Author: Robert Greenberger

REVIEW: Ghosts

Ghosts
By Raina Telgemeier
Scholastic Graphix, 240 pages, $10.99/$24.99

GhostsRaina Telgemeier has built a fine career for herself as a graphic novelist, she cut her teeth on adapting four of the Babysitter’s Club novels before creating her own original works, beginning with Smile. Now, with her fourth offering, she is an acclaimed New York Times Best Seller and this work is receiving a 500,000 copy first printing.

The secret to her justified success is that her work is accessible and identifiable. She takes the basic elements of teen life, such as receiving braces or dealing with siblings, and turns them into refreshing stories that can ease discomfort or bring simple entertainment. Her fluid, cartoon-style also make the characters fun and easily identifiable, her worlds recognizable, and her pages flow easily from one to the next, never losing the narrative thread.

This time around, she uses inspiration from the time she lived in Northern California and her fascination with the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration to create an original story about, once more, sisters. The family has relocated up the coast to Bahía de la Luna in the hopes the foggy, cooler climate will help Maya, the younger of the two, breathe easier. Born with cystic fibrosis, she has not had an easy time of it, although her unbridled zest for life, has not slowed her down too much. The story, though, is narrated by older sister Catrina, a teenager who loves her sister and still feels weighed down by her.

The relationship between the siblings forms the core of the novel as both are plunged into this new town and its largely Hispanic populace, which honors their ancestors with shrines and happily anticipates seeing them each Halloween at the Day of the Dead party.  This is a world that accepts the supernatural and people interact with ghosts without fear, something the girls both need to learn. Their guide in this is Carlos, their neighbor and Ghost Tour guide, who is friendly to both but definitely finds a spark in Catrina, something she is slow to recognize or embrace.

While Maya readily accepts the spirits, her body weakens and her struggles impact Cat’s outlook on the town and their spectral residents. Her conflicted nature towards Maya feels real and Telgemeier mines this incredibly well.

Interestingly, she includes sketches from 2008 when she first began thinking about this story. There’s recognizable linework but her work has simplified and evolved since then. Her work is strong, aided by colorist Braden Lamb, resulting in a very satisfying and emotionally uplifting story that should entertain readers of all ages.

REVIEW: Gotham: The Complete Second Season

REVIEW: Gotham: The Complete Second Season

Gotham S2 BD1Last year, Gotham debuted on Fox amidst a lot of hoopla and generally positive notices. I, however, found the series woefully inept with ham-fisted dialogue and implausible plotting, while ignoring the source material to the point of being unrecognizable. I apparently was in the minority since the ratings were strong and it got a renewal.

Gotham: The Complete Second Season is out now on Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Home Entertainment and while it is markedly improved, it apparently has decided to embrace bad writing and worse plotting since people seemed to like it.

With the core players established, the second season decided to offer up two long arcs, with the winter hiatus separating them. In the first arc, we have the arrival of Theo Galavan (James Frain) and his sister Tabitha (Jessica Lucas), arrive in Gotham and we learn he’s here to settle old family scores as we learn of the intertwined relationships between the Waynes, Galavans, and Dumas. To accomplish this, Theo orchestrates events so he’s seen as a hero and rides his popularity to become Mayor.

He’s secretly working with the Order of St. Dumas which has arrived in Gotham and activates Theo as their Azrael, wasting Ron Rifkin as the organization’s leader.

James Gordon (Ben McKenzie), on the force, off the force, suspected of criminal mischief, and more, seems to be the only one to see through the nonsense (let alone the series ignoring how one registers to run and runs for an office, totally skipped over). Theo grabs the psychotic Barnaba (Erin Richards) and uses her as a weapon against Gordon. That doesn’t work and Gordon seemingly kills Galavan, ending a threat to the city. Gordon continues to have a prickly relationship with new commissioner Nathaniel Barnes (Michael Chiklis), who can’t seem to make up his mind whether Gordon is straight or crooked or just nuts.

During all this noise, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) has chosen to live on the streets and allies himself with Selina Kyle (Carmen Bicondova) and they get caught up in the Galvan silliness and Bruce does something fairly cold, worrying Selina his PTSD is getting worse.

The second half of the season brings us to Arkham Asylum and Prof. Hugo Strange (B.D. Wong), who is working for the Court of Owls to make monsters out of humans for reasons unknown. Selina gets trapped in the Asylum as does an undercover Gordon. Bruce, meanwhile, finally figures out who shot his parents (it is not Joe Chill on orders from Lew Moxon) and tracks him down. In theory, by figuring this out at age 11 or 12, he gets the justice he craves and never becomes Batman but that’s entirely ignored.

Meanwhile, poor Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) hangs out with Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), no fully schizophrenic and murderous on his own. Then he finds his birth father (Paul Ruebens) and gets a new home only to find it filled with vicious family who do not like to share, once more wrecking Oswald’s fragile psyche.

Back art Arkham, Strange trains Basil Karlo (Brian McManamon) to impersonate Gordon, and does a lousy job, but no one seems to notice because everyone on this series is apparently clueless. The season ends with Strange exposed, the Court ready to take action, Gordon on the run in search of pregnant Lee (Morena Baccarin) and monsters wandering the city.

The writing continues to lack subtlety and none of the character arcs make a lick of sense. And yet, this mess of a show remains compelling viewing and it has its adherents.

All 22 noisy, mindless episodes are contained in the combo pack along with Digital HD. There are a nice assortment of extras to round out the package including the requisite Gotham: 2015 Comic Con Panel; Gotham by Noir Light, a look at the show’s use of light and shadow; Alfred: Batman’s Greatest Ally, regardless of how ill-used Alfred (Sean Pertwee) was used this season; Cold Hearted – The Tale of Victor Fries; and some character featurettes.

REVIEW: The Huntsman: Winter’s War

REVIEW: The Huntsman: Winter’s War

The HuntsmanFairy Tales are also cautionary tales, a way to teach morals and values to children at a time when the majority of the populace couldn’t read or write. It wasn’t until the last four centuries or so when we began writing it all down and solidifying the variations. Even today, people take the classics and reinterpret them for new generations, bringing in modern themes and issues, making them more relevant.

The cautionary tale to take from The Huntsman: Winter’s War is that you have to have something interesting to say. The preceding film, Snow White and the Huntsman, gave us a revisionist Snow White in the form of plucky Kristen Stewart, a modern day action heroine that made her a proactive player in the classic German tale.

Given behind the scenes shenanigans, Stewart was out of the proposed sequel with the emphasis shifting to the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and giving him a new romantic interest and a cool threat in the Snow Queen, loosely taken from Hans Christian Anderson’s story. By making Freya (Emily Blunt) the wicked Queen Ravenna’s (Charlize Theron) younger sister, we now have an interesting dynamic to play with.

Craig Mazin and Evan Spiliotopoulos’s screenplay gives us a lengthy prologue set before the first film and setting Freya has had an affair with a nobleman and given birth to a love child although Andrew (Colin Morgan) has inexplicably killed the child and something goes eerily cold within Freya. We’re told she leaves the kingdom to go find her own castle and land to rule with an icy heart and matching powers (shades of Elsa). Lacking her own child, she orders the land’s children taken from their loving homes and brought to the castle to be trained.

Her two best grow up to become Eric (Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) and of course they have a forbidden romance, which Freya somehow learns about minutes after they consummate their bond. She uses her powers to make each think the other is gone and goes about conquering other lands.

Pause to insert the first film. Now, Freya wants her sister’s enchanted mirror and sends her army out to find it, which Eric has come to protect, aided by the comic relief duo of dwarf ally Nion (Nick Frost) and his half-brother Gryff (Rob Brydon).  When Sara finds them, misunderstandings and hard feelings take time to, ahem, thaw but they realize keeping Freya from the mirror comes first. Along the way, they collect female dwarves Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith) and Doreena (Alexandra Roach) so the comic relief can have some romance.

Ravenna is resurrected, the sisters bicker and play chess, and the good guys arrive to prevail.

Ho hum. All the potential for interesting characters, interesting dialogue and a riveting story was avoided in the favor of boring action sequences, a phoned in score from James Newton Howard, and perfunctory direction from special effects guru Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, making his debut.

There is literally nothing to recommend this dreary tale, out now from Universal Home Entertainment. The high definition transfer is fine, capturing the crystal blues to the deep shadows and the audio track is its match. The Blu-ray combo set comes with a Digital HD copy and arrives in the theatrical and extended version, the latter containing about six more minutes of tedium.

Bonus features include Two Queens and Two Warriors as the female stars talk about the project’s allure; Meet the Dwarfs; Magic All Around, a making of featurette; Deleted Scenes with Commentary (several of which should have made the final cut); Gag Reel; Dressed To Kill with Academy Award®-winning costumer Colleen Atwood discussing the lush outfits worn; Love Conquers All; and a Feature Commentary by director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan I couldn’t bring myself to endure.

REVIEW: 11.22.63

11.22.63Based on the reviews, I knew I wanted to read 11.22.63 but its sheer size was, for some reason daunting. I figured maybe I’d just listen to it as an audiobook but those 30 hours sit waiting for me. Then, Hulu did me the favor of condensing it down to an eight-hour miniseries, which they released on DVD last week. I still will listen to the original, but this will do for now.

The idea of being able to go back in time and alter a key historic moment is always ripe for a good yarn. Heck, my Crazy 8 Press compatriots and I just did a book of alternate histories with Altered States of the Union. One of those moments that has tempted storytellers from Gene Roddenberry to King has been the untimely death of President John F. Kennedy.

Here, the master of the macabre sends an unprepared guy, Jake Epping (James Franco), back to Oct. 21, 1960 (Sept. 9,1958 in the book) and slowly, he realizes he’s the right guy to make a major difference. The local diner run by his friend Al (Chris Cooper) has a secret: there’s a door leading to the past. Sort of like SF Realism as opposed to Magical Realism. Anyway, Al’s been through the door and has been meticulously been figuring out how to stop Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber) from firing on the presidential motorcade. The problem is that Al is dying from cancer so convinces Jake to finish the plan.

Events conspire to turn the actual deed over to Jake and the miniseries follows his efforts. Complicating his altruistic missions is that time itself doesn’t want to be changed. That’s an interesting obstacle to be overcome.

A more mundane problem is that Jake needs cash to operate with and uses his future knowledge to lay down bets and win via gambling. A tried and true notion but belabored here and eventually, we find this English teacher isn’t as much the Everyman we’re initially led to believe he is. In some ways, Franco is the wrong guy for the part despite his appeal and acting chops.

Other problems include his falling for Sadie (Sarah Gadon), who teaches at the school he will one day be working at. Jake befriends Bill (George McKay), but how much should he know about the future? And there’s the CIA, of course. We toy with the question whether or not Oswald worked alone and the role his mother and wife played in his choices.

The middle chapters meander but the final two make up for it, nicely ratcheting up the tension until the climax and conclusion (not spoiled here). Writer Bridget Carpenter (who tossed in some lovely King Easter eggs) and director Kevin Macdonald do an overall nice job and Hulu gets credit for tackling this as one of the earliest original productions.

The eight-part production, overseen by J.J. Abrams and the Bad Robot team, looks authentic and the overall package is just swell. The DVD transfer is crisp, both looking and sounding strong. The Blu-ray edition contains the exclusive 15 minute featurette “When the Future Fights Back” with the crew talking about the book and mounting the adaptation.

REVIEW: Game of Thrones Season 6 on Digital HD

GOT_Hall_of_Faces_S6_Poster_02The sixth season of HBO’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones demonstrated one of the key differences between novels and television. The mass medium of television brings with it certain expectations by its audience and producers, hoping to curry favor for repeated patronage, sometimes ignore their instincts and give the fans what they want. Authors rarely so succumb, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle being the best known example of giving the readers what they wanted.

In the five books released to date, Martin has continually confounded, angered, and relentlessly surprised his readers. Characters succeed, fail, survive, and die as the story dictates, not because fans have made certain characters popular.

Therefore, this season is a mixed bag with incredibly strong storytelling undercutting its strength by not surprising us. No one, except readers of the novel, expected Ned Stark to die or what was to happen at the Red Wedding. But here, across ten episodes, producers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, consistently gave viewers what they wanted as they use elements from the unpublished sixth novel and continue to deviate from the core texts, creating a parallel but not identical version of events.

Jon Snow (Kit Harrington)’s fate was the most discussed cliffhanger since “Who Shot JR?” He survived and went on to abandon his post at The Wall in order to reunite the north now that it’s clear the Night King is coming closer. This led to episode nine’s incredibly satisfying but unsurprising “Battle of the Bastards” as Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Theon) gets his comeuppance. Long-lost Uncle Benjen Stark (Joseph Mawle) turns up long enough to help Bran (Hempstead Wright). Cersei (Lena Headey) exacts her revenge and the one real surprise this season was an unintended consequence. Little in the way of surprises here.

The most surprising — and poignant — moment in the entire season has to be the backstory to poor, beleaguered and brave Hodor (Kristian Nair).

Sansa StarkThe season, now available on Digital HD, starts off very slowly, wasting the first two episodes just moving players into position. All too leisurely, the season of the women gets underway. I wish there was more time spent on Arya (Maisie Williams)’s efforts to return home and Sansa (Sophie Turner) finally matures and becomes quite cunning. Sansa’s rise this season is the most major change and could have been explore more. My wife predicts there will be a showdown between the sisters-in-law (unless I’m mistaken, she’s still technically married to Tyrion [Peter Dinklage], making Cersei her extended family). Of all the women in the sprawling cast, Brienne (Gwendoline Christy) gets short shrift and needed more screen time.

While it was nice seeing Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann) back in action, and it’s always a pleasure to see Ian McShane in anything, their storyline in “The Broken Man” and “No One” feels extraneous.

Season Six also wrapped several long running plot lines in an effort to move things to the final act, spread over shortened seasons seven and eight. We thankfully bid farewell to the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) and welcome back to the powerful Queen Daenerys (Emilia Clarke). Her evolving friendship with Tyrion remains a highlight of the show. And the show definitely had more wonderful moments than bad ones, but it’s predictability felt wrong.

“The Winds of Winter” proves Ned right from the first episode as the snow begins to fall and the night King grows ever closer. Those in power and seeking power remain largely clueless of the true threat to Westeros so we’re left to anticipate what comes next.

The Digital HD package contains not only all ten episodes in fine audio and video form, but you also receive a Season 5 Recap, all ten The Game Revealed shorts, and additional features on the characters and world. All in all, if you want it, this is a fine way to own a piece of the kingdom.

REVIEW: Batman: The Killing Joke

Killing JokeIn 1984 (or thereabouts) Alan Moore was asked to write a Batman one-shot for artist Brian Bolland. Between the arrival of the script and the publication of the Prestige Format Batman: The Killing Joke, Moore went on to become the most popular and best-selling comics writer of the decade. One of the reasons was that unlike his peers, he dug deeply into what made the heroes and villains tick and how they related to one another.

As a result of the strong writing and the brilliant artwork, the one-shot went on to become an acclaimed title that has remained in print ever since. Its little surprise, then, that Warner Animation finally turned their attention to adapting it for their direct-to-video line of films. They sparred little expense, bringing in crime writer Brian Azzarello and reuniting the popular Batman: The Animated Series vocal duo of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. Warner even let them adapt without regard to ratings and thus we have the first R-rated animated film from the studio.

I just wish it was good.

The film is really two separate stories, the second of which was the adaptation. Adapting 48 pages means there’s a lot of time left for the usual 77 minute production. Since the inciting incident is the Joker’s shooting of Barbara Gordon (Tara Strong), it made sense to reintroduce viewers to Babs and her Batgirl alter ego. Here, Azzarello displays a rather poor understanding of heroism or women.

As depicted here, Barbara has been Batman’s partner for three years. No mention of a Robin or other players. She clumsily allows an armored car robbery slip through her fingers, but not before she caught the fancy of the one of the criminals, “Paris Franz” (Maury Sterling). He somehow gets under her skin, forces her to make mistakes and earns Batman’s ire until he tells her to stay away. She, of course, can’t. The first problem is that Franz is not at all charismatic or interesting so the attraction makes little sense. More importantly, she’s acting like a rookie not a veteran.

Batman Killing JokeThere’s little heroic about her actions, little sympathy established for her character which is vital for what is to come. Worse, Azzarello decides that the one thing she initiates is having sex with Batman, in public, ripping her clothes off to take him right then and there. Not a great message being sent to the female audience.

For some reason, this has been her last case and in the meantime, Batman decides he needs to go pay the joker a visit, saying he’s been thinking about their relationship. It’d be nice if something in the first half of the film actually led us to this moment. And from there, we’re off and running.

As an adaptation it’s fine if uninspired. Why they decided to stick a song and dance number in the middle of James Gordon’s psychological torture is one of those imponderables. Yes, it’s violent, and the sexually abuse the comic alluded to is hinted at here.

But, in the end, it’s cold and not as involving as the source material and that’s a disappointment.

The-killing-joke-animated-movie-barbara-gordon-batgirlThe Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD combo pack is out from Warner Home Entertainment this week and the 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray is just fine to watch. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 let’s us enjoy Composers Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion and Lolita Ritmanis effective score.

The Special Features are pretty standard including a handful of contemporary trailers and the usual Sneak Peek at DC Universe’s Next Animated Movie (8:14), which is the eagerly anticipated Justice League Dark.

There are just two featurettes, the first being Madness Set to Music (11:54) where the composers and other talking heads extol the freedom of working on the story. The trio had previously worked on the musical episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold and they have clear affection for the medium.

Mike Carlin, Dan DiDio, and assorted others chime in on Batman: The Killing Joke: The Many Sides of the Joker (17:43), which should have offered up a better chronology since his first appearance in 1940 but uses lovely examples of his appearances throughout the years. Some attention should have been paid to the filmed versions of the Clown Prince of Crime from Cesar Romero to Jack Nicholson and even Jared Leto. Ah well.

Finally, From the DC Comics Vault offers up Batman: The Animated Series: “Christmas with the Joker” (22:26) and The New Batman Adventures: “Old Wounds” (21:11) which are nice to see but feel out of place given the tonality of the main feature.

 

REVIEW: Person of Interest the Complete Fifth Season

POI Season 5Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the DVD I reviewed in this Blog Post. The opinions I share are my own.

It used to be we worried about the threat of artificial intelligence in movies like Colossus: The Forbin Project or “The Ultimate Computer” episode of Star Trek. Today, though, artificial intelligence is here thanks to Siri and Cortanna and their cousins. We talk to our phones and they answer back and these bots are growing increasingly sophisticated. As a result, what seemed ahead of its time a mere give years ago is looking increasingly prescient.

CBS’ Person of Interest arrived on September 22, 2011 and came with a fine pedigree having been created by Jonathan Nolan with J.J. Abrams on board as Executive Producer. It starred Michael Emerson, hot off Lost, Jim Caviezel, a pre-Empire Taraji P. Henson, and Kevin Chapman. It received near universal acclaim for raising key issues about personal privacy, cyber-terrorism, the invasiveness of the government, and the growing reliance on A.I. to help our everyday lives.

While never a ratings blockbuster, it did nicely for the network and continued to grow and evolve as the Machine, invented by Harold Finch (Emerson) continued to data mine and pop out social security numbers of Americans whose lives might be in danger. Ex-Special Forces agent and lost soul John Reese (Caviezel) was dispatched to investigate and intervene as necessary, often aided first by NYPD detective Jocelyn “Joss” Carter (Henson) and also detective Lionel Fusco (Chapman).

Along the way, the series raised questions each week while weaving a fascinating tapestry about the characters as we watched Fusco overcome the taint of corruption via the Police force’s wicked HR and learned about Reese’s complicated and difficult life. While their assignments sent them here and there, often they were in New York City and we gained insights into the criminal element as well with high school teacher/underworld mob boss Carl Elias (Enrico Colantoni).

"B.S.O.D." -- Reese and Finch attempt to rescue the Machine’s source code before it deteriorates beyond repair.  Also, Root fights for her life against an onslaught of Samaritan’s agents and Fusco is faced with hard questions following the deaths of Dominic and Elias, on the fifth season premiere of PERSON OF INTEREST, Tuesday, May 3 (10:00 – 11:00 PM ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Michael Emerson as Harold Finch Photo: Barbara Nitke/CBS ©2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved

Photo: Barbara Nitke/CBS ©2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved

Of course, Finch wasn’t the only one to hack their way around the world, there was the threat from someone known only as Root (Amy Acker) but in time, she and Finch found they had more in common and became allies if not friends.

And the government had their own shadowy operatives and agencies with SIA operative Sameen Shaw (Sarah Shahi) trading blows with Reese on more than one occasion before she too joined forces with the Machine’s team.

Across four taut seasons, the storytelling went from topical and dramatic to character building and was never less than interesting. As the fourth season wound down, we met Samaritan, a machine built by the government to replace the Machine, stolen by Finch before they could use it for questionable purposes. A man named Greer (John Nolan) oversaw the government eventually agreeing to activate it. As it grew in strength, it built a network of operatives and acquired companies in order to protect itself and begin its systematic takeover of America in order to perfect society.

Season four saw the rise of Samaritan and the fall of the Machine as Greer captured Shaw and everyone else had to scatter. Things looked bad for the world and worse for the series as CBS held it off until mid-season, ordering a mere thirteen episodes. When the air date was finally announced for May, it became clear the series was over so the team saw to it everything wrapped up.

Warner Home Entertainment has released Person of Interest the Complete Fifth Season as a three-disc DVD set. In addition to all thirteen episodes, it has the 2015 Comic-Con Panel, Revelations of Person of Interest, with executive producers Nolan, Greg Plageman and Denise Thé  and Emerson talk with critic Eric Goldman about the series; and Finale for the Fans where Goldman and company talk the series’; 100th episode.

With a shortened season, the stories had to be more focused and the first order of business was restoring the Machine, which had to be condensed and compacted to escape Samaritan. Once that was done, it continued to adjust itself and send the agents out on routine assignments while Root fretted over Shaw’s whereabouts. Shaw, meantime, was subjected to over 7000 virtual reality simulations in an attempt to turn her into a traitor, destined to kill the Machine’s team. Instead, she escaped and struggled to regain her balance between reality and fantasy. And we were surprised to see Elias had survived, harbored by Finch and supportive in the battle against Samaritan, which proved to have no compunctions about killing when most efficacious in solving a dilemma.

"The Day the World Went Away" -- Finch’s number comes up when a fatal error blows his cover identity and sets off a deadly series of escalating encounters with Samaritan’s operatives, on the 100th episode of PERSON OF INTEREST, Tuesday, May 31 (10:00 – 11:00 PM ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured L-R: Sarah Shahi as Sameen Shaw, Amy Acker as Root, and Michael Emerson as Harold Finch Photo: Giovanni Rufino/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. ©2016 WBEI. All rights reserved.

Photo: Giovanni Rufino/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. ©2016 WBEI. All rights reserved.

One issue concerned me in Season Four, which was why the Machine was not assembling its own expanded team to ready for the coming battle with Samaritan. The new intelligence seemed to have in inexhaustible supply of killers and henchmen while Finch had just his small cadre. Well, it took until episode 101, or the eleventh of the season, to show that the Machine had been busy. Three former numbers – Joey Durban (James Carpinello), Harper Rose (Annie Ilonzeh), and Logan Pierce (Jimmi Pierce) – had been recruited by the Machine and sent out on missions. Cool, but the Machine never told Finch? It feels false coming in so late and without much discussion.

The season, though, had plenty of debates between Finch and Root and Finch and Greer regarding the ethics of the Machine and Samaritan, the role of A.I. in human society, and the price of freedom. It was chilling when Greer admitted he lost control of Samaritan and there were no official checks or balances in place. Everything fell to the Machine and its creator, Finch, to protect humankind.

By series’ end, there were deep losses but there were also very satisfying conclusions to numerous character arcs. Unlike the dissatisfying wrap ups on Castle and Nashville, the series gets kudos for going out with its head held high and its relevance still important as the show shifts into streaming mode.

If you missed the season or the series, it’s comes well recommended.

 

REVIEW: Batman v Superman the Ultimate Edition

Batman v Superman BRI remain astonished that the executives at DC Entertainment and parent company Warner Bros were surprised by the nearly uniform negative reaction to March’s Batman v Superman film. The film violated many of the key elements of good storytelling and showed a distinct dislike for the Man of Steel so the resulting experience felt oppressive, dark, and dislikable. Much of the blame is laid at director Zack Snyder’s feet since he edited the film in such a way as to emphasize the Dark Knight over Superman and never really addressed the questions he wisely raises in this sequel to his Man of Steel.

Out tomorrow is Batman v Superman the Ultimate Edition, a combo pack that has the theatrical cut available on DVD and Blu-ray with a second Blu-ray disc containing the three hour director’s cut.

The longer version earned an R rating for the extensive violence throughout although the thirty extra minutes has surprisingly little extended mayhem. Instead, bits of pieces focusing more on Clark Kent and Lois Lane round out the film and frankly, makes the storyline far more coherent. There is a far more appropriate balance between Superman and Batman threads before they meet.

There are still incredibly lapses in story and character logic and the pacing remains bizarre in places. But, it’s nice to see Amy Adams’ Lois Lane actually investigating an event being blamed on her super-lover. She has two nice scenes with Jena Malone who is unnamed but is credited at the end as playing Jenet Klyburn, the comic universe’s head of S.T.A.R. Labs, a nice nod to the source material.

Clark also does further investigating on his own, wondering how Gotham City’s Batman terrorizes the very people he seems to be protecting. Which leads me to some of my biggest problems with either incarnation of the movie. Batman has been operating for 20 years so why is Clark investigating him now and why is Perry White (Laurence Fishburn) so resistant to such a story?

BvS 4Then we have the eighteen month gap between films which is never referenced so many of the questions Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) and others ask, are ones that should have been addressed prior to this moment. Also, the vitriol aimed Superman’s way for this African massacre is never balanced in the press by the heroic deeds we see in an all-too-brief montage in the half first of the movie. So, there are good themes that never really get properly aired out.

Even Henry Cavill’s Superman starts discussions with Lois about these issues, broods, frowns, and flies off without really talking about it. There are way too many of these moments and robs Superman of any real character arc. Cavill is incredibly ill-served by this film and probably doesn’t mind being dead until resurrected in one of the forthcoming Justice League movies. He can find better acting roles in the meantime.

Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot deliver the film’s two strongest performances with Jeremy Irons’ Alfred and Hunter right behind them. I really liked how Wonder Woman, a warrior, had a grin as she and Doomsday went at it in the climax.

BvS 2Ah yes, Doomsday. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is either loved or hated by audiences but either way you fall, his motivations are all over the place. So, he can’t bring down the “god” of steel by turning him into a murderer (twice) so he endangers all life on Earth by unleashing the unstoppable monstrosity from Krypton? Is he that immoral? Also, in the end, he reveals he’s aware that something dark is coming, which we know to be Darkseid. “The bell has been rung,” he cries but there’s nothing prior to this revelation setting up it up and, ahem, rings false.

Similarly, the pacing is seriously knocked off-kilter when Batman is visited by the Flash (am I the only one who thinks Ezra Miller and costume just look wrong?) and when Diane Prince stops to watch trailers for future films.

All told, the Ultimate Edition makes for a better film, but it’s still not a terribly good one.

The film’s high definition transfer is sparkling which it needed to be considering the dull color palette and all the busy things happening during the action sequences. The audio is sharp and Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s heavy-thudding score does not overwhelm the dialogue or sound effects.

BvS 3On the theatrical version disc, there are a handful of special features but NO commentary, which could have been interesting to see what their true intentions and feelings were. Instead, we get some electronic press kit pieces and some fresh interviews and perspectives. Like the film itself, they take everything way too seriously and don’t really allow themselves a sense of humor.

Beyond the Suicide Squad trailer, the extended cinematic universe is teased in Uniting the World’s Finest; Gods and Men: A Meeting of Giants, traces the meetings between the Gotham Guardian and Metropolis Marvel through the years, in print and screen;  The Warrior, The Myth, The Wonder – The history of Wonder Woman works to ready audiences for Patty Jenkins’ feature, due out next spring; Accelerating Design: The New Batmobile, which now feels like a regular installment per disc; Superman: Complexity & Truth, which explores the movie’s approach to Superman and how the production team interprets truth, justice, and the American way; Batman: Austerity & Rage, a similar exploration with little new to be said; Wonder Woman: Grace & Power; Batcave: The Legacy of the Lair, an overdue look at the coolest hangout in comics; The Might and the Power of a Punch, a look into the making of the fight scenes; The Empire of Luthor, another required look; and, finally, Save the Bats, as the cast and crew raise awareness for Bat conservation in light of the white nose disease destroying the population (for those interested, check out www.savebats.org.

 

REVIEW: iZombie the Complete Second Season

iZombie_S2_BLUGiven that it was the first to wrap its season, it makes perfect sense that Warner Home Entertainment would unleash the complete second season of the CW’s iZombie on disc ahead of the superheroes coming in August. The 4-disc DVD set is coming on Tuesday while Warner Archive will be simultaneously releasing iZombie the Complete First Season and iZombie the Complete Second Season on Blu-ray.

The series is loosely based on the Chris Roberson and Michael Allred Vertigo series and is a quiet success, garnering solid ratings and reviews but without the sturm and drang of its fellow DC properties. In the hands of executive producers Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars) and Diane Ruggiero-Wright (The Ex List), they keep the mood light, the characters quirky, and the plots engaging.

While the short first season set everything up and explored what it means to be Olivia “Liv” Moore (Rose McIver), required to feast on the brains of the deceased to survive but in the eating, gains the dead’s memories and skills, heading off to tidy up unfinished business. The would-be doctor winds up working in the Seattle coroner’s office with Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli), the only one fully aware of her condition and he’s working on a cure, but we don’t want him to hurry.

Rather than deal with the angst inherent in her plight, Liv decides she should embrace her situation and make the best of it, similar to Veronica Mars, providing us with another quirky, positive role model for its teen audience. She plays with a diverse set of supporting players including detective Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin), who may be the straight man in the ensemble.

As Season Two begins, Liv’s ex-fiancé and love, Major (Robert Buckley), is reeling from recent events and the knowledge that Liv is a zombie, and finds himself allied with Vaughn Du Clark (Steven Weber), ostensibly assassinating zombies but locking them away instead, with consequences for his actions.

1000575783DVDLEF_432b167Meanwhile, Blaine – now human – struggles to maintain his zombie world; Clive searches for Blaine and suspects Major’s involvement in the Meat Cute massacre; and Ravi remains devoted to finding an antidote to the zombie virus. On the other hand, Blaine (David Anders) is adjusting to life as a human again, but we know that isn’t going to last for long. All along, Thomas and Ruggiero-Wright are tightening the various storylines so by the season’s end, things all naturally brought together while the threat from Stacey Boss (Eddie Jemison) becomes increasingly evident.

Still, Olivia continues to embrace her new roles and this season she sampled being a coach, a stalker, a costumed vigilante (she’s on the CW, its required) or a tough stripper (the inevitable role). There’s plenty of humor to wring from each persona and the cast makes the most of the scenarios, regardless of how preposterous, spooky, or dangerous they appear to be.

Not every episode worked and it’s clear some plot threads were dropped because they weren’t working as planned so the season isn’t perfect. It’s a little ragged here and there, notably, the development of Blaine’s arc, much like a Zombie’s gait.

The second season brings things to a nice boil as Major is arrested, believed to the Chaos Killer. Liv’s only way to save him is to tell Clive of the Zombie threat and reveal her own secrets. This alters the status quo for the third season, due in early 2017, and gives us new ground to explore. That Du Clark becomes an increasing threat is nicely developed and Weber is having a ball in this over-the-top role.

The discs contain all 19 second season episodes, the 2015 Comic-Con Panel, and a handful of fun but non-essential deleted scenes. The high definition transfer to Blu-ray is just fine from an audio and video standpoint. They certainly stand up while being watched a second time. The first season also looks pretty spiffy on Blu-ray and the 2014 Comic-Con panel and deleted scenes are included as special features.

REVIEW: Eye in the Sky

EITS_BD_3d_o-cardIf it takes a village to raise a child, it seems to require an international village to kill a terrorist.  In the contemporary military thriller Eye in the Sky, the moral and legal issues resulting from the decision to launch a drone strike against three of the most wanted causes discussion,  consternation, and a lot of hand wringing. Out Tuesday from Universal Home Entertainment, the movie is available as a blu-ray combo with Digital HD.

Helen Mirren is the woman in the center of the action, orchestrating the American done opeeators, consulting with Alan Rickman, safe at headquarters,  and desperate to take these enemy combatants out. The problem: they are readying suicide bombers in a residential neighborhood so collateral damage is a given so limiting it becomes the challenge as they race against the clock.

Director Gavin Hood wrings as much tension out of the situation for 92 minutes, but he is hampered by the reality that the key players are never together.  Instead, we watch reaction shots and debates occur and really, editor Megan Gill gets all the credit for sustaining the tension.

Mirren’s desperation grows as every time she is ready to give the kill order, everyone wants to run the risk assessment again and higher up the chain of command.  Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox are in the bunker, controlling the drone and he actually refuses an order to fire at one point, seeking verification about a little girl selling bread next to the target. According to a consultant who watched with me, he was in the wrong especially in front of a junior officer.

The reliance on technology and law protects hut hampers the efforts and brings up interesting themes for post-viewing discussion, the film itself, though, has lots of the right elements and several solid performances but is less than the sum of its parts. It just doesn’t hold together and sustain interest.

The high definition tansfer is crisp as is the audio.  The film comes with a mere two electronic press kit packages about the themes and totally underwhelms. Considering this is Rickman’s final film, I just wish it was overall a better experience.