Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Batman: The Brave and the Bold - Season One, Part One

Written by Pirata Hermosa

In the many years since his creation in 1939 Batman has been through many changes. In the most recent incarnation that runs on the Cartoon Network, the caped crusader has drifted to a lighter version of his character and has taken a step back from the current hard-hitting, brooding, no-nonsense superhero that has been portrayed through the most recent films and television shows.

While he still remains one of the baddest crime fighters ever to walk Gotham City, the fact that he has a sense of humor, can smile, and even takes joy in friendly competition with his friend Green Arrow makes his overall character more human.

Each episode features Batman teaming up with a different superhero as partners. While Robin is not featured in this set, you get a variety of others, such as Blue Beetle, The Outsiders, Wildcat, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Bronze Tiger, and Green Lantern just to name a few.

There are two particularly entertaining stories that stand out. “Invasion of the Secret Santas,” is a fun Christmassy episode that pairs Batman with the Red Tornado, who is trying to experience the Christmas Spirit, while the two go around smashing evil Santa Claus robots bent on taking over the city. It’s a humorous episode filled with fun.

The other comes in two-parts: “Deep Cover for Batman” and “Game Over for Owlman”. In this storyline Batman finds himself on an alternate Earth. But on this planet, all the good guys are bad and the bad guys are good. So not only do you get an extra set of heroes and villains, but you get to watch him pummel his friends. And when he teams up with the mysterious Red Hood from the second Earth to save both planets, it lifts the story to an entirely different level.

This DVD set includes two discs containing the first 13 episodes of season one. There are no Special Features included.

While the new series is quite enjoyable, not everyone will like the lighter tone it takes. It still deals with the serious issue of Bruce’s parents being killed, but doesn’t dwell on it. Most of the time it does a fairly good job of staying away from being too silly, but sometimes it does dip a little too low. The overly boisterous, loud-mouthed, over-the-top Aquaman is the best example of when it goes too far. But if you really are a Batman fan, it would probably be a nice edition to your collection.

Article first published as DVD Review: Batman: The Brave and the Bold - Season One, Part One on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Among the Righteous: Lost Stories form the Holocaust in Arab Lands

Written by Fumo Verde

Once again PBS features a story with true soul and a deeper view into life. Robert Satloff is an American Jew who watched from his office building, not to far away, the attack on September 11th. In his mind it brought back a vivid memory of family members who suffered in the death camps throughout Europe during the reign of terror brought by the Nazis. This brought up the question which he thinks may be a key in Arab-Israeli conflict going on now and it goes back to the Holocaust.

Satloff sees three types of attitudes when it comes to the Arab people and the Holocaust: either they completely deny it, they say that Hitler didn't go far enough, or they feel that it is history and one can't change it so let's move on. But what if, during those dark years, some Arabs helped some Jews. This is Satloff's quest, to find at least one Arab who helped a Jew, for he feels if it were known, maybe it might start to change the minds of others who are less informed and only know what propaganda is pushed down their throats.

This one-hour DVD follows Satloff as he searches three continents to try to find those among the righteous--fellow humans who helped hide and keep safe other humans, of Jewish faith, from the brutal death camps.

Did any Arabs help their Jewish neighbors? Researching leads and following second-hand stories, Satloff comes to find out that though some Arabs assisted the Axis armies, others did not. Some Imams preached to their followers not to assist the Germans when they came to collect their Jewish countrymen.

One story told by Holocaust survivor Joesph Naccache, a Jew living in Tunis, is about how his neighbor, an Arab named Abdul Jalil, told Joe that if the Nazis came for them, that he should come to his house and hide. Satloff followed Joe's story and he came to the bathhouse owned by Si Abdul Jalil. Entering into the bathhouse, Satloff came into contact with the son of Mr. Jalil, who proudly boasted, "My father did not see Jews or Muslims or Christians, he only saw humans. Before the war, Jews and Muslims lived in peace and my father could not stand by as his neighbors taken away."

For over a thousands years Jews had lived and practiced their faith better in Muslim countries than in Christian, and Satloff is trying to find out why. He feels if he can show that Muslims helped Jews, than the denial of what happened during those dark days may lead to more open talks which may lead to some type of peace. What I've found out here is that people are people, and if one cares about their neighbors, then no matter what race or religion, humans will help other humans.

Article first published as DVD Review: Among the Righteous: Lost Stories form the Holocaust in Arab Lands on Blogcritics.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Written by Senora Bicho

The 1993 thriller directed by Dominic Sena touts Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis as the stars; however, David Duchovny and Michelle Forbes do all of the shining.

Brian (Duchovny) is a journalist who obtains an advance to write a book about serial killers. His girlfriend, Carrie (Forbes), is an avant-garde photographer frustrated with rejections and dreams of moving to California. Brian finds a solution that will satisfy them both: a cross-country drive visiting historic murder sites. To save on gas money they advertise for road companions. Early Grayce (Pitt) is a violent, unemployed parolee looking to start a new life with his childlike girlfriend Adele (Lewis), and the road trip out west seems to be the answer he is looking for.

Carrie has apprehensions about the couple from the start, but Brian convinces her that there is nothing to worry about. The stark contrast between the couples is evident from their first meal together, and Carrie is concerned they won't pay their fair share. Brian is fascinated by Early and thinks she is being too judgmental. When it comes time for Early to pay for gas, he kills a man with ease in the service-station restroom. Things continue to intensify until it all comes to head with Brian and Carrie fearful that they will survive the journey.

Pitt is convincing as the psychopathic killer who creates the majority of the tension just watching him unravel while the trip progresses. Lewis is well cast as the doe-eyed girl that accepts and loves Early despite the abuse he inflicts on her. However, she starts to get annoying as the film progresses and is a bit one dimensional. We get a taste of the horrific background that put the character in the situation she is, although more facets and depth could have been added to the role in the hands of a different actress. I have been a fan of Forbes from her days on the television series Homicide and she is excellent as the struggling artist desperate to separate from evil when she spots it in Early. Duchovny also delivers a strong, believable performance with his naivety to what is right in front of him. In addition to the strong acting, the research of the famous serial killers creates a terrifying foundation that builds as the current killings reach their climax.

The new release includes a Blu-Ray disc featuring an unrated version of the film and a DVD flipper disc with the unrated version and the theatrical version. There are no additional bonus features. The Blu-ray video is presented with a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and the audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Solid, warm colors are on display, and other than occasional softness issues the picture is satisfying to watch. The dialogue is clear and well balanced in the mix. Unfortunately, the surrounds don't offer much in the way of immersive ambiance.

Although a tad lacking in high definition, Kalifornia doesn't suffer because the picture and audio aren't the focal points; it is a successful psychological thriller due to character building and strong acting while slowly building the tension. If that type of film appeals to you, it is worth watching.

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Kalifornia on Blogcritics.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Classic Albums: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Damn the Torpedoes

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

It's the fall of 1979 and disco is still dominating the airwaves. Releases such as Bee Gees and Donna Summer dominated the charts and relegated once powerful rock acts to reexamine themselves. Some chose to embrace elements of the disco sound like The Rolling Stones, Blondie, and even Queen. But others chose to retrench and get back to their roots. Out of this came Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' third album, Damn The Torpedoes.

Musgo has been a fan of Tom Petty's music for as long as he's followed music. Petty was always one of those artists I noticed - his songs always staples of the radio stations in my rotation. His music seems forever emblazened in my mind as relaxing summer-night music. It's really only been in the past 18 months that I've revisited his older albums and discovered how underrated he really has been. He doesn't have rock-star looks but he deserves the same attention as the greats.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers wear their influences all over their music. They're a southern-rock-influenced band from Florida that grew up on Phil Spector records and British Invasion bands. They moved to California - land of The Byrds and The Eagles - just as the band was developing their own sound. That blues-based rock, filtered through the laid-back, California sound of the Seventies was unfocused on their first two albums. But the addition of producer Jimmy Iovine brought a unique perspective to their band. It was exactly what both parties needed and they created a band that sounded like no other from that period. Jimmy would later take his magic touch for unique sounds to other artists that would sound like no others - Dire Staits, U2, Eminem and 50 Cent.

Eagle Rock Entertainment has released Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' Damn The Torpedoes on DVD and Blu-ray as part of their Classic Albums series. The series has examined the works of U2, Nirvana, Elvis Presley, and Jimi Hendrix. I find the entries in this series interesting and frustrating - as they break down the important tacks on the albums with the artists and producers. This album follows the same format.

"Refugee". The opening track to the album might still be my favorite Petty song. That guitar line followed by "We got somethin', we both know it / We don't talk too much about it", this is where the documentary is at its strongest. The story of the track is told by the people involved - there's never a narrarator. This song is broken down by guitarist Mike Campbell first - he shows the blues influence on his original riff. Interestingly, he plays a couple generic riffs until it morphs into the familiar guitar line from the song. And then Petty and Iovine talk about the problems coming up with a final mix - including taking a three-hour flight to New York just to see if it sounded different in a different studio. It didn't. Jimmy still doesn't think they ever finished a final mix of the song.

"Here Comes My Girl". "But when she puts her arms around me / I can somehow rise above it". The second track on the album isn't given as much of a look as it deserves in the main feature. You need to watch the 42 minutes of Extra Footage to get more info on this track. I found the attention paid to Petty's lyrics - especially the spoken parts - really interesting - more interesting in fact because so little is made of his unique sound in the rest of the doc.

"Even The Losers". Another solid song. I hear it so often now that it's hard to remember that it wasn't a hit single. But the sheer catchiness of the tune eventually caught up with programmers who seem to have it in heavy rotation this summer. "I showed you stars you never could see / It couldn't have been that easy to forget about me." This classically structured rock 'n' roll song shows how far away pop music had strayed from the heyday of rock by the end of the '70s. Oddly, we find out a nice nugget of trivia in a throwaway comment by Petty that this tune was written except for the title. And then it just came out when he was filling the spot during a take of the song. "Even the losers, get lucky sometimes."

"Don't Do Me Like That". The tune that was almost a J. Geils Band song. The song hadn't made the cut for the previous two albums and Petty was getting ready to let J. Geils record it. It turned into the biggest hit from the album and one of the songs most associated with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The song is unforgettable and as catchy as they come. It also gets the most in-depth discussion of the songs on the album. "I've had this feelin' inside night out and day in / Baby, I can't take it no more." Some of the breakdowns, especially with sound engineer Shelly Yakus get more technical than the average fan probably can grasp. But I think isolating portions of the track - piano, bass, and lead guitars gives an appreciation as to why the whole album is so appealing. Listening to the single again - I hear the sustain on the piano, the way the bass fits in under the drums and the way the drums are just a little off sync.

Lesser attention is given to other tracks on the album. Mostly they are used to accompany archive performances and footage from the time period the album was made. "Century City" reflects the legal battles they were going through with MCA before the album was released. "Louisiana Rain" (one of Musgo's favorites from their Live Anthology) shows their blues and country influences. And "What Are You Doin' In My Life" illustrates some of Petty's frustrations with groupies.

This episode of Classic Albums will be airing in the fall on VH1-Classic. But you'll only be getting 80% of the story. The 98-minute documentary really is fleshed out with the 42 minutes of extra footage. More attention is given to "Here Comes My Girl" and longer isolations of musical tracks are featured.

This fantastic album is perfect for this treatment. It's largely forgotten among rock fans who take him for granted. I would love to see the Blu-ray edition address my frustrations with the series. The archival footage is doled out in too small morsels. There's glimpses of footage that the viewer would love to see unfold over some of the music. The release would be improved with more bonus features like music videos and archival TV appearances and rare concert footage. In this case, the slightly different takes on both "Refugee" and "Don't Do Me Like That" from Saturday Night Live would have been an awesome addition. The album's nine songs are all a strong testament to the band's commitment to their craft. Thank goodness for releases like this to remind us.

Article first published as DVD Review: Classic Albums: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers- Damn the Torpedoes on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Written by Fumo Verde

PBS always has something to offer and this four-hour DVD explains a lot. For the history freaks and armchair generals, learn how the modern-day battlefield has changed from Alexander's first Phalanx, to the development of flying drones whose pilot is seated safely behind his own desk. As the winds of war blow, so is history made and evolution is the only rule to follow. This doc gives even the novice solider of fortune the reasons and ideas on how wars were fought.

The show has four parts starting with "Warrior Weapons" followed by "Battlefield Mobility", then "Fire Power" finishing with "Command and Control". As I watched I could see the fabric of history as it was weaved with war throughout human existences. The armies of Alexander the Great were some of the first to use bronze body armor but this advancement seems rather obvious but its tactic of combining one's foot soldiers, cavalry, and artillery (arrows) were far more threatening than the armor cast to protect the warrior's body. The Phalanx was a unit, which at that time in history was a new achievement. Armed with shields and long spears, called a sarissa, the warriors act as one as they fend off or attack opposing forces. Ending with the versatile AK-47 and other assault weapons with night vision, one can understand how such small advances change the whole aspect of the battle.

"Battlefield Mobility" begins to explain how a man on a chariot became the men in the tank. From its early beginnings, the tank has given the upper hand to many officers in the field. Bringing fire power to support troops changed the face of war forever and it was the trenches on the western front along with the new machine gun and barbed wire (a civilian product) which spawned the use of such an oddly named vehicle. Its tactical worth wasn't fully understood until the Second World War in Europe.

This series tries to capture the biggest turning points that changed the face of military conflict and how it was fought. Though it's four-hours long, it tries to cover as the main changes that happened on the battlefields throughout the world. Be it marching into battle in formation to man made drones flown from miles away, and when one tactical advancement is made, it changes the tide of war and the course of history.

Article first published as DVD Review: Ground War on Blogcritics.

Saturday, August 07, 2010


Written by Pirata Hermosa

After canceling the second series in the Stargate franchise just last year, the newly renamed Syfy channel replaced it with a newer and darker chapter in the saga. Fans are still mixed over the new series as it’s not as light-hearted as the last two and it has been accused of trying to imitate the popular Battlestar Galactica, which recently finished its run on the channel as well.

The three-DVD set that has just been released features the last ten episodes of the premiere season and starts off by addressing the mid-season cliffhanger that left Dr. Nicholas Rush (Robert Carlyle) stranded on a deserted planet after Colonel Young (Louis Ferreria), who is fed up with the Doctor’s treachery, leaves him for dead on a barren planet. But in science fiction nobody stays dead for long and shortly afterwards Rush returns, along with a hostile group of aliens who want to take over the Destiny for their own purposes.

But even as dysfunctional as this group of survivors are, they must somehow work together to fend off an alien attack, stop a mutiny, repair the ship after it’s been sabotaged, and finally negotiate a hostage situation when the Lucian Alliance finds a way to transport themselves on board.

The DVD contains commentary on all episodes and has two Special Feature sections on all three discs.

Destiny SML” is the title that covers all of the out-of-character features. These include the typical spending the day with certain cast members, how certain scenes are shot, and multiple interviews with the two executive producers/creators Robert C. Cooper and Brad Wright. The interviews are really odd because there are so many of them and each time it’s a different cast member asking the questions. The other odd feature in this section stars Louis Ferreria, not because there’s anything special about it, but because Louis is such a goofball that it’s almost impossible to imagine him as the hard-as-nails Colonel Young after viewing it.

The most intriguing features are the “Kino Video Diaries”. In these features you follow along and watch the crew through the eyes of the Kino. The interface using your remote control to click on the different diaries is rather difficult to use since they are represented by planets on a star map and some of them seem impossible to maneuver to, so I ended up using the Play-All button in order to view them. Most of the diaries are just a bunch of random feelings and emotions from the crew as they deal with being stranded on the "Destiny", but there are three exceptional ones that actually add something to the show.

The first one is discussion between Chloe (Elise Levesque) and Eli (David Blue). But it’s Chloe after she has used the communication stones and somebody else is using her body. In this conversation Eli discusses what would entice someone to willingly switch bodies and what kind of rules exist between the swapping parties.

The next is a funny prank using purple dye that really gives some added character to some of the secondary characters while opening up and showing the crew beginning to bond with one another.

And finally the best one of them all is what response Lt. Scott (Brian J. Smith) gets when he goes to apologize to Greer (Jamil Walker Smith) for leaving him behind on a planet after presuming he was dead.

This second set of 10 episodes is more serialized than the first ten, which may be the saving grace of the entire series. The first half of the season was filled with open-ended stories and the crew just fighting for basic survival as they tried to keep the life support system working and finding such basics as light, food, and water. In the second half you get to see the development of the characters, a few questions are answered and the season-ending two-part episode involves the cast of the original Stargate SG-1, an invading force, and the usual cliff-hanger ending. It leaves the audience primed and ready for the second season to come.

Article first published as DVD Review: Stargate Universe 1.5 on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


Written by Senora Bicho

James and the Giant Peach
is an animated musical by the creators of The Nightmare Before Christmas based on Roald Dahl's 1961 children's book. Originally released in theaters in 1996, a new special edition Blu-ray is now available.

James is a young boy forced to live with his aunts after a mysterious rhinoceros kills his parents. His aunts turn him into a slave and he hopes of one day going to New York City where his parents always dreamed of. One day after James heroically rescues a spider, a stranger gives him magic crocodile tongues that are intended to turn his life around. As James excitedly heads home, he trips and scatters the tongues all over the ground whereby sprouting a giant peach. The aunts turn the peach into a tourist attraction and make James pick up after the onlookers. While cleaning, and out of starvation, he takes a bite of the peach, which had one last crocodile tongue in it. This transforms James and creates an opening for him to enter the peach. At this point, the film changes from live-action to stop-motion animation. Once inside the peach, James meets a group of bugs including the spider that he rescued. While the aunts are looking for James, the peach gets loose, setting James and his new friends on an amazing journey.

I had high expectations for the film based on my love of The Nightmare Before Christmas but it doesn't quite measure up. The voice casting is at its best with Richard Dreyfus (Centipede), Susan Saradon (Miss Spider), and Jane Leeves (Ladybug). Paul Terry is adorable and perfectly lovable as James. While the story and characters are interesting, my biggest problem is the songs. I am a huge Randy Newman fan but his songs are more tailored for Pixar films. Danny Elfman would have been the better choice to fit the dark elements of this tale. Each song brought me out of the story and lost my interest. The best part of the film is an underwater scene featuring a "skellington". It is clever, original and amazing to watch.

The only new bonus feature is the game "Spike the Aunts" which gives players the chance to try and hit the aunts with a rhinoceros. The features from the previous DVD release include a production featurette, "Good News" music video, still frame gallery, and original theatrical trailer.

While the "Spike the Aunts" game doesn't offer anything extraordinary to this new release, the picture and sound quality on Blu-ray are phenomenal. It is presented with a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The details of the stop-motion characters are crisp and gives them added depth and life. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio really brings you into the adventure and surrounds you with action like a Hollywood blockbuster.

If you are a fan of the film, I highly recommend the Blu-Ray edition of James and the Giant Peach. It will add to your enjoyment and provide a more theatrical experience. If you have not yet seen it, spend the extra dollars to rent the Blu-Ray version.