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Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

OK, graphic-novel fans, here's something to get excited about. The Frank Miller 1986 comic opus, generally credited with influencing Batman films by Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan (fuck you, Joel Schumacher!) finally gets a movie treatment.

However, that treatment isn't the live-action movie that fans so desperately want. Instead, it's a decent animated movie, part of an ongoing effort by Warner Bros. that has already brought us Miller's Batman: Year One.

For those of you who regard Miller's The Dark Knight Returns as impossible to film, you have good reason to believe that. Miller's work was oddly brilliant, a comic series unlike any other, that depicted an old, embittered superhero. Thankfully, the folks in Warner's animated department have done a good job of animating the seminal work.

The story picks up 10 years after Bruce Wayne (the voice of Peter Weller) has retired the Bat. Gotham has been overrun by a criminal gang called the Mutants, with former big-crime bosses like the Joker (Michael Emerson) doing time in the insane asylum. Harvey Dent also shows up, having gone through significant plastic surgery to fix his face.

Because they will be telling the whole Returns story in just two parts, some big stuff gets jettisoned plotwise. That's to be expected. I did like the look of this movie; filmmakers often captured the spirit of the roughly beautiful animation work of the graphic novels. They capture Alfred's forlorn look perfectly.

The next installment comes out next year, and will include more Joker and a showdown with Superman. Part 1 gets things off to a very nice start. Let's hope this gets the ball rolling on a live-action version of the story soon.

SPECIAL FEATURES: There are featurettes dedicated to the story's female Robin, and Batman creator Bob Kane. You also get an in-depth look at the next chapter, and a couple of Batman: The Animated Series shorts.

Eating Raoul (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

This goofy movie, starring and directed by the late Paul Bartel, with its strange plot about killing swingers for their money, felt dated in 1982. Made for a pittance by Bartel after Roger Corman (for whom he directed Death Race 2000) refused to finance it, it certainly has its moments and has attained cult status over the years.

That doesn't make it good. In fact, it is quite bad. Still, there's a certain joy in watching something as kitschy as this story of a married couple killing swingers (Ed Begley Jr. and Buck Henry among them) to raise money for a restaurant. I've seen it a few times over the years, and I've never really enjoyed it. It's not an exercise in competent filmmaking, although the scene in the sex shop is damned funny.

I can, however, appreciate its independent spirit, and I wish the proposed sequel starring Chevy Chase had gotten going before Bartel died in 2000.

SPECIAL FEATURES: There's a new doc on the making of the movie starring Mary Woronov, who played the wife in the film, and Robert Beltran, who played the title character. You also get two short films by Bartel and a commentary by the screenwriter.

The Avengers (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

This film is great, even if sitting at home and watching it on a big TV doesn't quite have the effect of watching it on a movie screen with a bunch of people screaming and cheering. This still stands as one of the year's best theater experiences (and the 3-D in theaters was decent).

Watching it at home, I was able to hear some of the dialogue I missed due to cheers. (I didn't get to hear the Hulk say "Puny God!" when he vanquished Loki at the press screening.) I also got to see the final credits footage during which the Avengers enjoy some post-smackdown food. (That had yet to be added when I saw the movie.)

Further viewing confirms that director Joss Whedon got things so right with his depiction of the Hulk, the true star of this movie. Mark Ruffalo was genius casting. The other films' Hulks didn't retain enough of the actors portraying them.

I had my doubts about this thing when I heard about the production. It sounded like an implausible cash-in, with little chance of having substance. Thankfully, Whedon pulled out all of the stops and made the thing totally crazy and surprisingly funny. I'm looking forward to the next chapters.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Whedon provides a funny and informative commentary. There's a gag reel, some deleted and extended scenes, a couple of making-of featurettes, and a Soundgarden music video. (I hate Soundgarden!) A featurette dedicated to the filming of Ruffalo's Hulk would've been nice. I would have liked to have seen more of his motion-capture performance.

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