Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray)

Written by Pirata Hermosa

Season three of the highly popular show featuring four nerds and one beautiful girl next door has been released on DVD and Blu-ray. This season picks up a few months after season two’s finale with the four men returning from a three-month expedition to the North Pole, their normally clean cut looks being overridden by their now mountain-man attire and unruly facial hair.

While the first two seasons introduced you to Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons), Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki), and Penny (Kaley Cuoco) and their unique interactions, season three goes much further than just the immediate characterization and begins to fill in the reason behind their personalities by introducing the outside influences that make them who they are.

We are finally introduced to Sheldon’s mother, Mary (Laurie Metcalf), a devout Christian who is the antithesis of her son. Comparatively, Leonard’s overly analytical mother, Beverly (Christine Baranski) is also the opposite of her son. In a strange twist of fate, the two friends have the mother that the other one really needed.

Not only does the audience meet new family members, but they also get to meet Sheldon’s arch nemesis, Wil Wheaton. Yes, it is the same Wil Wheaton from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Not only is he playing himself, but he’s playing an evil version of himself. He shows up during two episodes, one in a card tournament with Sheldon and another in a bowling tournament. And both times he sinks to new lows by lying and tricking his way to victory, even at the cost of breaking up Penny and Leonard’s relationship.

Even though the guest stars are incredibly amazing in the show and fit in perfectly with the cast, they aren’t the only thing that makes the season work. There are also many wonderful storylines like how Sheldon and Leonard first met, Penny hurting herself in the shower and having only Sheldon to call for help, why the elevator doesn’t work, what happens when the gang comes across a Lord of the Rings replica of the One Ring, and can a computer find the perfect woman for Sheldon.

There are only three extra features on the two Blu-ray discs, and they aren’t particularly interesting. “Take-out with the Cast” is the best feature as the group sits around the set eating Chinese food and answering question from their fortune cookies. “Set Tour with Simon and Kunal” is self-explantory. The "Gag Reel” is a very typical one where they flub their lines or giggle for no apparent reason.

The Blu-ray is formatted in 1080p High Definition at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and the audio is available in Dolby Digital 5.1. The sharpness of the picture is impressive, particularly when Howard shows up wearing his extremely absurd and colorful outfits. As with most sitcoms, the audio tracks aren’t used to their fullest, but more than once it sounded like Sheldon was knocking on my front door looking for Penny.

Every season of this show just keeps getting better and better. The cast is superb and every week there seems to be a new surprise. If you’re expecting to get anything more than just the season episodes you’ll be disappointed, but the show is good enough that it doesn’t matter that there are no decent additional features.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Glee - The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

Musgo likes a good high school television show. High school is a ripe setting for emotional and dramatic storylines. We have been living in the ultimate era of TV shows that revolve around teenagers and their schools. Musgo has decided to take a deeper look at one of the biggest success stories for this genre, Glee - The Complete First Season released on Blu-ray this month. The show has not lacked for overcoverage from FOX and print media in the past year, not to mention Golden Globe awards, People's Choice awards, and even Emmy awards. With all that has been written about the show, Musgo will try to step outside the hype machine and take a look at what makes the series' ratings hum along at such a fast pace.

We've come a long way since Archie, Jughead, and Reggie were hanging out at Riverdale High School. The high school based show can encompass many different genres. The simplest solution for much of the '70s and '80s was to use high school as a medium to bring together a diverse group of teen actors. In most cases, the adults were mostly window dressing or as merely a catalyst to help the students learn a lesson. I don't think that demeans the quality of the genre. Within that setup many shows found ways to feature exciting new actors and make some really funny shows. Shows like Room 222 and Welcome Back, Kotter let the students run the show despite being nominally about the teacher.

Many of the shows that followed, would embrace the ensemble high school cast but only use the classroom and even the school setting as just a jumping off point. Shows like Head Of The Class, Hangin' With Mr. Cooper, Parker Lewis Can't Lose, and even the Saturday morning staple Saved By The Bell used their large casts of students to tell traditional sitcom stories but also used more traditional aspects of soap opera love relationships to expand the possibilities of storylines.

At the same time, there was a parallel movement of quality teen dramas set in or around high schools. In the dramas, the casts of students either seemed to be much smaller or the stories moved quickly out of the high school. One of my favorites, James at 15, was very introspective for a teen show and addressed "real" issues in the context of a teenager's life, like his first sexual experience being more a normal event and not the type of decision that is fretted over for months like in other shows. This show and The White Shadow among others, set the bar for dramas that would incorporate more adult storylines like Beverly Hills 90210, Dawson's Creek, and My So-Called Life.

New networks like The WB and UPN positioned themselves as "teen friendly" networks. They didn't just bridge the gap between Disney shows like Even Stevens and traditional network adult fare. These networks took chances and pushed the envelope for everyone. A show like Buffy The Vampire Slayer took the high school genre and combined it with the horror genre. Alone, the horror genre, does not seem to be able to sustain a lengthy series. But mixed with a group of attractive and hilarious teenagers, the show set a new bar for shows with a high school setting. These networks pushed the bigger boys with Popular, One Tree Hill, Veronica Mars, and still today with The Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries.

NBC was the only larger network that seemed to embrace the creative freedom of mixing genres in a high school setting. They aired the groundbreaking Freaks and Geeks and have stood behind the critically acclaimed Friday Night Lights. Once again, like Buffy, FNL takes a genre that can't stand on its own - the sports-themed show - and mixes it with a healthy dose of teen drama. The show has consistently found a way to tell dramatic, real stories and work the drama around the small town football theme.

Glee debuted on Fox in May of 2009 after an episode of the most popular show of the past decade American Idol - which also happens to attract people who like singing. The show took a unique marketng strategy. Only the pilot episode aired in May. That episode was then available online through a number of sites for the rest of the summer. FOX believed that they could create a buzz through the summer and give everyone a chance to show their friends that first episode. Those initial post-Idol ratings weren't matched in September but the ratings were promising. The show aired 12 episodes before taking a hiatus and making room for a new season of American Idol. That break was just what the show needed. People were able to see episodes, the music from the show was all over retail outlets for the holidays and when it returned after Idol in April for nine more episodes, the show had become a true phenomena.

It's hard to imagine that most people don't know the basic premise of the show. It's about a group of students who form a Show Choir or Glee Club in their high school in Lima, Ohio. The group is initially formed with all of the stereotypical characters required for every high school comedy or drama - there's the jock who can sing, the "geeky" girl who no one in the school seems to realize is beautiful, the fat black girl who can sing her butt off, the overly gay male, the quiet but talented Asian girl, and a musically gifted geek in a wheelchair. The teaching staff is equally as stereotypical. The Glee group, New Directions, is led by Will "Shoe" Schuester, the Spanish teacher. His main rival is Sue Sylvester who coaches the Cheerios (the cheerleaders). For dramatic purposes, there's a bumbling but lovable gym teacher, and a potential love interest for married Will / voice of reason in Emma the guidance counselor. As the series progress through the starts and stops of Season One, it's important to look at four key moments.

"Pilot". I'm actually amazed that the series made it too far past this initial effort. If there had not been such a long break to fix some of the basic problems here - I don't know if it could have lasted a full season. As with any show that's going to have an ensemble cast of more than 10 recurring characters, introducing them is always going to be an issue. The benefit of having such broad stereotypical characters is that we don't need many clues to understand who is who in the school. The problems arise in uneven use of narrartion - the show starts to veer off into Scrubs realm or Wonder Years but not with the same insights. The music is also an issue here. The biggest lesson learned between here and the rest of the season is that they listened to what the characters are saying - Glee is about joy. They learned to have fun with the music. I found it an interesting steal from the Grey's Anatomy playbook to use a cover of Peter, Paul and Mary's "Leaving On A Jet Plane" as a musical montage at the end to show us the lessons learned. It gives us a peak at how a little creative placement of the tunes can surprise and give hope for future episodes.

"Showmance". The second episode was a very important signpost for the show. Viewers had waited all summer with just the excitement of the ending performance of "Don't Stop Believin'" from "Pilot". Now, the show had to show some direction, a plot that will carry us through a whole season and that it's not going to be a Journey-Song-Of-The-Week show (despite how much I might pray for that!). Musically, the show is a winner - with superb performances of "Gold Digger" and a hilarious "Push It" routine and later "Take A Bow". This show tells us in so many words that it's not going to take itself seriously - the music numbers are going to be a wink to the audience - the vocals are produced and the lip synching isn't always perfect but it's fun. From a story perspective, this episode doesn't tell us much more than we could have guessed. There's a couple love triangles forming - one with Rachel, Finn, and Quinn and the other that should inform the student triangle happening with Will, Emma, and Terri. The tone is lighter and more viewer friendly than "Pilot" but I still found it hard to judge what the writers were trying to get from the series yet.

"Hell-O". The 14th episode marked the return of the show after a five month hiatus. Here is where the show has found its groove. The first "half" of the season ended with "Sectionals" - the most dramatic epiode of the season - bringing to a head most of the soap opera-ish storylines. With that lead-in, "Hell-O" is a tipping point. We've reset the lives of most of the characters - the songs were as good as the season got and now you have to start up the engine again. Part of the show feels like a "here's where we are" reminder but then the show drops right back into its groove. The theme of Hell and Hello in the songs and plot are what make the remaining portion of the season so much fun. The songs aren't just pauses in the plot like they felt earlier - now they are clever choices that also mean something to the audience. In this second half of the season - there seems to be an increase in the length and number of musical perfromances which helps draw out the character development over a longer period of time. This episode sets the table for the following week's "The Power of Madonna" - the episode that would finally tip the show to being more about the music than the plot.

"Journey". The 22nd episode is the Season Finale. The show tries to get back a little to the roots of those first few episodes. We've finally reached the Regionals - whenever the show needed to refocus - it could always fall back on this quest. When it finally arrives, there's a sense of accomplishment. Comparing the "Journey" to "Pilot" is like looking at two different shows. The musical numbers are more confident and flashy - the cast understands that the show is essentially a broad musical comedy that has several dramatic plot points. I credit the writers for recalling the Journey references from the initial episode and keeping with the Glee = joy theme that has defined the show. The show tied a nice bow on the season but left themselves plenty of dramatic rope for Season Two and Three.

Glee has found a perfect little niche. They have hit upon America's love of musicals but taken out what the masses don't like about musicals - not knowing the music. They've created a mini-karaoke show where you can sing along at home but all within a fun teen drama. They address serious issues of teenage pregnancy, etc. but always with a nod to the unreality of the show. The likable cast pursues joy and that's what they give. I don't forsee that same freshness lasting more than a couple seasons but that's all you need to be so fondly remembered as some of the other high school shows of the past.

The Blu-ray disc includes all 22 episodes, commentary on the Pilot plus the usual audition pieces and meet the stars type of extras. The video is given an 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer (aspect ratio of 1.78:1). The audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. For those known as Gleeks (is anything more forced than that term?) - there's plenty of sing-along opportunities on the disc through karaoke tracks and a jukebox.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fringe - The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray)

Written by Senora Bicho

The series finale of Lost would have left a large void in my television schedule were it not for Fringe. As the fall season gets underway it is the only show I am highly anticipating with lofty expectations. While I enjoyed the first season, the second season was outstanding and solidified their hold on me as a viewer.

The first season of Fringe followed FBI Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), and his son Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) as they investigated cases involving strange phenomena and sought to uncover how the large global company, Massive Dynamic, fit into these events. We also learned about the existence of an alternate universe which Olivia is transported to in order to meet William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) the founder and chairman of Massive Dynamic.

Season Two is difficult to write about without giving too much away since there are big reveals throughout. It starts with Olivia being thrown from a car with no recollection of her visit to the alternate universe but with the knowledge that she must do something very important. As she tries to remember what happened, she is being hunted by a shape-shifting soldier sent by someone from the parallel reality seeking to silence her forever. Over the course of the season, the alternate universe is further explained and the team crosses over. Each of the main characters has a counterpart living in the other world and seeing how they differ creates an extra layer of intrigue. The strengthening relationship of Peter and Walter is another main storyline of the season along with the discovery of Peter's past that threatens to undo the bond that has formed between them. Peter and Olivia's romantic tension continues to tease viewers as well.

Like The X-Files, there are episodes that deal with the series' mythology and others with stories that standalone. That worked in the first season, but at this point the series is beginning to get so entrenched in its mythology with so much going on that to be able to catch an episode here or there and feel satisfied is hard to imagine. Character development, emotional connections, and relationships are more at the forefront which is what made the season so special. They have been able to find the perfect blend of science fiction and character-driven storytelling.

Along with all 22 episodes from the season, which are spread across four discs, there are many special features. Three episodes come with commentary tracks provided by the creative team, and "Peter" features John Noble and Blair Brown, moderated by TV Guide Magazine's Damian Holbrook. While the creative team commentaries are interesting, the "Peter" episode was my favorite of the season and it is wonderful to get more background, especially Nobel's thoughts since it centers on Walter's actions. "Beyond the Pattern: The Mythology of Fringe" is a comprehensive overview of the season that offers interviews of cast and crew providing additional insights. It is the perfect vehicle to prepare and excite viewers for the start of the new season. "Analyzing the Scene" provides in-depth details on the making of certain scenes from six key episodes. Also included is "Unearthed," a standalone unaired episode from season one that aired as a special during the break in season two. "In the Lab with John Noble and Prop Master Rob Smith" offers a tour of the lab set and a demonstration of some of the more notable props. There is also a gag reel and unaired scenes.

The 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer delivers a solid picture at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Colors have rich hues and skintones are realistic and consistent. Black is prevalent in the color scheme of the series' production design, regularly appearing inky although there is minimal noise on occasion. Detail sharpness seems dictated by the source.

The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1. Dialogue is clear and balanced well with the effects and music. Together they demonstrate very good dynamics. There is very good ambiance including the rear speakers. Sounds move across the system and are positioned throughout the soundscape. The subwoofer delivers a solid contribution.

I was a huge fan of The X-Files but am an even bigger fan of Fringe as it has more heart and characters I have come to love and root for, most notably Walter. John Noble's portrayal of this quirky and flawed scientist is one of the best performances on television these days.

Season Three starts on September 23rd and after reviewing this Blu-ray collection, I am even more excited for it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Glee - The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)

Written by Senora Bicho

It is interesting that during a time of massive cutting of liberal arts programs in many of our schools, a television show about a high school music club is enjoying great ratings and critical success even winning the Golden Globe for Best TV Series (Comedy or Musical). Glee illustrates all of the benefits and rewards that many kids will be missing out on.

The series follows a group of high school students who have come together to form a show choir. Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) takes on being the director of the club in hopes of returning the program to its old glory and helps the kids to find themselves along the way. Schuester has an uphill battle from the start in getting members, funds, and respect, especially from his nemesis, award-winning cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch).

The choir includes a wide range of students from football players and cheerleaders to outsiders trying to fit in and avoid slushy facials. Not only does "Glee" offer amazing musical numbers and lots of laughs, but there also were many serious issues addressed over the season including homosexuality, teen pregnancy, bullying, disabilities, single parents, and adoption. The guest stars gracing the screen in season one included Kristen Chenoweth, Josh Groban, Olivia Newton-John, Neil Patrick Harris, and Molly Shannon.

All of the actors provide great performances but Lynch is the standout; she is hilarious and deservedly won the Best Actor Emmy for her role as the tough-as-nails coach. The performances, storylines, and depth of the characters would be enough to make this series special but the musical numbers put it on a whole other level. The strength of these musical numbers and the singing ability of the cast are additionally evidenced by the success of the CD releases and iTunes downloads. I have no problem admitting that I have several songs on my iPod. One of the marquee episodes was based on Madonna songs and due to its popularity Season Two will offer similar episodes featuring other music stars.

The Blu-ray set presents 22 episodes across four discs. The video is presented at 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The picture has strong colors with consistent fleshtones and rich blacks but struggles in other areas. Sharpness can be intermittent. Noise pops up as does banding and aliasing. The audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. As expected for a TV series, the soundtrack is front heavy. The ambiance is minimal but the surrounds and subwoofer kick into gear during the musical numbers.

In addition to all "Gleek Edition" offers over two hours of special features to the pleasure of any superfan. "Behind the Pilot: A Visual Commentary with Cast and Crew" is a Blu-ray exclusive. There is also "Deconstructing Glee with Ryan Murphy", "Unleashing The Power of Madonna", "Making of a Showstopper", "Dance Boot Camp", "Jane Lynch A to Glee", and "Meet Jane Lynch" are all featurettes highlighting different aspects of the series. "Glee Sing-Along Karaoke" and "Glee Music Jukebox" separates out the musical numbers and provides the words onscreen for audience participation. "Staying in Step with Glee" has the choreographers teaching the viewers some of the show's dance moves. "Bite their Style: Dress like Your Favorite Gleek" highlights the costume designers. "Welcome to McKinley High" stars Principal Figgins in a comprehensive introduction to the school. There are also music videos, auditions, casting sessions, video diaries, and you-don't-know lists for some of the actors.

Glee is a breath of fresh air that never fails to put a smile on my face and often a tear in my eye. It is funny, heartwarming, and tackles real relevant issues while teaching acceptance and the understanding of differences. I can't recommend this show strongly enough; it offers a little something for everyone. Season Two premieres on September 21st.

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Glee - The Complete First Season on Blogcritics.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue (Blu-ray+DVD Combo)

Written by Hombre Divertido

This new direct-to-DVD release from Disney, that is due to hit shelves on September 21st, certainly could have rescued us from the bleak summer of over hyped 3D animated films had Disney chosen to give it a theatrical unveiling. Nonetheless, this simple, well-told story is a treat for the whole family that is sure to put some fun into your autumn.

Yes, as the film opens, the computer animations are a bit lifeless, and definitely take some getting used to, but once the excellent vocal talents begin to bring their characters to life, the film jumps off the screen.

In Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, we find Tink (Mae Whitman) and her friends off to summer camp on the mainland. Tink is of course curious about everything, especially humans, and though she is consistently warned to stay away from them, it is not long before she encounters one. Lizzy (Lauren Mote) who happens to be a fairy fanatic, is out in the country with her father (Yes, another Disney character with an absent mother) for the summer. With dad (Michael Sheen) being all wrapped up in his work which conveniently has to do with entomology, Lizzy is left alone to play and fantasize about the world of fairies, until you know who drops into who her playhouse.

Though communication is a struggle between our two characters as Tinks voice sounds like small bells ringing to Lizzy, it does not take Tink long to realize that this human has a good heart and is in need of a friend. As Tink and Lizzy build a friendship, the rest of the fairies set out on an adventure to rescue our heroine from the humans.

Director Bradley Raymond deserves accolades here as he allows for well-developed characters that are endearing to the audience to drive this simple story. The audience enjoys the relationships established and truly cares about the plight of each character. The music and vocal talents enhance each segment and literally bring life to animation.

Bonus Material:

At only 77 minutes the main feature certainly leaves you wanting more, but there is plenty of bonus material to satisfy young and old alike.

Calling a preview to an upcoming release “Bonus Material” is a bit generous and Tangled, Disney’s new take on the story of Rapunzel, looks a bit desperate in its attempt to bring life to what appears to be a fairly one-dimensional story.

The generally standard “Deleted Scenes” section is a pleasant surprise in this release as Director Raymond and producer Helen Kalafatic introduce and discuss each deleted scene, conveying an almost parental guardedness towards that which was left out of the film. Watching the incomplete segments lends a unique insight into the developmental process.

The music video “How to Believe” by Bridgit Mendler is very enjoyable. At less than two minutes in length; the “Design a Fairy House” segment lacks focus and seems incomplete. The “Fairy Field Guide Builder” will be fun for the young.

The Blu-ray is presented with a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and the audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound in English, French, and Spanish. It has BD-Live functionality.

Recommendation: The new release Blu-Ray+DVD combo pack is a great buy for every family. There is enough interesting material in the story to engage those who grew up with Tinker Bell and Peter Pan, and the energy in The Great Fairy Rescue will keep the children glued to the screen.


Written by Fido

Alright, you go into these low / micro / no budget movies knowing that you’re not getting a sweeping epic filled with glitz, glamour and completely solid filmmaking. I don’t remember ever watching a virtually homemade campy movie like this disappointed in the production quality. All that being a given, I still really didn’t like this thing.

I know from personal experience that if you don’t have control over effects, money to get great locations, tons of on-site production value or a director that really has serious chops you have control over three things – story, script and acting.

And what takes any fun out of the movie that Ninjas vs. Zombies is exactly all three of those things.

The Story:
I got the feeling watching this that it was a bunch of friends sitting around getting seriously baked and throwing out movie ideas. Then the guy with his mouth half full of Ritz crackers and the unidentified leftover dip in the fridge pipes up with, “Ninjas, man they’re cool. And zombies – sweet!” After the murmur of Seth Rogen-inspired laughs fade into memory one of the guys took a pen up and half-assed his way to combining the two into a story.

One big problem I had with this thing was who was the hero. There was the usual cast of slackers you’re supposed to side with, but in the end there should’ve been a focus, someone I cared about a little more than the rest. At different points in the movie I’d sit back and think that this is the guy I’m supposed to follow, only to be shown in another scene that maybe this other guy’s the focus.

That’s a giant problem in a story – not having a clear-cut hero. The villain, while being milquetoast and bland for the amount of Final Cut Pro effects granted to him, was easy to know. Likewise the hero should’ve been equally obvious.

Another massive catch in the film – there’s no ending. What should be the ending is pretty much stepped on and treated as more of an aside than a resolution. In a desperate bid to set up a sequel they forgot to actually finish the first one. That’s one big, stinkin’ “whoops” there.

Also, when you’re pressed for time and money, I highly suggest you don’t throw away character-building time in favor of pointless terrible fight scenes.

Another thing, the guys in the movie really aren’t ninjas per se, they’re a bunch of guys who have inexplicable fighting skills (which if explained properly could be funny, but that doesn’t happen here). Eventually they dress up as a ninja-esque / Matrix bunch of guys and decide to go beat up the far too clean bad guy. So the jump to ninjas is pretty much pointless. I’d rather have seen them maintain their own personas and fought zombies off as a group of slackers with no discernable skills but zombie fighting.

So at the heart of it, the story is pretty cobbled together, which on the surface you’re probably thinking it’s expected. But even in the grimiest of grindhouse movies, the ones with solid story structure usurp their financial limitations. At one point even saying in the script (when asked why ninjas had to be there), “…because I felt like it”. Well unfortunately for us and the movie, throwing something in a script because you felt like it usually comes across like something you, um, well – threw into a script because you felt like it.

The Script:
Before I get further into this, right off the bat there is way too many “see we love geeky movies too” direct quotes thrown at you. All the points are hit like Ghostbusters, Star Wars, etc.. It’s way too easy to see coming, and after the fifth quote within the first 30 minutes, incredibly annoying. It kind of gave the impression that there were gaps evident in the script so they jammed in quotes because it gave someone an extra line or two.

On top of that there are several points where the script just feels amazingly uninspired. For a movie where creativity should be at a premium (due to budget and the absurd subject matter), the script ran through every motion you’d expect without one single deviation or unexpected turn anywhere.

That bummed me out. I go into these kinds of movies wanting them to use the wackiness to their advantage, to really push the boundaries a bit, but the pedestrian lines in a nutty subject felt like the ol’ "hot dog in a train tunnel" effect. A whole lot of room to play around in yet, these guys just clung to the wall hoping to make it to the other side without taking a chance.

Even if the script went through a much-needed three or four more drafts, performances like they got from a number of their actors would’ve neutered it anyway.

The Acting:

Look, I’m well aware a lot of talent in these kinds of movies isn’t top notch, but a group of the people in this was as wooden as can be. Though not quite George Lucas-directed wooden, they were stiff nonetheless. There was a mess of people obviously watching others’ mouths and waiting for their line rather than treating scenes like a conversation or naturally.

If the whole thing was this way then maybe you could overlook it, but there are a couple points where a guy here and there would actually be in the flow of the moment. It felt comfortable (and even fun) to watch them get into it. I thought the film was going to gain some momentum. Maybe the oddly stilted / paced scenes that make up the first 1/3 of the movie would be a cute anomaly to reflect on after all. That didn’t happen.

Whatever pace the actors got into was immediately cut off at the knees by returning to the same passionless (and above all joyless) spurts from before. Really, the timing of everyone in the movie is all over the place. That timing had me laughing at the wrong spots and making the “eek” face when I should be into the characters.

If there was one bright spot (and it was sporadic at best), it was Daniel Ross as “Kyle”, the wisenheimer of the bunch. He was the sole character and actor with any semblance of personality at any point in his performance. Now it wasn’t some tour de force, but when he hit his pace, he hit it well. Too bad it was flanked with performances by Cory and Carla Okouchi (Cole and Lily). I suppose P.J. Megaw, with some more personality thrown into his acting would’ve felt better suited as the heavy, but all in all he was far too clean cut and stereotypical to be all that entertaining.

Like I said, the effects are the effects. It’s admirable pulling out as much as you can with as little money as they had. But when you interrupt what should be a self-actualization kind of story with three or four five-minute fight scenes that rival closed-eye whiffing slap fights in a schoolyard, it makes everything tedious and unforgivable. What is normally glossed over with a “hey they did their best” attitude becomes a “man, I wish they’d stop” real quick-like.

In the end, there’s one giant positive in this. These guys worked their tails off and put themselves on the line for something they believed in. Though this won’t be the opus that may eventually get all or one of these guys into big time movie making, it’s a good first step.

As far as extras on the DVD – two trailers – no big whoop. One little note (aside from the others above), if you’re going to do an actual release of an independent film that is supposed to be somewhat funny, put some special features on your disc that show what a great time you had making the film. Without even a simple gag reel attached it makes me think that maybe making the movie was as teeth grinding as it was to watch most of it. Humanize yourselves more, guys. Make the audience feel connected to you as regular Joes. Seems stupid but putting a little behind-the-scenes thing and the aforementioned gag reel together may have made me look at the movie with a little more forgiveness – maybe.

There are flaws like all movies of this ilk, but you have to acknowledge the time, money, work and balls they all had to go out and do it. A lot of people sit on the sidelines saying they could do, without doing it, but they took the chance. For better or worse, I love that. Sure, there’s not a chance I’ll ever watch it again (and I suggest you don’t unless you’re in a very forgiving mood), but it represents a lot of effort on their part and that’s always to be respected.

Article first published as DVD Review: Ninjas Vs. Zombies on Blogcritics.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Supernatural - The Complete Fifth Season (Blu-ray)

Written by Pirata Hermosa

When we last left our heroes Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) in Season Four, Sam had just slain the demon Lilith, inadvertently breaking the final seal which released Lucifer and started the Apocalypse. In season five, the brothers try to find a way to save the world by either killing the Devil or sending him back to Hell.

But finding a way to vanquish Lucifer isn’t an easy task, and compounding things even more is that the angels whom you would expect to fight on their side are actually looking forward to the Apocalypse and settling things once and for all. This puts Sam and Dean in the middle of the fight between good and evil.
While there are some direct confrontations with Lucifer, the only thing that keeps the duo alive is the fact that Sam is destined to be Lucifer’s vessel on Earth and Dean is destined to be the vessel for the Archangel Michael. And even as powerful as the two beings are, they cannot possess a vessel without that vessel's permission.

With the help of the angel Castiel (Misha Collins) who turns his back on his brethren to help the two brothers, the three find themselves on a journey to find God, defeat each of the four horsemen, and risk their very souls.

There are still several self-contained episodes during season five like “Changing Channels”, where Sam and Dean find themselves trapped inside a television world by the Trickster and must find a way to escape. It’s one of the better episodes, even though we’ve seen this similar idea in films and other television shows. But it’s the main arc of the show that has become more significant.

Every episode is linked somehow to the Apocalypse. Whether it’s an episode focusing on the loss of hope as God is nowhere to be found, walking into a Supernatural convention based on their story, or running into gods of other religions, it all comes together.

The most satisfying stories deal with the four horsemen. Each of the horsemen has its own storyline and is blended into the story to fit a modern-day representation instead of a straight biblical reference.

The video is in 1080p High Definition with an aspect ration of 1.78:1 and is paired with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio. The video can be equated to movie quality in its sharpness and clarity. But as with most television shows it does not use the full capability regarding its audio.There are four Blu-ray discs included in the set containing all 22 episodes. The fourth disc holds all of the Special features.

“Gag Reel” is a little better than most gag reels as it’s not all about somebody flubbing a line or just not being able to control their laughter. There’s a number of prop issues, adlibs, and general silliness that makes it better than average.

“Ghostfacers” contains 10 episodes of the web series based on characters that Sam and Dean ran into during an episode. It’s a spoof on those TV shows like Ghost Hunters where a team goes into supposed haunted building to see if they can actually find a real ghost. Entertaining, but with each webisode only being a few minutes each it doesn’t even add up to one Supernatural episode.

Supernatural: Apocalypse Survival Guide” is an interactive walk through Bobby’s house. You can look at books and videotapes, with each item linking you to a specific feature. The videotapes are basic VHS tapes and actually look like you are watching an old tape. The features are interesting as several of them deal with historical bible references and the overall theology of the show, while others give you a behind-the-scenes look.

A lot of work and research has gone into the making of the show. For all of its dark themes and biblical references, it’s very entertaining filled with just the right amounts of suspense, action, and comic relief that make it one of the best horror shows on television.

Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam - Extended Edition (Blu-ray)

Written by Pirata Hermosa

It’s only been a year since Mitchie (Demi Lovato) went to Camp Rock for the first time. Her first year was spent pretending to be someone she wasn’t. But it wasn’t until the final performance after Final Jam that she came out of her shell and let everyone see just how truly talented she was.

But now it’s a new camp season and everything is going to be great. That is until Camp Star opens across the lake and threatens to run Camp Rock out of business by stealing away all the counselors. So instead of the fun summer with her long-distance boyfriend, Shane (Joe Jonas), she ends up having to organize a group of experienced campers to become the new counselors and then come up with a musical number that will blow away Camp Rock during the Final Jam competition.

While Mitchie and Shane’s relationship flounders and leaves him puzzled wondering if he made the right decision to come off tour, the romantic aspect of the film focuses more on one of his band mates, Nate (Nick Jonas), and his wooing of Dana (Chloe Bridges), who just happens to be the daughter of the opposing camp’s owner.

It’s not a terribly complex or unique plotline, and since it’s a musical, the most important aspect is how good are the musical numbers. The biggest difference between the first film and the newest one is that it’s focusing a lot more on the singing of Mitchie, Shane, and his band. In the original one it was a camp of kids all coming up with different songs and performances in the normal course of a camp atmosphere. In other words, they actually worked on their singing and dancing. In the latest film you have a lot more of Mitchie just suddenly breaking into a song that nobody has heard yet they all seem to know the song and all the dance moves.

Even so, the songs are really good and go along perfectly with the story, the best two being “Can’t Back Down, and “It’s on.” They are both filled with lots of energy and attitude that really show off Lovato’s vocals. Another exceptional song is “Introducing Me,” which is a quirky song performed by Nate to show Dana what he is really like and what his feelings are. The songs performed by Camp Star are the weaker songs on the soundtrack. Instead of focusing on the music it’s more about image and gimmicks such as lasers and fireballs, which works well within the context of the film.

The Blu-ray combo pack contains three discs, the Blu-ray, the DVD version and a digital copy for your computer. The Blu-ray is in 1080p High Definition (1.78:1) with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The images are crisp and clear, so much so that you can see the dust on the hardwood floors and see the scratches left behind after some of the dance routines. The audio is just as good where you can actually pick out the individual singers during the group numbers and draws you in by making you feel like you are right in the middle of the action.

There are three special features on the disc: “Rock-Along” when this mode is activated words appear on the screen during the musical numbers much like a karaoke machine. “Getting to Know Camp Star’s Newest Stars” is a sit-down interview with Chloe Bridges and Matthew “Mdot” Finley that is moderated by Alyson Stoner. “Music Videos by Camp Rockers From Around the World” contains five different videos by foreign artists singing various songs from the film interspersed with clips from the movie. The oddest of the videos being the one from Germany where a gruff-looking projectionist sings the Joe Jonas part to the song “Wouldn’t Change A Thing” while he watches clips of Demi Lovato singing the other part in the film.

Along with the special features, the set also includes two new scenes, which are basically just two new musical numbers.“Different Summers” is a nice song by Lovato, but it was better left out of the original film. The entire premise is about the two camps having a showdown at Final Jam, but if this scene was left in then the two camps would have already competed and takes away from the suspense of the story. “Walking in My Shoes” is another number that fortunately was left out of the original as well because it does nothing to advance the story and is just another generic soulless performance by the Camp Star kids.

While the film isn’t going to win an Oscar, it’s family friendly and has that familiar Disney feel to it. The songs are well written and produced, and with Demi Lovato’s amazing voice on most of them it’s hard to not be drawn in. If you like Demi or the Jonas Brothers, then you’ll really going to enjoy this film. Even if you’re not a fan of any of them, the characters are so likeable that you just might find yourself becoming one.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

MACGRUBER - Unrated Edition (Blu-ray)

Written by Pirata Hermosa

Saturday Night Live was created in 1975, and since then a number of films have been produced based on some of the more popular reoccurring skits. Unfortunately, up to this time only two of them have translated successfully onto the big screen, 1980’s The Blues Brothers, which was based on musical performances by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, and Wayne’s World starring Mike Myers and Dana Carvey as two geeks that produce their own television show from Wayne’s basement. But even after the success of these two films, neither one could produce a worthy sequel.

While most SNL skits are based on one joke that is just repeated over and over again, the two most popular films were exceptions to the norm. Unfortunately, MacGruber is not one of the exceptions. Instead, the skit is based on MacGruber (Will Forte) who is playing a caricature of the popular MacGyver from the popular '80s television show of the same name. The skits are all about MacGruber trying to disarm some kind of bomb using nothing but his wits and whatever random objects happen to be lying around. But unlike MacGyver, MacGruber always gets distracted and ends up with the bomb blowing up in his face. With such a limited scope of characterization I wasn’t sure what anyone could do to make a full-length feature film worth watching, and after seeing the film it was obvious that the writers couldn’t find anything either.

The film starts with a nuclear missile being stolen in Russia by Macgruber’s arch nemesis, Dieter Van Cunth (Val Kilmer). A name that neither he nor the audience will ever forget, mostly since he is referred to by his last name pronounced with a silent H, which is repeated over and over to a nauseating degree.

In order to “pound Cunth”, MacGruber must put together a strong team of mercenaries of his own. But his plans change after he accidentally blows them all up in his van. Struggling to convince his superiors to give him another try so he can avenge the death of his wife he puts together a ragtag team consisting of Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) and Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Philippe).

The three bumble and stumble along following any lead they can find, while MacGruber keeps dressing up the other two to look like him so he can flush out anyone that might want to kill him. It all climaxes in a fight between the two adversaries with MacGruber having to disarm the nuclear warhead.

The Blu-ray includes both the Uncut and Theatrical version of the film as well as special features. The special features are just as disappointing as the film itself. There is only one deleted scene. The gag reel is flat and boring. And finally there’s the regular obligatory commentary with director, writers and Will Forte.

The Blu-ray is presented in 1080p High-Definition Widescreen 2.35:1 with the audio DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The picture is sharp and clean, but with the story being set in the ‘80s and having an older look to it the video didn’t appear to reach its full potential. The same can also be said of the audio, which really seemed to perform only during the giant explosions that could throw you out of your seat at full volume.

Going into this film I had pretty low expectations, but unfortunately my expectations weren’t low enough. Logically, you would think that it might be a poor man’s MacGyver imitation filled with cheesy '80s references with miraculous escapes made using only a piece of string and a coconut. If that was the case, there might have at least been an element of charm to the film. In fact, it had no charm whatsoever. Every other word out of MacGruber’s mouth was the F-word. He was a total jerk throughout and when he had to beg Lt. Piper to join his team by letting him have sex with him, any integrity the film had was lost.

There were a couple of humorous moments in the film, like the running gag of always taking his car stereo with him whenever he got out of his car, or the distraction technique of dancing around naked with a piece of celery clenched between his butt cheeks. But the laughs were too few and far between The film had already reached such a debase level that even those moments didn’t warrant a chuckle.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

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

Written by Hombre Divertido

On November 14th 2008, the Cartoon Network returned the Caped Crusader to television in a series well behind its time, and thankfully so. In Batman: The Brave and the Bold, the Dark Knight is back to the Batman of an era long since past. He has a personality, a sense of humor, works well with others, and yet still manages to be the mysterious Batman.

Based on the DC comic book, The Brave and the Bold in which Batman is partnered with other superheroes, Warner Home Video brought the first thirteen episodes of the twenty-six episode first season of Batman: The Brave and the Bold to DVD on August 17th, 2010. The chemistry within the partnerships is reminiscent of the Super Friends cartoons of the seventies. The significant difference being that we get to see some lesser-known stars of the DC universe work with the winged avenger. In the animated series of the seventies Batman was primarily teamed with Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. Though we do see Aquaman in this series, the characterization is much different than that of the Super Friends. In the new series we get to see Batman work with the Green Arrow, Red, Tornado, Plastic Man, and many more.

Ultimately the series is about relationships. With each episode opening with what is usually the conclusion of an adventure where just enough of the story is delivered to engage the audience, we get a small teaser of Batman working with another superhero. Then the opening credits roll and we pick up a whole new story. For the most part this teaser technique works, but there are a few episodes where there is not enough story to make it worth the time. The relationships within the teasers and main story are enjoyable, but ultimately many of the stories are over written. Keeping it simple in many cases would make the show more enjoyable to watch.

Though the creators and writers of the series may have embraced Batman’s personality of the past, they certainly did not embrace the simple storytelling of the past. “Invasion of the Secret Santa’s” is a perfect example. The opening segment has Batman and the Blue Beetle battling the Sportsmaster (voiced wonderfully by the always fun Thomas F. Wilson) who is trying to rob a bowling tournament. This may be one of the silliest storylines in the series to date. It’s poorly written and poorly executed. The main story has Batman and Red Tornado battling Fun Haus who is out to spoil Christmas. The Christmas storyline tries to be poignant and witty, but fails on many levels. Other episodes such as the two-part “Deep Cover for Batman” (Part one) and “Game Over for Owlman!” (Part Two) are too busy, and end up just being a mess.

Along with the focus of relationships. Batman: The Brave and The Bold also excels in animation and vocal talent. The animation has a sharp look to it that allows the characters to jump off the screen. Diedrich Bader voices the Batman and captures the character better than he has been in years.

There is no bonus material on the new release, and splitting a season into two releases is generally frowned upon by the public.

Recommendation: Fun for the whole family. Enough action for the kids, and character development for the adults, combined with a style of animation that is sure to appeal to all.

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