Justice League: The New Frontier (2008)

2015 #109
David Bullock | 72 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.78:1 | USA / English | NR* / PG-13

The second release in Warner Premiere’s series of direct-to-video DC Universe Animated Original Movies (which now stretches to 24 titles and counting) is adapted from writer and artist Darwyn Cooke’s acclaimed comic book miniseries DC: The New Frontier, which sees Golden Age heroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman) meeting Silver Age heroes (the Flash, Green Lantern) for the first time in the 1950s.

With so many characters (those are just the tip of the iceberg), Justice League: The New Frontier has a many-pronged narrative to squeeze into its brisk hour-and-ten-minutes running time. The connecting tissue is an unknown entity that has decided to destroy all life on Earth, which eventually will lead all of the various characters to come together to combat it. Other than that, I’m not even going to attempt to summarise the story because there’s so darn much going on. Uncommonly, it spends a lot of time focused on the likes of Hal Jordan (David Boreanaz) and the Martian Manhunter (Miguel Ferrer) rather than the usual big names.

Frankly, there are too many characters, and the film doesn’t always seem to know what to do with all of them. The array of cameos in minor roles is fine, and sure to please thoroughly-versed comic book readers, but it’s the main characters who are sometimes sidelined. In some cases, literally: Wonder Woman disappears off to her island after two scenes; the Flash retires early on; Superman gets sunk in the ocean at the start of the climax. The plot feels underdeveloped too. There are snippets of Batman investigating the entity, for instance, but before he can really learn anything the thing just attacks, so his storyline was needless. Maybe Cooke’s original graphic novel had more time for all of this. If some things have had to be sacrificed to streamline the tale into a 70-minute movie, then it wouldn’t be uncommon for these DC animations. I’ve not read the book so I don’t know. However, there are definitely bits that could’ve been sacrificed or abridged further (the Flash’s two early action sequences, for instance) to make more room to tell the story in full.

On the bright side, a period-set superhero movie makes a nice change; and it just gets on with it, rather than feeling the need to explain itself with alternate worlds or time travel or any such BS. It has the confidence to start with many of the heroes already in play, rather than worry about giving each one a full-blown origin story or something. At one point I thought it might manage to pull off something akin to Watchmen, but in the ’50s and with recognisable DC heroes. Such a comparison might be a kindness too far. There are some good concepts here, but the execution pootles out as it goes along. At times it feels a bit like a pilot episode, as if they were somehow expecting to spin a TV series out of it — for all I know maybe they were — but the problem with pilot episodes is that they are, by definition, unresolved. The New Frontier has a climax that wraps up the immediate threat, but it also feels like it was laying character and supporting cast groundwork for something longer-running.

On technical merits, the art design is… variable. At times it appears to have been inspired by Cooke’s awesome style, which is both pleasing in itself and marks a nice spot of variety from these animations’ norm, but at other points the style reverts to simplistic “Saturday morning cartoon” familiarity. Disappointingly, the actual animation is always of that level. Warner have definitely put out worse examples in this range (Superman vs The Elite), but they’ve also done much better (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns).

I really wanted to like The New Frontier, for all sorts of reasons. It does start well, with moments of promise sparkling here and there, but the longer it spends juggling so many balls, the fewer it can keep flying smoothly. (Do balls “fly” when juggled? Anyway, you get my point.) Considered as a whole, the overall result is fairly disappointing.

3 out of 5

* The New Frontier has never had a disc release in the UK (or a theatrical one, naturally), so has never been classified by the BBFC (I thought you needed that for streaming or download nowadays, but turns out it’s optional). Amazon choose to list it as a PG, but the US’s PG-13, aka a 12, seems nearer the mark (depending how much you care about cartoon violence and blood, anyway). ^

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Haiku Review

Ev’ry August film
reviewed in haiku form. (And
you thought drabbles short!)

I can’t even remember what gave me the idea, but the other day I started writing haiku-sized reviews of films I’d watched, and before I knew it had written one for every film from August. So, in what may or may not become a new regular feature, I’m going to share them with you. You lucky, lucky people.

Technically a haiku is more than just the 5-7-5 syllable structure most people know: it should be about nature, and (to quote Wikipedia) “the essence of haiku is ‘cutting’… often represented by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas and a kireji (‘cutting word’) between them.” Obviously these haiku have nothing to do with the first of those conditions; as to the second, well, it comes and goes. At times, I’ve tried; others, less so. Hopefully none are just 17-syllable sentences split in three. Nonetheless, I don’t promise poetic quality with these.


Contagion
Gwyneth Paltrow eats,
whole world at risk of grim death.
Scares ’cause it could be.

End of Watch
Cops film selves, sort of.
Inconsistent P.O.V.
undermines reel-ism.

Inherent Vice [review]
Pynchon’s comedy
filmed by P.T. Anderson.
Laughs for weed users.

Interstellar [review]
Two-Thousand-And-One,
A Space-Time Anomaly.
Mainly, spectacle.

Justice League: The New Frontier
Uncommon premise
raises expectations, but
promise is squandered.

Life of Pi [review]
Tiger on a boat:
CG extravaganza!
Better than the truth.

Monsters: Dark Continent [review]
Genre transplanted,
but soldiers pose same quand’ry:
aren’t we the monsters?

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
This: way the world ends —
not with a bang or whimper,
but a love story.

Shallow Grave
Danny Boyle’s debut.
Cold cash leads friends to distrust
and dismemberment.

Sherlock Holmes (1922) [review]
Moriarty v.
Barrymore. Gillette-derived
slight Sherlock silent.

Shivers
Amateur work by:
biologist, kills neighbours;
Cronenberg, upsets.

Space Station 76 [review]
Groovy future fun,
undercut by theme of frac-
tured relationships.

The Story of Film: An Odyssey
Epic history,
too personalised for some.
Piqued insight abounds.

Stranger by the Lake
French gays have the sex
with a killer in their midst.
A slow-burn beauty.

The Theory of Everything [review]
Eddie Redmayne won
awards, but the film’s heart is
Felicity Jones.

The Thing (2011) [review]
Under prequel’s guise,
computers doodle a mere
Carpenter rehash.

The Haiku Review may return next month. We’ll see how things go.

The Millennial Monthly Update for August 2015

After last month was all centennial, because I reached 2015’s #100, this month is millennial, because I made it to 1,000 Films in a Decade Eight Years and Eight Months.

More on that soon, as well as all this:


Shallow Grave#103 Space Station 76 (2014)
#104 The Thing (2011)
#105 Shallow Grave (1994)
#106 Sherlock Holmes (1922), aka Moriarty
#107 Life of Pi (2012)
#108 Contagion (2011)
#109 Justice League: The New Frontier (2008)
#110 Interstellar (2014)
#111 End of Watch (2012)
Stranger by the Lake#112 The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011)
#113 Inherent Vice (2014)
#114 The Theory of Everything (2014)
#115 Monsters: Dark Continent (2014)
#116 Shivers (1975)
#117 Stranger by the Lake (2013), aka L’inconnu du lac
#118 Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)


  • As you may have noticed, this month I reached my 1,000th film. More about that here.
  • Before that, there was a countdown — with pictures! Thrilling stuff. It’s archived here.
  • As #1000 was 15-hour documentary The Story of Film, it took over a few extra slots in my schedule. If I’d been watching regular-length films instead, August’s tally would be four or five films larger.
  • No WDYMYHS films this month — just The Story of Film adding more ideas for future iterations!


In October 2014 I commented that, at best, “one of 2015’s last films will be #1000”. Hahahaha, how times have changed! “One of 2015’s last films”? Oh no, dear sir (“dear sir” in this instance being “me 11 months ago”) — there are still four months of 2015 to go!

In fairness to past-me, the three previous occasions on which I’d reached a #112 (2007, 2010, 2014) were all in November. It just continues 2015’s extraordinary run, though: this month, it passed 2013 to become my fourth most successful year, even with four months still to go. #118 is further than I’ve ever reached by the end of October, never mind August.

As for this August in itself, a tally of 16 makes it the 15th month in a row to reach double figures. It easily passes the August average (previously 10.57, now 11.25) and is just above 2015’s rolling average (currently at 14.75). It’s the third month this year to reach 16, and the fifth ever, which makes it part of a five-way tie for my third highest-tallying month ever. It’s also the 10th month in a row to best the same period a year ago, when August 2014 totalled 15. That may be the end of that though: September will have to be my second highest-totalling month ever to beat its 2014 counterpart. Of course, if I can keep up my current pace — and without a schedule-hogging behemoth like The Story of Film to stand in the way — that’s not an impossible expectation.

Last August, I pointed out how inaccurate August was for predicting the final tally… but then used those inaccurate predictions to spot a new pattern and offer a revised prediction. Which, naturally, I completely obliterated: having predicted a final total of 115-120, I reached 136. Nonetheless, there’s no fun in offering no predictions — and I’ve been remarkably consistent with my viewing this year, actually — so here we go regardless.

To be honest, whatever I forecast is good news. Four more months of my ten-film-minimum goal has 2015 becoming my best-ever year before the end of October, and a final tally of at least 158. If my rolling average of 14.75 holds I’ll make it even further, to #177, and if I can continue my year-on-year monthly increase (with, as mentioned, September being the greatest challenge) then I’ll pass #178. I’ve been forecasting a finish in the 170s ever since February, so, to be honest, I’ll be a bit disappointed if I don’t make that. And all of these numbers are slight increases on their counterparts from last month, so perhaps #180+ isn’t out of the question…



The 3rd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
It’s a toughie this month — lots of films I really enjoyed, including five I gave full marks to. Five! (If you were going to look to see which, know that I haven’t posted reviews for four of them yet.) But the one that most surprised me, and created the strongest emotional connection to boot, was Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Conversely, not many poor films this month. That said, there were a couple I found to be below par, but none felt like they squandered their potential quite as much as Justice League: The New Frontier.

Space-Set CGI That Looked Most Like Models (Pleasingly)
Space Station 76.

Space-Set Models That Looked Most Like Reality (Pleasingly)
Interstellar.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
It always helps give hits a boost if someone else promotes a post. In August, thanks to a tweet by the film’s producers, the most-viewed post was Space Station 76.


Ben-Hur (1925) A Silent Film Review @ Movies Silently
For her 200th silent film review, Fritzi has penned a “mammoth” about the first feature-length adaptation of Lew Wallace’s novel, including a comparison to the more-famed 1959 adaptation. “Mammoth” is the word: by my quick count it clocks in at over 12,000 words! I confess I haven’t even read all of it yet, but I think we can trust it to be worth every syllable.

The highest ranked feature length narrative film on Letterboxd for each year 2014-1920
An interesting way of looking at film history, shared by Letterboxd’s own Twitter courtesy of someone on Reddit who since deleted their name. The gallery can still be viewed here, though.

The Last Unicorn (1982) Review @ Cinema Parrot Disco
This month’s lesson is “don’t judge a film by its cover”, because The Last Unicorn looks like some dated, cheesy, little-girl-y crap, but table9mutant’s review makes it sound awesome, and there are lots of other pretty pictures to cement the point.

My Top 7 James Bond Opening Title Sequences @ Film Grimoire
Who doesn’t love a Bond title sequence? Here, Anna explains her top seven picks (in honour of 007, of course), and while I can’t say I agree with all of them (Quantum of Solace? No thanks) it’s still a good read.

My Top Ten Drew Struzan Movie Art Pieces @ Cinema Parrot Disco
What movie fan doesn’t love the work of Drew Struzan (even if you don’t know his name), the renowned poster artist who created enduring imagery for a host of ’80s and ’90s films, and whose style tends to influence at least one poster for every major movie still, even as they’ve moved on to nought but photo montage. Here, table9mutant takes on the tough job of selecting favourites from Struzan’s extensive oeuvre.

Peculiar opening credit text @ Dial M For Movies
Rhett Bartlett mounts a collection of opening-credit oddities, things “the film maker feels they must tell the audience” right at the start. My personal favourite is the first, from The Old Dark House: “We explain this to settle all disputes in advance…”

The Serpent and the Rainbow @ Vinnieh
The sad news of the death of horror auteur Wes Craven reached us yesterday, but this is an incidental tribute. A carry-over from last month, this write-up by Vinnie meant Craven’s true story-inspired tale of voodoo in Haiti really piqued my interest. It seems it was recently released on a poor UK Blu-ray, though a Shout Factory release is expected in the US early in 2016, which will no doubt be excellent.

Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015) A Silent Film Review @ Movies Silently
The Wallace & Gromit spin-off’s spin-off movie opened to much acclaim here way back in February, but finally made it across the pond at the start of August. Here, Fritzi offers her typically irreverent take on why it really is a true silent movie. No, really.

Straight Outta Compton (2015) [Review] @ movieblort
It’s not an area of music I know much (read: anything) about, nor especially care for, but movieblort has me sold on why this biopic about the rise and fall of hip-hop group N.W.A. will be worth a look.

The Western Godfather @ True West
Bending the “articles from the past month” rule, but this interview — of Kurt Russell by Henry Cabot Beck — was too interesting not to share. In it, Russell reveals for the first time some of the truth behind the filming of Tombstone. The piece is nearly nine years old now, so I’m sure aficionados are well aware of its contents; but if you’ve not come across it before, it’s rather fascinating.



This is the last archive review summary. My dedicated effort to re-post all my old reviews began in July 2014, and 14 months later they’re finished. (After the reviews: what comes after the reviews.)


With all the reviews up, it’s now on to the rest of my unposted posts. More details in the first. (The one with the mop.)



Films I Hadn’t Heard of Before Watching The Story of Film
But Now Really Want to See

Mark Cousins’ documentary features somewhere north of 500 films. Kudos to anyone who’s seen all of them (especially if it was before the documentary came along and automatically became a checklist for some people). For us mere mortals, however, it’s a mix of ones we’ve seen, ones we want to see, ones we’re merely aware of, and a whole load of stuff we’ve never even heard of. The series also has a propensity to make you really want to see the films it features — not just ones you already knew you wanted to get round to it, but out-of-the-blue discoveries. So in tribute to the latter, I present this month’s highly personal (when isn’t it?) top five.

  1. Napoleon (1927)
    A cheat, because I have heard of Abel Gance’s 5½-hour biopic about the diminutive French general, but I’ve kind of ignored it because it’s hard for normal folk to see: Kevin Brownlow’s acclaimed restoration has never been released on any home format, only screening at festivals and the like (with two intermissions — one for dinner!), apparently due to some dubious copyright claim by Francis Ford Coppola. Shame.
  2. Cairo Station (1958)
    Cousins’ has a tendency to label films “the first great [insert name of place] film”, and I believe this was his pick for Africa; certainly for Egypt. Patrick Heenan in The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers may seem to disagree, but he does concur that it has “visual brilliance”.
  3. Black Girl (1966)
    Another thing Cousins has a tendency to do is give away the ending of films he covers. I suppose the only way to examine a work’s full meaning or worth is to discuss it in its entirety, and any truly great film is going to withstand having its plot revealed. Indeed, it may only have been Cousins’ full explanation of Black Girl that made it so intriguing.
  4. The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987)
    And the same could be said of this Japanese documentary, which follows a former soldier as he attempts to find out the truth about what happened to some of his comrades during World War 2, and unearths some very, very dark secrets. Sounds to me like a film about a kind of paranoia being vindicated.
  5. Hyenas (1992)
    Three of these films are from Africa, which possibly says as much about Western awareness of African cinema as it does about the inherent quality of that continent’s output. This Senegalese comedy-drama explores consumerism in a way that apparently “brings human folly and cynicism into sharp focus”.

…and there are so many, many more. Whatever you think of the documentary as a whole (and opinions are certainly mixed), as a showcase for great cinema it may be unparalleled.


After three months where the new-style titles of these progress reports actually signified something, the parade of meaningless monthly update adjectives begins…

And I’ll probably watch some films and write about them, too.