Author: Robert Greenberger

Robert Greenberger is best known to comics fans as the editor of Who's Who In The DC Universe, Suicide Squad, and Doom Patrol. He's written and edited several Star Trek novels and is the author of The Essential Batman Encyclopedia. He's known for his work as an editor for Comics Scene, Starlog, and Weekly World News, as well as holding executive positions at both Marvel Comics and DC Comics.
REVIEW: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
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REVIEW: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

It’s interesting to note that the two Marvel Cinematic Movies of the fall are the ones that hew furthest away from the source material. In Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, out now in both streaming and disc, it makes the most sense because the original Master of Kung-Fu comic was very much a product of its time. Capitalizing on the kung fu craze of the early 1970s, it also melded the comic with Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu, the epitome of the Yellow Menace, a pulp magazine staple.

But, boiled down, the story is about fathers and sons and legacy, a solid framework that writers Dave Callaham, Andrew Lanham developed with co-writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton. While jettisoning the stereotypes, we have instead Xu Wenwu (Tony Keung), a near-immortal being who has amassed power and wealth across the centuries but doesn’t find happiness until he met Li (Fala Chen). What he comes to learn is that she hails from a hidden civilization, protecting the world from a deadly dragon, walled within a mountain.

At one point, Wenwu’s enemies come calling and kill Li as she protects her children, Shang-Chi and Xialing. The grieving man sends Xialing away to be raised apart while he trains Shang to become his successor. When the adult (Simu Liu) objects, he is given a decade to find himself. He drifts, taking the name Shaun, and coasts along, parking cars in San Francisco with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). Of course, time’s up and dad summons son and daughter home. He must find the dragon and free it, for it is, he believes, keeping his wife from him.

There’s a lot of pain and emotional heft here, more than in some of the other MCU offerings. It’s also about coming to terms with great power and great responsibility which seems woven into the DNA of every Marvel hero.

There are terrific set pieces along the way, with plenty of martial arts mayhem that honors the best of the Asian filmmaking tradition. We, of course, get to the village where a lot of backstory is filled in by Shang and Xialing’s aunt Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh).

For comic relief, we get the welcome return of Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley), the faux-Mandarin and Shang’s opponent Razor Fist (Florian Munteanu) is on hand as a leader of the storied Ten Rings, which has been in the background of the films dating back to 2008’s Iron Man.

The final battle is of course a little drawn out but exciting and things resolve nicely with some solid human moments, Shang and Katy’s final time as mere civilians before Wong (Benedict Wong) retrieves them to fully insert them into the Marvel mainstream.

The film is very entertaining and its cultural roots help it stand apart from its brethren. It’s far from groundbreaking as a superhero origin tale, but nicely shines light on a new corner of the MCU.

The movie is out in streaming, 4K Ultra HD, and Blu-ray so you have your pick of formats. The 4K streaming is sharp and crisp, retaining the color palette and shadows without a glitch. The disc has a fine DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless soundtrack or Dolby Atmos and both sound strong.

The Special Features are nothing out of the ordinary and they include The Costumes of Shang-Chi (1:31); Building a Legacy (8:53); Family Ties (7:28); Gag Reel (2:10); and best of all, Deleted Scenes (14:23). There are two notable moments that make Razor Fist an interesting character and one that fleshes out Xialing a little. Finally, there’s Audio Commentary from Cretton and Callaham where we learn the director has had a lifelong obsession with the Eagles’ “Hotel California”, hence its role in the film.

REVIEW: Fantastic Four No. 1: Panel by Panel
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REVIEW: Fantastic Four No. 1: Panel by Panel

Fantastic Four No. 1: Panel by Panel

By Chip Kidd, Geoff Spear, Mark Evanier, and Tom Brevoort

Abrams ComicsArts, 240 pages, $40

The first title to usher in the Marvel Age of Comics has been previously annotated in other books, most notably one five years ago. But here, designer Chip Kidd does his usual in-depth look with incredible blow-ups of each panel of each page of the story that introduced us to Reed Richards, Susan Storm, Johnny Storm, and Benjamin J. Grimm.

The vast majority of the book is filled with these detailed looks, shot by Geoff Spear from a 1961 copy of the comic. It’s an interesting look, forcing you to examine things in extreme close-up, so much so that some panels lose detail in the spine.

It’s all too much and somewhat overwhelms you visually. And then, when we get to the meat of the book, Tom Brevoort’s analytical breakdown of the comic, we’re given thumbnails whle the text asks us to look at details requiring you to flip back to the specific blown up panel or past the essay to the page by page reproduction of the comic, which bookends the hardcover.

Brevoort has been studying the comic for some time over at his always entertaining blog and has revised those posts here for what should be considered a definitive examination; that is, until the original art is ever located. He notes theories that have been bandied about for decades whether or not the story was intended for one of the anthology titles before publisher Martin Goodman moved it to a new title or if the FF were shoehorned into an existing Mole Man versus mankind story, a hallmark of that Atlas Comics era which stretched through the latter 1950s. He notes where art extensions (credited for the most part to production manager Sol Brodsky) were likely done and where penciller Jack Kirby’s routine layouts were changed, likely by writer/editor Stan Lee.

It all makes for fascinating reading but the page by page analysis really belonged with the page by page reproductions not the thumbnails. This design misfire mars a handsome, albeit expensive, book for what it is.

Brevoort’s notes along with the essay from Mark Evanier, even-handedly examines what Lee and Kirby likely brought to the characters and story. They even seem to definitively identify George Klein as the inker, settling a debate that has raged for decades. Acknowledgement is given to the conflicting claims about which creator did what and I agree with Evanier that credit has to be equally shared since, after all, none of us were there when they worked on the project.

Finally, there is the short typed outline that Lee first showed Roy Thomas in 1966 and some conjecture is provided as to why Lee wrote it.

All in all the information provided in one place is a fine tribute to the 60th anniversary of this seminal release. As with most Abrams ComicArts releases, the production values are high, the glossy paper thick, and the overall package handsome. Yes, you’ve seen some or all this before but having it all in one place makes for a nice addition to your comics library.

REVIEW: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
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REVIEW: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

For about a thousand years, people have been writing, in effect, King Arthur fanfic, merging characters, rewriting events, introducing characters, reimagining them in different times and places. As far as historians can tell, there really was an Arthur and as his story was told, it got embellished. And embellished.

As a result, it’s hard to say if writer/director David Lowery did a better or worse job with his vision of the classic tales than anyone else. What I do know is that after teaching Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, his version comes up way short in my expectations.

The film, out on disc and streaming now from Lionsgate Home Entertainment, takes the 14th century epic poem, written by anonymous, and undercuts its themes and message in favor of new themes and messages, none of which I found interesting. The visually compelling film really isn’t very good on storytelling or characterization, other than the title character, which is a shame.

Gawain was Arthur’s nephew, youngest of the knights at the Round Table, his mother is, to most storytellers, Arthur’s half-sister Morgause. To serve as a knight suggests he was already proven a brave, noble knight, a faithful upholder of the code of Chivalry. Therefore, his willingness to take up the Green Knight’s challenge makes perfect sense.

Instead, here, Lowery depicts Gawain (Dev Patel) as a callow youth, a wastrel who drinks and beds his beloved Essel (Alicia Vikander), and shows no aspect of heroism. This, therefore, is a coming of age story, a hero’s journey in the making of man.

The Green Knight (Ralph Ineson), likely an aspect of the pagan Green Man, representing nature (think Swamp Thing), arrives to challenge Arthur (Sean Harris) to the beheading game, a popular trope in the fiction of the day. After Gawain lops off his head, the Knight scoops up the piece, and invites him to his Green Chapel in a year and a day so he may return the favor.

The poem is vague as to what occurs on the ride from Camelot to the Chapel, but it’s certainly more than the six days’ ride Lowery suggests. He uses this interlude to heap misery on Gawain, effectively stripping everything away from him so he can be remade and ready for the confrontation. Along the way he sees giants and is accompanied by a fox, new to the tale.

The bulk of the poem is devoted to the three days he spends with Lord (Joel Edgerton) and Lady Bertilak (Vikander) at a castle in the days before his appointment. Here, Bertilak offers him a deal that he will hunt each day and given to Gawain whatever he finds. In exchange. Gawain must give the same to his host.

And over the course of the three days, Lady Bertilak tries to seduce Gawain in more provocative ways, involving less clothing, and each time his chivalry holds out, so he accepts kisses, which he chastely bestows on Bertilak.

The film version warps the timing and growing size of the stakes as there are more kisses and larger game each day. On the final day, in addition to the kisses is the gift of the green girdle for protection, which he does not give to his host.

And despite the gift, he flinches the first time the Green Knight swings his axe. The second blow merely cuts his neck and then the game is revealed. Bertilak is the Knight. He and his lady were working for Morgan Le Fay (Sarita Choudhury), who wanted to undermine the Round Table by showing how even the noblest knight can falter. He returns home in shame, but is forgiven by all, and they adopt green wraps of their own as a reminder of their faith.

Not so in the film where Le Fay is his mother and she gives him the girdle only for him to lose it before the lady returns it to him. Then there’s a weird fever dream that suggests he will gain the throne but everything will fall.

The message here is muddied, the making of a man a flawed process.

Lowery clearly loves his subject matter and gives us a plausible looking England with a heady mix of magic. If only the writing and characterization so interesting.

Thankfully, the film, in a 4D Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and Digital HD combo pack lets the visuals shine. The 2160p transfer in 1.85:1 is stunning, nicely capturing the colors and shadows. In some cases, the 2160 is only marginally better than the 1080p but here it is markedly improved. Not that the Blu-ray is bad, just the 4K is better.

In both cases, the Dolby Atmos audio track is a lovely complement to the discs.

The film’s special features are so-so which is a shame considering the rich source material that could have been mined. Among the features are Boldest of Blood & Wildest of Heart: Making The Green Knight (35:23); Practitioners of Magic: Visual Effects (14:39); Illuminating Technique: Title Design (17:53), which is interesting given the chapter breaks we get; and the Theatrical Trailer (2:28).

REVIEW: F9: The Fast Saga
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REVIEW: F9: The Fast Saga

Since 2001, long before Tony Stark got shelled, a kinetic shared universe was quietly taking shape and across the last two decades, the Fast & Furious franchise has become a homegrown phenomenon. This testosterone- and diesel-fueled series has become increasingly popular worldwide but has grown like kudzu, uncontrolled and able to entangle all who come near.

The series has suffered from the lack of a blueprint despite the obvious need to tend to the growing roster of characters and interrelationships. As a result, the series feels as chaotic as its stunts, as characters come and go, relationships merge and evolve, and all are in service to a complicated series of stunts with a thread of plot to tie them together.

Needing to top what came before, each film has grown in challenging stunts that rock your understanding of physics. Whereas the bar is raised by Tom Cruise in each Mission: Impossible film, you never shake your head in disbelief. Instead, it’s wonder.

F9: The Fast Saga opens with a signature stunt but one that tells you right from the start that reality is something to wave at in passing. This is not a film for newcomers as it is entirely dependent on what came before. What the film, written by director Justin Lin and Daniel Casey, does nicely is let the characters age and have lives between films.

But old grudges die hard and once again, the fate of the world is at stake thanks to Ares, a device that can access any computer system in the world, this film’s MacGuffin.

All your familiar faces are back along with cameos from others from throughout the preceding films including one specific surprise appearance. We even get flashbacks allowing us to see key players at earlier stages of their lives.

It’s frantic and frenetic, the stakes ever higher, and the jokes just as lame as before. The stunts make the films worth watching with its core stars—Vin Diesel, John Cena, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez—having fun despite how tired some of the material has come to feel. It should be noted that the regulars made room for new faces including Michael Rooker, MMA Fighter Francis Ngannou, Ozuna and Cardi B. Even the creators know it’s time to make a final pit stop with the franchise ending after the next two films.

Universal Home Entertainment has released the movie on a variety of formats including the now-standard 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and Digital HD code combo. The 1080p transfer is very sharp, nicely capturing the colors and shadows. For a movie built on sound, the Dolby Atmos audio tracks are superb. The 4k Ultra HD 2160p is just that much sharper.

For fans of the series, the extras certainly deliver some fine entertainment including both the Theatrical (2:22:52) and Director’s (2:29:55) cuts. The extra six minutes is more mayhem. Additionally, there is the requisite Gag Reel (3:34); F9: All In, a nine-part behind-the-scenes piece, The Family Returns (3:19), New Breed of Bad Guy (6:12), Building the Land Mine Chase (5:42), A Woman’s Touch (5:10), Vin, Helen, and the Queen (6:07), Growing the Family (4:27):, Controlled Chaos (9:10), Tokyo Drift Reunited (2:48), Raising the Bar (3:22), Practically Fast (7:52), Shifting Priorities (3:59), Justice for Han (3:37), A Day on the Set with Justin Lin (10:00), and John Cena: Supercar Superfan (4:36). The disc is rounded out with Audio Commentary from Justin Lin.

REVIEW: Black Widow
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REVIEW: Black Widow

Since her introduction in Iron Man 2, the Black Widow has been the most human of the heroes (yes, more than Hawkeye). It was fitting that it was the non-powered Avenger to actually shut down the device in the first Avengers film and for her to make the ultimate sacrifice that led to the restoration of half the life in the universe. So, it’s fitting that her one and only solo film is also one of the most emotional in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Screenwriter Eric Pearson neatly weaves in bits and pieces from the other films to provide background and context for who Natasha Romanoff is, making us all the sadder for her loss. In the hands of the skilled Cate Shortland, the movie is as much about Natasha as it is saving the world (again).

We discover that she was recruited as a Widow at a very young age, raised in the dreaded Red Room to be the ultimate espionage agent. We learn what happened in Budapest. And we learn what it cost her to chart her own path.

As it turns out, she had a “sister”, Yelena and a mother, Melina, and a father, Alexei, a faux family embedded in Ohio for three years. When they leave, in a hurry, the family is separated and do not reunite until 20 years later. We then get a series of set pieces that slowly build backstory as the sisters first reunited with their fists and then with their words.

After breaking Alexei out of his prison exile, they reunite with Melina and the scene set at the dinner table is priceless as they settle back into their old roles while simmering tensions and old wounds are revealed.

Yeah, this is all done in service to bringing down the Red Room and its airborne master, Dreykov (a weak Bond villain despite Ray Winstone’s efforts), freeing the mind-controlled current generation of Widows. His ace in the hole is Taskmaster, a silent warrior who can mimic anyone’s moves, forcing Natasha to change her game. Unfortunately, Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko) is way too similar to Ant-Man’s Ghost with similar tragic backgrounds, another example of Marvel repeating itself.

There are some lovely action sequences and fights along the way, but the thrills come from the interactions between the characters. Here, Shortland’s work is superb as is the acting. Much has been made about Florence Pugh stealing the film as Yelena, but this has more to do with the fact that we have known and loved Scarlett Johansson’s Widow since 2009 and Pugh is something fresh and different. Yelena is like her “father” as she and Alexei hold nothing back while Natasha is more like Melina, quiet and reserved. The contrasts are well defined here.

David Harbour is having the time of his life as Alexei, the one-time Red Guardian, leaning into his aging, overweight condition, a sharp deviation from Rachel Weisz’s Melina, who remains Russian to the core, until motherly love wins the day.

The movie, out today from Disney Home Entertainment, is available for streaming and in an assortment of disc combinations (4K, Blu-ray, both with Digital HD code). The 1080p transfer on the Blu-ray is very strong, preserving the rich textures of the international locations, which adds another Bond-like element to the film. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 is equally good so the at home experience is a solid one.

The film comes with a brief introduction for Shortland. The special features are fairly basic starting with Sisters Gonna Work it Out (5:24), focusing on Natasha and Yelena and Go Big if You’re Going Home (8:50), a catch-all behind-the-scenes piece, and a Gag Reel (2:54). There are nine deleted scenes (14:10), with several nice beats.

REVIEW: The Shadowed Circle

REVIEW: The Shadowed Circle

Film and pop culture guru Steve Donoso successfully Kickstarted funds for a fanzine dedicated to the iconic pulp magazine hero The Shadow. The first issue of The Shadowed Circle was released in July and packs a lot in its 48 black and white pages. Billed as a thrice-annual publication it features pieces by experts and passionate fans of the hero and his world.

Two pieces fill the bulk of the issue. First up is Will Murray’s accounting of how he and Anthony Tollin addressed packing the last handful of issues of the Shadow reprints that Sanctum Books completed in 2020. They lost their license with a handful of issues left to collect and as they packed as much as possible, things got left out. As a result, Murray includes the Intermission written for volume #150. The theme of that issue was the Women of the Shadow so we get a nice accounting of how women were depicted, including Conde Nast’s insistence that women be downplayed in the pulp, even though Margo Lane was a significant character on the radio series.

The other major section was an interview with James Patterson and a review of his first novel featuring a brand new take on the Shadow, set in a dystopian future. The first in the series was released recently and apparently resembles the source material in name only which is deeply disappointing. (That Patterson is also providing a new take on Doc Savage in 2022 is disheartening.)

The rest of the zine covers Universal’s short subject films narrated by the Shadow, a fan’s quest to obtain a classic cover painting, and other aspects of the character.

You have to know and love the character to appreciate the publication but thankfully, there are plenty out there. One fan, born in the 1990s, discusses how he found the hero and came to love him despite the Shadow being an “older” hero.

The magazine is nicely laid out and well-illustrated, including some good fan art. Clearly, this is a labor of love from Donoso and his pals. To learn more, they have a Facebook group.

REVIEW: Batman: The Long Halloween Part 2

REVIEW: Batman: The Long Halloween Part 2

The acclaimed maxiseries from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale was wisely produced as two animated feature films. Batman: The Long Halloween Part 1 was a real treat, one of the best productions from Warner Animation in quite some time. As a result, expectations were high for a satisfying Batman: The Long Halloween Part 2, out on disc tomorrow. Unfortunately, it proved to be very much a letdown.

In part one, we have a Batman (Jensen Ackles) still in the early portion of his career, learning to think and be a detective as he worked with Commissioner Gordon (Billy Burke) and DA Harvey Dent (Josh Duhamel) to find the Holiday Killer, who used celebrations to mask a series of murders. The Caped Crusader was aided by Catwoman (Naya Rivera), who was more sidekick and romantic interest than foil. The murders exacerbated the rivalry between Carmine “The Roman” Falcone (Titus Welliver) and Sal Maroni (Jim Pirri), the top two crime bosses in Gotham City, recognizing their time was rapidly fading with the arrival of the colorful crazies that followed in Batman’s wake.

Part two picks up immediately with Falcone’s son Alberto dead and Holiday still on the loose. However, Batman has been absent for nearly three months and oddly, Bruce Wayne has been deeding over properties to Falcone. We learn this a result of Poison Ivy (Katee Sackhoff) and it finally takes Catwoman to free him only for Batman to almost immediately succumb to the Scarecrow’s (Robin Atkin Downes) fear gas so she has to save him again.

The biggest problem in Part Two is that Catwoman is more the proactive hero than the title character. Batman is reactive throughout until the final quarter and it undercuts his mystique.

Also, Part One did a nice job contrasting the marriages between the Gordons and the Dents and that’s all missing here. Instead, the focus is on one criminal after another interfering in the investigation, ultimately teaming up for mayhem but not with a lot of logic. Along the way, Dent is scared and has a mental break making him Two-Face, which becomes important as events progress.

The Falcone family could have benefitted from some more depth, especially as Sofia (Laila Berzins), The Roman’s daughter, comes on the scene to lend a hand.

It’s a lot less interesting and complex than Part One and therefore, ultimately disappointing. Tim Sheridan’s script started off so well but suffers here. Visually, Sale’s distinctive design work is once again largely absent except for the title sequence.

The movie is out in a Blu-ray/Digital HD code combo pack with a 4K Ultra HD to follow. Overall, the 1080p presentation is perfectly satisfactory for the limited animation. The shadows and somber color palette work just fine. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is equally solid.

The supplemental features are lackluster, with the exception of the brilliant DC Showcase: The Blue Beetle (15:30). Designed to be a 1960s-style animated adaptation of the Charlton Action Heroes, this Jeremey Adams-written short is a sheer delight as Beetle (Matt Lanter) and The Question (David Kaye) investigate a crime, leading them to their old foe, Dr. Spectro (Tom Kenny), who has Captain Atom (Jeff Bennett) and Nightshade (Ashly Burch) in his thrall. The only other new piece is the obligatory A Sneak Peek of Injustice (7:48), adapting the video game and comic series. The disc is rounded out with From the Vault – Batman: The Animated Series: “Two-Face – Part One” (22:27) and “Two-Face – Part Two” (22:30)

REVIEW: A Quiet Place/ A Quiet Place Part II

REVIEW: A Quiet Place/ A Quiet Place Part II

In 2018, director John Krasinski delivered a gripping thriller in the guise of a science fiction/horror film, something that would not have out of place in the 1950s. A Quiet Place, though, was a contemporary film as it focused entirely on a family, trying to survive in a world post-invasion. The aliens, in this case, had such a superior sense of hearing that the merest cough would alert them, allowing them to hunt you down. Whatever made the sound was destined to be destroyed.

As a result, husband Lee (Krasinski), pregnant wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt), deaf daughter Reagan (Millicent Simmonds), and son Marcus (Noah Jupe) try to navigate the world where the merest whisper could be a death sentence. It is a post-apocalyptic tale of survival that works on the screen as the audience is caught up in the long silences, the heightened sense of danger around every corner, and admiring the ingenuity and love clearly evident during the movie.

It proved such a success, that to Krasinski’s surprise, Paramount Pictures ordered a sequel. The film was shot and then delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic. When it opened in the spring, it was a major success, both critically and commercially.

The new film is out now in 4k Ultra HD and in a variety of other formats. Interestingly, the two films were combined into a two-disc Blu-ray release, in case you missed the first one.

The first film was shot on actual film and the high definition transfer is immaculate with excellent color saturation. For a film where sound or its absence was vital, the audio track is equal to the visual presentation.

The first disc contains three featurettes: Reading the Quiet — Behind the Scenes of A Quiet Place (14:45), The Sound of Darkness — Editing Sound for A Quiet Place (11:44), A Reason for Silence — The Visual Effects of A Quiet Place (7:33).

A Quiet Place Part II opens with a flashback that details the day the aliens crashed to earth and the panic that ensued. After that, we pick up pretty immediately after the first film as new mom Evelyn has to keep her newborn silent and circumstances force them from the sanctuary Lee had built for them. Their trek brings them into the world of survivalist Emmett (Cillian Murphy) and the possibility that surviving humans are gathering somewhere nearby. As Evelyn goes to investigate, the narrative tension is successfully mounted and sustained, letting body language and facial expression do a lot of the heavy lifting. We have multiple threads to follow this time, but director Krasinski does a masterful job letting these breath and showing the characters grow.

Yes, things wind down to a satisfying ending, but you can see the door remains open for more stories told in this frighteningly familiar world.

The high-definition transfer is not as brilliant as the first disc but certainly satisfactory enough for home viewing. Instead, the Dolby Atmos audio track is much superior and makes the viewing much better.

Time, there are more featurettes, well worth a look: Director’s Diary: Filming with John Krasinski (9:38), Pulling Back the Curtain (3:47); Regan’s Journey (6:19); Surviving the Marina (5:00); and Detectable Disturbance: Visual Effects and Sound Design (8:26).

The double-feature Blu-ray comes with Digital HD codes for both films with most of the featurettes available for streaming.  

REVIEW: Pennyworth: The Complete Second Season

REVIEW: Pennyworth: The Complete Second Season

It’s pretty impressive that Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon, who twisted Gotham into a funhouse mirror image of the comic book source material, got invited to do it a second time with their Epix series Pennyworth, purportedly the origins of Alfred. But which Alfred? And for which version of Batman?

Pennyworth: The Complete Second Season, with Covid-19 interruptions, finally arrived at the end of 2020 and is now available on a two-disc Blu-ray set from Warner Archive. You can decide for yourself if the series needed its connections to the Batman mythos, needed to exist at all or is entertaining. As with Gotham, the chaotic and uneven storytelling continues here in this weird, alternate reality of the world.

While it looks like the 1960s, the politics of England is decided more fascistic, and lots of secret organizations are having a secret war with the kingdom’s fate at stake.  In the first season, it was the SAS is battling the Raven Society for control of the country, with the good guys getting help from the No Name Society. We pick up a year later and everyone has received a promotion with the Ravens now the Raven Union and the No Names have taken a new title: the English League which sounds like a soccer club.

Alfred (Jack Bannon) has had father issues in print and onscreen, but here the stakes are higher with his father trying to kill the queen, forcing the son to kill the father. Already unsure of who he is and what he really wants, this act has rattled Alfred, who spends a lot of season two adrift. Things don’t get better when his lover Esme (Emma Corwin, now an Emmy nominated actress for her superior work on The Crown) is killed and he takes up with the wife (one-time Huntress Jessica De Gouw) of his former captain, Gulliver “Gully” Troy (James Purefoy). He, therefore, wants to flee the bleak London future and find the funds to emigrate to Gotham City.

Newly arrived from Gotham to work with the League are Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge) and Martha Kane (Emma Paetz), bringing us closer to the birth of the Dark Knight and Alfred becoming the noble butler. But first, they have to fight for seven episodes and what could have been entertaining Moonlighting banter, the awkward writing robs us of a good thread. By season’s end, they marry and, surprise, have a baby girl, not baby Bruce.

There’s a lot of aimless plotting going on as if they didn’t know they had eight episodes to work with and carefully plot everything out. By bringing in Thomas, Martha, and Lucius Fox (Simon Manyonda), too much bat-mythos is entering Pennyworth threatening to derail its ability to surprise us. Mostly, the big arc is dealing with Project Stormcloud, a “terror bomb” that smacks of the Scarecrow’s fear gas. It’s mostly Alfred and Dave Boy (Ryan Fletcher) versus Colonel John Salt (Edward Hogg) with the bickering Americans in the background.

As with the wretched Gotham, all sorts of storytelling possibilities are ignored in favor of frenetic pacing and lapses in story logic. In theory, a third season may happen and may find a new home at HBO Max, but no announcements have been made.

The 1080p high-definition transfer is perfectly fine with solid DTS-HD audio. The discs do not have any special features.

REVIEW:  Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

REVIEW: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

Reviewing any adaptation requires two trains of thought: is it a good representation of the source material, and is it a good story standing on its own. Frankly, I don’t play video games or watch much animation these days, so in watching the 4K Ultra HD release of Sony’s 2005 Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, I had to view it as a story only.

I do know how wildly successful and popular the Final Fantasy franchise has been through the years and apparently this seventh iteration was a real big deal once upon a time. So, I’m told the film begins where the game left off which means it has to recap enough for those, like me, new to this, and fast enough so as not to bore the diehard fans.

Apparently, the film left something to be desired and the 100-minute film was beefed up with more material and it’s this “Complete” version we have, now running 2 hours 6 minutes. That’s a good thing since this takes some getting used to. Apparently, the evil Sephiroth tried to suck the soul out of the planet, only to be defeated by Cloud Strife, but not before the major city of Midgar was destroyed. Now, two years have passed and our protagonist is asked to aid the world once more in defeating the antagonist, who has managed to send his spirit into the terrible trio of Kadaj, Loz, and Yazoo.

There’s fighting, magic, meaningful exchanges, and action. Does it make a whole lot of sense to someone new to the franchise? No, not really. Too many elements show up without context so it’s a nicely produced CGI animated feature that doesn’t work for outsiders. Watching it can feel endless for those not in the know and for those familiar with the franchise, I’[m told this is a very strong, successful entry.

The film is released in a combo pack containing the 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital HD code. The anime CGI animation is quite strong with striking visuals. The 4K version is stronger than the Blu-ray, especially with the color grading, but both have a relatively weak source material to work from given the film came out 15 years ago. As a result, there are some transfer issues, more notable in the Blu-ray than the 4K so it’s nice to have both. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Japanese track is excellent, superior to the English track.

This is not exactly the prettiest movie ever made considering the inherent source flaws, the animation detail which is well below modern standards, and the bleak color spectrum content, but Sony appears to have done everything within its power to make this look as good as it can. Mild adds to sharpness and a fairly good HDR color grading run have improved the look of the movie a good bit over Blu-ray but do be aware that the steady stream of aliasing remains for the duration.

There are no new features, but the 2009 Blu-ray release’s special features carry over intact. These include Legacy of Final Fantasy VII (6:38);  Reminiscence of Final Fantasy VII (23:55); Reminiscence of Final Fantasy VII Compilation (29:43); On the Way to a Smile-Episode: Denzel (28:07), an OVA focusing Denzel, set between the game and the film; Sneak Peek at Final Fantasy XIII (7:12); five trailers for Advent Children Complete.