Sunday, April 22, 2012

Fan Film Theatre - Feature Presentations: "Batman: City of Scars" (Aaron Schoenke, 2010)

Directed by Aaron Schoenke
Written by Aaron Schoenke and Sean Schoenke
Based on the DC Comic Characters Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger

Produced by Sean Schoenke and Aaron Schoenke
Cinematography by Aaron Schoenke
Make Up Effects by Jeff West, Anthony Grow, Paul Molnar and Aaron Schoenke
Costume Design by Mekhell Cassagnol
Visual Effects by Chase Langely and Brian Ramirez
Editing by Aaron Schoenke
Sound Design by Sean Schoenke
Original Songs written by Sean Schoenke
Original Motion Picture Score composed by Sean Schoenke

Kevin Porter ... Bruce Wayne/Batman
Paul Molnar ... The Joker
Madelynn Rae ... Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn
Jay Caputo ... Arnold Wesker/The Ventriloquist/Scarface (Voice)
Katie Joy Horwitch ... Detective Renee Montoya
Christopher Parker ... Detective Crispus Allen
Dylan Voorhees and Hunter Gordon ... Johnson Boy
Guy Grundy ... Victor Zsasz
Tess Kielhamer ... Dinah Lance/Black Canary
Carlos Baca ... Arkham Guard
Nicole Klepper ... Arkham Nurse Rebecca White
Jason Koesema ... Arkham Doctor
George Meyers ... Gotham Police Officer
A.C. Carter ... Ferris Wheel Henchman
Joe Allen Price ... Councilman Johnson
David Chan ... Drug Hustler
Nathan Lee ... Drug Hustler’s Friend
Cody Cloe ... Frozen Guy
Sayo Haraiski ... Dancer Lisa
Anne McDaniels ... Dancer Candy
Laurie Ann Young ... Dancer Angel
Ashley Semerc ... Dancer Raven
Jessica Mayorga ... Dancer Rose
Kassandra Grace ... Dancer Sage
Cassie Wanda ... Dancer Cherry
Kellie Christensen ... Dancer Houston
Mary Zenani ... Dancer Krystal
Xango Henry ... Club Brawler

After the Joker escapes from Arkham Asylum yet again, Batman is posed a question both by society and his own internal demons; how much longer will the people of Gotham suffer for his decision not to kill the Clown Prince of Crime? Racing to save a young boy from the Joker’s scheme of destruction, Batman is also faced with the reality of his impact, both positively and negatively, on Gotham and her people.


Gotham City is more than streets and skyscrapers.

For Batman and his roster of adversaries, it’s a physical manifestation of the stakes of their conflict.

A metaphor for soul, for morality; for humanity and hope.

And their confrontations are born not of fists or firearms or batarangs but of philosophies and ideals.


The city becomes battleground, giving way to a war zone where average citizens must suffer the spoils of the violent debate raging between these psychotics in the fight for supremacy.

And with such psychology engrained in the mythology, the truth becomes clear.

Gotham City could be the inner workings of Bruce Wayne’s own fractured mind. His rogues are his internal demons, his allies are his will and perseverance incarnate and Batman himself is the figment of the imagination of a perpetually 8 year old boy frozen in a moment of violent tragedy.

It becomes an easy trap for a fan filmmaker to spend so much time developing and emphasizing their angle on the villains of their piece. You can’t blame the move; Batman’s rogues could and are easily counted among the most fascinating fictional characters ever created. However as a result, there are few “Batman” films, fan-made or otherwise, that are widely recognized for being about Batman himself and that’s a real shame.

Wayne is as much a complex and enriched character and I’d argue even more so on the principle that it’s his tragedy, his vow and his life-changing decision that acts as catalyst to everything else that transpires after the fact.

Bearing this idea in mind, 2010’s “City of Scars” seeks to honor the man himself with a look into his psychological hang-ups and Gotham’s own beliefs on their proposed hero.


After years of conflict and crime fighting, the dark knight (Kevin Porter) finds himself in a reflective state as word spreads of the Joker (Paul Molnar) making yet another escape from Arkham Asylum. This breakout, along with the poisoning of and newly arrived nurse, symbolizes to Batman the back-and-forth he and his most dangerous foe partake in continuously with no end in sight.

As the police question Batman’s choice not to put to stop to the Joker once and for all by killing him, Batman himself begins to have doubts about his morality and its ability to allow such suffering to continue.

And what begins as just one of several encounters they’ve had before becomes a test of Batman’s character and a testament to his refusal to compromise.

The very definition of why he’s endured for decades.

“City of Scars,” in terms of a straight-forward narrative, is Aaron Schoenke’s best Batman film to date. I say straight-forward because should we allow for the bending of rules, “Patient J” owns the day.

But as far as a three-act adventure that places focus on Batman himself, this is as good as it gets.


The story is well paced, although slightly redundant for those who’ve seen things like the “I Am the Night” episode of the Animated Series. Conceptually, putting Batman into a personal crisis of doubt provides a wrinkle of difference among stories that mostly cast the character in a light of unshakeable resolve and confidence.

Of course the pitfall comes when one realizes that Batman is a character that, in spite of being presented with opportunities to change or give up or end his crusade, never steps over that narrative line and compromises.

Because of that, one has to wonder if there’s any point to having Batman question himself at all if all he’s going to do is go right back to square one.

Is that really character development?

I suppose that in the end, it’s less about seeking to contort the character and more about celebrating the character’s refusal to be bent or broken. Personally, I’d like to see the former happen in a future story of this type but until then, I can celebrate as much as anyone.


We live in a world built upon compromise and settlement. To see someone, fictional or not, that can stake their claim in live and feel completely fulfilled in their identity and purpose is something to look up to and aspire to. Batman’s just one of those characters whom change must elude, for the sake of Gotham’s safety.

Batman is fleshed out to best of ability and Porter’s grounded, authoritative portrayal in the piece commands attention even when coupled with Molnar’s Joker. It’s one thing to set out and make a focal point out of Batman but the actor in the role needs to do his part to assure that the audience will take the journey with them.

For a fan production and, in my opinion, Porter pulls it off with genuine presence that can’t be shortchanged in skill. It’s pretty remarkable to look through a laundry list of the fan actors who’ve portrayed the character and to find one amongst them that can arguably stand beside the likes of Keaton and Bale.

In a more developed piece, Porter may reach that level. But even in this, he proves himself capable.


Paul’s turn as the Joker isn’t as psychologically clever as “Patient J,” but that’s just a matter of him not being the central figure as he was in that film. The menace is still there, the threat is still there. His best moment is also his debut, speaking to himself in maddened mumbling as he constructs his bomb and gets himself ready for the show he’s planned for Batman.

The production is as tremendous as it’s ever been in a ‘Bat in the Sun’ project.


The carnival is the biggest set piece of the film and rightfully so; the project was budgeted at $27,000 dollars and it shows. The location is used to great effect and provides some true scope to this depiction of Gotham City, which finally looks like a city rather than a small patch of alleyway in a suburb (guilty as charged on my part).


And Schoenke even gives us a taste of another aspect to the mythology often overlooked in fan films due to limitations; he gives Batman one of his vehicles, this time in the form of a supped-up Batcycle, which is a treat to see.

“City of Scars” also doesn’t skimp on its sense of action.


The night club royale is a great sequence as Batman takes on everyone from numbskull brawlers to Victor Zsasz to a refreshing appearance by none other than the Ventriloquist and Scarface, who make their live action debut in the film. How Schoenke shoots and edits the fight sequences are very well crafted in combining Batman’s prowess and discipline with his speed and reflex.


Arnold Wesker is just a joy to see in this movie. The presence of he and Scarface in the film reminds us that there are still so many great villains that haven’t seen a silver screen and I loved Jay Caputo’s performance, especially as Wesker when he’s in hysterics over Batman threatening his wooden companion.

We’re also given a more emotionally raw depiction of Harley Quinn; her zany screwball antics toned down in favor of the exhaustive anguish and fracture that must come with being aware that you’re in love with a murdering sociopath.

The film also renders wonderful moments of introspective characterization for Batman.


One of my favorite moments is when Batman is confronted with the young son of Councilman Johnson. The boy asks Batman why he didn’t save his parents, who were murdered by the Joker.

On the surface, it contributes to Batman’s personal dilemma.

Dig deeper and it becomes a tragic parallel between the boy’s loss and Wayne’s when he was the child’s age.

Go even further, and it becomes a metaphysical confrontation within Wayne’s own mind between young Bruce Wayne, the boy who never grew up beyond that night, and the Batman persona that resided within him in dormancy until it was triggered by the murders.

It can be interpreted as young Bruce asking the creation of ‘Batman’ why he wasn’t strong enough to manifest at the critical point where he could’ve made a difference in saving Thomas and Martha Wayne.

VERY clever and intriguing stuff!

“City of Scars” is an A+ in all other points of production, from Batman’s impressively crafted Batsuit to the cinematography in the Joker’s lair and Arkham Asylum to the editing of the night club brawl and when Batman makes the attempt to save the carnival patrons from a bomb.


It’s all capped by a wonderfully poignant title song performed by Ms. Harley Quinn herself, Madelynn Rae. Her tender vocals provide the gravitas the song requires and it’s a great fit into the tone of the film.

In a sea of lesser attempts, the film is the culmination of what someone with weight to their body of work can do when given resource. Schoenke’s talent has come into its own with “City of Scars” and it’s great to see him give back to his passion for the character with a film that put the villains aside long enough to concentrate on the hero.




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