Category: Reviews

REVIEW: Game of Thrones: The Complete Eighth Season

REVIEW: Game of Thrones: The Complete Eighth Season

Shortly after HBO released Game of Thrones: The Complete Eighth Season, the Golden Globe nominations were unveiled and its considered a surprise that the series was virtually shut out. After the long wait, the truncated final season arrived this year and rather than take a victory lap, it was showered with complaints.

When the series, adapting George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels, arrived, people were stunned at its scope, sweep, violence, sensuality, and strong performances. You weren’t sure who to root for as the status quo kept shifting and beloved characters kept dying in unexpected, messy ways.

Phrases and names seeped into public consciousness just as the series began exhausting the extant prose and then charged ahead while Martin struggled to finish the current novel, in the cycle. Series Executive Producers/Writers/Directors David Benioff & D.B. Weiss got direction from Martin and then increasingly veered off in their own direction. Starting with season seven, we have no idea what’s really going to happen in the source material.

Judging season eight on its own merits reveals that going for six longer episodes rather than more standard-length episodes hurt the build-up to the climax. Events and reactions to events are telescoped, largely designed to isolate Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), pushing her to fulfill her destiny as the Mad Queen.

Her lover and rival, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) remains a largely passive figure in the first five episodes so his action in the finale doesn’t feel particularly heroic. He may not want to be King of the North or even King of the Seven Lands, but he never makes clear what he does want.

It is interesting, though, to watch Daenerys’ rival, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) refuse to bend the knee or compromise in any way, also isolating her so when she dies, it’s with just her brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who never fully redeemed himself. She is gone, unmourned, and quickly forgotten.

If anyone “wins”, it’s Jon’s sister Sansa (Sophie Turner), who has held the North intact despite misogyny and political strife.  But, as the third female pillar of power, she too is isolated. Not from her people like the others, but from her family. To be queen means letting her sister Arya (Maisie Williams) go off to exploring the unknown and for Jon to return to the Wall (unaware that what he wants is to go farther north where he could be free).

The final episode helps redeem the uneven quality of the first five, but as a season, it was more whimper than bang despite the huge opening with the battle against the Night King (Vladimír Furdík), who is ultimately dispatched with relative ease making one wonder what all the fuss was about.

I will give credit to the producers for the irony of Bronn (Jerome Flynn), the ultimate survivor, winding up as Westeros’ Master of Coin. And thank goodness Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) managed to redeem himself, however, consigned to help Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) rule.

The sumptuous look of Westeros remains intact so from a production standpoint, the final season is strong. The music, the performances, the special effects, and so on remain top-notch. It’s the writing that proves most disappointing, a shame since the series was born from the word.

The final season comes in a handsome box set with a lovely 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. Yes, some of the bright effects seem pixilated and some of the night scenes murky, but it accurately captures what we experienced last spring so any fault isn’t to be blamed on the disc. On the other hand, the Dolby Atmos track is superb, as is the lossless Dolby Digital 5.1 track.

A series of this nature tends to generate a lot of special features and this box set skips none of the goodies for those seeking even more Game of Thrones details. Every episode comes with a recap and preview for those with faulty memories. There are also Episode Guides that offer text pop-ups. Every episode comes with Audio Commentaries — Episode One with commentary by Co-Producer/Writer Dave Hill and Production Designer Deborah Riley; Episode Two with commentary by Co-Executive Producer/Writer Bryan Cogman and Daniel Portman (Podrick Payne); Episode Three with commentary by Director Miguel Sapochnik, Director of Photography Fabian Wagner and Camera Operator Sean Savage; Episode Four with commentary by Director of Photography David Franco, Jacob Anderson (Grey Worm), Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandel) and Pilou Absek (Euron Greyjoy); Episode Five with commentary by Director Miguel Sapochnik, Director of Photography Fabian Wagner and Conleth Hill (Varys) or Producer Chris Newman, Special Effects Supervisor Sam Conway, and Visual Effects Supervisor Joe Bauer; Episode Six with commentary by Executive Producers/Writers/Directors David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, and Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen).

Additionally, there is When Winter Falls (29:13), a “making of” documentary on the Battle of Winterfell and Duty is the Death of Love (31:36) for the series’ final episode. The week after the series ended, HBO offered fans Game of Thrones: The Last Watch (1:52:58) which is thankfully included here.

Finally, we have smaller glimpses of King’s Landing (2:55), The Greyjoy Rebellion (5:31), The Blackfyres (5:15), The South (2:30), The Defiance of Duskendale (5:17), Maegor the Cruel (5:18), and, of course, Deleted Scenes (8:28).

Swamp Thing the Complete Series Available in Feb.

Swamp Thing the Complete Series Available in Feb.

BURBANK, CA (November 21, 2019) – Fans are in for suspense and shock when Warner Bros. Home Entertainment releases Swamp Thing: The Complete Series, the latest DC UNIVERSE Original Series, on Blu-ray and DVD February 11, 2020. Fans can purchase the sets with all 10 of the original series episodes and it’s priced to own at $24.98 SRP ($29.98 in Canada) for the DVD and $29.98 SRP ($39.99 in Canada) for the Blu-ray which includes a Digital Copy (US Only).

Swamp Thing: The Complete Series will also be available to own on Digital on December 2, 2019, via purchase from all major digital retailers (in Canada Digital is available to own now).

From executive producers James Wan (The Conjuring Universe films, Aquaman), Mark Verheiden (Heroes, Constantine), Gary Dauberman (IT and Annabelle films), Michael Clear (The Nun) and Len Wiseman (Sleepy Hollow, Underworld films), Swamp Thing follows Dr. Abby Arcane as she investigates a deadly swamp-born virus in the small town of Marais, Louisiana. When a mysterious creature emerges from the murky marsh, she finds herself facing the nightmares of a supernatural world where no one is safe. With nature wildly out of balance and coming for the people of Marais, in the end, it may take some Thing from the swamp to save it.

The series features an all-star cast including Crystal Reed (Gotham, Teen Wolf), Virginia Madsen (Candyman, Sideways), Andy Bean (IT: Chapter Two, Power), Derek Mears (Predator, Men in Black II), Henderson Wade (Extant, Riverdale), Maria Sten (Persuasion), Jeryl Prescott (The Walking Dead) with Jennifer Beals (Flashdance, The L Word) and Will Patton (Falling Skies, Halloween) with a special appearance by Kevin Durand (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I am Number Four).  Based on the DC characters created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, Swamp Thing was produced by Atomic Monster in association with Warner Bros. Television.

“As one of the most original series from the DC UNIVERSE to date, we are thrilled to bring Swamp Thing: The Complete Series to Blu-ray, DVD and Digital,” said Rosemary Markson, WBHE Senior Vice President, Television Marketing. “Viewers will watch in suspense through riveting plot twists and turns throughout the entire series.”

10 ONE-HOUR EPISODES

  1. Pilot
  2. Worlds Apart
  3. He Speaks
  4. Darkness on the Edge of Town
  5. Drive All Night
  6. The Price You Pay
  7. Brilliant Disguise
  8. Long Walk Home
  9. The Anatomy Lesson
  10. Loose Ends

DIGITAL

The complete series of Swamp Thing will be available to own on Digital December 2, 2019. Digital allows consumers to instantly stream and download all episodes to watch anywhere and anytime on their favorite devices. Digital is available from various retailers including iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, Vudu and others. A Digital Copy (US Only) is also included with the purchase of specially marked Blu-ray discs for redemption and cloud storage.

BASICS

Street Date: February 11, 2020

Order Due Date: January 7, 2020

BD and DVD Presented in 16×9 widescreen format

Run Time:  600 minutes

 

DVD

Price: $24.98 SRP US / $29.98 SRP Canada

2 DVD-9s

DVD Audio: English (5.1)

DVD Subtitles: English

 

BLU-RAY

Price: $29.98 SRP / $39.99 SRP Canada

2 BD-50s

BD Audio: English (5.1)

BD Subtitles: English

REVIEW: Teen Titans: The Complete Series

REVIEW: Teen Titans: The Complete Series

The Teen Titans have proven remarkably flexible since their mid-1960s debut as a collection of sidekicks. They appealed to the young readers with Bob Haney’s laughable “hip” language and as the readership grew up, so too did the members of the team, addressing adult issues with changing times and tastes.

They were propelled from mid-list to top-seller status by the Marv Wolfman and George Pérez run starting in summer 1980. These were teens on the verge of adulthood and had problems and issues that the college-age readership were drawn to. The blend of supernatural, science fiction, and super-heroics meant the stories could, and did, go anywhere.

In 2003, things went full-circle as the more mature incarnation was youthified for younger viewers as the Teen Titans hit the Cartoon Network in a five-season run. This success led to the even younger Teen Titans Go! so all the characters and their conflicts were scaled back to digestible amounts. Both series have their fans although I am not the target audience and therefore not among their number.

That said, I find Teen Titans: The Complete Series, out now from Warner Archive, entertaining. The six-disc set includes all 65 episodes and a nice assortment of special features.

The roster was pretty much locked to being limited to Robin (Scott Menville); Starfire (Hynden Walch); Cyborg (Khary Payton); Raven (Tara Strong), and Beast Boy (Greg Cipes). All play their archetypal roles with little variation nor do their civilian alter egos ever factor into the stories. They are perpetually allies and friends, never unmasking or interacting with their mentors. Instead, they swell in Titans Tower, located on the west coast in Jump City.

Their main antagonist is Deathstroke (Ron Perlman) and once he’s established, the second season loosely adapts “The Judas Contract” with the infiltration of Terra (Ashley Johnson) into their ranks, minus the icky sexual exploitation aspect.

For variety, season three brings in Brother Blood (John DiMaggio) and H.I.V.E. although neither resemble their comic book counterparts. We do, though, get a Titans East team featuring Aqualad (Wil Wheaton), Speedy (Mike Erwin), Bumblebee (T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh), and the newly created Más y Menos (Freddy Rodriguez).

Season four shifted the focus to Raven as the threat of daddy dearest, Trigon (Kevin Michael Richardson), arrives to enslave the world. Once he’s defeated, the final season brings in the Brotherhood of Evil. Here, we meet Beast Boy’s Doom Patrol teammates including Mento (Xander Berkeley), Robotman (Peter Onorati), Elasti-Girl (Strong), and Negative Man (Judge Reinhold) as they take on the threat from The Brain (Glenn Shadix), Madame Rouge (Walch), Monsieur Mallah (Shadix), Jinx (Lauren Tom), and others. This season brings in Red Star (Jason Marsden) and Kid Flash (Michael Rosenbaum) plus Kole (Strong), a character creating just to be killed during comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths.

In some ways, the fifth season is the strongest and most fun even if they squander the good mood with a nonsensical final episode. But how could you not love a season chock full of fabulous heroes and villains including Ding Dong Daddy, voiced by the great David Johannsson?

The Blu-ray transfer is quite fine with strong visuals and audio, as one expects from Warner Archive. The discs come with several special features repurposed from previous single season releases including: “Finding Their Voices: The Secret Information Behind the Making of Teen Titans ” (7:52); “Comic Creations: From Comic Book to Cartoon” (21:55), Puffy AmiYumi, the Japanese pop group that provided the theme song (13:15); “Catching Up With … Teen Titans” (4:58);  “Teen Titans: Know Your Foes”, shorts on the villains from seasons three and four; and, “Teen Titans: Friends and Foes” (25:12) from season five.

The 75-minute director to video Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo is included and caps this incarnation’s video run. It’s noisy.

A real treat is “The Lost Episode”, a 12-minute short featuring the team against new villain Punk Rocket (Greg Ellis). It was available only through a promotion from Post Cereals involving a token code to log into their website to watch. In addition to the team, there are appearances by many other characters throughout the series.

REVIEW: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

REVIEW: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

I have never seen a film in the Fast & Furious franchise so approached the latest release, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, with fresh eyes. I’ve certainly managed to absorb via pop culture osmosis the gist of the series’ evolution and the saturated play of the trailer all spring, certainly got me curious. So, kudos to the trailer’s editor.

While the premise behind the series does little for me, I enjoy a good buddy film and my understanding is that stars Dwayne Johnson and Jason Stratham had such different approaches to acting that I was curious to see how well they played together.

This is what we used to call a popcorn film: just enough plot to tie the action sequences together, appealing cast, and lots of things going boom. On those terms, the film works wonderfully and it is rather entertaining.

Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby) is an MI6 agent now carrying the deadly CT17 “Snowflake” virus in her bloodstream and becomes the target of the cybernetically enhanced self-proclaimed “Black Superman” Brixton Lore (Idris Elba). When she’s framed for crimes, rivals DSS Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and mercenary Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), whose sister is in trouble, are tasked with recovering the woman. As one expects from the franchise and Johnson, there are heavy doses of humor leavening the by the numbers plot, making this a cut above the usual.

Whilke the action set pieces beggar the imagination, the fun shifts gears into fresher territory when Hobbs brings the fight home. We shift the action to Samoa where we see him reconnect with his brother Jonah (Cliff Curtis), paralleling Shaw’s own sibling issues. And if you have the Shaw siblings, you can bet their mother, Magdalene (Hellen Mirren), won’t be far behind. So right there, Elba and Mirren have me hooked.

There are enough connections to the previous films and threads for the next one, already in production, to satisfy the series’ legion of fans. Me, I can take it or leave it; it all comes down to how compelling the next trailer is.

The film, out now from Universal Home Entertainment, is available in the usual assortment of formats including the tried and true Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD combo pack. The 1080p high definition transfer is excellent so you won’t miss a single flame or grain of sand. You may marvel at the Rock’s pecs or Elba’s high-tech gear thanks to the crisp visuals. The Atmos soundtrack does a fine job making things pop.

The Blu-ray comes packed with above average Special Features for the diehard fan. We start with an Alternate Opening (10:14); Deleted/Extended/Alternate Scenes (34:29), only some of which is missed from the feature; Johnson & Statham: Hobbs & Shaw (3:38); Progress of a Fight Scene with Director David Leitch (4:57); Practical Action (3:43), all about the fighting choreography; The Bad Guy (2:00); The Sister (3:58); Hobbs’ Family Tree (3:20); The Matriarch (1:35); New Friends (2:01), Ryan Reynolds and Kevin Hart cameo; Elevator Action (1:59); Stunt Show and Tell (3:41); Keeping it in the Family: A Conversation with Roman and Dwayne (5:02); Blind Fury (1:50) ; Dwayne and Hobbs: Love at First Bite (1:36); and finally, Audio Commentary from director David Leitch.

REVIEW: Batman Beyond: The Complete Series

REVIEW: Batman Beyond: The Complete Series

The team at Warner Animation were enjoying unrivaled success with their 1990s offerings from Animaniacs to Batman: The Animated Series. As a result, as they retired BATS after 65 award-winning episodes, they decided to roll the dice on something bolder. For a change, they were looking to the future and not the comics for inspiration. What if, they wondered, Bruce Wayne aged out of being Batman but the need for the Caped Crusader remained? Who would inherit the mantle of the bat?

As it turns out, they settled on a teen, Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle), to cross paths with Wayne (Kevin Conroy). Where once he relied on Alfred or Oracle for guidance, now he would direct the actions of his unlikely successor in the series Batman Beyond.

Given the futuristic designs and strong storytelling, the audiences proved loyal to the new franchise and the show lasted 52 episodes, spawning fresh merchandising opportunities along with a new character to bring to the DC Universe, where Terry remains active today.

In celebration of this success, Batman Beyond: The Complete Series is now out in an attractive box set, complete with Funko Batman Beyond figure. So, is this worth paying for considering the series was previously collected in 2010? The previous set, which I recommended back then, is now on Blu-ray so the high definition transfer is a consideration. The colors and details are, of course, sharper. Then there are the new Special Features and the addition of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker – The Movie – The Director’s Cut and the figure. I’d say yes for fans of the creators or character.

What’s fun is to be reminded that, like Blade Runner, the future depicted is 2019, which does not resemble our world at all. Bruce Wayne stopped being Batman and Jim Gordon finally retired, with his daughter Barbara (Angie Harmon) as his successor. The influence of the Bat and his villains can be found in the society from gangs known as Jokerz to the fear of the bat symbol.

From a design standpoint, this series is a step forward, away from BATS’ inspiration from the Fleisher Superman cartoons. The extrapolation of a high tech yet still dark Gotham feels right as does the need for a new breed of hero. The dynamic between Bruce and Terry makes for great fun throughout while Terry’s teen and family issues clearly odd a debt to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s early Spider-Man stories.

The show was successful enough to offer up Batman Beyond: The Return of Joker, its only feature-length entry which had to tone down its violence for theatrical release, but all that is back in the director’s cut, making this worth a new look.

Interestingly, just 41 episodes were remastered in high def as technical issues seemed to prevent the remainder from being upgraded. The 1080p episodes look great while the rest look good. The feature is also nice in its 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Accompanying the upgrades is a fine 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack so the music and special effects are crystal.

The six discs sprinkle the special features, much as the 2010 release so they remain in standard definition while the new pieces are in HD. For the record, here’s the breakdown:

Disc One

Audio Commentary: “Rebirth Part 1”, Producers Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Glen Murakami, and Director Curt Geda; “Shriek”, Timm, Burnett, Dini, Murakami, Geda and writer Stan Berkowitz.

“Music of the Knight (15:00): Timm talks of the score’s importance; “inside Batman Beyond – Meet Series Creators (9:42) – Timm, Murakami, Burnett, and Dini.

Disc Two

Audio Commentary: “Splicers:, with Timm, Murakami, storyboard artist James Tucker, voice director Andrea Romano and Will Friedle.

Disc Three

Audio Commentary: “The Eggbaby”, Timm, Tucker, Murakami, Romano, and Friedle.

Inside Batman Beyond: The Panel (11:51) – Timm, Burnett, Murakami, and Dini at SDCC.

Disc Four

Inside Batman Beyond Season 3: Panel (9:36) – Timm, Burnett, Murakami, and Dini at SDCC.

Inside Batman Beyond Season 3: Close-Up On… Timm, Dini, Friedle, and more: Out of the Past (4:32); The Call (6:19); The Call Part II (4:12); and Curse of the Kobra Part 1 (4:48)

Disc Five

Nostalgic Tomorrow – A Batman Gathering (HD, 53:19) – with Timm, Conroy, Friedle, Tucker, Murakami, Romano, Berkowitz, and Bob Goodman. Reminiscing and reflection.

Knight Immortal (HD, 34:50) – Celebrating Batman’s 80 years with plenty of familiar art, clips, and talking heads.

Tomorrow Knight: Batman Reborn (10:30) –Bruce Wayne and Terry McGinnis explored; Gotham: City of the Future (5:34); The High-Tech Hero (SD, 5:44); Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics (HD, 1:30:26) – a high def version of the 2010 documentary, skipping New 52 and Rebirth.

Disc Six

Audio Commentary for Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, featuring Timm, Dini, Murakami, and Geda.

Beyond Batman Beyond (12:00), EPK for the film; Video Character Bios (HD, 5:00); Confidential Batman Footage – For Your Eyes Only (5:00), a deleted scene; “Crash” music video (4:00) – A flashback to the days of Static-X; and Animatics (3:00).

REVIEW: Wonder Woman: Bloodlines

REVIEW: Wonder Woman: Bloodlines

REVIEW: Wonder Woman: Bloodlines

Since we’re in a long wait between live-action Wonder Woman movies, it makes sense for Warner Animation to fill the gap. I just wish they filled it with something stronger than the just-released Wonder Woman: Bloodlines. The story is mostly about Diana and Vanessa Kapatelis with a hideous cabal of rogues attempting to plunder the technology of Themyscira.

It looks like it should fit in the animated continuity but it doesn’t really. We’re treated to a lengthy pre-credit sequence that recaps her origin and rushes things so quickly, that you blink and we’ve gone from Diana (Rosario Dawson) rescuing Steve Trevor (Jeffrey Donovan) to her leaving paradise for Man’s World and suddenly is allied with Etta Candy (Adrienne C. Moore) as they go to hang out with Dr. Julia Kapatelis (Nia Vandalos).

Screenwriter Mairghread Scott, who has extensive animation credits, notably within the Marvel Universe, can’t seem to make up her mind who Diana is. She comes across as peaceful and loving, compassionate, or willful bordering on arrogant. The scenes between mother Hippolyta (Cree Summer) and daughter don’t work as well as the ones with Diana and teen rebel Vanessa (Marie Avgeropoulos).

For reasons that don’t entirely hold up, we find Vanessa rebelling by allying herself with Dr. Poison (Courtenay Taylor) and Dr. Cyber (Mozhan Marnò), working for some mysterious benefactor. IN a warehouse, Julia is mortally wounded and Vanessa wrongly blames Diana so agrees to be transformed into Silver Swan to seek vengeance. She’s merely a pawn, helping the doctors learn the location of Themyscira.

To find the hidden island (which now makes Diana forget its location, a silly plot point), they go hither and yon until they reach the labyrinth Daedalus constructed to house the Minotaur (Michael Dorn), who is bewitched into a mindless engine of destruction. When he is freed and becomes Ferdinand the ally, we’re finally veering into the celebrated first Greg Rucka run of the title. This builds up to the big reveal that the villains have been carrying Medusa (Cree Summer) with them and she goes on a rampage across Themyscira.

For a climactic fight with the Amazons, I wish directors Sam Liu and Justin Copeland studied the feature film. Here, the highly trained, deadly warriors are merely cannon fodder, easily turned to stone and crushed. It makes them appear weak and useless which belies their true nature. Yes, it serves to amp up the Diana versus Medusa battle with beats lifted from the Rucka run, but it belittles the women.

And it’s no surprise Veronica Cale (Constance Zimmer) is behind everything, with threats made between them lead women, leaving things fraught with tension for a likely sequel. By then, I stopped caring given how little fresh insight into the characters and relationships we’re given.

The film is out in the usual assortment of formats including the 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and Digital Code combo pack. The 2160p and 1080p high definition transfers are both crisp and clear, the colors subtle and pure. Unfortunately, they also show up the limited animation which inhibits the characters from really getting into the action. There’s little difference between the two as with the lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Dolby audio track.

Far more interesting than the main event is the DC Showcase short, featuring Death in a touching piece from writer J.M. DeMatteis.

The other Special Features include a piece on The Cheetah (Kimberly Brooks) , which focuses on Wonder Woman’s most famous opponent, who is shoehorned into the movie for no particular reason. The talking heads do a nice job covering her career from the Golden Age to her Legion of Doom role and place in the pantheon of villains.

There is a Sneak Peek of the far more interesting looking adaptation of Superman: Red Son. Finally, there are two episdes from the animated DC vault.

 

REVIEW: Toy Story 4

REVIEW: Toy Story 4

REVIEW: Toy Story 4

There was a lot of sturm and drang at Pixar before they committed to making Toy Story 2, afraid their golden child might be ruined by a lackluster sequel. Not to worry, it was charming and a box office hit. They wisely waited until they had the exact story to tell for Toy Story 3, a film who’s ending never fails to elicit a tear or two for my long-ago childhood.

At first, we were dealing with Woody (Tom Hanks) coming to grips with his human, Andy, seeming to prefer the new, shiny Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen). Then there was a little matter of Andy aging out and what that meant for the toys. They’re meant to be cherished, not neglected, so the passing of them to Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) was a perfect touch.

But Bonnie is not Andy and her tastes are her own. She’s younger, of almost an entirely different generation, and Woody is left to wonder what is his role today? These existential issues are nicely played from beginning to end in the charming Toy Story 4, out now on disc from Disney Home Entertainment.

Bonnie is ready for school and Woody, always looking after the toys and his human, feels a responsibility to be there for her. No need, it turns out, as her kindergarten orientation gave her the opportunity to create her own toy, turning an ordinary spork into her new playmate, Forky (Tony Hale). Its problem is that Forky believes it was meant to be used once and disposed of, not loved. Once again, Woody feels responsible for keeping Forky from suicide and ruining Bonnie’s budding school career.

When the family goes on a road trip, things get complicated as a visit to an antique store introduces Woody to Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a girl’s doll created with a defective voice box and relegated to a shelf. She and her Jerry Mahoney-like dummies sweet-talk and entrap Woody, in order to obtain the thing she feels would make her desirable. Forky winds up a hostage so it’s Woody to the rescue, aided by Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who vanished years before and wound up in the store, a toughened go-it-alone figure.

Some of the action sequences in first-time director Josh Cooley’s hands are overdone at the expense of the menagerie of toys having anything useful to do. Instead, the thematic focus is entirely on Woody and his place in this strange new world. He does what he does and along the way, recognizes its time for the next chapter of his life. The ending makes sense and works emotionally even if we take our sweet time getting there.

The film has been released in a variety of formats including a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD code combo pack. The 1080p high definition transfer captures the colors nicely and we can marvel at how far the CGI animation has come since the first film (1995). The Blu-ray defaults to the DTS-HD HR 5.1 audio track although you can easily upgrade to the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Both sound just fine, if not perfect.

The combo pack comes with two Blu-ray discs with Special Features on both. The first, with the film, also offers up Bo Rebooted (6:21); Toy Stories (5:38) as cast and crew reminisce; and Audio Commentary with Cooley and Producer Mark Nielsen. The second disc contains Let’s Ride with Ally Maki (5:41), the voice of Giggle McDimples, goes in the recording process; Woody & Buzz (3:35); Anatomy of a Scene: Playground (9:31); Carnival Run (1:00); View from the Roof (0:29); Toy Box (13:00), introducing Gabby Gabby, the Vincent dummies, Forky, Duke Caboom, Ducky & Bunny, and Giggle McDimples; Deleted Scenes (28:00), Introduction, Scamming Playtime, Bo Knows Hippos, Desperate Toys, Knock-Offs, Recruit Duke, and She’s the One.

REVIEW: The Death and Return of Superman

REVIEW: The Death and Return of Superman

REVIEW: The Death and Return of Superman

The Doomsday Saga sprawled across the four monthly Superman titles for the better part of a year, clearly too long to successfully adapt as part of the DC Animated Universe series of films. When The Death of Superman was announced, everyone knew a second film would follow and sure enough, viewers were treated to The Reign of the Superman. The 1992-93 storyline was streamlined and revised to be fit into the animated continuity, so characters who weren’t around at the time, are here now.

Warner Home Entertainment has edited the two films together into a 2:46 and has released it as The Death and Return of Superman released in a variety of formats including the nifty 4K Ultra HD Limited Edition Gift Set (4K, Blu-ray, Digital HD, and a Steel action figure). The 4K gift set comes with Superman: Doomsday as a bonus 4K disc.

As noted in reviews of the two films, it does a reasonable, but not perfect, job of taking the serialized story and putting it all together. Lex Luthor gets played up more than he deserves and the Justice League’s core heroes have a far more prominent role. The “replacement” heroes – Steel, Superboy, Cyborg Superman, and the Eradicator – are all here for good or ill, adding new players for future films.

As one would expect, the excellent voice cast is back including Jerry O’Connell’s Superman, Rebecca Romjin’s Lois, and Rainn Wilson’s Luthor, supported by Jason O’Mara (Batman), Rosario Dawson (Wonder Woman), Shemar Moore (Cyborg), Nathan Fillion (Green Lantern), Matt Lanter (Aquaman), Christopher Gorham (The Flash), and Nyambi Nyambi (Martian Manhunter). They are joined by Cress Williams (Steel), Cameron (Superboy), Patrick Fabian (Hank Henshaw), and Charles Halford (Eradicator).

In the edit, some dropped sequences are back, helping seamlessly meld the two into one, despite an unavoidable shift in tone given the Man of Steel’s prominence only in the first half and the void he left subduing the second.

It’s faithful enough and satisfying enough to own. As for which version to buy (or give, after all, the release is timed for holiday giving), the Blu-ray 1080p is just fine both visually and aurally. The 4K is nicer but not enough to justify the cost, unless you really want the Steel figure or find a good sale..

Thankfully, there’s a nice new special feature, Long Live Superman (45:57), with co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee joined by creators Denny O’Neil, Jerry Ordway, Jon Bogdanove, Brett Breeding, Neal Adams, and Danny Fingeroth discussing his history and enduring appeal. The celebration includes commentary on Action Comics #1000 and footage from the Fleischer cartoons, George Reeves television series, first Chris Reeve film, and various DCAU films.

Carried over from the previous editions are The Death of Superman: The Brawl That Topped Them All, Lex Luthor: The Greatest Nemesis, and six episodes from various series: Legion of Superheroes, “Dark Victory: Part 1-2”; Superman: The Animated Series, “Heavy Metal”, Justice League Unlimited, “Panic in the Sky”.

Review: Graham Nolan’s “Monster Island” 20th Anniversary Edition

Review: Graham Nolan’s “Monster Island” 20th Anniversary Edition

I’ve recently spent some time in the Syracuse University Archives researching old comic strips. It turns out they have an incredible collection of original artwork by top tier comic artists – everyone from Hal Foster to Frank Robbins.  It’s quite a thrill and every time I view these originals I feel like a kid who’s successfully raided the cookie jar – and got away with it.

That’s how the new Monster Island book made me feel.  You might remember Graham Nolan’s independent comic from about 20 years ago.  It was a kick to follow along as two military folks fight their way across an island full of monsters.  And it’s not Frankenstein or the Wolfman – these are monsters in the classic Kirby-Atlas Comics or Godzilla-TOHO studios mold. Big and scary and nutty and goofy and fun. My kinda monsters.

You’ve seen this format before. Scott Dunbier and IDW have essentially created the category we all call Artist’s Editions. These books are shot from the original pages complete with production notes, blemishes, corrections and handwritten scrawls. Reading one of these is the closest most of us will ever come to holding the original art in our hands for one sitting.

Graham Nolan is a strong artist, and he’s also a strong storyteller. He’s got a vibrant visual sense (I’ve been a fan since the old Hawkword series) and here, as the writer, he’s able to introduce big concepts and keep the story moving, all the while helping readers get to know the cute couple at the center of the story.

This volume is even more fun as it includes extras. Some as you’d expect, like the character sketches, are wonderful and whimsical. Of note are the comic strip versions of Monster Island. Years ago, Graham Nolan had repackaged the strip to sell to a newspaper syndication. His efforts never went anywhere (it’s a shame, as this thriller lends itself to this format), but it did lead to him getting the gig penciling the Phantom for several years.

The story is fun, but beyond that, I find Nolan’s efforts inspirational. He comes across as the kind of guy who has a vision and puts in the hours to see if he can make it a reality.

Kudos to him -and I am sure he has inspired up and coming creatives over the years.

REVIEW: Anna

REVIEW: Anna

Luc Besson captured my attention with Léon the Professional in 1994 and since then, I’ve wanted to love everything he’s done, but the man is incredibly inconsistent so it’s as if every other film is worth a look. However, he hasn’t really scored since 2014’s Lucy. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was a pretty misfire and now we have Anna.

The film, out now on disc from Lionsgate Home Entertainment, is another in a long line of admirable female empowerment tales. His French action-thriller has its moments, and a (literally) cheeky performance by Helen Mirren, but has a low-budget look and feel that never goes beyond the surface so every single character feels one-dimensional.

We are introduced to the latest find, Sasha Luss, a willowy blonde who can kick ass but pales in comparison to the far superior Atomic Blonde. At first, she is a down on her luck girlfriend to a drug dealing moron, but then gets recruited to work for Russian Intelligence, where she is trained to deadly perfection by Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans), who then convinces KGB chief (or something, its unclear) Olga (Mirren) to take and use his new weapon.

Where the film succeeds best is its frequent time-bending storytelling so you only think you know what’s going on before they rewind and fill in some vital gaps. As a result, the story evolves and can intrigue you, but its utter vapidity and absurdness, staggers the imagination. Olga sends her into the field for a test with an unloaded gun and then we have the first of several high-octane set pieces that are too broad and comical to be taken seriously.

Along the way, she wearies of the life, and preferring to stay in at home with her model girlfriend Maud (Lera Abova) or find a way out of her career as a killer, undercover as a fashion model. She crosses paths with CIA officer Leonard Miller (Cillian Murphy) and he may offer her a ticket to paradise. Or not.

There’s a drabness to the photography, adding to a somber look with just flashes of color, usually Anna in various states of dress or undress. With the characters incredibly underwritten, a solid cast is given little to do except go through the paces and tick off the check marks. The action is either okay or over-the-top, unremarkable all around.

Such a weak state of affairs may explain is worldwide bomb at the box office, grossing under $30 million after a summer in theaters.

The film was released in an assortment of formats including Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD. Shot digitally, the native 2K high definition transfer is perfectly fine if as unexceptional as the film itself. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is up to the task for every punch and tire squeal.

There are a handful of average special features including Dressing a Doll: The Costumes of Anna (8:06); Anatomy of a Scene: The Restaurant Fight (6:41); Unnesting a Russian Doll: Making Anna (13:57); and Constructing the Car Chase (5:40).