Thursday, September 25, 2008

Legion of Super-Heroes, Vol. 3

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

As a young Musgo, my super-hero teams of choice were the Avengers, the Justice League (both the Of America and the International variety) and the occasional Teen Titan adventure. On TV there was no competition, it was the Superfriends and all of their incarnations. The Legion Of Super Heroes were one of the strange teams. They had a long history, having been around since 1958, but I didn't know any other kids who read the comics nor could I identify any member of the group that wasn't Superboy. Their stories took place 1000 years from current time and they seemed to have an inexhaustible roster of characters to choose from. The animated version of Legion Of Super Heroes debuted in 2006 on the CW network. Today, the super-hero team must compete on TV against Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans, and even their own appearances in live-action form on Smallville.

My introduction to the animated world of Legion Of Super Heroes is in the Volume 3 DVD which contains the final five episodes of the First Season of the show. The core members of the series are "young" Superman (not referred to as Superboy), Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Bouncing Boy (elected leader in the "Chain Of Command" episode on this disc), Triplicate Girl, Brainiac 5, Phantom Girl, and Timber Wolf.

The disc opens with an episode called "The Substitutes" that closely resembles a Teen Titans episode that I recently reviewed. Much like that storyline, a group of heroes that don't make the team are forced to come together as a team while the main team is away on a mission. Just like the Titans story, here the group calls themselves the Legion Of Substitute Heroes and learn that heroes have to work together. Their battle helps solve the mystery of the Legion's main mission. It's a common plot device but it's effective here. The sheer amount of characters is daunting to keep track of and I felt like I needed a scorecard, but the heart was there. The rejected members weren't made to feel bad even if their powers seemed useless - Color Kid can just turn things different colors and yet his power actually finds a creative use in battle.

The remaining four episodes don't hold up as well. "Child's Play" and "Chain Of Command" are perfect comparisons as to why this series doesn't work as well as Titans. In that series, the main characters feel like real teenagers - videogames, pizza, cars, and falling in love. In their stand-alone episodes, they usually explore the motivations and pasts of one of their five main characters. These two Legion episodes lack that characterization aspect. "Child's Play" ultimately is about a spoiled kid with magic powers who hates rules. It doesn't play his powers off against a similar character like Phantom Girl. Instead, the focus remains solely on the villain. The conclusion leaves the viewer feeling empty.

The disc ends with a two-part story called "Sundown" that borrows liberally from different eras of the comic-book history. Unfortunately, it's filled with so many generic cliches that it never catches your imagination. There's the typical "training scenario" at the beginning followed by the villain (Sun Eater) escaping from prison (bleeding through floors much like Alien), becoming an invisible target (looking like Predator) and then attacking our Sun with a army of robots (designed like smaller versions of the Evangelion robots). So many heroes are brought into the story, that it seems just lazy. When a specific power is needed, it's almost like the Legion can just conjure a hero who happens to have exactly that power.

The season ends with young Superman going back to his time and deciding to move to Metropolis and become Superman. Having only seen five of the season's 13 episodes, I can't fully judge this decision, but there is not that life-changing experience in the final line that should lead Clark to make that decision. It could have been there - there's a moment when the team is coming together that a character makes an important sacrifice. But Superman's reaction is to get revenge. It's unclear how that would make him decide it was time to go back to Metropolis and become a hero.

There are no extras on this disc. I can only recommend this for that die-hard fan that has followed the Legion since younger days. The stories are aimed at a younger audience than Teen Titans and just don't have the same heart.


Written by Puño Estupendo

For the people of the world with (let us just say) weaker constitutions, the films made by Dario Argento probably aren't too well known. Regardless of if they actually scare you or not, the man's artistry at taking gore to new heights is worshipped by those who have that cinematic bloodlust. Viewers that want to see a body have such horror put upon it, butchery in ways they've never seen, and with nothing out of bounds. Well damn, if he doesn't deliver those goods with his newest film. Starring his daughter Asia Argento as the horribly named Sarah Mandy, Mother Of Tears tries to weave a tale of horror, but with terrible dialogue and questionable acting, the gore is the definitive highlight in this one.

Mother Of Tears completes his trilogy of "witch" films that was started with Suspiria in 1977 (which is a masterpiece of filmwork and horror) and followed by Inferno in 1980. Though there are a couple of nods to these in Mother Of Tears, it doesn't really matter at all if you've seen the earlier two films. Fans of them will appreciate these points, but all you need to know is that basically you have three witch sisters that hole up in three different cities, each one getting their own movie. This film is set in Rome and deals with the youngest, most beautiful and most vicious of the sisters, Mater Lachrymarum.

An urn is unearthed from an excavation and sent to a museum where our intrepid Sarah Mandy (ugh, what a crap name!) and her co-worker decide they can't wait for their boss to return before they crack that seal and open up the movie's can o' doom. There's a lot of fun to be had already by this point. At the excavation site where this urn is discovered, there's a coffin that's pulled out of the ground with a smaller box chained to the top of it with all sorts of pentagrams and runic symbols etched all over this thing. Look, most of you already know this, but let me give you a refresher...if one finds The Book Of The Dead, one does not read aloud from said book. Thusly, if one unearths a coffin and sealed bonus package that has evil symbols etched into it, one should most assuredly leave said seal intact. Of course they don't and all hell breaks loose, pitting Sarah Mandy (blech!) against the forces of evil. Figuring out the mystery of what's happening, how to stop the witch Mater Lachrymarum, all while developing a new relationship with her dead mother who appears (in ghost form like Obi-Wan) to aid you in your trials.

It's this lack of originality that just kills this movie. The dialogue is painful for sure, but that's pretty standard in Italian horror. But Dario's been doing this a loooong time and he doesn't get the free pass on how unoriginal so many of his plot points are. You've made a shitload of flicks Dario, you know better! I mean, I wasn't expecting a screenplay the likes of On Golden Pond or anything, but this one's flat even by standards that have been set to mediocre. And poor Asia Argento. I love her but she's rough in this one. I've gotta believe it was the curse of her character's name. Seriously, you think it reads bad? Say it aloud:

Sarah Mandy (groan!)

Okay, let's get to what's good here. The murders are gloriously old school Dario. He obviously wanted to match the opening death scene from Suspiria, and he does. Not visually but viciously. It's way over the top and when I originally saw this in the theater, several people actually screamed out loud.

Side Note: For those that haven't seen Suspiria, the opening murder is horror film royalty. It's still insanely brutal even by today's standards, but with the advantage that it was shot beautifully. This is what's built the legend of Dario Argento: his ability to combine scenes of complete revulsion with a visual look that is able to hit amazing highs. This contradiction of ugly and beauty combined is what makes his fans and many filmmakers very, very loyal to him.

I could pick several more things to bitch about at length here. I was going to do a whole comparison between Dario's trilogy and Lucas' Star Wars trilogy, with Sarah Mandy's (stab my eyes!) bargain basement Obi-Wan Mom ghost tying it all together, but it would just be mean for the sake of being an Internet douche, which I try very hard not to give in to.

The DVD features have a rare interview with Dario where he actually speaks in English. Good English as well, to the point where I was kind of pissed at all of the interviews on U.S. discs where he speaks in Italian and it's subtitled. I remember hearing George Romero say something once about the fact that Dario understands English a lot more than he ever let's on. Because of this, the interview put a huge smile on my face. There's also a pretty unremarkable making-of that consists of too much random video camera footage from someone walking around on set for it to have any coherence.

Gore hounds are probably all over this already. Casual viewer? I have to stress caution because this can easily turn out not to be your cup of tea, but I dare you to try it. Bitch about the story and acting all you want, but I dare you to not give out a "holy shit" at key moments.