Double Agent (Teen Titans: The Judas Contract review)

Animated comic book movies have been around for decades at this point, but I think it’s high time we recognize the efforts of one studio in particular who has consistently show up to play ball.

 

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017)

Cast: Stuart Allan, Jake T. Austin, Taissa Farmiga, Sean Maher, Christina Ricci, Brandon Soo Hoo, Kari Wahlgren, Miguel Ferrer
Director: Sam Liu
re-released on blu-ray April 18, 2017
******** 8/10

IMDB: 7.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%, Audience Score 71%
The Guardian: n/a

I’ve written about Sam Liu before. He also directed the Batman: The Killing Joke movie which I reviewed last summer, so in order to save some time, I’m going to dive right into the plot summary and then tell you what I think about this most recent DC original animated film.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Five years ago, the original Teen Titans (consisting of Dick Grayson as Robin, Speedy, Kid Flash, Beast Boyand Bumblebee) rescue Princess Starfire of planet Tamaran from her captors sent by her evil older sister Blackfire who had staged a coup and forcibly took the throne. As she is no longer able to return to her world, the Titans offer her a home on Earth as one of them.

In the present, Dick Grayson (now called Nightwing) rejoins the Teen Titans to track down a terrorist cult led by Brother Blood who plans on capturing the team to absorb each of their unique abilities with a machine that he has tested on Jericho (whom his assistant and lover Mother Mayhem quickly shoots afterwards). Brother Blood hires the mercenary Deathstroke to deliver the Titans to him, which he obliges to do for both the money and get revenge on Damian Wayne for foiling his evil plans a few years ago and replacing him as Ra’s al Ghul’s heir before Damian turned against the League of Assassins. Deathstroke monitors the Titans through his double agent Terra, who joined the team a year prior and whom he rescued after her parents turned their whole village against her and tortured her. When Damian grows suspicious of Terra’s behavior and starts tracking her, he is captured by her and Deathstroke, thus revealing her as a spy to Damian.

Terra acts cold and distant towards the otheTitans despite their welcoming attitude, but eventually warms up to them. During the night celebrating her one-year anniversary with the Titans, she shares a tender moment with Beast Boy and kisses him. The next day, Deathstroke kidnaps Blue Beetle at the soup kitchen he works at, Beast Boy at a convention where he thought he would do a podcast with filmmaker Kevin Smith, and Starfire at the apartment shared by her and Nightwing. Dick discovers what happened to the otheTitans and is attacked by Deathstroke. He manages to escape by faking his own death, while Terra captures Raven in Titans‘ Tower.

Deathstroke and Terra bring the Titans to Brother Blood, but since the machine cannot operate properly without a fifth Titan (as Slade had failed to capture Nightwing), Slade hesitantly offers him Terra instead. Brother Blood starts draining the Titans of their powers and ascends to godlike status, but they are rescued by Nightwing. Nightwing and Robin fight Deathstroke, while the rest take on Brother Blood, who has absorbed all of their powers. The two villains are stopped by the intervention of Terra, who is thoroughly hurt and enraged at Slade for his betrayal. Brother Blood is depowered by Raven unleashing her inner fury as a demon and killed by Mother Mayhem, while Deathstroke is buried underneath multiple rocks thrown by Terra. Too ashamed to face her former allies after betraying their trust, Terra decides to bring down the entire area. Beast Boy attempts to assist Terra in escaping the crumbling fortress, but Terra pushes him back and is buried underneath multiple layers of rubble. Beast Boy digs her up, and she dies in his arms.

In the epilogue, Beast Boy goes on Kevin Smith’s podcast and talks about the Titans with the host. He mentions that the team has a “wonderful new member” and that he will always miss Terra.

In a post-credits scene, Jericho is shown to have survived the bullet Mother Mayhem shot at him earlier.

I’ll just come right out and say that this movie is refreshing to watch. There are complex adult relationships portrayed on the screen, some well placed profanity, and while the violence doesn’t overwhelm, it is decidedly more graphic then your average PG-13 fare. Featuring an ensemble cast, and then spending time with each character was a wise movie on the part of DC, because each of characters is developed in such a way that they become more compelling then any live-action counterparts we’ve seen thus far.

Starfire, Beast Boy, Blue Beetle, and Deathstroke all have great arcs, and it’s very satisfying to watch Terra meet her end as the revealed Judas of the team.

Pros: The animation, pacing, and storytelling are all top-notch, but as already mentioned, the relationships between characters, especially the romantic ones, are fascinating to watch. The Teens are all so dramatic and appealing to watch.

Cons: There is a decent amount of filler at the beginning of the film, with previous Titans on a mission and the meeting of Starfire. This flashback and the one of Terra’s home life seem out of place and very uncomfortable to watch, especially with the Deathstroke seduction scene. Also, Terra turns too quickly.

Runtime: 1 hour 24 minutes

Points of Interest: Adapted from a Teen Titans series from the 1980s, this story has also been adapted for the Teen Titans animated series of the early 2000s. Beast Boy appears on a podcast with Kevin Smith in the movie, in real life Kevin Smith is a huge comics fan, and has a particular affinity for Batman.

I think that overall the plot with Brother Blood, the contract with Deathstroke, and the hidden mole of Terra gave the movie the steam it needed to make it around the block. It should be celebrated for it’s adventurous and adult themes, even if Deathstroke and Terra have be really weird personal relationship in the background. The leadership tactics of Star Fire, versus old hat exercises from Nightwing.

theories Summarized

With over twenty movies in their catalogue at this point, DC has done an excellent job of adapting some of their best stories for home release, and this Teen Titans story is one of the better ones. Yes you can see a lot of the plot twists from a mile away, but it does such a good job of getting you there, that I think the journey really is the most important part in this case.

Speaking of twists, this week on Watch Culture, Andre and I give a recommendation on 2011’s Source Code, and I bet you’ll enjoy it. That said, I’m out of theories for now.

Tim!

I’m Not Listening (Verbal Communication)

I’ve I’ve said it once, I’ve said it twice, and I’ll probably say it a few more times for good measure.

Basic communication is essential, whether you are a painter, photographer, graphic designer, actor, musician or any other kind of creative professional. If you can become an expert of communication, then the sky is limit in terms of success with your business, hobbies or however you choose to pursue your art. Want to nail that audition? Communicate. Have to organize a meeting for a grant proposal? Communicate. Need to put time in at a trade expo and you want to gain some prospects? Communicate.

Just ask Descendents. They know.

We’ve covered it before, but there are four kinds of communication – written (I chose email as our example), verbal, non-verbal, and interpersonal.

Today we are going to focus on verbal communication and I’ll cite some specific examples from pop culture, and maybe one from my life, that demonstrate the importance of following etiquette as best we can. Now, granted, there have been countless books written on the topic of verbal communication alone, so we can’t expect to simplify the topic in one post, but I think this will be a great primer for anyone who needs some guidance. Whether you are well versed in the subject or merely a spectator.

Move Or Be Moved

Verbal communication, just like the three other forms of communication, requires the sender to convey needs, thoughts and feelings – feelings being what I personally think are central to a lot of communication problems. Conveying what you need can be just as difficult, but for many people it is even more difficult to express emotions in a healthy way. It’s not something which can be easily taught either

It seems as if emotions are either over-expressed in outbursts of anger and sorrow OR held back and expressed non-verbally.

This is why so many families fall into cyclical habits of rebuffing each other with the same arguments and literal arguments over and over again. Without having an alternative strategy to communicate, we persist at explaining our ideas, thoughts, and feelings, without making room for the other party to understand from their position.

When we are capable of emphasizing then dialogue opens up, otherwise the adage of rocks versus hard places presents itself. The Dark Knight sums it up perfectly in fact – within the context of the Nolan Dark Knight trilogy, The Joker and Batman were always going to interlocked in perpetual battle because they couldn’t relate to each other. This also applies to the Batman mythos in general, but more importantly, it applies to those situations where people are at consistently at odds.

Missing You(r Point)

Effective verbal communication really comes down to clarity of speech, a calm and focused delivery, following conventional etiquette while simultaneously correcting for environment etiquette, and being polite and encouraging in dialogue. Simple right?

If you’ve ever seen the movie The Break-up, featuring the under-appreciated talents of Vince Vaughan and Jennifer Aniston, then you are likely familiar with the scene where the very much mismatched Gary and Brooke finally have the relationship ending fight that leads to Brooke saying “I’m done.”

Yes, it’s tough to watch, because we’ve all been there at one time in our lives. Whether the male or female in the relationship (or masculine energy VS female energy for our non-hetero friends). I challenge you to watch the movie for the dynamic between the two before the break-up and immediately preceding the break-up, but before the movie falls apart into rom-com shenanigans.

Those kind of shenanigans.

The main point I want you to walk away with dear readers, is that as much as talking is important in a conversation, listening is far more valuable because it endears each party to the other, allows for a more thorough discussion, and limits conversations stoppers like judgment, self-centredness, derailing the topic, or ignoring the other speaker.

theories Summarized

All that said, no I didn’t leave you with a proper road map on verbal communication.

But I did warn you that this was a heavier topic then one post could cover. I fully expect to cover more tips and strategies for proper communication in coming months. Developing character and honing the correct life skills is absolutely essential in your communications, and if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to run timotheories at all. This is a community based vision, and honouring differences of others through respectful discussion is key to that end.

Put these theories to work creative cuties, and you’ll see the positive results for yourselves.

Tim!

Why Did Batman Cross The Road? Because We Were Sick of His Clucking (The LEGO Batman Movie review)

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na nah. Just kidding. It’s like a 1000x yeah instead.

 

The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

Cast: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galifanakis, Jenny Slate
Director: Chris McKay
re-released on blu-ray June 13, 2017
********** 10/10

IMDB: 7.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%, Audience Score 81%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Chris McKay also know as Chris Taylor, is an American director and animator of film and television. Best known for his work directing and editing the shows Robot Chicken and Moral Orel, The LEGO Batman Movie is his first film. He is also set to direct a live-action Nightwing movie which has yet to be scheduled.

Having spent most of his early career involved in video production, McKay learned about editing and eventually landed an editing job with ShadowMachine, which allowed him the opportunity to work on what would become the hugely successful Robot Chicken stop motion animated sketch comedy show. Which led him to help co-direct animation for The Lego Movie and giving him the opportunity to direct the film of today’s focus.

A little flavour on the film

Taken from Wikipedia and edited down –

The Joker (Zach Galifanakis) has plans to destroy the city, then Batman (Will Arnett) hurts his arch-rival’s feelings by telling him he is not as important in his life as he thinks he is, leading Joker to seek the ultimate revenge on him.

During the city’s winter gala, which also celebrates the city’s new police commissioner, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), Bruce Wayne falls head over heels, only to be infuriated by Barbara’s plans to restructure the police to function without the need of Batman. Joker then crashes the party with all of Batman’s rogues gallery, and oddly enough surrenders, with the exception of Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate), who disappears during the confusion.

Suspicions now raised, Batman plans to steal Superman’s Phantom Zone Projector, a portal to a prison housing some of the most dangerous villains in the Lego multiverse.  Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) intervenes and involves Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), whom Bruce unwittingly adopted as his ward during the gala. After the heist, the pair break into Arkham Asylum and send Joker to the Phantom Zone, but Barbara locks up Batman and Robin for their reckless actions.

Harley steals back the project and frees Joker, with all the Phantom Zone villains in tow. Barbara has a change of heart realizing what has happened. She frees Batman and Robin, and along with a suited up Alfred, the four of them team up to stop Joker. When they meet one-on-one again, Joker confronts Batman, stating they are arch-rivals, but Batman baulks at it and Joker zaps him with the projector. In the Phantom Zone, Batman accepts that even he needs help, and makes a deal with the Zone’s gatekeeper, Phyllis (Ellie Kemper), to retrieve the villains so that he can stop the destruction of Gotham.

Joker intends to blow up the city’s Energy Facility, forcing the thin floor of the city apart and be destroyed, and so Batman assigns Barbara a Batgirl costume, and recruits the other villains Joker has left behind. It’s too little too late, and the bomb rips the city apart. Knowing this was his fault, Batman reluctantly convinces Joker that he is the true reason for being the hero he is, before they, their friends and allies, and the city’s inhabitants, chain-link themselves together and pull the plates back together, saving the city.

Phyllis decides that Batman can remain after seeing how much he had changed in order to save everyone. Batman then allows Joker and the rest of his rogues gallery to temporarily escape, with the confidence that whenever they return, they will be no match for his new alliance with Robin, Batgirl, and Alfred.

Now, what the synopsis I have provided doesn’t tell you is how self-referential and hilarious this movie is to experience.

It is at-once a biting satire of previous Batman franchise outings, teasing the ever-popular use of Bruce Wayne’s backstory as plot motivation, as well as directly addressing the eternal dance between The Joker and The Batman. And yeah, it’s great that The Batman wants to fight around, but The Joker wants him to commit to him as an arch-villain. And rightfully so, they’ve only been at it for over seventy years!

The zaniness of Lego also fits well with Batman’s wonderfully odd and sometimes embarrassing tacky history of stories, costumes and villains. Think Disco Batman, Eraser and Clock King. And yes, you get to see King Tut, Polka Dot Man and Egghead make appearances too.

Pros: It is surprisingly sophisticated in it’s exposure of Batman, how pop culture has appropriated him, and core issues we’ve all been thinking about for what seems like decades. Top it off with a smart bow, riddled with fun for kids, and this is a movie not to be taken for granted. Michael Cera is heartwarming as Robin.

Cons: It does become a bit difficult to swallow all of the bricks towards the end, surprisingly enough because the story works so well to disengage us from the kitsch of the format it’s presented in. And the happy Bat family moment feels a bit shoehorned.

Runtime: 1 hour 44 minutes

Points of Interest: In a blink and you’ll miss it moment, Batman references the 1989 movie when he says  “You want to get nuts? Let’s get nuts!” to the Joker. Billy Dee Williams voices Two-Face for the movie. He also portrayed Harvey Dent in the 1989 movie, but never got to play Two-Face in the third movie because Joel Schumacher recast Dent with Tommy Lee Jones.

I cannot say enough good things about this movie. It is so reinvigorating to see DC poke fun at The Batman for once. Acknowledging all of the missteps over the past few years, *cough* Suicide Squad, Batman V Superman, and Man of Steel *cough* it’s great for them to realize that Batman is their best character, but that people are sick of seeing the same old Bruce Wayne.

The LEGO Batman Movie gives the people something to look forward to. It’s fun, interesting, and even humanizes the Bat. Go Will Arnett go.

theories Summarized

Maybe it’s my fine art background or maybe it’s simply my love deconstructing and reconnecting the LEGO assemblages I made as a young boy, but this is exactly what postmodernism should have been doing with Batman in the 1990s, not making him a goof with big nipples, but a caricature worthy of dissection and primed for exploration.

That said, you should also check out this cool vid we did for episode three of Watch Culture!

Out of theories for now creative cuties, tune in tomorrow for some wisdom. Same Bat time, same Bat channel.

Tim!

Drawn Together (Colin MacIntyre cartoonist interview)

After quite a bit of thought, and just a touch of procrastination thrown in the mix to spark heightened awareness under duress (read:one of the camera angles came out yellow), I think I found another classic pairing that future generations can use, one that just seems to click and is, of course, obvious upon reflection. That said, we already know that certain things in life just pair together well – Peanut butter and jelly, bees and honey, salt and pepper, black and white, dogs and cats, king and queen, socks and shoes, and Laurel and Hardy. All of those choices are great examples of individual items which end up being even better together.

In fact, every romantic couple is supposed to function this way, when it’s healthy. In fact, when you talk with someone after a break up, they will often cite compatibility as a major factor in it not working out. Chemistry in love is a very real thing.

That’s why this month’s interviewee is so special.

He is a creative person who dabbles in a great many different arenas, with his most important asset being his love of drawing. For example, he cites instagram as a major inspiration in getting back on the creative horse, and following through each day. Producing at least one drawing on a lunch hour is quite the feat, but Colin MacIntyre does it with a smile on his face and a song in his heart. The act of making itself is a major reward for him, and given that he has at least three other regular projects on the go at any given time, it’s an impressive thing all it’s own. Colin and drawing.

Now by chance, are you wondering what those other projects he does could possibly be? Heck, you haven’t even seen his art yet, but I have a direct line to everything. Which is why I recommend you get right into the video below or hit the jump for the Youtube express train.

What a great topic dear readers! I’m still smiling and all fired up after all of that talk of Beeverine, Winter activities, and the many shades of Batman. And those were just tangential points to be made in this down-to-earth interview about the life of a salesman.

But what did you think folks?

Did  you like it? Did you hate it? What part of the interview inspired you to get back to making art – when you heard those answers on how Colin deals with the challenges of life? If you want to see more of those kinds interviews, then please, please, please subscribe to the mailing list. We need your comments and shares in order to grow. And to know. If the interviews flow.

And special thanks to Colin for being cooperative, capable, and charged up during this entire process! His enthusiasm knows no bounds; at least, that’s my theory.

Tim!

Holy Cross, Adam West (The Ongoing History of New Music)

I live by a set of immalleable valuables

– Adam West, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders

When you decide once and for all that you’re gonna be what you want to, and not let anybody stop you, the next step is pretty simple: have a little understanding, dig in and fully commit to it.

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Take for instance, the 1960s Batman live action television series, which is incredibly campy, has some pretty silly moralistic themes, and an ever present sense of humour. Over the course of three seasons and one film, Adam West and Burt Ward managed to seep their way into the lives of countless North Americans. They owned their terminology with the constant string of “holy …, Batman,” referring to every piece of tech as “bat (insert equipment name),” placing graphics over sound effects during fist fights, and the never-ending flirtations between Batman and Catwoman. There were other constistent tropes of the series, but Batman never broke ranks.

Except for last year, when DC finally decided to revisit those characters and create an animated film voiced by Adam West and Burt Ward. In the film, we see many of the characters playing off of the tropes which made the show ever-so popular and memorable.

Playing off what we loved about that TV show was a smart move on the part of DC, and as I finish off this introduction, I’ll tell you why. We know the stories are tongue-in-cheek, but that doesn’t stop them from being entertaining and expected. As audiences have evolved and humour has changed over the decades, it was necessary for DC to acknowledge that in their story, breaking some walls along the way but never knocking the foundation.

Syndicated For Your Listening Pleasure

And Adam West has owned his persona ever since – by always willing to demonstrate this campy quality which has made him much beloved.

Which brings me to another hero for the ages.

Someone who had humble beginnings as a radio disc jockey, but a personality much greater than the sum of his core job responsibilities. One of my personal heroes and someone who I can only hope to emulate in my much broader tastes of all art forms, fellow Canadian and downright cool guy, Alan Cross.

Alan Cross is the originator of The Ongoing History of New Music (TOHONM), Canada’s longest running radio show documentary.

The purpose of the show is to explore the alternative rock world, which is a vast thing, believe me. Cross profiles artists, explores genre changes, looks at themes of culture and politics, and always always provides a well researched show.

Over the course of it’s hundreds of shows some of my favourites have been about the definition of indie rock, the evolution of punk, and the history of Red Hot Chili Peppers, a band I never cared much for, at least until Alan Cross taught me different.

It all started with Cross hosting an afternoon show on CFNY-FM, better known as 102.1 the Edge, then a morning show, and eventually moving back to an afternoon show in 1993. This is when he took on the additional project of TOHONM. As his career evolved, Cross took on different roles and moved around, but he never quit the show, not until he officially left Corus Entertainment in 2011, TOHONM was cancelled as Corus owned the show.

A Different Tune

After that happened, Cross started another program called The Secret History of Rock, which was produced by Astral Media. It lasted for about 100 episodes and was pretty cool. Then in 2014 Cross decided to go back to Corus and TOHONM was revived once more. Unfortunately neither TOHONM nor The Secret History of Rock are widely available for download, the first because of music licensing issues and the second because Cross is looking for global syndication.

But that shouldn’t matter, because you can listen to recent episodes of TOHONM on the Edge’s website and Cross has a series of audio books on The History of Alternative Rock, which are pretty cool.

This guy seriously knows a ton about music. I’m recommending him to you because if you know nothing about music, he’s a fountain of knowledge, and if you know tons about music, I can assure you that you know nothing compared to Alan Cross.

04f

Just saying.

theories Summarized

Will listening to Alan Cross change your musical life? Maybe.

But I will commit this to you, if you listen to him, and I mean really listen to what he says, you’ll realize that he is a lot like Batman. A geek at heart, with an immalleable set of values when it comes to work ethic, and keen sense for information. Plus he’s pretty funny too. I think he could teach you a thing or two about the arts, for sure – and I’ll commit that theory to vinyl.

Tim!