Radioland Murders

Despite the fact that he wrote the story that has been the standard for Science Fiction movies for over 30 years, George Lucas has always been criticized for his inability to write good dialogue.  Additionally, it seems that ventures not involving Star Wars or Indiana Jones end up being utter failures (i.e. Howard the Duck).  In `994, Lucas took another chance on a non-SW/IJ story, Radioland Murders.

When it came out in the theaters, it did not last long enough for me to see it.  Critics hated it and audiences didn’t get it.  As with Howard the Duck, everyone blamed Lucas, despite the fact that 4 people wrote the screenplay and someone else directed it.  I finally got to see it on video when it came out and was pleasantly surprised.  What I saw reminded me a lot of the movies my parents had made me watch growing up: predictable, simple story with madcap wackiness.

One of the first thing you notice in watching the movie is the amount of talent that signed up to participate, with stars ranging from George Burns to Ned Beatty.  Each actor is used to their strengths and there is not a weak one in the bunch.  Probably the one thing that helped the most in turning audiences off was casting a cable TV star as the lead: Brian Benben.  Benben was just coming off of a successful run in one HBO’s first original series, Dream On.  Mary Stuart Masterson was great as the fast-talking romantic interest.  The entire cast reflects a chemistry not often captured on film and it is a shame that many people missed this.

The story revolves around the first night of national broadcast for a fourth radio network.  As the broadcast begins, there are issues with unfinished scripts, Benben’s relationship with Masterson, and sponsors wanting out.  As the night progresses, the stakes are raised for the radio network that could be with a murder happening every so often.  What follows is orchestrated madness that is entertaining, but hectic.

Unfortunately, since the movie bombed, the DVD got the worst possible treatment: no surround sound, no extras; just the ability to jump to certain scenes.

My advice: this is a great date movie or Saturday afternoon veg movie.  While it is not a perfect movie, you will be missing a movie severely underrated.

Justice League: The New Frontier

Over the past 15 years, animation has been moving steadily away from “traditional” hand-drawn looks to more and more computer-generated images.  Watching old episodes of Batman:The Animated Series, I am shocked at how “crude” most of the images seem.  Then I sit back and realize that it is the rough look that I enjoyed so much when watching the series first-run.  With Justice League on Cartoon Network, the images looked sleeker and crisper, but seemed to lack humanity.

Enter Justice League: The New Frontier.

This straight-to-DVD movie is based on Darwyn Cooke’s successful graphic novel of the same title.  Cook wanted his story to center around the look and feel of the heroes of DC’s Silver Age.  This was a time period that he grew up with and felt that some today’s versions of our favorite heroes had strayed too far from.  His story is one of simple means:  a threat forces our greatest heroes to band together to defeat it.

The movie is beautiful from an animation standpoint: great visuals, fluid motions, full of humanity.  Like all of the DC animation projects over the past 15 years, the voice casting is spot on.  David Boreanz has the right amount of cockiness for the role of Hal Jordan, aka The Green Lantern.  Make no mistake: this story is more than the origin of the Justice League; it is the origin of Green Lantern and how he became the man he is now.

The DVD version watched is the 2-disc version.  Its extras include:

  • Audio Commentaries with Darwyn Cook and the production crew
  • Documentary on the history of the Justice League — excellent documentary
  • Sneak Peek at the next project, Batman: Gotham Knight
  • Documentary on the Super-Villain
  • Comic Book Commentary from Darwyn Cook
  • 3 episodes of Justice League Unlimited aimed at highlighting certain themes in New Frontier

My advice:  watch this for great animation and story, particularly if you grew up on heroes and mythology.