Archives for September, 2012
Distributed by: Diamond Select Toys
So you probably won’t find this one on the last minute shelf at your local grocer or even liquor store. This is for a special group of folks that are a mix of beverage aficionado and comic book geek. So that means it’ll be in the last minute purchase section of shelves right by the register at your local comic book shop or hobby shop.
Of all the things I’ve ever considered in my life such as what it would be like to have Iron Man’s boot jets or what I’d do with Superman’s x-ray vision, I’ve never considered the possibility of utilizing the power cosmic to crack open a cold beverage. Thanks to DST I not only now list that as something to ponder I have executed the task with the Silver Surfer bottle opener. This had to be one of those epiphanies of design that came from some crazy night of boozing and reading comics. Well, ok it probably really wasn’t that crazy. In fact some designer may have just been trying to get into one of those retro soda bottles while 10 pages deep into Avengers Vs. X-Men on his iPad. Whatever the situation the idea did arise that it would be cool to integrate Marvel super heroes into the wild world of bottle openers.
While simply crafting a small super hero stature with a bottle opener jutting out of his head is something that wouldn’t shock me DST is a much more creative company than that. The Silver Surfer’s surf board is really the perfect shape for adding a bottle opener too. The only awkward part of the design is adding the Surfer himself to the board. Sure it would be cool to just have him standing on the board and fly through the air and blast the top off my bottle of beer (Wait have I already had a few?) but storing the opener and just general convenience would become an issue with such a design. So DST decided to have the Surfer sort of lying on the board so the whole thing stays relatively flat. Well, actually he appears to be standing but still flat on the board.
At first I thought the way the Surfer is embedded into the board was a little weird but after using the bottle opener a few times any oddness is totally outweighed by the convenience. The true issue is that someone might mistake him from a distance as being Han Solo frozen in carbonite. Now wait, that would make a cool bottle opener too. You listening DST?
Design and Build
The Surfer himself actually has some good detail considering that this is a bottle opener and the overall design is heavy duty and literally heavy. This thing is meant to truly be used as a bottle opener and not just something to display. The edges are all nicely rounded and the opener itself fit any bottle I threw at it. I will say the company copyright stamp on the back of the board is way too big and distracting. The combination of cool factor and convenience is well balanced here though and it’s just cool to have something like this that’s truly tough enough to use.
The Silver Surfer isn’t exactly an A list character and his appearance in live action film was shall we say, not exactly cosmic but he was a great pick for this device and design. Any true Marvel Comics fan should grab one of these.
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10
The Gadget 8/10
Design and Build 8/10
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10
Directed by Seiji Kishi
Starring Johnny Yong Bosch, Yuri Lowenthal, and Erin Fitzgerald
Can this adaptation of the popular video game hold up in a non-interactive format, or will the lack of player immersion take away all the fun?
When high school student Yu Narukami transfers to a small country town, he finds it not as peaceful as he expected as a spur of murders and kidnappings plague his detective uncle and the police. But Yu and his growing list of friends unravel the mystery as they discover a strange dimension and unlock strange summoning powers to combat whatever evil is plaguing their home.
The show is an adaptation of the same-named game of the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona game series. The game is a mix of high-school relationship simulation and fantasy role playing, with some monster catching thrown in by the constant discovery of “persona” summon creatures. Basically high school Pokémon, and the show plays out the same. It doesn’t require prior knowledge of the game or the previous games though, so you can jump in fresh.
The main character Yu, who is the player character from the game, feels just like it. He’s devoid of personality and emotion at the beginning of the show, until he starts interacting with the world and gets in the swing of things. He’s there for the audience to supplant their personality over, which works in the game better than in a television show. Once he actually progresses to the point of emotional reactions, he’s a more captivating lead, charismatic in forming new friendships and courageous in facing combat head on. It just takes a bit.
The other characters have various different levels of mileage. Some have a bit more depth and interest, such as the best friend Yosuke, the tough guy Kanji, and the idol Rise. Others fall flat. And then there’s the television dimension bear Teddy, whose bearability depends entirely on how much you can stand bear puns (pun maybe intended).
The biggest drawback is the show’s repetitiveness. Almost every couple of episodes is a new character arc that basically plays the same: Yu and friends meet new character; said character gets kidnapped into the mysterious television dimension; Yu and friends fight shadow creature with their persona summons; new character accepts aspects of their self they previously denied; new friend in the group. Repeat. Almost line-for-line, no less, causing my eyes to roll by the third time.
On that note, every episode opens with a segment in “the Velvet Room,” which is an aspect of the game but has no impact on the show other than providing unnecessarily cryptic recaps and hints. It gets old fast.
The show also really lacks a feeling of suspense. A side effect of the repetitive nature, the characters overcome the same threat so much that it feels like they’re simply going through the motions, and that this murderer they’re chasing down poses no threat to them.
The show is a passable action murder mystery, with some intriguing characters, neat stylistic character and creature designs, and a catchy opening theme. It looks and sounds fine, but its slow build and repetitive clichéd structure keeps it from being trilling or immersive.
The Video and Audio
The series is presented in 16:9 widescreen, in English and Japanese stereo audio. All of which are average in general. The video has a couple instances of digital artifacting, but the action and special effects scenes are passable.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The three-disc set comes in a single standard case. In addition to the standard bonuses of clean opening/ending animation and trailers, this set impressively includes Japanese commentary for every episode, as well as televised and uncut versions of the first episodes.
The Japanese commentary does a good job mixing the cast and crew of the show, and while the portions I sampled weren’t particularly informational, they were still interesting to read the banter. The one problem I found is a commentary subtitling issue, which would occasionally start playing video dialog subtitles mixed together, which can be a tad confusing.
Overall (Not an Average)
The collection is a decent set, putting together a complete story arc, and the inclusion of Japanese commentary is a good touch. The repetition may unfortunately bog down the audience, especially newcomers to the franchise, from following along all the way.
The Series 6.5/10
The Video and Audio 5/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 6.5/10
Overall (Not an Average) 6/10
Many people only think of this film, from the director of the boring Vantge Point, as a remake of the goofy Sylvester Stallone film but this story first came to life in comic books. That’s right, we have another comic book film here.
Dredd 3D tells the story of a post-apocalyptic United States with only one giant city remaining surrounded by massive walls. The name of the city: Mega City. The only thing standing between the crime threatening to overtake the city and the good people are the Judges, cops that have complete control of how criminals are handled. They are literally judge, jury, and if necessary executioner. Judge Dredd has been given the menial task of testing a rookie to determine if she is eligible to become a full-fledged judge. She failed her written tests but Dredd’s bosses want to give her another chance because she is special. I won’t reveal what’s special about her as it was not revealed in the ads either. Suffice it to say that she completely changes Dredd’s job.
He and his new partner take a call to a giant 200 hundred story all inclusive building where two people have been gruesomely murdered. The ads made the set up feel a lot like another film Called The Raid Redemption ( a fantastic film by the way). The truth is that some elements are similar but the movies are thematically completely different. Within this building are drug addicts hooked on a drug called slo-mo. The drug makes the brain see things moving at 1% normal speed. The drugged out scenes are the true sweet spot for the 3-D. At one point a character is relaxing in the tub at the beginning of the film and enjoying the effects of the drug as she splashes in the water. We in turn enjoy it because the look and effect is completely beautiful.
One might expect Urban to do his best Stallone but he’s actually channeling more Dirty Harry in this version of Dredd. There’s really nothing goofy about this film at all unless you happen to find the uniforms somewhat comical. Dredd 3-D is unapologetically brutal and bloody and gratuitous. This is grindhouse scifi in 3-D and we love it. Lena Headey is wonderfully drugged out, violent, and insane; almost unrecognizable compared to her other genre roles in The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Game of Thrones.
Dredd 3D is exhilarating, shocking and shockingly beautiful. The film absolutely pulls no punches and there will be a scene or two that may truly knock you out of your comfy theater seat. There are a few flaws, mostly in the lack of character development. Well, there almost is no character development. Headey’s character gets a rap sheet sort of development but it too is pretty damn shocking in the way it’s shot. Dredd gets a little purposeful mystery added to his character. Was this done in hopes of developing him more in a future film? This flaw is so outweighed by the roller coaster feel of the film and the unabashed story that it just doesn’t matter. This may be one of the most truly unadulterated stories to hit theaters this year and for that reason alone it deserves recognition. The film is low budget, but every dollar is on screen and used with precision. I joked with a friend that there must have been six production company names listed at the beginning of the film. There is one interesting section at the end of the film that’s riddled with digital noise, not film grain, actual digital noise. It looks like camcorder footage shot in too low of light. As a low budget filmmaker myself I loved seeing it but in the end I wonder why it was kept in the film. A director commentary on the eventual blu-ray should be interesting.
Created by Michael Cuesta
Starring Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Morena Baccarin
It may surprise you to know that Homeland is a remake of an Israeli television series. If you pay any attention to global dynamics and what’s happening in that country it would probably be a little less surprising. Now, this version is of course highly Americanized, as it should be, and since it’s Showtime the nudity is amped up slightly.
In this season of the show a female CIA agent is told by a contact in the Taliban that an American POW has been turned just before he is executed. Months later she is still looking for this turncoat when a POW is rescued after years of captivity. He returns home to much fanfare with only one CIA agent looking at him with a skeptical eye. The episodes that follow question whether she is right or if he is actually going through some post-traumatic stress from the war and from being in captivity for so many years. He’s trying to find a way to reconnect with his family, including a son that barely remembers him and find his place in the world after being gone for so many years.
This is a series from the creators of 24 so everything you’d expect with that information in mind is true. The show is slick, fast paced, and each episode generally ends with a cliffhanger making you want more. That’s really what made watching it on Blu-Ray both a troubling experience and a great one. The experience was great because the minute I wanted more I could move to the next episode. The problem was that I could move to the next episode so I spent many hours digging into this series, all the way until the season was done.
Claire Danes successfully pulls off a multilayered character with a distinct belief system and many personal issues that get in the way of her judgment. Damian Lewis plays a creepy guy, almost too creepy really. A few times it seems like someone else should be noticing just how odd he’s acting. His wife played by Marena Baccarin does notice but rightfully attributes his oddness to the time he spent as a POW. Baccarin is a great actress and I hope she gets used for more than the troubled wife and cheesecake next season. Mandy Patinkin is a nice surprise in this season as well.
The 1080p presentation is worlds better than what we got when the show originally aired on Showtime. The image was compressed for cable so it featured plenty of glitches and artifacts. Here it’s clear as a bell. The skewed color palette is purposeful and well represented here. This is a near perfect presentation with deep blacks, great contrast, super detail, and well done skin tones. There are just a few places where the images aliases just a little keeping this presentation from being an absolute 10.
The surround mix here is solid throughout the episodes. This is a dialogue heavy show so it’s not the thing to throw in to demo your surround system. With that said there’s good use of ambient sounds, great use of score, and the dialogue is never inaudible. So, this mix does everything it’s supposed too.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The 12 episodes of season one are spread across three discs with the bonus material also on the last disc. The packaging is a slim amaray case and the art feels like that of a network television series such as NCIS. It seems like Showtime could’ve taken the art and packaging up a little.
The pilot episode features a full audio commentary with the producers and actors Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. Danes carries most of the commentary while Lewis barely speaks. There’s tons of dead air as the episode plays too. There are a few nice stories here and there but overall this commentary is deflating.
Week 10: A Prologue to season 2 is cute but it really ends up having no impact on the story that is to come in season two. There’s a half hour featurette that feels more like a marketing piece than a real documentary about the show and some deleted scenes. There are also some deleted scenes.
For such a gutsy show the bonus content is underwhelming. The show deserved more attention than it gets.
Homeland is a surprisingly great show. It’s dramatic and riveting without tons of shootouts and explosions. There is action of course but those scenes aren’t where the true edge of your seat stuff is happening.
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10
The Season 9/10
The Video 9/10
The Audio 8/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 4/10
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10
Written and Directed by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobbie Smulders, Gwyneth Paltrow
Marvel’s The Avengers is easily the most important theatrical film of 2012. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best film of the year, just the most important. The reason it’s so important is that it has executed something that has never before been executed in theatrical film; five separate films have converged into one Universe with crossing characters and culminated in one epic film featuring the main cast and a connected story from all of the films. This extremely complex type of storytelling has never been attempted in film, not even close. It happens all the time in comic books though. It was a pretty daring play on Marvel’s part to try and create a single universe for all of these characters and their individual films to exist in. The resulting movies have made millions, probably billions at this point considering The Avengers alone has made a billion dollars.
The only way this film works, and any of the Marvel films for that fact, is if it exists as a completely individual film that can be enjoyed on its own but is enhanced if you’ve seen all of the other films. Direct sequels don’t count. To completely enjoy Iron Man 2 you need to have seen Iron Man 1. There’s nothing new about that in the world of filmmaking. What I’m talking about is that you can enjoy The Avengers having not seen Iron Man or Thor but if you’ve seen them the experience is even more entertaining. On that mark, Marvel and its super talented team of creative has hit the nail on the head. The avengers is exciting, hilarious, and full of great character moments both big and small that can be truly appreciated having seen none of the other Marvel films. However, if you’ve seen the other films all of the subtle moments and in jokes are so much more effective.
The overarching story of the Avengers began mostly during Iron Man and was hinted to in Hulk. Nick Fury wanted to create a team of heroes to fight the fights humans can’t win. As all of these heroes deal with their own lives and fight their individual fights Fury is in the shadows pulling the strings and pushing these people together. The battle in the Avengers began in Thor where Loki, brother to Thor made his descent into villainy. His ultimate weapon however, made its appearance many years earlier in Captain America’s WWII story arc. All of these pieces could have come together to make a perfect puzzle or a disaster. Luckily Marvel Entertainment has taken this work very seriously and has managed to attract filmmakers to these projects that truly have passion for the characters and also took the projects seriously.
The Avengers not only had to show a culmination of all of these five films but it also had to give importance to each member of this fairly huge ensemble cast. Everyone needed something to do. Joss Whedon was the perfect man for the job. Few creators working in Hollywood have his level of understanding of the comic book universes and even fewer can handle ensemble casts of this size and make every character relevant. Whedon has shown he can do this sort of work with television projects like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Both of these shows had huge ensemble casts that he was able to give balance too and to make each of them matter. The biggest concern I had wasn’t with the writing of the story or the tone or character, it was the handling of the action. Whedon has never worked with action on this scale before with this size budget. After the credits rolled I felt stupid for worrying though. Whedon was able to brilliantly craft the action to make the heroes work together as a team, have those iconic comic book panel shots, and even have moments of levity. One thing that really stood out for me is that Whedon made me appreciate the Hulk. That particular character has never interested me, even as a kid reading comics. Mark Ruffalo brings a quirky oddness to Bruce Banner and Whedon actually makes the Hulk monstrous and truly scary in one particular scene.
After seeing the film in the theater a few times I would have given the film a 10, no problem. Now I’ve seen it another few times on Blu-ray and finally I can see the issues with the film coming through. It’s a long movie, which should be understood considering just how many characters had to be assembled to make the team. Fortunately Whedon and his editing team are able to keep the pace clipping along so the film doesn’t seem bloated even if it is a little. Also, from a strict filmmaking perspective there are some fantastic camera angles and shots and then there are some long instances of hard cuts between flat shots of talking heads delivering tons of exposition, minor quibble. Also, Loki allows himself to be captured in order to simply use his scepter to set off the Hulk. It’s really never clear why he wants to do that. One assumes it’s to get the Avengers fighting each other. Later in a conversation between Loki and Tony Stark it appears that Loki is shocked that the Hulk is around. He thinks the beast would have “wondered off”. This bothered me a little when I first saw the film in the theater and after subsequent views it still stands out as an issue. Also, Loki is a fantastic villain and he seems to be able to stand against the Avengers only through his planning and cunning, and that’s perfect but his army seems soulless and has no personality or investment in the goings on.
On the plus side the characterizations are all spot on and highly entertaining. There’s great balance of tone between the epicness of the coming battle and Loki’s darkness and Tony Stark’s humor and even some great humor from the Hulk. Whedon actually apologizes for some one liner setups for gags in his commentary but he says he couldn’t resist it because it would just be too funny and he’s right. The Black widow was a really failed character in Iron Man 2 other than the way she looked in the suit but Whedon not only rescues her but he makes her one of the most emotionally complex characters in the film. The twist conversation between her and Loki is easily one of the best scenes in the film both acted and shot. Bruce Banner’s little reveal in the final act of the film is also a brilliant touch.
There are still other little quibbles and nitpicks that could be made of Marvel’s The Avengers but the movie is just so entertaining and it so well encompasses the universe designed by the films that came before it that most of those complaints just don’t matter. This truly a groundbreaking moment in the world of filmmaking and I couldn’t be happier that it is set in a comic book universe and I couldn’t be happier about the movie that came from all of this work. Summer blockbuster fans, comic books fans, science fiction fans, and anyone that enjoys a good movie should see this one.
The 1080p video presentation of this film is for the most part gorgeous. Detail levels are extremely high, even in darker scenes. The downside to that level of consistent clean HD detail is that a few of the CG fx look a little cartoony here and there. Colors are vibrant and skin tones look spot on though. There’s a lot of color and texture to take in here and it all comes through crisp and clean. There’s just a little edginess around some of the fx to which may play into the cartoony look. Overall though, a great presentation.
The surround usage here makes the movie feel enormous. The score is a little generic but there are individual pieces dedicated to some of the characters which helps give the music a better body. It fills the soundstage during bigger scenes. Action scenes also fill the soundstage with whizzing lasers and shrapnel. By the end of the film you feel like you’re in the middle of New York City. Through it all the dialogue is crisp and clean and easy to hear. In fact there’s one comment by the Hulk that I was never able to make out in the theater that is clear on the Blu-ray.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The version we were sent for review is a 2 disc release in a slim amaray case. The art features the ensemble but it feels a little flat. There’s a standard DVD and a Blu-ray, no 3-D version, no digital copy. The Avengers was shot in 2-D but was blocked and planned for a 3-D conversion so it seems appropriate to have a 3_D version.
As far as supplements go the best one is the feature audio commentary with director Joss Whedon. It seems like a lot of pressure to sit down solo and chat about your film but Whedon handles it fantastically with very few silences. He’s both funny and informative. He shares different perspectives on crafting the story, discusses editing decisions, apologizes for things he deems to be mistakes and shares little behind the scenes stories. Sadly he stops the commentary the minute the credits roll with no discussion of the two post credit sequences. Seems like there should have been some discussion of these add-ons.
There are a few deleted scenes which are awesome to see and some previews for other Marvel films. Most of the deleted scenes needed to be cut for time but at least we still get to see them.
There’s a selection of short featurettes with the cast and crew discussing the film. They are all really brief and feel like marketing videos more than actual documentaries. Honestly they felt very cookie cutter and not extremely interesting. The little information you do get from them comes direct from Whedon in his commentary in a much more entertaining way. It feels like Marvel and Disney are purposefully holding back better bonus materials for a second release, perhaps the now delayed briefcase edition?
Marvel’s The Avengers is unequivocally the best super hero film of 2012 and perhaps the best one every made. Some fans will argue that The Dark Knight Rises is better but that’s just not true. The Avengers aims for a very specific target and it hits that target dead center where The Dark Knight Rises misses its own mark by a wide margin. We really can’t even discuss The Amazing Spider-man in this article; it just doesn’t exist on this level of filmmaking. This movie is just ridiculously entertaining in every way with great characters, exciting action, and classic Whedon humor. The film actually deserves a better Blu-ray release than this.
Overall (Not an Average) 7.5 /10
The Movie 9.5/10
The Video 8.5/10
The Audio 9/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 5.5/10
Overall (Not an Average) 7.5/10
Written by: Brian Meehl
Published by: Delacorte Press
Will I ever get over my addiction to vampire stories? It shames me to say it but no, on second thought it doesn’t shame me. With the hundreds of books out there I have plenty of reading material to keep me entertained for years. Every one of these stories has a variation on the true character of the Vampire. From sexy and a vegetarian to evil, ugly and true horror. I love them all. In Suck it up and Die there’s the variations we’ve seen before but there’s a twist. Vampires are openly living among us!
Suck it up and die is the sequel to Suck It Up. I didn’t read the first book in the series and I think that is what made me more critical of this book than perhaps it deserves.
The story centers on Morning McCobb, a forever 16 year old vampire that is in love with Portia Dredful. Yes, I was laughing at the names. McCobb and Dredful are indicative of a dark story to come and this is what I though until the second paragraph of the book. With a line like “When it came to the big ride in Cupid’s Pedicab of Everlasting Love, that wasn’t even around the block”, I revised my thinking. Maybe it’s a comedy? I hope so, because honestly I was not in the mood for yet another vampire love story.
Morning is part of the International Vampire League, a movement started by Luther Birnam after Morning “Came out”. Although coming out can have another meaning ,in this instance it is the coming out of Vampires. Morning made his presence known to humans and became the poster child for the league. League vampires do not drink human blood, instead they drink a synthetic soy blood product. The League wants to be recognized by the United States government as a new minority population with the rights every citizen enjoys. This is the main thrust of the story that was the first book, Suck It Up. As I mentioned, I did not read the first book but I can tell you that the sequel does a good job of revisiting the major highlights of the original and as a reader you fully understand what is going on.
The harmony that the League is trying to create is hampered by a congresswoman, Becky Dell. She is a zealot with an agenda of driving all vampires out of the country. Even though league vampires have been living in peace among humans there is still the old guard vampires that sits in the wings and want’s to prove they are the superior race. Humans in general have accepted the league vampires and have made a TV show, ”The Shadow”, #1 in the ratings. A big deal when you know that the shows lead is a Vampire.
There is action, evil and wonder intertwined in the story. The much needed dark character, DeThanatos, is compelling and a master at manipulation. The reader can appreciate the form changing abilities of every vampire while still being somewhat leery of the possibility for evil.
Suck it up and die successfully weaves a story of a minority group trying to integrate and the characters that either support it or don’t. It is a story that will perhaps give the young reader a new perspective of these struggles because it showcases individuals and their stories.
As an avid reader I enjoyed the story. Word of warning, it is a young adult novel and as such you will have to scale back on your internal monitor of analyzing every jump the story makes. That being said, I enjoyed the story and was surprised (OMG! I thought that wasn’t possible in a vampire story) by the ending. I won’t tell you what it is but I can tell you that my reaction was “Really?!..that’s awesome!” I can’t go without mentioning the similarities to True Blood. In True Blood the vampires have also “come out” and there are factions that are trying to build harmony and those that are not. While this isn’t a new idea it has been made most popular by the True Blood books and subsequent HBO television series. Of that I would say that Suck it it Up and this follow up book are True Blood for the younger set.
Did you see this one coming? Tell us it wasn’t a nail biter! Right at the end, literally at the last minute Jonathan, the winning listener from the last block beat the contributors with two tiny movies; Premium Rush and The Possession. Oh and there was that whole Avengers thing too. The Dark Knight and Spider-Man just couldn’t perform against the behemoth that was The Avengers this summer and that film along with a few other strategically purchased others won the game for Jonathan!
Here are this week’s actuals:
|Weeks||Zack P||$ 332,123,030.00|
|4||Men in Black III 3D||$152,726,558.00|
|4||Snow White & the Hutsman||$137,128,350.00|
|4||Rock of Ages||$36,974,619.00|
|4||That’s My Boy||$36,100,833.00|
|4||Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter||$35,915,842.00|
|4||Sneaking a Friend of the End of the World||$7,078,738.00|
|4||Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection||$60,289,622.00|
|4||The Amazing Spider-Man||$241,953,721.00|
|4||Ice Age: Continental Drift||$132,071,899.00|
|4||The Dark Knight Rises||$389,588,216.00|
|3||Step Up: Revolution||$32,776,588.00|
|4||The Bourne Legacy||$96,231,050.00|
|4||Diary of a Wimpy Kid: dog Days||$43,767,588.00|
|4||The Expendables 2||$75,619,038.00|
The 2012 film Amazing Spider-man featured the well-known wall crawler as a vigilante in street clothes and a red ski mask. Diamond Select Toys has released a bust of this version of Spider-man crafted by Gentle Giant. To be completely honest the origin story of any super hero character is the least interesting to me. It’s not because I think these stories are unimportant. I’ve just been a comic book fan my whole life so I’ve heard the stories over and over and over again. So, I’m just more interested in the characters after they’ve become who they are supposed to be. With that said though, this sort of variant statue is a pretty nifty idea, especially if you already have a Spider-man statue in his full on leotard attire. Imagine having the two statues on a shelf to show the evolution of the character. All you’d need is a straight up Peter Parker statue to start the evolution off. That only works though, if the statues are all fantastic! So let’s take a look at Spidey pre-uniform:
Before Peter Parker had his full on Spider-man suit he was hitting the streets in vigilante mode with a simple hood, jacket, and ski hat. There were seeds of the costume that was to come with the cut out sunglasses for eyes and the choice of red for his hood. Those sunglasses are quite the point of contention for many fans, more so than other costume “adjustments” that were made for this film. The fact is that creators have experimented with Spider-man’s costume a great deal over the years so seeing some changes in the movie version shouldn’t be much of a big deal. The truth is though all of these adjustments get old after a while and web head always eventually returns to his classic red and blue design that we all know and love. He had to start somewhere though, and for the movie, this is where it all began.
The bust stands 9’ tall including the base which morphs from Peter Parker’s jacket. The base is formed by a morphed portion of Parker’s leather jacket. It gets the job done but it honestly looks just a little odd. Outside of that little nitpick this is a pretty cool alternate Spidey keepsake for fans of the film. Jacket and mask designs are painted beautifully and the detail is fantastic. Also of particular note are the lines in the hood with Parker twisting his head, nice detail. The base is fairly sturdy if just a little narrow making the whole thing slightly top heavy. It sits steady but it’s not a statue you want to be bumping into very often.
The statue is designed by Gentle Giant, no not the classic rock band, the group responsible for many iconic toy designs from movies and TV including of course several Star Wars designs. They have maintained their reputation with this release with detail, color, and the realistic look of textures. If you’re a fan of the film or a fan of Spider-man in general this statue would make a great addition to your collection. It’s not your typical Spider-man on a wall or shooting a web pose so it’s truly for the hardcore fan. With that in mind you’re probably going to have to grab this one from a hobby shop or the internet.
Created by Steven S. DeKnight
Starring Liam McIntyre, Peter Mensah, Dustin Clare, and Lucy Lawless
Spartacus is back with a vengeance, and he’s bringing all the action, gore, sex and more from the rest of the series. But does it still hold up?
After a brief pause, Spartacus returns after his liberation of himself and his fellow slaves of the Batiatus ludus. Now they wage war against their Roman oppressors, particularly those responsible for Spartacus’ imprisonment and the death of his wife.
Season two accomplishes the great task of cranking up the action and gore. No longer is the principle combat kept in the arena. The fight choreographers play around with more locales, characters, and situations than ever before, and it looks like they have fun. The simpler set up of the arena gladiatorial combat makes way for group melee against arena-trained freedom fighters versus an increasing number of Roman soldiers. A lot more people are trying to kill each other, on screen at the same time, and it’s a blast (especially with the catapults).
While still on the mature side, the sexual side of the series is toned down a bit, but only a bit, which works with the even tenser atmosphere of this season. Some scenes are, of course, very notable exceptions to this observation.
While named after the character Spartacus, the entire series focuses on a wide cast of characters, and this season is no different. Fellow gladiator Crixus aides Spartacus while searching for his lost love. Former doctore Oenomaus tries to find new meaning in his life, as does his friend and Gods of the Arena star Gannicus. Challenging them are the Roman forces, lead by Spartacus’ betrayer Glaber. In Glaber’s employ returns the conniving slave Ashur and the disturbed survivor of Spartacus’ revolt at the end of season one – Lucretia Batiatus. With them and more, the series does a surprisingly good job making sure everyone feels important to the story.
All the actors do a fantastic job adding layers to their characters. Lucy Lawless is especially superb as a broken Lucretia, who is understandably mentally disturbed after last season’s finale and the course of this season. New Spartacus actor Liam McIntyre does a great job making the role his own with the character’s new found sense of conviction, while still building on the character’s intense pain and unbridled rage that original actor Andy Whitfield well portrayed before his unfortunate passing between seasons.
The second season actually improves upon the first season’s weakness of too many unsympathetic characters, especially Spartacus. For much of the first season, Spartacus is unsympathetic to his comrades and complacent to his situation. This season, his eyes are open to the bigger problem of Roman societal entitlement to slavery, and he means to put an end to it with the end of his sword. While this rebel faction still deals with divisive internal strife, their dedication to a greater goal makes them more captivating to watch.
This season’s weakness has to be its antagonists. While Glaber and his wife Ilithyia (Craig Parker and Viva Bianca respectively) are good and sadistic foils, they just aren’t as fun as John Hannah’s Quintus Batiatus, who you could almost root for in his social climbing. Plus, Lucy Lawless’ broken Lucretia, while a legitimate development in the character, isn’t as intriguing as her confident and sexy self from before.
Spartacus keeps melodrama and action turned on high. The visceral enjoyment of the series continues into this Vengeance season, all the way into a thrilling climax that will keep you on the edge of your seat until next season.
The Video and Audio
The series is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, just as the other releases of the series. The wide angle helps a lot with the slow-motion, side-scrolling shots, which are impressive.
The CGI can still be pretty laughable at times, from the occasionally detached limb to the repeated crowd inserts, but it all adds to the feel. The green screen is still obvious most of the time, but sometimes it’s not, and either way, you rarely care with how exciting and visually interesting the foreground is.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
This three-disc set matches the first season and miniseries with its ornate, glossy, book-like packaging, where each disc is in its own page decorated with a collage of scenes.
The bonuses are all on the final disc, mostly behind-the-scenes documentaries and interviews. There isn’t any episode-specific commentary, but one particular scene is separated into the bonuses for the VFX in charge of it to comment on as it plays.
Overall (Not an Average)
All the fun of the first season and miniseries is back in Spartacus: Vengeance. The visceral enjoyment from the action and these wonderfully flawed and intricate characters makes the whole series, and this season especially, one to watch.
The Series 8/10
The Video and Audio 7/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10
This week we discuss the importance of pit vipers as pets and how much cooler they’d be with gears! We also manage time to talk SHIELD TV series, Wonder Woman on TV again, the next new Marvel movie directed, Whedon on everything, AvX, and much more!
Directed by Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
Starring Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin
When you think of classic movie trilogies you probably think of the Star Wars trilogy, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or maybe the first three Indiana Jones films. Not many people mention the Paradise Lost trilogy and they probably should at least give it some consideration. If you don’t know the story of the West Memphis Three you may simply want to skip to the last paragraph of this review in order to avoid spoilers. These events were all over the news so as I write the review I’m assuming you already know what happened. If you don’t, then skip ahead, decide whether you want to watch this film or all three, and return here and share what you think with me.
This film starts with a recap of the previous two before leading into what is perceived to be the final chapter of the story. So by recapping the first two films here I’m in essence covering the first two thirds of the film.
The first Paradise Lost, title Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills was a true benchmark in documentary film making. The original film aired on HBO in 1996 and it profiled three teenage boys accused of brutally murdering three other younger boys. The mutilated bodies of the boys were found in a shallow creek in West Memphis, Arkansas. The three teen boys were linked to the crime via satanic rituals. As dumb as that may sound at this point in American history the idea of Satanic rituals and even murder was at an all time high, coming off the heavy metal years, a form of music that was also connected to Satanism at the time. One of the three boys confessed to the crimes. The documentary begins as the trial was also beginning. The filmmakers gained unprecedented access to the legal teams on both sides of the case, they covered the courtroom drama and broke the proceedings up by interviewing nearly everyone connected with the murdered boys and those accused of doing the killing. The film was gripping and emotionally challenging. The film features crime scene photos and videos that brought the horror of the crime home and engendered true pain to me when I saw the film for the first time. The band Metallica became involved in the events only because they believed the boys innocent and they contributed their music to the film, which made it all even more dark and sad.
It’s impossible for a documentary filmmaker to craft a film with true objectivity. There must be some passion for a subject in order to want to spend countless hours covering it for a film that you are likely to make no money from. With that said as the film progresses and the filmmakers become more invested in the subject you can tell that they believe the trial to be in many ways a farce. By the end you may have questions too? Was the police work handled properly? Was the trial taken seriously enough? Did the politicians want a scape goat and they found it in these boys or did these Goth kids with troubled pasts commit the crime? At the end of that film the verdicts are passed down and it doesn’t seem to matter what anyone thinks. Paradise Lost is easily one of the most important and effective documentary films ever made.
In real life stories don’t usually end until we die and sometimes they don’t even end there. Documentaries just have to stop at some point. Paradise Lost returns to the story of the Memphis three in 2000 to follow their maddening appeals process and the work of an internet advocacy group called “Free the West Memphis Three”. More importantly they follow up on one of the kid’s stepfather, Mark Byers. Byers was a particularly creepy individual during the first film. He actually ended up involving the filmmakers when he gifted them a pocket knife that had blood on it. There was new evidence during the appeal of bite marks on one of the mutilated bodies. In the time since the previous film Mark Byers had all of his teeth removed. The filmmakers are embroiled in the process now and the first film has had a profound effect on the town, the victims, and those accused. The documentary actually becomes somewhat personal but the filmmakers do a good job of still keeping themselves out of the film unless it’s completely necessary that they be mentioned or included. There’s no real ending to this film, it just asks questions that the courts aren’t asking and shows the stonewalling that is going on in regard to the Memphis Three. It’s real life and it’s dramatic.
Finally this year the filmmakers returned for what will probably be a final look at this story. Two of the kids had been sentenced to life in prison and Damien had been sentenced to death so the final push to save his life was on from many directions. Even the Dixie Chicks, a country music group, and actor Johnny Depp came out in support of the West Memphis Three. The Save the West Memphis Three group is still in full effect and one of them has even married the now in his 30’s Damien Echols. At the beginning of the recap we once again see the horrifying video footage of the murdered children in the creek bed and I was immediately nauseous and emotionally jolted. It may seem like exploitation but the truth is that with this entire circus going on the filmmakers never want us to forget what the film is truly about. Who committed this brutal crime? A team of experts descended upon the small Arkansas town to take advantage of a new law that allowed DNA evidence to get a case reconsidered. A hair was found on one of the bodies that could now prove that the boys weren’t involved or that the evidence that did convict them was completely circumstantial. A new figure, possible other murderer had also come to light and warranted consideration. The new investigations were followed as well as profiles executed to show what the events of the last 17 years had done to the families and the town.
Enough evidence was gathered to probably get the boys, now men, a new trial. They geared up for a new fight that they would probably win because by today’s standards the circumstantial evidence compared to the hard DNA evidence wouldn’t convict them, or so they believe. As they prepared for the big fight, one that might take more years but they that they really had potential to win the state does something unexpected that gives the boys what they want while forcing the boys to do exactly what they don’t want to do. This part I won’t spoil, I won’t give away. The ending of this film was completely devastating. These three men have fought from prison for nearly half their lives and the eventual outcome isn’t satisfying and even with what seems like a layer of finality the story still isn’t over. I actually wanted to break down with Jason Baldwin who made the ultimate sacrifice to save his friend. The story is maddening and sad, it’s real life.
This film is the least objective of the three. This time around the filmmakers aren’t really showing both sides. They are simply profiling the three men in prison and all of the efforts going on to save their lives. The first film did look at both sides but as the story began to feel more and more like one of those horror films where everyone knows the truth except a few characters on screen the director’s decided to stop trying to play at both sides and just tell the story of the Memphis Three. If there’s one complaint it might be that the majority of the film is recapping the first two. At the same time the recapping is used as threads to tie events from those three films to current happenings so even that is a nitpick because the filmmakers handled it well. The true issue is that if you haven’t seen the first two films these recaps short sheet the overall story a bit. They’d have to though: we aren’t watching Lord of the Rings here. The movie can only be so long. This film does put a cap on a story that has been ongoing for 17 years and while it isn’t satisfying it is real life.
This is a documentary so expecting reference quality video is a mistake. With that said the images shot by the filmmakers specifically for this film have good color and an overall solid television video appearance. There is low quality deposition video and archival footage that varies in quality but overall the image is acceptable considering the type of film.
Again audio can vary drastically depending on age of the footage and the way it was shot. For the most part everything is clean enough to understand here and that’s about all you can expect considering the mix of media types and age of some of the footage.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The single disc release features a standard amaray case with a gradiated image of yearbook pictures that turns into the name of the film. It’s not special in any way but it is consistent artistically with the previous films’ DVD releases.
First up for bonus features is a series of deleted scenes. There’s one deleted scene from the first film and the rest are from the third one. All of these scenes are fascinating but they mostly don’t lead anywhere so it’s obvious why they were cut.
There’s a press day panel that should have been provided uncut but instead it’s cut into sound bites from the West Memphis Three and the two filmmakers. Good stuff, I wanted more. There’s a bit more from the filmmakers in an additional interview with them. These are interesting guys who’ve been through the whole thing the last 17 years so they have a lot to say; probably a lot more than is included in this all too brief featurette. Finally there are text based bios for the filmmakers.
There should have been a lot more in the way of bonus features on this disc including but not limited to a full length audio commentary. What we have is better than is often provided on documentary releases though.
Paradise Lost: Purgatory is at its core such a sad film. Three 2nd graders weren’t just murdered; they were tortured and killed in the worst of ways. Then three other children were blamed and made to pay for it for the rest of their lives in one way or another. This film is epic, it’s moving, it’s shocking, and it’s well executed. I do hope this story doesn’t end here though. There are still too many unanswered questions. See this film but see the previous two first.
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10
The Movie 9.5/10
The Video 7/10
The Audio 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 6/10
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10
Directed by Rupert Sanders
Starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron
Fairy tales are suddenly all the rage starting as far back as the ill-fated Grimm’s Fairly Tales and Red Riding Hood all the way to the current television shows Once Upon a Time and Grimm. For some reason everyone is all about the classics. Of course Alice in Wonderland has been done over and over and the sequel to The Wizard of Oz is on the way so there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
Snow White and the Huntsman is one of two films based on the classic Snow White story that hit theaters last spring. The other was the Julia Roberts starring in Mirror, Mirror. Both of these films have the common element of attempting to bring more depth to the wicked queen character. Snow White and the Huntsman seems like it should be one of those magical movies that just hits all the right notes. It’s an updating of the classic fairy tale and it stars Kristen Stewart, the hot young actress of the moment and Chris Hemsworth, the Mighty Thor. This movie should have brought young girls to the theaters in droves. The film actually bombed domestically only making $155 million but when you add in the foreign take of nearly $239 million the film becomes profitable. So much so that a sequel appears to be on the horizon. The big problem is all of the pieces are here for something great but it just never is.
Kristen Stewart is in all reality a fairly poor actress. She’s loved by young girls for reasons unbeknownst to me. Maybe I’m not supposed to understand because I’m most definitely not a young girl and never was that. This film is fairly poorly written but she takes weak dialog and makes it multiple times worse with wooden delivery and an odd accent. There’s one particular patriotic speech delivered by her in the last act of the film that is truly laughable. It’s not all her though, the script just didn’t end up being that good. The goals the story hoped to reach were interesting but it never reaches them.
Charlize Theron is the star of this film hands down. She chews the scenery as the evil Queen like nobody’s business. Her story is a great deal darker than you might expect for a film so precisely targeted at young girls. She’s truly evil but Theron’s skills as an actress make her vulnerable and sad too. She does have some great scenes. The problem is that you’ve seen them all in the television commercials. That’s not speaking poorly of the marketing so much as it defines how few and far between those scenes are in the film. Chris Hemsworth is a good enough actor here but he just doesn’t have much depth or any character layers to make him memorable. Perhaps the most painful scenes in the film are those with the dwarfs. They again are all great actors but this segment of the film feels bloated and poorly plotted.
Unfortunately Snow White and the Huntsman just isn’t a good movie. There are some cool set pieces, great costuming, and a few nice moments but none of this adds up to a good movie. There are so many poorly and oddly executed moments in this film. There’s one sequence where the dwarfs are all talking around a camp fire and the film constantly cuts back and forth between them and Snow White. Snow never says anything mind you, we just see her face and the expression is always the same. In fact I’m not convinced the editor didn’t just cut in the same shot over and over again. This could be a testament to a first time director, a poor script, or a really bad actor in Stewart. I actually think they all apply.
This 1080p presentation is gorgeous. Black levels are deep and rich and the muted color pallet pops when some color does come into play. Contrast is solid and detail levels, when the blu-ray is at its best,it is stunning. There are many instances of softness throughout the presentation though. Also there are some scenes where the blacks do get a little gray and flat. Overall the film is solidly rendered on the blu-ray but its inconsistency keeps it from being a perfect score. The DVD is comparable as an SD version of the film too with good quality throughout most of the film but the same issues that are on the blu-ray do crop up.
The DTS Master audio offers up an exciting and immersive mix for this action packed film. When the action does kick in it surrounds the viewer and often the sub-woofer can kick the walls. Throughout the film dialogue is crisp and clear, even Stewart’s mumbly poor attempt at a British accent is intelligible making this release worthy of a solid score before all of the other sonic goodness.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
This version of the film is provided on two discs, a DVD and a blu-ray with an Ultra Violet digital copy available to download via a code provided on a flyer inside the case. This may be the way Sony forces people to give Ultra Violet a go. They are literally making it the only digital option packed in with the disc version of the film. The art on the cover and holo-foil slipcover is a bit basic but acceptable.
Snow White and the Huntsman is presented as an extended cut but the additional footage doesn’t add a lot other than a little more action to the film. There’s a bevy of very marketing heavy featurettes that do manage to offer a little history on how this film came to be. There are actor profiles for the main cast, visual and practical FX featurettes, and a group of panoramic shots of sets that you can slide through.
Universal literally threw the kitchen sink of interactive features at this release with U Control, pocketBLU, My Scenes, News Ticker, D-Box, and second screen. Most of these features offer some behind the scenes information and footage for your perusal as you watch the film. Many of these features are exclusive to blu-ray.
There’s a feature audio commentary with the director one of the editors and the visual FX supervisor. This commentary is as you might expect highly technical with more focus on the execution of the look of the film rather than the story. The information is great but it seems like there should have been another commentary that focused on the overall creative process and the reasons the story became what it is in the film.
While there’s nothing here innovative in the way of bonus features and often the featurettes feel a little too much like marketing videos there’s still a lot of information here for fans of the film.
The writers and the director tried to fashion a film with feminist underpinnings and craft a modern heroic version of the classic Brother’s Grimm character. The take on the story is a great one but the outcome of the film isn’t great, not even close. You might try to argue that this film wasn’t made for me, that it was made for a young female audience. While that may be the case I can tell, and hopefully so they can tell too, a bad movie when they see it.
Overall (Not an Average) 5/10
The Movie 3/10
The Video 8.5/10
The Audio 9/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10
Overall (Not an Average) 5/10
Directed by Shinji Aramaki
Starring Luci Christian, David Matranga, and David Wald
This American/Japanese CGI feature puts the power suits and space combat back to the Starship Troopers franchise, but is it enough to make this film watchable?
The battle between man and bug wages on. A starship on a secret mission goes missing, and it’s up to General Johnny Rico to send weary troopers lead by a disgraced soldier to discover what’s going on and wipe out any bugs along the way.
This latest film in the Starship Troopers franchise is an action-packed CGI roller coaster, full of enough militaristic space combat and superbly-designed environments and gear to satisfy any sci-fi action fan. It stands well on its own, not needing previous exposure. However director (and fan of the original novel and films) Shinji Aramaki does a good job mixing elements of the original Robert Heinlein novel or the live-action films that fans of either will enjoy. Most notably are the inclusion of power suits from the novel and the bug designs and elements of the Johnny Rico/Carmen Ibanez/Carl Jenkins friendship from the film.
The film follows a large ensemble cast of characters as they fight to take back their ship. A lot of the characters are typical, shallow soldier clichés, but they’re fleshed out enough to get an emotional impact when some of them get impaled or ripped to shreds. A couple of exceptions aside concerning franchise mainstay characters, the film doesn’t pull many punches when it comes to killing off the cast, making the tension feel more real, feel that anybody could actually die at any moment.
The plot does take leniencies to get where it’s trying to go. The battle in the last third of the film particularly drags on to give the heroes a fighting chance. It drags to the point where the constant back and forth between bugs charging and troopers laying down the gun fire starts to get old as you wait for the climatic finish.
It’s a competently-told space military film with plenty of action and great design detail to back it up. The plot and the characters may be shallow enough to keep from a really fulfilling experience, but it’s still a fun ride.
The Video and Audio
The film comes in 1080p HD, 1.78:1 widescreen. It’s a pretty film to look at. The CGI is meticulously detailed, from the mechanical designs of the ships and power suits to the surface textures and lighting. The animation is sharp and smooth. There’s some occasional jerkiness from the human motions, most likely an awkward translation from the motion capture. It might be drab and dark for some, but it’s a dark space military film. What would you expect?
The film comes in 5.1 surround sound with audio tracks in English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai languages. The audio comes through fairly clearly, but I’d like the dialog track to be cranked up a bit.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
This single-disc release is fairly packed with bonuses. The 11-part documentary and directorial commentary are very insightful into the film’s production, showing the effort and detail that went into various parts of international production, as well as the crew’s dedication and fondness of the source material.
Other extras include a gag reel, deleted scenes, and conceptual art. The conceptual art gallery uses buttons I rarely use on my remote control to back out, and it doesn’t explain it well , taking a couple of tries and having to stop the disc to get back to the menu. Other than that and a lot of trailers to go through, this disc is a good production, and the bonuses are worthwhile.
Overall (Not an Average)
Starship Troopers: Invasion is a good addition to the franchise, emphasizing on the futuristic, militaristic power suit combat that is in high demand and short supply from the earlier live-action films, and the extra documentary and commentary content make the disc itself for franchise fans while being easily accessible to newcomers.
The Film 8/10
The Video and Audio 8/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10
So it begins! The fall films are released and our listener block and contributor block bidding has happened right here! Alan won Twilight, Niko got The Hobbit, Mike got Skyfall, and Stephen got Jack Reacher so the the big fall movies are divided up among the contributor block evenly. Will Twilight break the records and crush the competition or will dark horse film Jack Reacher shock and awe? Follow the game each week as we update the box office and discover who wins the overall fall season! Listen to the bidding here and comment on who you think made the right choices.