Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fan Film Theatre - Feature Presentations: "Nightwing: A Knight in Bludhaven" (Matt Garman and Neal Barlow, 2004)


 


Written and Directed by Matt Garman and Neal Barlow
Based on the DC Comic Characters Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger
Adapted from the Comic Story Arc by Chuck Dixon
 
Cinematography by Matt Garman and Neal Barlow
Make-Up by Michelle Barlow and Neal Barlow
Costume Design by Neal Barlow
Original Motion Picture Score Composed by Mike Baltz
 

Scott Huizenga … Dick Grayson/Nightwing
Neal Barlow … Reynard
Matt Garman … Detective Dudley Soames
James Barton … Police Chief Redhorn
Nicole Dabulewicz … Tandy
Suzanna Russell … Mrs. Minh
Daniel Pagan … FalseFacer 1 (Horatio)
Eric Olsen … FalseFacer 2 (Enoch)
Scott Russel … Minh Bodyguard 1
Mike Potiere … Minh Bodyguard 2
Chad Boucher … Van Driver
Dustin Jantz … Teen 1
Matt Jantz … Teen 2
Daneil Pagan … Clown FalseFacer
Neal Barlow … Bruce Wayne/Batman
Jason Comfort … Police Officer 1
Eric Olsen … Police Officer 2
Matt Garman ... Black Mask (Voice)



When Black Mask dispatches members of his Falseface Society to begin seizing control of Gotham’s sister city from crime lord Freddie Minh, Nightwing takes up the case to prove his ability as a solo vigilante.


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As with the rogue’s gallery, Batman’s pantheon of allies has been met with their own foray into the realm of fan film.


One of the earliest efforts came from filmmaking duo Matt Garman and Neal Barlow in 2004 when their “Two Man Movies”  production house shot and released “Nightwing: A Knight in Bludhaven.”

A nearly-strict adaptation of the 1998 comic of the same title by Chuck Dixon, the story finds Batman in the middle of a turf war that’s spilt out of Gotham and down to Bludhaven, its sister city.



 

Wanting to prove himself to his longtime mentor, Dick Grayson (Scott Huizenga) takes up the case on his own and ventures out to the town, stumbling upon an operation to dismantle crime figurehead Freddie Minh being conducted by a group of Falsefacers; the devout followers of the notorious criminal Black Mask. Nightwing soon realizes he has his hands full fending off the Mask’s efforts to muscle in on Bludhaven while working to keep himself out of the handcuffs of Detective Dudley Soames (Matt Garman).


But through it all, he recognizes the potential good he can do, deciding to call Bludhaven his home as its new vigilante defender.


Released in the initial firestorm of the first fan film line, “A Knight in Bludhaven” is the very definition of ‘rough around the edges’ when it comes to the concept of fan filmmaking.


As with efforts such as “Batman: Dark Descent,” the one saving grace is really just the fact that it’s a window into a physical manifestation of a fan’s passion for the Batman mythology. As a former fan filmmaker, I know from experience that it takes a lot to have the dedication and drive to conceive of wanting to do a project and sticking with it, executing it.


So many fan films are announced and hyped and eventually they fade into obscurity.


“A Knight in Bludhaven” saw it through and it’s one of the first of its kind; it was Batman fan filmmaking before it became pass√© and trendy among amateur filmmakers.


Scott does a wonderful job with what he’s given. His approach to Grayson might be a bit more mild-mannered than it should and there’s really no hope for exuding authority, like in the scene with Tandy when he arrives in Bludhaven. You can feel him trying, but it just comes off as forced-confidence. Truthfully, he has far more presence as Nightwing but again, as with a lot of younger or less experienced actors taking on these icons, the costume ends up wearing the man rather than the other way around.


The best performances come from the “Two Men” themselves. Like Eric Smigiel, it’s their project and therefore they’re totally invested in the idea more than anyone else in their cast.


  

Neal Barlow’s Reynard is the clear standout; he’s genuinely threatening in several of his scenes and he has authority over his subordinate Falsefacers for sure. I loved the motif of his desire to prolong Nightwing’s suffering in situations.


“I want you to see this coming.”


Not to be outdone, Garman’s performance as Soames is very good as well. He knows how to play off of the other characters and his chemistry with Chief Redhorn and especially Reynard at the end plays very naturalistic and well done.


There’s a great moment when he reveals to Nightwing that he’s going to let him go. Obviously they can’t have Nightwing up and depart, so Soames creates the necessary alibi by allowing Nightwing to take him out, but not before one condition.


“Make it look convincing and, uh, mind the bridge work.”


 

There’s no production design to speak of here; Bludhaven looks like any-moderate-sized-city USA and there’s not a whole lot going with that. The idea to have the final confrontation take place in the middle of a car theft ring in a chop shop is charming though.


The cinematography is also fairly pedestrian. When I first saw the movie, it was horribly interlaced and while that doesn’t contribute to the film itself it does hinder my initial reaction to it.


Some of the comedic elements fall flat and some dramatic moments hit that low point of being unintentionally funny.


Case in point when Grayson rescues Tandy from a pair of hoodlums.


Couple things:
 

1: It’s broad daylight that this ‘mugging’/whatever is occurring.
2: The duo of goons look like they rolled out of (and off of) a bed and stumbled into the shot, which might’ve been how they got the roles. The head goon has even less presence than Grayson and THAT’s saying a lot.
3: Grayson’s eye work when he delivers the Shatner-esque line “You didn’t say...please” is almost biblical in its lameness.


And it all ends with...I don’t even know what...as Dick starts pulling for something that the goons presume is a gun, causing them to flee. Grayson reveals it’s a bus ticket, to which he points it at them and whispers “bang.”


Ugh.


There’s also the goofy, out-of-left-field moment where, after a brutal shootout and suspected kidnapping at the Minh estate, Nightwing gives chase to the Falsefacers by riding on top of a delivery truck as the driver blares “I Want Candy” from the radio.


Comic relief!


The fight choreography reeks of staging but they’re doing their best with it.


The Nightwing costume is well handled (I watched a Featurette back in the day of them working on it; a lot went into it as it turns out) and it really says something that the fox mask has become so synonymous with Reynard for me that when I saw it in a store last Halloween, this movie was immediately what I thought of.


“A Knight in Bludhaven” might not be the best. It might not even be all that great, but it was the first of its kind and very ambitious for such a no-budget affair. It also chose not to focus on Batman, making a statement that his supporting characters could possibly hold their own in a movie just as much as their legendary mentor.


Time will tell if we ever see Nightwing in any sort of official live action vehicle, film or television etc.


I’d certainly be interested in seeing it happen.




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