Author: Robert Greenberger

REVIEW:Justice League Dark: Apokolips War

REVIEW: Justice League Dark: Apokolips War

Warner Releases Details on all-star Justice League Dark: Apokolips WarAll of the marketing promises that Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, out today for digital streaming, is the final chapter of the DC Animated Movie Universe. Similar to Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame wrapping up a decade’s worth of stories, this too brings everything to a cosmic climax, the likes of which have not been attempted before. The largely successful effort clocks in at 90 minutes, making for the longest film yet in the 38 animated features from Warner Animation.

The film opens with John Constantine (Matt Ryan), now a full-fledged member of the League, in bed with Zatanna (Camilla Luddington), a moment of bliss before impending doom. The language and graphic violence definitely make this inappropriate for the youngest viewers so parents are forewarned.

Darkseid (Tony Todd) has been a looming threat and now, he launches his all-out assault on Earth. With the Titans left to defend Earth, Superman (Jerry O’Connell) leads the Justice League into battle on Apokolips. They get their asses kicked and Earth gets conquered.

Two years later…Really, no spoilers so far because this was in the first few minutes of the epic battle. Through dialogue and sparing flashbacks, writers Mairghread Scott, Christina Sotta, and Ernie Altbacker show how one by one, the world’s greatest heroes fell. Earth is now being plundered for its resources and humanity has been reduced in great numbers.

Of course, there is a resistance and this is where the bilk of the story takes place. Clark Kent, laced with Kryptonite through his body and therefore powerless, recruits Constantine, mourning Z’s death with alcohol, to help resume the fight. A loose network of heroes and villains, relying on one another for survival, forge a plan. As a result, characters from across the films are present with Lois Lane (Rebecca Romjin) taking a leadership role. And it’s no surprise lowlifes like Captain Boomerang (Liam McIntyre) are still around.

Meantime, Damian Wayne (Stuart Allan) recruits his mother, Lady Shiva (Sachie Alessio) to join the battle. He and Raven (Taissa Farmiga) have one of the more significant storylines in this sprawling story while she and her father Trigon (Jon Bernthal) also have a major thread.

Standing in their way is Darkseid, no longer surrounded by any other member of the New Gods. His new Furies include transformed versions of Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson), Mera, and Hawkman. Occupying the Mobius Chair is Batman (Jason O’Mara), now a loyal servant.

As the film unfolds, one of the most glaring aspects of these massive team-ups is exposed. Characters who normally avoid death from gunfire, talon, knife, cosmic blast, etc. easily fall here to show just how overwhelming the odds are. As a result, many characters are seen in very quick cameos. Similarly, Darkseid is just way too powerful, on a scale never before seen. He seems to make easy work of not only Earth’s heroes but the entire GL Corps and kills the immortal Guardians, which doesn’t feel right. And what happens to the Central Power Battery is an incredibly false note.

Surprisingly, Constantine is far more heroic and the center of action than he should for such a cosmic tale, but given that the title is Justice League Dark, it makes some sense. The other occult members play minor roles with Etrigan (Ray Chase) getting some of the film’s best lines.

This, of course, is a story about heroes and heroism with plenty of noble sacrifices throughout. The final solution involves some of both and fittingly wraps the film series. Then there is one final problem, with 31% of Earth’s magma now gone, the planet is doomed. Superman, though, refuses to give up and as he rallies the exhausted troops, Constantine turns to one of them, telling him he knows what must be done. And the film ends as it must.

I’m not sure why they felt the need to end the continuity, but they tie up many threads from previous films. And the heroes aren’t gone for good. Coming later this year will be a new Superman tale.

The film was screened digitally and there’s an interesting gap after the end credits suggesting a post-credit hint for the future.

None of the Blu-ray’s special features were included for review but for the record, you can expect on May 19:

  • DC Showcase: Adam Strange (Animated Short) – On an asteroid mining colony, mysterious drifter Adam Strange is dismissed as an interplanetary derelict. But when the miners open a fissure into the home of a horde of deadly alien insects, his true identity is exposed. He is space adventurer Adam Strange, whose heroic backstory is played out in flashbacks as he struggles to save the very people who have scorned him for so long. Charlie Weber provides the voice of Adam Strange, alongside with Roger R. Cross, Kimberly Brooks, Ray Chase, and Fred Tatasciore. Adam Strange is produced and directed by Butch Lukic (Batman Unlimited franchise), who also conceived the original story – which is written by J.M. DeMatteis (Constantine: City of Demons).
  • Darkseid: New God/Evil Classic (New Featurette) – This documentary explores the machinations of one of fiction¹s greatest Super Villains as we learn more about what fuels Darkseid¹s drive to becoming a galactic Atilla the Hun and the importance of Deities in our classic and modern fiction.
  • Filmmaker Audio Commentary – Observations and behind-the-scenes insight from Executive Producer James Tucker, Directors Matt Peters and Christina Sotta, and Screenwriter Ernie Altbacker.
  • Look Back: Justice League Dark (Featurette) – John Constantine leads a group of misfit characters that use magic to vanquish their opponents. This is the dark version of the Justice League taking on the malevolent forces that go beyond our plane of existence.
  • Look Back: Batman and Harley Quinn (Featurette) – Take a peek at the animated feature film, Batman and Harley Quinn, featuring the creators and talented voice cast.
  • From the DC Vault: Justice League Action, “Zombie King”
  • From the DC Vault: Justice League Action, “Abate and Switch”
  • From the DC Comics Vault: Teen Titans, “Nevermore”
  • A Sneak Peek at the next DC Universe Movie, Superman: Man of Tomorrow – An advanced look at the next animated film in the popular DC Universe Movies collection.
REVIEW: The Gentlemen

REVIEW: The Gentlemen

After dabbling in worlds created by others, including Sherlock HolmesThe Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Aladdin, director Guy Ritchie decided to return to his roots and tell a quirky English crime caper. Whether he was feeling nostalgic or attempting to regain the cred earned from the wonderful Layer Cake is unknown. What I can tell you is that while far from perfect, The Gentlemen is an entertaining delight.

The film is largely a two-handed, an engagement between Fletcher (Hugh Grant), an untrustworthy independent reporter, and Ray (Charlie Hunnam), the right hand to drug lord Michael Pearson (Matthew McConaughey). It’s move and countermove between the two as Fletcher tries to extort 20 million pounds or reveal what he believes to be the scoop of the year. And as they go back and forth, they tell each other pieces of the bigger pictures and then we go into flashbacks. Each time one thinks he’s trumped the other, we get a new wrinkle, another story, and things fall into place. By the end, you’re satisfied and amused which we could all use right about now.

The flashbacks and changing points of view may take some getting used to if you’re unfamiliar with Ritchie’s earlier work. But they and the oddball cast are what make the film worth watching. It’s terrific seeing Grant cast against type and he’s well-matched by the underseen Hunnam. That said, we’ve seen McConaughey in this role before so he’s fine, just boring in comparison, and the more versatile Michelle Dockery, as his wife Rosalind, is way under-utilized (and there should have been far more prominent women in the story). Colin Farrell steals every scene he’s in as the athletic trainer/thug Coach, who manages a gang of boxers turned gangbangers.

There’s some predictability here and there along with some stereotyped characters marring the story, but overall, this was fun to watch and should have done better before we were quarantined. There is strong production design and costuming, especially Grant and Farrell.

The film is now available from Universal Home Entertainment in all the formats you could ask for including the Blu-ray, DVD, and digital HD combo pack. Note: the digital HD is for iTunes only, which I personally object to.

The 1080p transfer nicely captures the colors, lighting, and textures. The Dolby Atmos (TrueHD 7.1 default) audio mix is also strong so the viewing experience is a positive one.

As entertaining as the film is, the Special Features leave a lot to be desired. You get Best Gentlemanly Quips (3:09), Glossary of Cannabis (00:46), Behind the Scenes of The Gentlemen (1:37), and a Photo Gallery.


REVIEW: Underwater

REVIEW: Underwater

Kristen Stewart’s Underwater DVD Details UnveiledListening to the audio commentary to Underwater, you can hear director William Eubank gush about the set design, the costumes, the creature effects, the title sequence, and so on, and you realize it’s about all that and not the story and characters. Any time you take your eye off the story and characters, you’re in trouble.

Underwater, out now from 20th Century Home Entertainment, is a complete misfire of a horror thriller, effectively remaking Alien and setting it under the sea. It wastes an engaging enough cast anchored by Kristen Stewart, looking as fetching in her underwear as Sigourney Weaver did, and never builds enough original suspense to be worth sitting through.

She plays Norah, a mechanical engineer deep down in a corporate mining facility and of course, the corporation has ignored warnings of strange sightings, leaving the small crew vulnerable. So of course, things go wrong, one after the other, and the crew is winnowed until its just her and Jessica Henwick versus the sea creatures.

Ho hum. You know what’s coming, you don’t care when it arrives, and know how it’s going to end so you’re watching out of sluggishness, not interest.

There’re sparks of interest here and there, mostly why you remain rooted in your seat, hoping for better. The crew is led by Vincent Cassel and his French accent, complete with the always watchable T. J. Miller, and rounded out with John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie, Gunner Wright. Whatever is revealed about the characters is just enough, in the Eubanks’ mind, as he wants to keep moving the story forward, forgetting we need to be invested in the characters. One of the extended scenes visually reveals things about the crew which begs for more but it’s cut, he says, to keep the story going.

If only the story had a direction that was fresh, new, and compelling. Blame goes to the script by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad and Producers Peter Chernin, Tonia Davis, Jenno Topping who have all produced far better stories and should know better.

Stewart is an interesting actor to watch, but her film choices leave you wondering. What attracted her to such a flimsy story? It’s a waste of her skills. And while it’s always nice to see Henwick get work, she needs meatier roles.

The movie could not be reviewed on disc due to the Covid-19 protocols and was watched digitally. On, the high definition edition looks good, capturing the subtle shades of the murky sea, the grubby interiors, and so on. The audio track sounds fine on a computer and a soundbar. The digital edition also comes with the Special Features you will also find on disc.

There are extended or deleted scenes, with and without commentary by Eubank, Associate Producer Jared Purrington, and Phil Gawthorne. — Call the Mover Extended Scene (1:30); Crew Suit Up Extended (1:44); Gantry Exit Extended (2:30), Baby Clinger Extended (1:35); Midway Station Extended (1:43); Ocean Floor Walk Extended (5:35); Rock Garden (:48); and Smith Departure Extended (1:01).

The trio can also optionally be heard on Alternate Ending (2:55), Real Bunny Montage (3:25); Making Underwater, in three parts: Design (17:54), Production (19:50), and Creatures & Visual Effects (19:56); Audio Commentary with Eubank, Purrington, and Gawthorne.


REVIEW: V the Final Battle

Once upon a time, when there were just three major networks, the schedules would be filled with glossy, interesting, high-concept miniseries, usually aired during the vital November, February, and May sweeps periods when the ratings were used to set advertising rates. This is what gave us great concepts like ABC’s Roots or, in 1983, V.

Metro subways and bus stations were plastered that spring with red-suited people, wearing sunglasses and big smiles, wrapping their arms around ordinary folk and we were assured: “The Visitors are our Friends”.  A few weeks later, they were replaced with replicas but now a spray-painted V covered them and we got a hint of the Visitors’ true, reptilian nature.

The V miniseries, wonderfully written and directed by Ken Johnson (he of Incredible Hulk fame) was a taut two-night affair that presented the aliens coming to Earth and befriending us before their true intentions were revealed and a resistance movement began. Johnson carefully varied both the humans and aliens so there were differing perspectives and allegiances. The show turned Marc Singer into a star and introduced the world to Robert Englund.

The May ratings were a smash, so NBC ordered a sequel entitled V: The Final Battle, a three-part epic for May 1983 that is now available on Blu-ray for the first time from Warner Archive.

Johnson was once more the mastermind although he and the network began to clash over the creative direction and he left the production.

The overall plan is that the aliens need the world’s water and are befriending humanity in an attempt to gain converts to their cause or a cowed populace who will not stand in their way. In their human disguises, they beguile, bribe, and seduce many to their cause, manipulating the media, and steadily taking control city by city.

The action in both miniseries is limited to Los Angeles, letting the novels and DC Comics adaptation (which I edited for a stretch), see what was happening elsewhere. The rebellion is led by TV reporter Mike Donovan (Marc Singer) and Juliet Parrish (Faye Grant), more or less opposed by Diana (Jane Badler) and John (Richard Herd). The sequel continues where we left off but there are new complications. First, Diana’s failure to secure the planet according to schedule means her superior, Pamela (Sarah Douglas), arrives to take charge. Joining the rebels are CIA operatives Ham Tyler (Michael Ironside) and his burly sidekick Chris Farber (Mickey Jones).

Teen Robin Maxwell (Blair Tefkin) was impregnated by the Visitor Brian (Peter Nelson) during the first miniseries so of course, she will be giving birth here. The crossbreeding, ordered by Diana, resulted in hybrid fraternal twins, a reptilian boy with blue eyes, and a human girl with a forked tongue. When Parrish, a doctor, conducts an autopsy, she discovers a strain of bacteria that killed the boy and could be turned into a weapon, dubbed Red Dust, to repel the invaders.

It’s all very good for its day, with some strong acting, good makeup, and a fast-paced story. The V phenomenon was nicely continued here.

Sadly, NBC decided to follow it with a disastrous weekly series the following season. In the hands of Dan Blatt and Robert Singer, they were making it up as they went along, ignoring internal logic or, you know, science.

Anyway, the two-disc Blu-ray looks good with a fine, If not perfect, transfer, retaining its broadcast 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The 2.0 DTS-HD MA mix is perfectly adequate. There are no special features included beyond network teasers.

REVIEW: Hilo: All the Pieces Fit

Hilo: All the Pieces Fit
By Judd Winick
210 pages/RH Graphic/$13.99

Receiving the sixth volume of a continuing series to review can be a daunting task if you have not read the previous five, especially if there is no recap section preceding the story (a complaint I have about most series).

That said, this volume, wrapping the initial storyline takes a little time to get one’s feet wet then you are propelled through the action, figuring things out along the way. Credit to Judd Winick for being adept at doing this so by the end, you’re not just accustomed to the characters but emotionally invested in the team of protagonists trying to protect the world.

The series kicked off in 2015 so readers of this mid-grade series can grow up with the characters and if they’ve outgrown it after this volume, they will be satisfied. And for those who are just finding it, be assured volume seven and a new story arrives in 2021.

Hilo is an android built to resemble an elementary school student and drops from the sky onto Earth. He was befriended by D.J. and Gina and over the course of the series, they learn about him and his extradimensional origins as well as the threat presented by Razorwark. What does this red-armored being want with Hilo and Earth?

This volume has the first in-person confrontation between Hilo and Razorwark with the fate of the world at stake. Gina finds herself playing a significant role as magic comes into this mostly SF story and there’s a heroic sacrifice that will no doubt require tissues for the younger readers.

Winick, no stranger to graphic storytelling, evolves the status quo so the end of book six leaves everyone different from book one, which is a good thing. His writing is breezy and his open, cartoony style is filled with kinetic motion and letting big moments take whole pages. It becomes a quick-paced read after the first 30 or so pages as we build momentum.

There’s a lot to recommend in this all-ages series, but you must start with book one.


REVIEW: Birds of Prey

I pity Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn for not being able to find its audience, having the misfortune of opening just as the pandemic entered the news. Shunted to streaming, it’s languished and honestly, it’s entertaining and fun.

It’s not as good as anticipated.

Long in development, the movie was the brainchild of Margot Robbie, who immortalized the live-action version in 2016’s Suicide Squad misfire. Her role was largely inspired on the New 52/Rebirth take on the character, more Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti than Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. She was certainly the best thing about the movie so a spinoff featuring her and some of DC Comics’ other heroines sounded great.

She bonded with screenwriter Christina Hodson, best known for her solid work on Bumblebee (and credited as the writer of the still unfilmed Flash), and they crafted a gonzo story that picked up where the other film ended, hence the “emancipation” portion of the mouthful of a title.

Harley Quinn has severed her ties with the Joker and is adrift, wallowing in self-pity, leaving a trail of destruction on a large scale. A regular at the Black Mask Club, run by Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), she befriends Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a torch singer turned Sionis’ personal driver. She’s on hand to witness Sionis’ thug Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) picking up a valuable diamond, only to have it snatched from him by the teen thief Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). Elsewhere, Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) is investigating Harley’s actions while a female vigilante (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is killing criminals. And we’re off.

The diamond is the magnetic McGuffin that brings the women together to oppose Sionis and his criminal forces climaxing in an amazing battle at an abandoned Fun House.

Review: ‘Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey’

The various women all get their backstories told in various flashbacks and Hodson gets credit for playing with the story structure so we’re getting multiple points of view, flashbacks, and voiceovers (with Harley not the most reliable of narrators). Still, we learn Dinah is the daughter of Black Canary who, we gather, was protecting Gotham City before Batman arrived. The entire sense of legacy is cool but tossed of in a line and never picked up so we never fully understand Dinah’s reluctance to embrace her sonic powers and fighting skills.

Cassandra is there in name only, serving the fans and doing a massive disservice to the fans of her four-color source. What we have here is closer to a female Short Round with a potty mouth.

As underwritten as the women are, the men are worse off with Szasz, a deadly opponent in the comics, is reduced to being a sidekick thug who never comes off as menacing. Sionis’ comics origins were creepier and he was far more threatening in comics than here. McGregor was miscast or misdirected because he never rises to a true threat or memorable screen villain. At best, he’s a wanna-be Bond villain, at worst, he’s just boring.

Gotham City’s edges are the focal point of the story but Gotham, when well-used, is a character in its own right and the film’s production design fails to accomplish this until we get the final quarter, both at the amusement park and then at a pier. Until then, it’s a generic city which is not Gotham, home to the Bat. His presence gets a shout out but never seems to influence the cops or the criminals.

Where the film excels is energy, with some of the best stunts and action sequences yet found in a super-hero film. Kudos to the stunt team and the actors who just let it rip and looked like they were having a ball.

Director Cathy Yan gets credit for bringing a loose sense of verve to the proceedings but I wish a little more care went into characterization and its place in the greater DC filmed universe.  She and Robbie hope for a sequel with Poison Ivy, which could be fun, but the box office forecast makes that an iffy proposition at best.

The movie can be rent or bought on your favorite streaming service. The copy reviewed via nicely captured the range of colors and tones from daylight to foggy night. The audio at home was just fine so overall, watching from the home screen wasn’t an issue.

The film is accompanied by a routine assortment of special features which, light the film,  keep things bright and always on the surface: Birds Eye View Mode, the entire film with pop up trivia and commentary offering some interesting tidbits and insights; Whip it Real Good (:55), a shorter version of the Skating piece; Birds of a Feather (8:26), everyone gushes; Romanesque (4:57), a look at Roman Sionis; A Love, Skate Relationship (4:29), a brief look at the real world roller derby women who participated in the film and the stunts on wheels; Grime and Crime (10:38), exploring the production design; Sanity is sooo last Season (7:39), a look at costumes and accessories; Wild Nerds (6:03), all about the unusual approach to storytelling including the visual effects, notably scenes with Bruce the hyena; and Gag Reel (2:02).

REVIEW: The Current War The Director’s Cut

REVIEW: The Current War The Director’s Cut

The Current War Charges for Home March 31I contend the world changed more between 1875 and 1900 than any other quarter-century in recorded history. From Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone to Thomas Edison’s phonograph and motion pictures, the masses were suddenly able to communi9cate and entertain in new ways. The world shrank and night was eliminated thanks to the light bulb.

It’s a fascinating period and one that has been overlooked until recently. First came, Graham Moore’s The Last Days of Night, a historical novel from 2016 that carefully detailed the battle between Edison and George Westinghouse for setting the electrical standard for America. Of course, alternating current won, but not without losses on both sides.

A year later, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon tackled the same subject matter in The Current War, pitting Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) against Westinghouse (Michael Shannon). In both stories as in history, the mad genius of Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), is a naïve innocent, trapped between sides.

Michael Mitnick made this story his life’s work, first as a musical then as a screenplay, going through sixty drafts, earning its way onto the infamous Black List of great, unproduced scripts. It slowly lurched towards production in 2016 and shown at the Toronto Film Festival in 2017 where it was met with distaste. Gomez-Rejon trimmed ten minutes and shot ten minutes that added depth to the main characters. Then the Weinstein Company disintegrated in the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s exposure as a serial rapist. After the studio and its assets bounced around, the movie, now called The Current War The Director’s Cut, finally arrived last fall.

Out now in streaming and available on disc in May, the bottom line is: read the novel.

I don’t know who should get the blame, Mitnick or Gomez-Rejon, but the film never breathes. It’s a series of short scenes in a staccato style so we’re lurching from place to place, event to event, never really getting to know either man. What they share in common is that they love their wives, and when Mary Stillwell Edison (Tuppence Middleton) dies early on, we feel for Edison. But we don’t know the men, or Edison’s number two (Tom Holland) or financier J.P. Morgan (Matthew Mcfadyen), and why he backed the wrong industrialist. The most misused character s Tesla seen as a hapless immigrant, consistently taken advantage of. He is misplayed by Hoult and is robbed of Tesla’s mangled English, adding to his otherworldliness.

What should have been a riveting story about which man got to change the world, has been reduced to a disinteresting story that merely hints at what was.

The film was seen on and its high definition stream carefully captures the subtle colors of the era, especially the night scenes. There’s a nice, crystal quality to the visual and the audio was just fine. No special features accompanied the digital version.

REVIEW: 1917

REVIEW: 1917

World War I is a period usually given short shrift in social studies classes. Neither of my kids spent time on this vital conflict, since it set the stage for the next 75 years of history. For many, the No Man’s Land scene in Wonder Woman may have been the only time they saw what the battle may have looked like.

As a result, San Mendes’ 1917 was a welcome entry to the history on film canon, deserving the ten Academy Award nominations among many other accolades. The film, out on disc now from Universal Home Entertainment, is a visually stunning work that should be seen.

Much has been made of the cinematic approach, telling the story in a way that suggests one continual shot from the soldiers’ perspective. Kudos to Mendes for trying this and to Cinematographer Roger Deakins for making this a visually arresting film. The production design and set decoration are incredible and rich in detail.

As a result, you spent the entire 119 minutes gaping at the visual spectacle and trying to find where camera cut. It’s not until the lights come up and you pause to absorb it all that you realize it’s not a well-written movie. Mendes used an experience of his grandfather’s as a springboard and cowrite the screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns about two British soldiers — Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Will Schofield (George MacKay) — tasked with getting a message to the frontlines before a disastrous ambush takes place.

Neither actor is well-known so we can’t predict if either or both survive the 24-hour ordeal. But, as the two endure sniper fire, things falling apart around them, concussions, mud pits, and more, you come to realize this is all too much for the time period. No human can endure this much without eating or sleeping (or going to the bathroom) or in need of medical care. At one point, of them falls in a cold river for some time and never slows down to hypothermia – and this after a concussion.

It’s all too much, spoiling the incredibly realistic setting the two find themselves in.

None of the characters are well-defined, more like stock players with flat dialogue that defines no one. In incredibly small roles, but to secure investments I’m sure, you can spot Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Jamie Parker.

I truly wish as much effort went into creating interesting characters as they did in the visual portion of the film.

The movie is out in the usual assortment of formats including the Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD combo pack. The 1080p transfer had to be pristine to capture every detail because you’re going to want to pause and stare. Mendes worked magic and this is one of the best-looking films I’ve seen on disc with terrific colors and nicely captured dust, dirt, and debris. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is more than a match for the stunning visuals, nicely capturing all the subtle sounds of war.

There is an assortment of Special Features that are fine, but I wish they were stronger. We start with The Weight of the World: Sam Mendes (4:29), which covers scripting the story; Allied Forces: The Making of 1917 (12:01), a too-short look at the filming; The Score of 1917 (3:52): In the Trenches (6:59), which focuses on the unknown stars; Recreating History (10:25): Mendes’ collaboration with Production Designer Dennis Gassner; Audio Commentary: one from Mendes and one from Deakins.

REVIEW: Superman: Red Son

REVIEW: Superman: Red Son

Exclusive Interview – Superman: Red Son director Sam LiuThe best of DC Comics’ Elseworlds stories where when the writers challenged the conventional wisdom, upending how we envisioned our heroes. Among the more celebrated of these stories was Mark Millar and Dave Johnson’s Superman: Red Son, imagining the Kryptonian rocket ship landing in Soviet Russia, not Kansas.

It has long been on people’s wish list for adaptation as either a live-action or animated feature. Those wishes have finally been granted in one of Warner Animation’s more successful adaptations. The film is out now from Warner Home Entertainment in all the usual formats including the popular 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and Digital HD combo.

Superman (Jason Isaacs) arrives in the late 1930s and by the time his powers begin to manifest with his adolescence, we’re on the tail end of World War II and the arrival of Joseph Stalin’s (William Salyers) Iron Curtain. With a super-powered loyalist, Stalin manages to exert even greater influence over his people and the world at large. America may have introduced the atomic bomb, but they were clearly behind in the super-powers arms race. Presidents began to rely on brilliant industrialist Lex Luthor (Diedrich Bader) to close that gap. He’s encouraged by his reporter wife Lois Lane (Amy Acker).

Superman: Red Son review: A refreshing revisionist rendition of a Russian Man of SteelThe timeline is altered from our world since Stalin died in 1953 but is still alive when the planet was being orbited by multiple Russian satellites. When the Man of Steel arrives in America to save it from a failed Russian satellite, he is shown proof of Stalin’s atrocities, including an underground slave labor camp for political dissidents, including his childhood friend Svetlana Winter Ave Zoli). In his anger, Superman kills Stalin and tries to do the right thing, further spreading the Communist ideal to countries around the world.

In time, he and Princess Diana (Vanessa Marshall), ambassador from Themyscira, form a friendship where she checks his idealism with doses of realism. Over the years, he grows more strident and blindered, eventually costing him her loyalty. Other dissidents arise, including Batman (Roger Craig Smith), but the bigger threat to his rule is the extraterrestrial Brainiac (Paul Williams), which shrinks Stalingrad before he subdues and seemingly reprograms the alien tech to do his bidding.

Human nature has proven Communism to be an unattainable goal and here, even a super-powered idealist cannot make it work. He is opposed by Democratic ideals, positioned here as the one true form of government; a facsimile made from his DNA, and that pesky Bat. Everything builds up until there’s betrayal, realization, catharsis, and genuine heroism.

Batman Kills More People in New Superman: Red Son ClipIt’s an exceedingly well told tale thanks to a solid script from J.M. DeMatteis and strong direction from Sam Liu, who finally has tempered some of his action excesses in favor of better character moments. Frequent composer Frederik Wiedmann turns in an excellent score.

The UHD’s 2160p transfer is visibly superior to the Blu-ray (not that its bad), but the color palette is well-captured here. This gray world is nicely depicted and looks terrific.  The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track captures the booms, sound effects, and music quite well.

The Special Features have fallen into a predictable pattern. We start off with another wonderful installment of the DC Showcase shorts. Here we have a Phantom Stranger (15:07) installment, set in the psychedelic era, just when the feature was being revived by DC. Then we have the routine look at the story underlying the Elseworlds tale: Cold Red War (16:57) as Dave Johnson, Mike Carlin, Sam Liu and others from the crew talk about the source material. Thankfully they also brought on screen several people to address the real history, including history professors Miriam Neirick, Ph.D. and Michaela Crawford Reaves, Ph.D.

Additionally, there’s a useful, abbreviated motion comic (6:03) version of the graphic novel and Sneak Peek: Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (10:23), which is being billed as the final installment in this incarnation of the animated continuity.

The disc is rounded out with older previews and the two-part Justice League episode “A Better World”.

REVIEW: Titans: The Complete Second Season

REVIEW: Titans: The Complete Second Season

Titans Season 2 Hits Disc in MarchDC Universe’s Titans series is maddeningly uneven. Its second season, out now on disc for those unwilling to buy the service, is perhaps slightly better than its inaugural outing but it’s still a mess.

Let’s start with the fact that everyone behind the camera doesn’t understand Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites), so they depict him as bitter and angry, lost and without a clear sense of self. He was never like that in the comics and this is jarring and not terribly well thought through. During the season he is haunted by the vision of Bruce Wayne (Ian Glen), who seems far less brooding than one would expect an aging Batman to be.

The final episode shot for season one is used to open season two as Dick, Donna Troy (Conor Leslie), Hank Hall (Alan Ritchson), Gar Logan (Ryan Potter), Kory Anders (Anna Diop), Jason Todd (Curran Walters), and Rachel (Teagan Croft) face off against Trigon (Seamus Dever). Once his threat is easily dispatched, the team go their separate ways for most of the season.

Titans in the comics, whether under Bob Haney, Marv Wolfman, or Geoff Johns, worked best when they were together, loving, laughing, and fighting as a surrogate family unit. Instead, we have multiple storylines going on that allows them to introduce Conner Kent (Joshua Orpin), Deathstroke/Slade Wilson (Esai Morales), his son, Jericho (Chella Man), and daughter, Rose (Chelsea Zhang). Slade wants revenge against Dick for Jericho’s injuries while Rose was sent to infiltrate and betray the team in a variation of the classic storyline “The Judas Contract”.

It never quite gels and comes together as it needs to although Dick finally forges his Nightwing identity, just in time for a member of the team to be needlessly killed. There are times I think the best character in the show is Krypto, who never gets enough screen time.

A third season is in the works and one can hope they learn their lessons and grow rather than retreat.

The 1080p transfer is crisp which is good considering how dark the series is, even in daytime. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack is a match if not a touch better so you’re in for a good viewing experience.

The 13 episodes are accompanied by one Special Feature: Jason Todd – Fate by the Fans (11:52), which examines the disastrous call in stunt that doomed Jason Todd to a grisly death in the best-selling “Death in the Family” storyline from 1989.