Monday, November 7, 2016

Return of the Caped Crusaders review...

Holy return to the mid '60s!!! Sort of...

I purchased my copy of Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders back on November 1st at a local retail store. In my August blog entry promoting the upcoming release of the DVD I mentioned I'd return and provide my comments about the animated movie and there are going to be spoilers a-plenty so I'm giving fair notice ahead of time.

So many people have remarked on the movie that a lot of information is out there by now but from my perspective I'd like to add that it's an entertaining movie and I particularly liked the clever opening sequence of having freeze frame snap shots of classic comic book covers. There have been some grumblings, though, as it pertains to the vocals. I didn't find anything particularly terrible. To a general audience, in which cartoon watching isn't perhaps part of a routine television habit, you are probably not aware that Adam West has lent his voice to a number of animated projects over the decades. His voice, obviously, has a deeper resonance to it than it did back in the mid '60s due to age...but he can still deliver the kind of lines you've come to expect from the mid '60s Batman and that vocal is still identifiable as 'Adam West'. The reading of the lines are a bit slower but you can't help that. The story makes up for it because of it's overall plot centering on a duplicator ray...and the effects of a drug administered by Catwoman...and the unexpected turns that the story takes.

Given the vocal performers include three from the mid '60s live-action series (Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar) and the designs are on-model from the TV series, the writers used the visuals and phrases from the TV series as a launching point for a story that you'd never see in the actual mid '60s TV series.  There's one scene in which they find aluminum foil...leading the duo to deduce that the criminals are hiding out in a warehouse which houses frozen TV dinners...and they find themselves strapped to a giant sized TV dinner in a death trap mirroring the kinds of cliffhanger scenes of the live action mid '60 TV series.

I made mention of a duplicator comes into play during a scene in which a group of scientists are experimenting with it's capabilities. One of the scientists uses a variation of the phrase "but in the wrong hands it could prove dangerous" and on cue The Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman enter the facility to steal the device.

The villains take the device but you don't see them use it that much and the reason for that is because of the major plot twist in the story. Catwoman drugs Batman...but, at first, he feels as if he's summoned up enough will power to not fall prey to her clutches and he proudly states that her plans to control his mind have come to an end. However, in the ensuing 10 to 20 minutes that follow, it's clear that neither Batman nor his alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, are behaving normal. Standing on the sidelines, as they happened to be in the mid '60s TV series, are the likes of Alfred, Aunt Harriet, Commissioner Gordon, and Chief O'Hara.

In one of the elements that parodies the mid '60s TV series, Aunt Harriet enters Bruce's study in one scene...which happened to be an absolute no-no in the live action '60s series.

The closest Aunt Harriet came to actually entering the study on the TV series happened to be in a couple of episodes. In one episode the beeping of the Batphone leads her to almost open the door of the which point Alfred prevents her from doing by alerting her that 'Master Bruce' has some delicate hi-fi equipment causing the beeping sounds and it wouldn't be a good idea to go in. In another episode Aunt Harriet leads a group of women from a social club on a tour of the Manor and is nearly about to open the study's door when Joker, from a hideout, freezes time using a "magic box" he invented. He froze time and caused it to go in reverse...unknowingly preventing Aunt Harriet and her entourage from entering Bruce's study and discovering the secret. In this animated movie Aunt Harriet enters the study and sees the Batphone and the bust of Shakespeare but before she can find out it's hidden device for the bat-poles a hand enters the scene and pulls her from the Shakespeare bust. It's Bruce...acting highly suspicious. This sets up the scene in which Bruce fires Alfred for letting Aunt Harriet come so close to learning about his and Dick's double lives as the Caped Crusaders.

Things really get bizarre as Batman leaves Robin stranded. Later, Dick confronts Bruce and asks about the short temper and the unbelievable firing of Alfred. Shoing no emotion Bruce leads Dick over to the manor's front door and tells him if he sympathizes so much ith Alfred he can go live with him "on skid row" and ith that, Bruce shuts the front door leaving the youthful ward on the front porch.

In another scene Batman appears, after several days of being in seclusion, and demands that Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara remove their uniforms because they've long been a disgrace to the police force. Robin deduces that Catwoman's drug was actually designed to work on Batman very slowly and he's become evil. Not only that but she's been double-crossing Joker, Penguin, and the Riddler who believe she's too soft on Batman and they punish her by sending her into orbit. It's in this part of the story that it's revealed that Batman himself has the duplicator ray and he goes about making evil duplicates of himself which take over Gotham City. As an evil Batman he has no resistance to Catwoman and the pair become flirtatious. One of the highlight scenes takes place during a prison break! All sorts of villains, mostly all of them created for the mid '60s series, have non-speaking cameo appearances. Villains seen but not heard: Egghead, King Tut, Siren, Bookworm, Louie the Lilac, and others.

Eventually it's Alfred to the rescue who reveals the reason why he appeared out of the blue to attempt to rescue Batman from a life of crime. Once the spell is broken the duplicate Batmen dissolve into various piles of powder. This is a reference to the 1966 live-action movie based on the TV series. In the live action movie the four villains turn members of the United Nations (referred to in the movie as United World) into dehydrated powder.

I suggest all fans of the classic Batman live-action series purchase this DVD! I've not given a scene by scene breakdown of the film...I merely highlighted some of the scenes and not in chronological order, either...but the animated movie is entertaining. The mannerisms of the villains are all spot-on. The Joker prancing around in a state of glee...but only once does he say "this is delicious!!"...the voice actor captured the essence of Cesar Romero in much of the delivery. The Penguin offers his usual cantankerous attitude, desires of being the intellectual leader, utilizing his umbrella gas, and the trademark squawking but it's not necessarily an attempt to mimic Burgess Meredith's natural speaking voice which is, interestingly, what makes the live-action portrayal so memorable. The vocalization of The Penguin sounds something like that of Ted Knight's version in the Filmation cartoons of the late '60s. The Riddler, on the other hand, is amazing thanks to the spot-on vocal delivery. The voice actor captured the style of Frank Gorshin so much that it enhances the dialogue. The voice actors for Joker, Penguin, and Riddler managed to replicate the giggles and laughs accurately. Julie Newmar, to my ears, sounds just as she did in the mid '60s TV series. I don't agree with others that say her voice has aged. Catwoman sounded to me like the same flirtatious character from the TV series. If I happened to be writing this on Amazon's site I'd conclude by saying that this is definitely 5-star entertainment!! You can click the link below and read other comments from consumers...


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Jean Shepard: 1933-2016

The news broke a couple of hours ago of the death of Jean Shepard at the age of 82 due to Parkinson's Disease. If you're not familiar at all with her music/career then seek out Amazon or YouTube. In some circles of country music she became known as the Queen of Honky Tonk Music and some referred to her as The Honky Tonk Heroine (which, incidentally, became the name of a retrospective collection of her Capitol Records recordings in 1995). Discovered by Hank Thompson (himself a legendary country music artist), Shepard released her first single in 1953 titled "Crying Steel Guitar Waltz". The title alone should tell anyone reading that she preferred country music in it's most basic, purest form and that what became known as traditional country music in the '90s and beyond was labeled Honky Tonk in the '40s and '50s.

She found early success as a duet partner with Ferlin Husky in 1953 on "A Dear John Letter", a massive #1 country hit and a Top-10 pop crossover hit. They followed it up with "Forgive Me, John", and that became a Top-10 country hit and a Top-30 pop hit. Having been born in November of 1933, Shepard was still a teenager at the time of her first national success. In the '40s she had been a member of the Melody Ranch Girls, a group described as an all-girl band, formed in 1948. A 1996 box set from Bear Family, The Melody Ranch Girl, is a must-have if you happen to be a hardcore fan.

The impact year in the earlier part of Jean Shepard's career happened to be 1955. This is the year in which she became noticed for her solo recordings. She had issued 6 solo recordings during a 2 year span (1953-1955). As mentioned earlier her first solo recording was "Crying Steel Guitar Waltz" but 1953 was dominated by her 2 duet recordings with Ferlin Husky. In fact, none of the 6 solo recordings Capitol issued on Shepard made the national charts. The commercial turning point came in 1955...and the release of her version of "A Satisfied Mind". This is the perfect opportunity to explain some things about country music recordings of the era. In the '40s, '50s, and even into the early '60s it wasn't uncommon for country artists to record and release the same song in the same year. This kind of thing wouldn't be tolerated in today's music climate and is frowned upon by music critics and consumers largely because fans have come to feel that songs belong to only one singer or one group and that nobody else should attempt to record something that another singer has recorded. I don't share that opinion but millions of people do...

"A Satisfied Mind", in 1955, became a smash hit for three different country music artists in 1955. The biggest hit came from Porter Wagoner and his version hit #1; Red and Betty Foley took the song to #3; and Jean Shepard took the song to #4. The b-side, "Take Possession", charted at #13. Shepard's follow-up, "Beautiful Lies", also hit #4 and it's b-side, "I Thought of You", hit #10. In addition to her commercial impact that year she also became a performer on the Ozark Jubilee. The increased visibility enabled her to become one of the very few female country music performers on national television. She appeared on the series for several seasons.

Ironically, after having 4 consecutive Top-10 country hits in 1955, it would be 8 more single releases before she returned to the charts. She hit 2 more times (once late in 1958 and again early in 1959) but then entered another long string of non-charted releases. This non-chart activity can be traced to the choice of material. Her love of traditional country music at it's most purest didn't earn a lot of praise from the critics, DJ's, and fans of the style of country music being pushed in the late '50s and early '60s...that style being labeled The Nashville Sound. None of the single releases from mid 1959 through 1963 reached the charts. As I like to point out, though, a charted single means a song has become a commercial success but only because it's been played on radio...if a song isn't being played on radio then it obviously runs the risk of not being discovered by record buyers and therefore it isn't going to have the chance of becoming a "commercial hit". In other words don't let chart inactivity fool you into the belief that a recording "must not be good" if it doesn't make the charts".

The commercial fortunes turned around in Shepard's career in 1964 in a big time way. She released one of her signature songs in "Second Fiddle To An Old Guitar" and this recording hit the Top-10. This set in motion a string of single releases that consistently placed in the Top-50 of the country music charts (many of them peaking in the Top-20). By far the most commercially successful of her career is the 1964-1974 decade. She and Ray Pillow released a couple of hit duet recordings in 1966: "I'll Take the Dog" and "Mister Do-It Yourself".

Some of the songs she performed at the Opry on many weekends happened to come from the 1964-1974 time period: "Second Fiddle To An Old Guitar", "Slippin' Away", "Seven Lonely Days", and "The Tips of My Fingers". In addition to those songs she could also be seen/heard performing "A Satisfied Mind", "Under Your Spell Again", and I heard her perform "Twice the Lovin' In Half the Time" at least once on the Opry, if I remember correctly, but the songs I previously mentioned are the ones she performed much more regularly.

She had become a member of the Grand Ole Opry in November 1955. This is even more notable because she became the first female member of the Opry (in November 2015) to reach 60 years of membership. I'd say she appeared regularly at the Opry for at least 58 of those 60 years...slightly decreasing her appearances due to health reasons...but she did return to celebrate her 60th anniversary as an Opry member and then she officially retired.

In 2011 she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame some 58 years after having had her first success. A long overdue election to say the least but, at least, she was around to enjoy the honor.

Jean Shepard: November 21, 1933 - September 25, 2016

Monday, August 29, 2016

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders

I've heard of this upcoming project for about a month and a half (or longer) but I finally came across much more information. This coming fall (October/November) there is to be a Blu-Ray and a DVD release of an animated film called Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. The thing that makes this film unique is that Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar are the voices of Batman, Robin, and Catwoman (the roles they played in the mid '60s live-action television series).

As you could tell from the trailer and from the cover art of the Blu-Ray and DVD the characters are more or less patterned after the actors and actresses that portrayed them in the TV series. The Joker is faithfully on-model with Cesar Romero and for those curious there's no indication of a painted over mustache and I'm glad that they decided not to add that touch. If the animators had done that kind of thing it would've been more insulting than respectful.

Maybe it's a rhetorical question but how come there's so many comments from people on social media (YouTube, specifically) wondering why the animated movie is being presented in this fashion? Do these people that are making those kinds of comments realize that a very popular live-action Batman television series existed in the mid '60s? This may be Earth shattering news for some but Batman wasn't created in the 1990s...the character goes back to 1939! 

This idea that the Batman characterization HAS to be brooding, gritty, sarcastic, and anti-social just because that's the way he's interpreted in contemporary cartoons is nonsense. Yes, I know that the original presentation of Batman in the late '30s and into the mid '40s depicted the character in much the same fashion as he is today; so, yes, I'm familiar with the argument that the contemporary Batman cartoons are simply "returning the character to his roots"...but lost among all the brew-ha-ha on social media (from those that are unfamiliar with the 1960's TV series) is that this upcoming animated movie is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the live-action TV series 1966 debut. This upcoming animated movie isn't meant to be part of the contemporary DC Universe continuity. It's simply a salute to the 1960's live-action TV series and I, for one, can't wait to get the DVD!!

You can pre-order the DVD at Amazon by clicking HERE. I'll post my thoughts of the entire film in November.