Goth-Watch: Enchantress

[Contains grassy bath-tubs and SPOILERS!!!]

Cara Delevingne as 'Enchantress' in "Suicide Squad" (2016)I was trying to keep my previous rant about Suicide Squad (2016) as Harley-centric as possible, so I didn’t get around to discussing any of the other female characters… which is a shame because for the first 30-minutes or so, right up until she went rogue, I was really digging ‘Enchantress’ (Cara Delevingne). I wasn’t familiar with the character from any of her comic book outings*, so this was my first exposure… and I was immediately bewitched by her super-spooky/sexy appearance here. Like Harley herself, Enchantress has a genuinely intriguing and tragic back-story, which deserved far more screentime than it actually got in this flick: She’s essentially two separate entities, reluctantly inhabiting the same body… one is the unfortunately-named adventurer/explorer ‘June Moone’, and the other is a parasitic succubus that’s possessed her body. Although we got a tantalising taste of the Jekyll-and-Hyde conflict here, as well as the physical/mental/spiritual toll that it takes on June, we never spent enough time with her human-side to develop any real feelings for her, before the demon-side impulsively decided to piss all of that tension and intrigue up against a subway wall, and just go full-tilt super-villain.

Cara Delevingne as 'Enchantress' in "Suicide Squad" (2016)The sorceress’s motivations are suggested in pretty broad strokes, but I didn’t really understood why she went from bemoaning the fact that people used to worship her as a goddess (and now worshipped their machines instead), to deciding she should just destroy all life on Earth, without at least trying to get them to worship her again first! Turning all the pesky humans into faceless foot-soldiers, and burning their cities to ash via a generic CGI tornado-of-destruction is really the stupidest and boringest thing any baddie can do… especially when you consider how slowly it was actually happening. I mean, was she seriously planning to spend the next couple years travelling from city to city, just to stand in one spot and turn all the locals into blob-creatures one-by-one-by-one-by-one-by-one…? Despite all her flashy magick, and vengeful anger, she’d essentially demoted herself from a wannabe-divinity to a production-line factory-worker, griping to her incubus brother about “the good old days” during their occasional sandwich-and-ciggy-breaks. Meh!

Sorry, I’m ranting again… I didn’t want to do that… but this movie wasted so much damn potential, it’s hard not to feel a little nerd-rage welling up… [slaps wrist]

Cara Delevingne as 'Enchantress' in "Suicide Squad" (2016)All that aside, I have to give Delevingne a shout-out for her performance here, and also applaud the makeup and hairstyling teams for their well-deserved Oscar win t’other night! Whatever else us haters might say, there’s no question that the Squaddies all looked fantastic, and wall-poster-worthy. In fact, I’m seriously tempted to buy the Enchantress T-shirt and action figure, despite their association with a movie I have no intention of ever watching a second time.

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* Fun fact: When Enchantress debuted in Strange Adventures #187 (April 1966), she was a wholesome heroine-next-door type, adorably dubbed “The Switcheroo-Witcheroo”, who used her powers to help a group of terrified party-goers escape a curse’d castle. Since then she’s passed through the hands of various writers, who’ve made her increasingly dark and diabolical over the decades.

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Harley-volution (Pt. 5)

[Continuing my compulsive cataloguing of Harley Quinn‘s various on-screen appearances, in (roughly) chronological order. Contains good-night-sticks and SPOILERS!!!]

Margot Robbie as 'Harley Quinn' in "Suicide Squad" (2016)Sigh… when I embarked on this fool’s errand, almost a year ago now, I naively assumed that the big shiny Suicide Squad (2016) movie would be the grand finale of this series… little suspecting what a disappointing damp squib her live-action debut as a headliner would turn out to be… representing little more than a dirty-rain-water-filled pothole along the road… a road that continues to stretch on towards an unreachable horizon. While researching the straight-to-video animation Batman: Assault on Arkham for a previous post, I noticed numerous reviews/comments suggesting that it was vastly superior to its silver-screen sibling, and I have to agree… not only is it a better Suicide Squad movie, and a better Harley Quinn movie, it’s also just a better movie full-stop. And I’ll tell you for why…

Although I specifically chose the “Extended Cut” so that I could get the maximum amount of Harley, this version got off to a very slow start with too many long-winded character introductions, and re-introductions, before the story abruptly skipped ahead like a scratched record to a big supernatural evil tearing some random city apart, and faceless squishy-headed foot-soldiers running around attacking everything in sight, with only the vaguest nominal motivations… so it seemed like the movie spent way too long establishing the protagonists, and too little time establishing the antagonists. I mean, I get why the boring-ass army guy might want to keep his unpredictable charges in the dark about who/what they were fighting, and where they were heading, but keeping the viewer in the dark along with them just leads to unnecessary confusion and annoyance. As I said before, the storyline of AA had a lot of holes in it, but at least it flowed fairly smoothly, and was easy enough to follow, as long as you suspended your disbelief a little.

Margot Robbie as 'Harley Quinn' in "Suicide Squad" (2016)I also thought it was a big mistake (and writer/director David Ayer has admitted as much himself) to pit the freshly-formed squad of dysfunctional (meta)humans against an apocalyptic supernatural foe, straight out of the gate, while the ‘Joker’ (Jared Leto) was just sorta buzzing around on the periphery, like a pesky fly at a picnic. The most ridiculous aspect of this ill-considered mismatch was that the more powerful squad members’ flashy magickal attacks were shown to be largely ineffective against the “Incubus” monster and the city-block-levelling doomsday “machine” that he was defending, but they’re both easily destroyed by a couple bog-standard, shoe-box-sized bombs! WTF!?

Sadly, both movies suffer from slightly disconnected exchanges of dialogue, but that’s more excusable with AA, because voice-actors are often recorded in separate rooms, on separate days, so their conversations might not sound as natural as they would if everyone was actually talking to each other in real-time… whereas the SS actors were stood face-to-face while exchanging their atonal non-sequiturs.

Margot Robbie as 'Harley Quinn' in "Suicide Squad" (2016)As for the squad dynamics… while some members may have pair-bonded in AA, they never got as mushy en masse as they do here, swapping tedious sob-stories, and fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with their “esprit de corps” superbuddies, as if somewhere around the midway point, they (or Ayer?) simply forgot they were supposed to be straight-up sociopaths, and their cruel grey hearts inexplicably turned all pink and fluffy, like the sappy kids from Super Hero High! Blerg. AA was very effective in setting up all the squaddies on an equal footing, and showing that any of them could be eliminated at any moment… they were all considered disposable by the powers-that-be, and I was genuinely shocked when the heads of recognisable name villains were blown clean off their bodies. In contrast, the only squaddy to get beheaded for desertion/disobedience here was a johnny-come-lately introduced solely for that perfunctory purpose… and his death was shown in a fleeting wide-shot, to minimise the actual impact, and mute any “shock” value it might have had… unlike in AA, where you’re up-close-and-personal with the guy when he gets decapitated. And, of course, SS simply didn’t have the spine to ‘splode any of their main characters, who either survived to (metaphorically) hug it out in the finale, or heroically sacrificed themselves for the good of the mission and/or personal redemption. Meh. The fact that they spent most of the movie fighting featureless/bloodless blob-men (who silently shatter when they’re bashed in, like the baddies in a childish computer game) also undercut the violence and supposed villainy of their characters. Despite this movie having the same (UK) age-rating as AA and Kick-Ass, it seemed so much tamer and lamer by comparison… pure pop-punk, rather than hardcore…

Margot Robbie as 'Harleen Quinzel' in "Suicide Squad" (2016)Which leads us back to Harley, portrayed here by the Australian actress Margot Robbie… who, it has to be said, looked fantastic, and delivered a very dynamic performance… it’s just a shame that she’s playing such a poorly-written version of the character, who comes across as a dickish bully, deliberately pressing other people’s buttons out of boredom, without any of the humour and “kooky” underdog charm that made her such a fan-favourite in the first place. Now, to be fair, I haven’t read any of the post-New-52 comics, so this may well be a super-faithful representation of how she behaves in the books these days… but, given a choice, I much prefer her original “Looney Tunes” vaudeville act, over this snarky alt-burlesque routine… and AA has proven that she can still be plenty sexy and scary, without sacrificing her old-timey clown-girl slap-schtick. While I appreciate their efforts to boost Harley’s profile as a bona fide bad-ass in her own right, I think AA did a much better job of portraying her as a dangerous-but-endearing “adult” anti-heroine… and AA also scores bonus points for keeping her in-costume, rather than just stripping her down to her skimpies. Meanwhile, it’s a little hard to understand (let alone sympathise with) her obsessive, self-negating attraction to “Mistah J”, considering how utterly bland and benign he is here… despite all the hype about Leto going full-tilt “method” to immerse himself in the character’s twisted pathology, he barely registers as more than a generic gangster with green-hair and a grille, soppily chasing his girlfriend’s shadow… and the way they tried to dash-off Harley’s origin story in a handful of flashbacks sprinkled incongruously throughout the movie was painfully ineffectual. Meh2.

In conclusion: Suicide Squad is kinda like the Donald Trump of “comic-book movies”… loud, brash, bloated, inept, offensive, incoherent, illiterate, with an over-inflated sense of its own assumed awesomeness, ridiculed by the media, yet still wildly successful and inexplicably popular with the public. Dammit!

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Big Steps For Small Children

No Small Children (circa 2015)Although I’m enjoying Drew Barrymore’s new zom-com Santa Clarita Diet, I’m trying to eke it out and only watch one episode a week… and I haven’t gotten around to the new all-female Ghostbusters reboot yet, because frankly I was never that big a fan of the original… which means I’m rather tardy in discovering a band called No Small Children, whose music has played out over the end credits of both those productions. Formed in 2012 by three moonlighting school teachers, this toothsome trio write funny/thoughtful lyrics, play multiple instruments, and rock harder than Klingon calculus. As ever, I’m terrible at writing about music that I really like, so all I can say is that they’ve become one of my new favourite bands, practically overnight… and I have a fictional flesh-eating realtor to thank for it!

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Harley-volution (Pt. 4)

[Continuing my compulsive cataloguing of Harley Quinn‘s various on-screen appearances, in (roughly) chronological order. Contains circling flies and SPOILERS!!!]

Next up we have two radical re-imaginings of our beloved clown-girl, both voiced by Tara Strong, but targeted at very different age-groups (and pitches):

Harley Quinn (aka "Harlequin") in "Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles" (ep #1.3)Justice League: Gods and Monsters – Chronicles (2015) was a three-episode animated web-series, intended to prepare the way for (and promote) a straight-to-video feature of the same name, set in an alternate universe and starring very different, darker versions of the three headline Leaguers: “Batman” is ‘Dr. Kirk Langstrom’ (Michael C. Hall), an ailing scientist who’s turned himself into a blood-thirsty vampire in a bid to “cure” his cancer… “Wonder Woman” is ‘Bekka’ (Tamara Taylor), a New God who fled to Earth to escape her family’s despotic killing spree… and “Superman” is ‘Hernan Guerra’ (Benjamin Bratt), the test-tube offspring of ‘General Zod’ (Bruce Thomas), who was raised by Mexican migrants after being rocketed away from an imploding planet Krypton. The movie itself seemed to be a dumbed-down take on Alan Moore’s Watchmen (i.e., there’s a conspiracy afoot to frame/murder a dysfunctional group of violent costumed-antiheroes, in order to make the world a “better” place)… but if you can put those comparisons aside, and overlook the slightly patchy plot, it’s an enjoyable adventure, with cool action sequences, some good jokes, and impressive animation/direction.

The Chronicles are also a lot of fun, even if they’re aching to be expanded into longer stories. Each of the three episodes focusses on a single character, following them on a little mini-mission prior to the events of the movie… and the first instalment (“Twisted”) saw Batman tracking down a super-cute serial killer named “Harlequin”, who was kidnapping and killing innocent civilians, in order to pose their corpses in a mock sitting-room set, as the perfect nuclear family. Aw. It’s a credit to director/co-creator Bruce Timm, that she manages to retain her humour and charm, despite the grimness of her actions… and I really like the red-and-black hair she sports here, even if her “costume” does seem unnecessarily skimpy (unless she’d just got back from a “Rocky Horror” showing when Batsy dropped in on her?).

Bumblebee, Wonder Woman, and Harley Quinn a la "DC Super Hero Girls"Meanwhile, our unsuspecting villainess was being rudely rehabilitated, in order to join the ranks of the DC Super Hero Girls, an action-figure line aimed squarely at the tween dolly demographic, which also spawned an ongoing web-series and a couple TV-movies (including 2016’s Super Hero High). As soon as I heard the opening theme song for this ill-conceived abomination, my heart began to sank, and the bile began to rise: “Get your cape on, And let’s take flight! You can do anything, We can be who we like!” Blerg. The image you see attached to this paragraph is a genuine example of the promotional artwork that was released to promote this pablum, and while the cartoons themselves aren’t all quite as insipid as that, I think it gives you a fair sense of how far removed this marshmallow-light series is from the more sophisticated retro-noir of Batman: The Animated Series (not to mention the psychotic sexiness of Harley’s “Suicide Squad” shenanigans).

Harley Quinn and Supergirl in "DC Super Hero Girls"Now, don’t get me wrong… I don’t have a problem with cuteness or girliness, per se… I’m a big fan of the (original) Powerpuff Girls, for instance… my issue with this series is that it’s taken so many strong, smart, complex, distinctive super-women and reduced them down to petty, interchangeable, touchy-feely bimbettes, with barely anything between their ears but a warm breeze. For example, ‘Wonder Woman’s (Grey Griffin) main story arc in the first season involves her designing a new costume to wear (because Textiles seems to be the only class she cares about at SHH)… and one episode of the second season (ep #2.3) shows ‘Supergirl’ (Anais Fairweather) and ‘Batgirl’ (Mae Whitman) using their powers/gadgets to full-on fight each other over a slice of cake! Feh. It’s also completely divorced from any sense of established comic-book continuity, completely glossing over (or just straight-up ignoring) the various characters’ rich and diverse backstories, as everyone happily attends school in costume, and they constantly refer to each other by their “super” names, as if they were just born that way.

Although I really dig the design of Harley’s costume and hairstyle here, and quite enjoyed some of the slangy dialogue she was given, there was something extremely off-putting about Strong’s delivery, as well as the character’s whole screechy-fangirl attitude. This is by-far-and-away the worst version of Harley I’ve witnessed to date… though, to be fair, all of the characters here are the absolute worst they’ve ever been. I also think it’s kinda weird that she and ‘Poison Ivy’ (voiced by Ms. Strong, again) aren’t even friends in this universe, despite that being the one thing that the writers could have easily imported in from their established incarnations, to sate/service the fans. Tch!

Harley Quinn in "DC Super Hero Girls"Although the series was relatively painless to get through (in small doses spread out over several weeks), the extended Super Hero High spin-off was a serious chore… a soul-crushing mire of mindless, mawkish mush, with pat emotional beats, rote character arcs, and predictable plot beats. Feh! It also threw up so many unanswered questions, it almost gave me a headache: How come Superman gets to be a full-grown adult (depicted in statue form), while his Justice League colleagues are still feckless teenagers? Why do they suggest that ‘Barbara Gordon’ is called “Bat-Girl” simply because she likes bats, rather than as a tribute to a pre-existing vigilante-fella? How come the school can afford a fancy-schmancy combat simulator with lasers and slime-guns, but can’t afford a couple CCTV cameras to guard its most dangerous/valuable room? How come ‘Principal Waller’ (Yvette Nicole Brown) didn’t do a proper background check on ‘Granny Goodness’ (April Stewart) before hiring her as the school’s librarian, despite being well aware of the planet Apokolips and the threat its inhabitants might pose to Earth? And, on a more technical note, I’d love to know how they managed to record the movie’s vocal-track and FX over the sound of Jack Kirby spinning in his grave. Did they use a special filter, or just muffle his coffin? The short-shrift given to ‘Big Barda’ (Misty Lee) was particularly reprehensible, considering how awesome she is, and how touching her story is in the comic books. Dammit!

Harley Quinn (aka "Harlequin") in "Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles" (ep #1.3)Sigh… I know it’s not the show’s fault that I’m a masochistic completist, forcing myself to watch something that clearly wasn’t aimed at me in the first place… so, I apologise for being such a dick about it… but I’m reeeally not looking forward to the feature-length instalment that’s lurking a little further down the checklist… GAH!!!

Fun fact: Every time someone says Giganta’s name, the “Gigantor” theme song (as performed by Helmet) starts playing in my head… even though they’re completely different characters, and their names are spelt/pronounced differently. Tch!

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Fresh N’ Thorne-y

Courtney Thorne-Smith as ‘Ann’ in “Fresh Off the Boat” (ep #3.13)Just the other day, I was writing about Courtney Thorne-Smith’s voice-work for the animated “fan-film” Batman: New Times, and wondering what she’d been up to lately… only for her to crop up in this week’s (excellent) episode of Fresh Off the Boat! Technically, this isn’t her first appearance in the series… she made her debut all the way back in April of last year (ep #2.19), but that was just a winking in-joke cameo, coming at the end of a Melrose-Place-themed episode that also incorporated vintage footage of her from that show… whereas this time around, her character (‘Ann’) has been properly fleshed-out as a recently-divorced working-mother with a misanthropic son (who goes missing shortly after the formation of a Neighbourhood Watch group, from which ‘Jessica’ (Constance Wu) is cruelly excluded). I can’t help thinking that playing a minor supporting role here is a bit of step-down for Thorne-Smith, considering the prominent parts she’s had in past comedies such as Ally McBeal and According to Jim… on the other hand, this has been a really strong season for Fresh, and she makes the most of her meagre screen-time with some very funny two-handers, so there’s no shame in that.

I also have to give a shout-out to ickle Ian Chen, who’s absolutely killing it as the adorably-precocious ‘Evan’ (his debt-collection sub-plot here was a fantastic runner, with a brilliant pay-off)… though obviously Wu remains the show’s powerhouse MVP, bless ‘er.

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Harley-volution (Pt. 3)

[Continuing my compulsive cataloguing of Harley Quinn‘s various on-screen appearances, in (roughly) chronological order. Contains pesky spine-bombs and SPOILERS!!!]

Harley Quinn in "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" (ep #2.18)Our crazy-cute clown-girl got a bit of a make-over in Batman: The Brave and the Bold (ep #2.18) (2010), where she slapped on some grey-face slap, and dressed up as a monochromatic “flapper”, so she could blend in with the rest of ‘The Joker’s (Jeff Bennett) gang, who were all styled after old-timey silent comedians. Although this (at one point literal) muting might have designated her as little more than a disposable hench-wench, she actually got plenty screentime to herself, made a couple good gags, and feistily fought her corner (even landing some sucker-kicks on ‘Batman’ (Diedrich Bader) for good measure, tee-hee!). Although the overall plot was pretty outlandish, with interdimensional imp ‘Bat-Mite’ (Paul Reubens) accidentally granting god-like magickal powers to the J-Man, Harley’s arc was a classic retelling of her all-too-familiar self-negating cycle: When her boyfriend/boss is ignoring or abusing her, she realises she can do better and strives for independence… but then when he (inevitably) gets taken down by Batsy, and expresses the slightest need or fakes (?) some affection for her, she goes running back to his side, to play the nurse-maid-moll all over again. Gah! This time around, her voice was provided by Meghan Strange, who did a great job despite being silenced for a significant portion of the episode… though this was her one and only crack of the whip, sadly.

Harley Quinn in "Lego Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes Unite"Harley made her first transition into CGI-brick-toy form* via a direct-to-video animated flick with the rather cumbersome title of Lego Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes Unite (2013), which was apparently based on (and featured recycled footage from) the video game Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes. Despite the fact that ‘The Joker’ (Christopher Corey Smith) is one of the two main antagonists (along with ‘Lex Luthor’ (Clancy Brown)) in this story, there’s no actual interaction or explicit connection between him and Harley here, as she’s just one of many villains who make a nuisance of themselves in the second act, before being cast aside and forgotten, like… well, yesterday’s toys. She’s voiced by Laura Bailey, who also plays ‘Poison Ivy’ and ‘Wonder Woman’… which would be quite an impressive achievement, if those three characters actually had more than a couple lines of dialogue each! ‘Catwoman’ (Katherine Von Till) fares a little better on the screentime and agency fronts, but still wouldn’t qualify as anything more than a very minor supporting character. Overall, it’s a very cute and enjoyable little cartoon, and I don’t regret watching a second of it… but it really came up painfully short in the lady-person department.

Cassidy Alexa as 'Harley Quinn' in (sort of) in a teaser-trailer for "Arrow" (ep #2.18)According to Wikipedia and IMDb, Harley’s next appearance was a so-called “cameo” in ep #2.16 (2014) of The CW’s live-action Arrow series… but all you see of her is the side of her (blurry) head, while she delivers a single line of dialogue, dubbed in by Tara Strong. Apparently they intended to bring her back for another short scene in the season finale, where you could see the rest of her head-and-shoulders… but that got cut for time, and never appeared in the actual episode. Note: The screen-cap I’m using here is from a highly misleading teaser trailer, which got fans very excited about the possibility of Harley joining the series as a recurring character… though sadly they saw more of her in that brief promo clip, than they ever did in the show itself! How’s that for false advertising? As it stands, the producers should have saved themselves the money and just put a blonde wig on a wobbly mop, rather than going to the trouble/expense of hiring an entire actress (Cassidy Alexa (née Darling)) to “play” her on-screen. Meh!

Harley Quinn in "Batman: Assault on Arkham"That episode also featured (and took its title from) a shoestring version of the “Suicide Squad”… which leads us rather neatly on to Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014), a direct-to-video anime-style flick about a bunch of super-powered baddies being press-ganged into service by ball-bustin’ agency director ‘Amanda Waller’ (C. C. H. Pounder), to recover vital stolen intel from an inmate at the eponymous asylum. As this release was targeted at a much older audience than most of her previous shows, Harley (Hynden Walch) is a little more psychotic and sexed-up here, cheerfully biting people’s ears off and repeatedly shedding her clothes (while artfully concealing her nipples, because apparently the powers-that-be still believe that boobs are awesome but nips are dirty and evil and wrong!), but she’s also a lot funnier than she’s been in some of her kiddy-friendly appearances, so that balances it out pretty nicely.

Harley Quinn in "Batman: Assault on Arkham"I’m beginning to realise that one of the drawbacks to watching so many different Batman-related shows/movies from several years apart, is that they often reboot and retell the same basic stories over again for what they assume is a new audience, which can get kinda samey if you’re stupid enough to try chugging them all down over the course of a couple weeks, for the sake of an ill-considered series of blog posts. Ack! Here again we see ‘The Joker’ (Troy Baker) become very jealous of Harley’s new-found fun-buddy ‘Floyd Lawton’/’Deadshot’ (Neal McDonough), and possessive of his so-called “property”… but then once he has her back under his spell, he quickly (and violently) casts her aside again (again). Actually, I couldn’t really see any good reason for him to suddenly spurn her the way he does here, beyond the writers suddenly remembering that it’s an established part of his M.O., and deciding to throw it in there for old times’ sake.

Harley Quinn in "Batman: Assault on Arkham"Frankly, the whole flick is riddled with plot-holes, and inexplicable character choices… such as the bizarre decision on the part of the morons running Arkham to keep ‘Bane’ locked-up in costume, with all his tubes attached to a large enough supply of “venom” to send him rampaging off through walls and gates, should anyone ever accidentally/intentionally press the button that activates the pumps! Doy! Still, as I say, the jokes are pretty solid, and the action scenes are exciting, and Walch did another fine job voicing Harley, and they gave her a sexy-cool costume to wear (most of the time), and it’s good to see Waller looking like a stout bulldog type again rather than a stick-thin pretty-girl (even if they did make her unnecessarily eeevil), and I was impressed by how often they killed off name-villains to underline the team’s disposability, so overall I’d have to give this one a hearty thumbs-up (as well as a spot on my ever-growing “must-buy-eventually” list).

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Harley Quinn in "Batman: New Times"* Unless, of course, you count an animated “fan film” called Batman: New Times (2005), which was produced by students of the Digital Animation & Visual Effects School (aka “DAVE”), based on Asylum Art’s “Minimates” line. I’m not sure exactly how official that production was, but they did manage to recruit a stellar line-up of vocal talent, including Adam West as ‘Batman’, Mark Hamill as ‘Joker’, and Courtney Thorne-Smith as a very credible ‘Catwoman’! On the downside, Harley (voiced by newcomer Chrissy Kiehl), was little more than a grenade-lobbin’ obstacle that Bats had to negotiate in his pursuit of the perfidious Joker, and her dialogue was distinctly blah… so we’ll have to call this one a “miss”, even though the short itself is quite entertaining.

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Gemeleon

Gemma Whelan as 'Chastity Butterworth' in "The Chastity Butterworth Show"A while back I wrote about the dissonance and disbelief that resulted from seeing Gemma Whelan playing vastly different characters in concurrent episodes of Game of Thrones and Upstart Crow… and I felt a similar effect this week, when I listened to the pilot episode of Whelan’s cheeky comedy chat-off The Chastity Butterworth Show, just a couple days before seeing her in gritty true-life crime drama The Moorside. In the former she plays a saucy socialite, hosting three celebrity guests at her cosy country house, while in the latter she plays the increasingly-suspect mother of a missing child, living on a poor-but-proud housing estate… and, like the supremely versatile and talented actress she is, Whelan managed to shapeshift seamlessly into each role, while investing them both with a little of her own natural charm and humour.

As for the show themselves… Chastity (which Whelan also wrote) was a lot of frothy fun, and it was particularly pleasing to hear her interview fellow-Throner Charles Dance, and allude to her own part in the HBO hit without ever actually breaking character. Overall, it was a very pleasant and amusing way to spend half-an-hour, and I’d love to hear/see more… assuming busy-bee Whelan has the time to make any more episodes, in between all her other projects, that is!

Gemma Whelan as 'Karen Matthews' in "The Moorside"Meanwhile, only the first half of Moorside has aired so far, but it seems to be a solid and suspenseful drama, with the occasional chuckle thrown in to keep the gears greased. Personally, I have strong reservations about “dramatising” the lives of real people… especially when those people are still walking around in the world, with the same names as their on-screen simulacra… so I have a great deal of sympathy for everyone depicted/mentioned in this programme, regardless of how positively or negatively they’re portrayed. Still, I can’t deny that it’s compelling viewing, and provides a great showcase for Whelan, who was straight-up chilling here as the story unfolded, and the shocking truth began to seep out…

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