Jonah Hex shorts are included to help flesh out this Blu-Ray package into a more respectable length closer to 70 minutes.

Unfortunately, if you are a fan of the DC Universe and have been collecting the animated movies up to this point, then these added shorts, which were needlessly extended with a couple of minutes of filler animation each to try to extend the Blu-ray further, don’t add much to this disc overall really. Even with special episodes from Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Batman: The Animated Series, and Justice League Unlimited that highlight all the characters featured on this disc, there is only 30 minutes of non-documentary original content.

It is because of this lack of original animated content that I can’t recommend this to anyone who has bought Batman/Superman: Apocalypse, Batman: Under the Red Hood, or Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths already. Sorry Captain Marvel fans, but I’d just rent this or wait till it hit the bargain bin if you really want to purchase this solid, albeit very short, representation of your hero.

Rating: C

-Ray Carsillo

Under the Red Hood

Originally Published: July 27, 2010, on Collider.com and PlayerAffinity.com

It was one of the most controversial decisions in the history of comics. Back in September of 1988, DC Comics opened up a 24 hour vote where fans would decide the fate of Jason Todd, the second Robin in the famed Batman canon. By less than a 100 votes, fans decided that Batman would not make it in time to save Jason from the clutches of the Joker and thus complete the now legendary “A Death in the Family” story arc. Flash forward 20 years now (about four or five in the actual DC Universe) and DC decided to find a way to bring Jason back. Batman: Under the Red Hood is the story of how Batman’s greatest failure comes back to haunt him in ways he never could have imagined.

The comic story arc was originally written by Judd Winick and so it was only natural for DC Animation to approach Winick to rework his story into a screenplay. That was an easy decision. The difficult part was going to be having Winick actual trim down years of comic pages into something that could be told in a 75 minute movie.

There were some obvious reworks that needed to be had, like the summarization of 20 years of guilt on Batman’s part into a simple monologue in the Bat-Wing, but there were others that fans might come to question. Like the complete removal of Tim Drake as the third Robin and nothing more than a cryptic reference late in the movie to Barbara Gordon (the original Batgirl). Removing Tim Drake took away the great confrontations that the prodigal son Jason Todd had with the latest Boy Wonder and is something that fans would probably have liked to have seen.

Aside from this, many of the reworks were necessary to tell the story of the return of Jason Todd as efficiently as possible. There would have been no way to explain how the events of Infinite Crisis and Superboy Prime were what brought Jason back from the dead without making another new movie, so it was written off as being Ra’s Al Ghul and his Lazarus Pit. Also, to show every hit Jason did against the Black Mask as he began to move up in the underworld ranks would have taken an extra hour, so only showing a couple got the point across as well as moved the story along at a good pace. And for those out there who were not familiar with the “A Death in the Family” arc, there are plenty of flashbacks to fill in the remaining blanks of the Batman canon.

So, the story is about as true to the source material as it could be when being crammed into 75 minutes of animation, but what about the actual movie itself? I say it is absolutely brilliant. I still wish DC Animation would stop adapting raw source material and come up with some original stories again like in the Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond days, but for what it is, Batman: Under the Red Hood is a great telling of a landmark Batman story.

The animation is crisp and really jumps off the screen on Blu-Ray. For the most part, the voice acting is top of the line and although most Batman: The Animated Series fans would wish that Kevin Conroy was voicing the Dark Knight, Bruce Greenwood does an admirable job stepping into the role. Add in voice acting veteran John Dimaggio playing possibly the best Joker since Mark Hamill (a possible future replacement once Hamill permanently hangs up his acid spraying flower?) and Jensen Ackles wonderfully portraying the rage and raw emotion Jason Todd is always emitting, and almost everyone involved did a great job bringing these characters to life for this story. The only character portrayal I question was the Black Mask and how he was made out more to be a stereotypical Italian mafia boss instead of the criminal mastermind and psychopath who has come to haunt Batman time and again. I understand he was more of a plot device here to help set-up the final confrontation, but the character deserved more respect than what it was shown.

As always with these straight to Blu-Ray/DVD movies, there are plenty of bonus features to make the buy even more worthwhile and Batman: Under the Red Hood does not disappoint. Included on the disc are four episodes featuring Robin from Batman: The Animated Series, as well as two short documentaries detailing both the creation of the character of Robin and the infamous 1988 vote that sent Jason Todd to his doom. Throw in a preview of the next DC Animated feature, Batman/Superman Apocalypse, and a short bonus cartoon about Jonah Hex, based on a story by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, that is as brilliantly done as the main feature itself, and you have nearly three hours of bonus content that will make any DC Universe fanboy work a nice groove into their couch to watch this great package.

When all is said and done, any and every Batman fan will enjoy this portrayal of Jason Todd and his story as he has been reworked back into the DC Universe. Great action, superb voice acting, and tremendous storytelling make this a must have for fans of the Dark Knight. Batman: Under the Red Hood is available now on Blu-Ray and DVD.

Batman: Under the Red Hood gets 9 out of 10.

-Ray Carsillo

The Ultimate Team-Up

Originally Published: October 23, 2009, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com)

I had promised this a while ago, but due to unforeseen circumstances, breaking news, and surprise interviews, this review has been pushed back for weeks. Now, finally, without further ado, here is my review of Batman/Superman: Public Enemies.

It is one of the best titles to come out from DC in a long time and it gives a fresh look into the psyches of their two heavy lifters, Batman and Superman. Aptly titled Batman/Superman (or Superman/Batman, not really sure since they use a Superman symbol inside a giant bat), this series, started by comic book veterans Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness five years ago, has seen some of the most interesting situations the Dark Knight and Man of Steel have ever been thrown in. From alternative universes to Lex Luthor’s presidency, Batman/Superman never has a dull moment while the limits of the DC Universe’s logic are always pushed to the limits.

Because of the success of this series’ run, DC Animation felt it would be prudent to strike while the iron was hot. Considering that the storyboards were already in place for the most part since this story was to have been done on Cartoon Network before the Justice League series was cancelled, it only needed minor tweaking to turn what would have been a two or three episode arc for the half hour cartoon into a full 67-minute feature.

Thus, we have Batman/Superman: Public Enemies. Following the story arc where Lex Luthor is president and puts a bounty out on the heads of our two favorite heroes, Public Enemies is a testament to DC Animation when they get it right.

This cartoon was the comic come to life. There were some parts cut out like the Superman from Earth-2’s visit, but they were all for the sake of keeping the story crisp and free of clutter. I understand that, but when the movie is only 67 minutes, would 10 more minutes of animated story straight from the comic killed you? The animation style looked just like the drawings from the comic and having veteran voice actors reprise their roles from previous DC cartoons like Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tim Daly as Superman, and Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor made fanboys everywhere jump for joy.

The only real problem I had with the cartoon was that it didn’t depict the motivations of our heroes nor did it say why they interact with each other the way they do like in the comics. Of course, the lack of thought bubbles is a problem when taking something from a comic, but it is such an integral part of the comic that Public Enemies doesn’t feel as deep as it should. With the uniqueness of the relationship between Batman and Superman being a large part of the book, it made the cartoon feel a little empty without being able to properly depict that.

Also, the scene that was added where Luthor makes out with Amanda Waller was grossly unnecessary. With everything else that was cut to keep the story as streamlined as possible, that addition made no sense.

When you consider the awesome special features for the 2-disc special addition (that also comes with a sweet Batman figurine!) including a sit down with Andrea Romano (casting director for DC Animation), Bruce Timm (executive producer), and Kevin Conroy (voice of Batman), and two Adventures of Superman cartoon episodes from the late 90s and the $19.99 price tag seems well worth it.

Minor character development problems aside, this was an awesome movie and the special features make it all the more worth it. Include the great voice acting and animation and this is a must buy for any DC Comics fan.

Batman/Superman: Public Enemies gets a 4 out of 5.

-Ray Carsillo

Green Lantern’s Light!

Originally Published: August 4, 2009, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com) and Lundberg.me

Perfectly timed by DC Comics to coincide with the Blackest Night comic saga and news of Ryan Reynolds being cast as Hal Jordan for a live-action movie, Green Lantern: First Flight is the next installment in the DC Comics/Warner Bros. series of animated spectacles dealing with some of DC’s greatest heroes.

Christopher Meloni (Law and Order: SVU) as Hal Jordan, Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs) as Kilowog, and Victor Garber (Alias) as Sinestro headline an all-star voice cast brought together by Warner Bros. Animation veteran voice casting director Andrea Romano and directed by another WB vet, Lauren Montgomery.

Green Lantern: First Flight deals with how Hal Jordan, one of the most celebrated of the Green Lantern Corps and founding member of the Justice League, came into possession of the galaxy’s most powerful weapon, a Green Lantern ring. It also goes into depth with the beginnings of his relationship with Sinestro, once thought to be the greatest of all the Green Lanterns, and now Jordan’s greatest foe.

One of the movie’s greatest strengths also may have been its greatest flaw in that Jordan gets his ring within the first five minutes of the movie. Although it throws you right into the action with him having to prove himself against Sinestro, Boodikka, Tomar Re, and Kilowog (all major ranked officers in the Corps) before he gets shipped to Oa (the Green Lantern Universal Headquarters) for basic training, you don’t get a real sense of his relationship with Carol Ferris, his boss and main love interest in the comics, or his love of his job as a test pilot.

It isn’t a major gripe because as a movie watcher it helps hold your attention for the entire 77 minutes, but as a die-hard fan of the Green Lantern mythology, I wanted a little more depth. Not going into Hal’s relationships on Earth left him as a very one-dimensional character when he left for Oa five minutes into the movie.

Another major gripe was the death of Abin Sur, the Green Lantern who bestows his ring to Hal Jordan upon his death. Atrocius, one of the most dangerous criminals in the galaxy, killed Abin Sur in the comics. In the movie, Cuch, a two-bit henchman, killed him to help further the plot that Sinestro is going to betray the Green Lanterns.

This aspect of the storyline disappointed me because it goes against Sinestro’s character to work with anyone in any kind of a partnership. His ego prevents him from being anything but the alpha dog and having him cavort with space pirates in a conspiracy does not do the character justice.

Along with those gripes is the fact that many of the more infamous, non-Earth based Lanterns are killed off including Boodikka, whose character is completely trashed in the movie, and Tomar Re.

Aside from these inconsistencies from the original comic storylines, the movie is actually very good as a stand-alone tale. It establishes the yellow impurity against the green (although again, nothing like in the comics), turns Sinestro evil very early and shows that he is willing to go to any lengths to achieve his means of establishing his order throughout the galaxy, and shows the Lantern Corps’ early distrust of Hal Jordan before he saves them all.

Overall, the movie is solid and should be watched by any fan of the Justice League or the Green Lanterns, especially considering it is only $12.99 at most stores in regular DVD format. If you want to drop a few extra bucks, you can get the 2-disc special edition (like yours truly) and get an extra three hours of content along with a three and a half inch action figure with 14 points of articulation.

The extra DVD features were definitely worth it. From Geoff Johns, long-time Green Lantern writer, talking about the future of the franchise, the purpose of the movie, and the origins of the characters to episodes of Justice League Unlimited and Duck Dodgers featuring the Green Lanterns, the bonus features were just as good as the movie and make this a must purchase for Green Lantern fans.

My critical points aside, Green Lantern: First Flight is an interesting take on the Green Lantern/Hal Jordan origin story. Combined with some great voice acting from all those involved, this was a fun, action packed watch that can hold your attention the whole way through with great bonus DVD features.

Green Lantern: First Flight gets 3 out of 5.

-Ray Carsillo

A Wonder to Behold

Originally Published: February 21, 2009, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com)

The first night of the NY ComicCon held one of the most anticipated events of the entire convention. The IGN theatre was filled to the rafters before a special complete viewing of the highly anticipated Wonder Woman full-length animated, straight to DVD, feature coming out March 3rd, 2009, three days before the Watchmen premieres in theatres (DC drilled that into our heads during the Lauren Montgomery/Bruce Timm/Michael Jelenic panel after the movie).

DC’s animation department has been churning out these full-length features for years now, and they have always pushed themselves to the limits in terms of story telling and doing justice to the characters (except for Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman, I’ve tried for years to delete that from my memory banks). It’s a credit to Producer Bruce Timm and Casting Director Andrea Romano who have been a part of almost all of them. Bruce and Andrea were also in the original brain trust that started the animation revolution in the early 1990s with Batman: The Animated Series and continued their relationship with DC with this project and it shows in another above and beyond effort.

This was a huge undertaking since it marks the first time in 30 years that any media form has devoted a sole project to the Amazonian Princess and DC pulled out all the stops in terms of talent: Keri Russell as Wonder Woman, Alfred Molina as Ares, Oliver Platt as Hades, Nathan Fillion as Steve Trevor, Rosario Dawson as Artemis, and Virginia Madsen as Hippolyta. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a DC animation project without a little pro voice over talent, perfectly cast again by Andrea Romano, with Tara Strong (Raven in Teen Titans, Batgirl in Batman: The Animated Series) as Alexa and John DiMaggio (Bender in Futurama, Marcus Fenix in Gears of War 1 and 2) as Deimos. Director Lauren Montgomery is a veteran in the animation game, but this was her first full-length feature where she was the sole director and she did a great job with such a huge undertaking. Add in veteran cartoon writer Michael Jelenic for the script and the pieces were in place for what could be one of DC’s best cartoon features to date.

Here’s the basic premise for those of you unfamiliar with Wonder Woman’s background. Taken with some liberties from Greek mythology, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, wages war against Ares, the god of war, in an attempt to save humanity from itself. After besting Ares in battle, Hippolyta wishes to do away with Ares, but is prevented by Zeus, the father of Ares and king of the gods. Hera, queen of the gods, and patron to Hippolyta, bargains to imprison Ares for all time on the Amazon’s island in the Aegean Sea and Hera would be given a child from the gods for her trouble. So Hippolyta locks Ares away and makes a child out of mud and clay that is blessed by the gods in the form of a daughter, whom Hippolyta names Diana.

Centuries later, the Amazons, who still look smoking hot because they are descended from gods and do not age like humans, are living in tranquility on their island, hidden from man’s eyes by a magic mirror by Hephaestus (Greek god of the forge) when an American fighter jet gets shot down and crashes into the invisible island. Upon landing in what he thinks is heaven (who can blame him), American pilot Steve Trevor is captured and learns that the Amazons’ culture involves the hatred of man and that he must be sent back to America with an emissary from the Amazons’ island. Diana, dying to explore the world, rigs the selection process so that she may be the emissary. At the same time, the Amazons are betrayed by one of their own and Ares is set free so Diana’s mission becomes two-fold, to re-capture Ares as well as escort Steve Trevor home.

This was a great watch. The only real snag I hit with this project was that it still never explained where the heck she got her invisible jet! Everything else was given a detailed, ornate history from her bulletproof bracelets to her Lasso of Truth. The jet though just sort of appeared as if an invisible jet was common place. Then, to add insult to injury, it seemed like too many people could see the invisible jet so it really wasn’t that invisible, was it? My theory is that the Amazons reverse engineered the jet that Steve Trevor crashed in and made their own improvements to it, but it still wasn’t explained outright. Cursed comic book speculation!

Overall, the story is relatively accurate to the comics, with a few liberties taken on the Greek mythos, but it was still done in an enjoyable and meaningful manner that does justice to the original stories from the 1940s. The voice acting was great, the story held your attention the entire way through, and it timed out nicely at nearly an hour and a half. It also answered every question (almost; damn invisible jet) that you might have about Wonder Woman if you weren’t a diehard and not too familiar with the character.

The Wonder Woman animated feature gets 4 out of 5.

-Ray Carsillo

Originally Published: February 6, 2009, for Collider.com and 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com)

Its efforts like this from Marvel that have almost made me “Hulk-out” on many an occasion. I will give them some credit; their timing is impeccable. A few months after the release of the solid Incredible Hulk remake with Edward Norton on DVD, days before the New York Comic Con, and only a couple of months before Wolverine: Origins hits theatres, Marvel Studios drops this little wannabe gem on us called Hulk VS.

“Versus who?” you ask. Well, who do you want to see fight the Hulk? This is after all the question that the folks at Marvel seemed to ask themselves since this effort is just a huge piece of fan fiction to drive the fan-boys into frenzied fits at comic-conventions.

Hulk VS. is a straight to DVD release that contains not one, but TWO “movies”. I have to put those magical punctuations around the word “movies” with this because something that can be strung across a pair of Saturday morning cartoon episodes should not be considered an actual movie. To try to make this geek-gasm on a disc worth your money, Marvel paired two separate Hulk adventures onto this DVD and even then it times out to only 82 minutes.

First, we see the not-so-jolly green giant take on the man who is “the best at what he does, and what he does isn’t very nice”. A pre-X-MEN Wolverine has been tasked by his Department H headmasters to locate and subdue a monster who is wreaking havoc in the Canadian countryside. Dept. H is a fictional spin on Canada’s CSIS, by the way. Fictional, of course, because who expects Canada to have any REAL intelligence agency? After picking up the scent, Wolverine begins to track the Hulk across the Canadian Rockies.

The action quickly picks up as Wolverine finds a quivering Bruce Banner in the woods and he wants to know why there is a half-naked man in freezing temperatures out in the middle of nowhere. Wolverine’s subsequent threats get under Banner’s skin, transforming Banner into his worse half and the highlight of the “movie” ensues with a defining battle taking place with moments from all the Hulk vs. Wolverine battles that have happened over the past 30 years, again catering to the fan-boys. Before it can end, Sabertooth, Lady Deathstrike, Deadpool, and Omega Red appear out of nowhere. We then see a montage of Wolverine’s origin story, which is not explained so if you are unfamiliar with the character, you end up lost, confused, and frustrated because I thought the Hulk was supposed to be the main character here and we just had every major bad guy and moment from Wolverine’s history thrown into a five minute montage. The story then continues in a Wolverine and Hulk TEAM-UP against the Weapon X rejects. After they are defeated, the Hulk and Wolverine go back to fighting each other, for no apparent reason, and the credits start to roll on a freeze frame a la Rocky vs. Apollo Creed like they were two friends sparring in some eternal duel.

This first DVD is a complete and utter disappointment. The things that made me furious as a comics fan far outweigh the handful of positives in this. When all the special features vignettes outlast the actual “movie” by almost 20 minutes each, you know you got off on the wrong foot.

The only positives were that the animation style kept in line with the popular Japanese style that many American animation studios have adapted in recent history (starting in 1992 with Batman: The Animated Series and continuing through most major superhero cartoons up to this point) and living up to those standards, they tried to make it play like a comic story arc, and the introduction of Deadpool to animation.

The negatives include the horrible character development, the fact that the name of the title is Hulk vs. Wolverine and it ended up being Hulk and Wolverine vs. Weapon X, the horrible animation model for Sabertooth, who looked nearly the same size as Wolverine, the fact that the entire movie could have been done over the course of a Saturday morning special, and you just have a frustrating, disjointed viewing experience as if you were reading a comic story arc, but missed several issues. If you are a diehard comics fan then you will probably be able to sit through it because you already know the back stories and will recognize the many, many references the “movie” makes to the comics, but if you are a casual fan, this would not be for you. Add in a few typical behind the scenes vignettes and special commentary packages and the special edition part of this disc is not very special at all.

The second piece in this two part Hulk-fest sees Mr. “You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry” against the mighty Thor, the Norse God of Thunder in the aptly titled: Hulk vs. Thor. This second “movie” was a lot better than the first. With a narrated opening montage that explains all you need to know about Asgard (realm of the Norse gods) and the characters in play, the plot is revealed within the first five minutes and the rest is non-stop smashing. Loki, the Norse God of Mischief and Evil has separated Bruce Banner from the essence that is the Hulk and unleashed him on Asgard during its weakest hour.

Without Banner to keep the Hulk tethered to humanity, the Hulk rampages throughout Asgard, laying waste to all in his path and all that stands between Hulk and the complete destruction of Asgard is Thor. The Hulk, being the only thing that could compete with a god, handily smashes Thor. Loki is betrayed though by his minion, the nicely drawn Enchantress, who revives Thor because it seems she’s got a crush on Mr. Goldilocks. She reveals what Loki has done and the rest of the movie is cut between Thor trying to reunite Banner with the Hulk and Hulk just laying waste to the rest of Asgard’s army as he makes a beeline towards the temporarily incapacitated Odin (near omnipotent king of the gods) with Thor finally succeeding in the end.

This “movie” was much better in terms of establishing the plot and giving the heroes an objective. Still though, being only 45 minutes, again this could have been done over a pair of Saturday morning specials and we could have been done with it. Instead, Marvel wanted to show off the new blood special effects that they have for animation so they could get a PG-13 rating on a cartoon and therefore make it so they couldn’t put it on network Saturday mornings and mass produce these ridiculously overpriced DVDs. Again, the special feature vignettes are just “How we produced 82 minutes of par animation and charged you $24.99 for it” and they last longer than the actual “movie”.

I have to end on the note that I really hope they do better with future releases in the “VS.” series Marvel is planning. On an individual basis, Hulk vs. Wolverine gets a 1 out of 5 and Hulk vs. Thor gets a 2 out of 5 to average it out to a whopping 1.5 out of 5. Unless you are a hardcore Marvel fan-boy, I would probably avoid these or rent them at most.

-Ray Carsillo