Blu Ray Review: Super

Super

IFC Midnight / Entertainment One

 

 

 

 

 

Super is the most realistic depiction of real world super heroes we’ve ever seen in a movie.  Not only because it depicts the consequences of such a life style choice, but also in terms of the mental state of the people who are drawn into it.  This isn’t like Kick Ass, which played lip-service to the concept but added some genuine superheroes and magic gadgets into the mix.  This is a story about a delusional, out of shape man in an ugly costume who’s mad at the world, and wants someone to blame for it.

Frank (Rainn Wilson) leads a sad life, his wife (Liv Tyler), while beautiful, is damaged, a recovering drug addict.  She doesn’t seem to have any passion for him, but likes the safety and stability that that lack of passion provides.  Eventually, the draw of excitement leads her back in to drugs, and leaves Frank alone, and without the one good thing he had in his life.  He blames a the drug dealer (Kevin Bacon) that she ran off with for ‘stealing’ her, but he’s unable to do anything about it.

It is at this point that he gets a message from God.  It’s not preachy or anything, if that turns you off.  His visions of God tend to mimic what he had seen on TV a minute earlier, which in this case involves tentacle porn and a Christian super hero.

So, he sets off on a mission to become a super hero himself.  He believes he’s on a mission from God, and like many people who think they’re on missions from God, this creates an absolutist sense of good and evil, me vs. them.  All criminals are equal in his new moral paradigm, which not only gives him license of savagely beat minor offenders, but makes a virtue of it.  It’s one of those things we can kind of sympathize with on an emotional level, even if we know it would be a horrific way to run a society.

His sidekick is Libby (Ellen Page).  He meets her in a comic book store, which would tend to suggest that she’s just an overzealous fangirl; but when the two go out to fight crime, we find that she takes a perverse pleasure in causing pain to bad people, a concept which isn’t really mirrored in comics.  She laughs manically after hurting someone, then taunts them.  You get the sense that she’s paying somebody back for something in her past, but we never find out what.

Frank, no matter how much physical damage he doles out, does so out of a sense of justice.  He is stopping criminals from committing crimes.  Libby; however, seeks to punish them.  It’s protection vs. retribution, (it’s sort of the guiding principal of our justice system that it’s based on justice, rather than revenge) though the injuries to the criminal are the same.

There is a scene in the movie in which Libby puts on her costume, and asks Frank to go crime fighting with her.  After he turns her down she attempts to seduce him, and failing that, forces herself on him.  There seems to be a sadistic side to her, which finds sexual pleasure in causing pain.  I liked Libby, but I don’t think we ever got to know about her in the film.  You could tell there was more to her character than we were seeing.

Everything I had heard about Super suggested that it was a very dark movie, but I don’t think it was.  Certainly, if you’re comparing it to other super hero movies, with their noble heroes, triumph, and acts of bravery, Super comes off rather depressingly.  But if you look at it as a comedy drama about real people, which is what it is, it’s a somewhat uplifting story about a man learning to stand up for himself.

 

 

Blu Ray Review: Torchwood Season Two

Torchwood Season Two

BBC Video

 

 

 

 

 

Season Two of Torchwood is a step up from the previous season; mostly because it puts just as much emphasis on exploring its protagonists as it does alien incidents.

We finally start to learn something about Captain Jack Harkness, beginning with the arrival of a past co-worker / lover, Captain John Hart (James Marsters).  Both of them are time agents; which begs the question; what exactly is the time agency? The only two representative we’ve seen of it were engaged in criminal activity.

Jack feels responsible for John’s reign of destruction.  His sense of responsibility for others is a central theme of the season, which we learn came out of a failing to protect someone in the past.  The season long story arc is based on this past incident, and this time around, it’s much better integrated into the season (not just a few random lines in previous episodes).  It comes to a climax rather too quickly (there could have been a lot more done with the antagonist at the end), but the ground work and back story are laid out at a nice pace and don’t feel tacked on.  Of particular note is the episode ‘Adam,’ in which an alien integrates itself into the team by manipulating their memories, which gives the writers the  chance to have Jack talk bout his past without violating his character.

Owen Harper has a large secondary arc this season.  In season one, he was portrayed as someone living only for today, and eschewing long term plans or commitments.   Midway through the season he dies, and yet he continues on;  alive, but without biological function.  He becomes the physical manifestation of his character, someone who moves through life merely existing, but permanently unable to grow or connect.

In Jack’s absence between seasons (during which time he was reunited with Doctor Who), Ianto became a stronger contributor in the team.  Now, in addition to getting tea, he also carries a gun and participates in investigations.  This promotion comes with a stronger sense of self, and Ianto commits more fully to his relationship with Jack, apparently seeing himself as more than just a FWB.

Gwen becomes the de facto leader while Jack’s away, and this seems to scare her a little, because she fights to strengthen her life outside of Torchwood by marrying Rhys.  In the episode ‘Meat,’ Gwen takes a serious stand to protect herself from suffering the same jaded, lonely lives the other Torchwood members do, by combining the two sides of her life.

Toshiko Sato doesn’t grow much this season.  Her starring episode is ‘To The Last Man,’ about a WWI soldier who is stored in cryogenic stasis at the Torchwood Hub.  One day a year, he’s thawed out for a checkup, during which time Toshiko flirts with him.  It’s the perfect relationship for her.  She has a captive audience, being the only available girl he ever sees, and with only one day a year to see each other, she never has to worry about it progressing.

When Owen dies, the crush Toshiko has been nursing for him takes a step up, perhaps because now that he’s flawed, she considers him to be down to her level.

The best episode of the season is ‘Fragments,’ in which the team is trapped in a collapsed building and flashback to how they joined Torchwood in the first place.  Jack’s story is someone more plotty than the others, seeing as it covers a wide expanse of time.  Toshiko and Owen are deeply fleshed out in this episode, as we see some of the pivotal moments that made them what they are today.

Torchwood Season Two is still an episodic series, like the season before it; but now it’s an episodic series with a bigger perspective.  All of the characters are developed considerably more this time around, and the story takes some very daring twists along the way.

Blu Ray Review: Torchwood Season One

Torchwood Season One

BBC Video

 

 

 

 

Jack Harkness is an enigma.  We first met him in Doctor Who.  He was introduced as an omni-sexual con artist/time agent; but he was also good, heroic, and cleaver.  He wasn’t so much a ‘reformed bad boy,’ as he wasn’t that bad to start with, but he had that kind of vibe.  At the end of his Who story, Jack is killed, then resurrected and subsequently left behind in the future.

The next thing we know, he’s in Cardiff, Wales, leading a secret team of alien investigators.  But Jack Harkness has changed.  Outwardly he’s just as playful, witty, and impulsive as ever, except now it feels like it’s just an act.  We find that his resurrection was not a one time thing, he’s now immortal, and his trip from the future to the present was a very long and painful one.  John Barrowman, who plays Jack, does a great job of expressing the two faces of Jack, the comedy and the Drama, but season one gives virtually none of his back story directly, and if you hadn’t seen Doctor Who, you’d be hard pressed to understand what was going on with him at all.  The character is portrayed very clearly, but the plot does not flesh him out.

Our introduction into the Torchwood world comes though Gwen Cooper, a police officer who stumbles onto their work, and is soon recruited.  Gwen is the most normal of the group, she’s well adjusted, has a boyfriend, and has the human empathy and professionalism that came from her police training.  JAck warns her to not let the job change her, implying that the others in the group were once less jaded.

With the other characters, you get the feeling that Torchwood was their only option.  Toshiko Sato is the computer expert who has devoted her entire life to her work and finds it very difficult to make connections with others.  This is the subject of a great episode titled, ‘Greeks Barring Gifts,’ about an alien woman who gives Toshiko a device which enables her to read minds.  On using it, she finds out that her worst fears of what people think of her are true.

Owen Harper, the doctor, is young and skilled, but has a reckless immaturity.  It’s hard to believe he’d be taken seriously as a doctor anywhere.  He, too, is unable to make real connections with people, though unlike Toshiko, Owen is merely unwilling, not incapable.  The few times he does express genuine emotion, such as in the episodes ‘Ghost Machine,’ and ‘Combat,’ he tends to go overboard, and do very stupid things.

Ianto Jones is the secretary/personal assistant of the group.  He’s very good at his job, which by its nature means he is very helpful and accommodating.  ‘Cyberwoman’ is his starring episode.  It seems like a departure from the character he had displayed up to that point, but his actions in the episode are really just an extension of his loyalty, as misplaced as it may be.

Russell T Davies, who created the series (and rebooted Doctor Who) always includes season-long story arcs, but wasn’t always the greatest at integrating them.  He basically just inserts a cryptic line into two or three episodes that are referred back to in the season finale, it kind of just feels tacked on.

The series is episodic, with a wide variety of story lines and styles present.  Some episodes are better than others, but none are bad.  The show sort of sets itself up as a more mature Doctor Who, and that’s essentially what it is.  The characters are interesting, though with the lack of back story, you have to put more work into figuring them out, which isn’t a bad thing.

The Blu Rays are incredible, with very clear video.  There are two mini-docs for each episode.

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Blu Ray Review: Cowboy Bebop The Movie

Cowboy Bebop The Movie

A.K.A. Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

Image Entertainment

 

 

 

 

The spaceship Bebop is crewed by Spike, Jet, Faye, and Ed.  Spike and Jet are partners, with Spike being a natural loner, and Jet being the fatherly mentor.  Faye is out for herself, but recognizes the benefit and security of hanging out with the others.  Ed is a young girl computer hacker who see’s the whole thing as a game.  They’re all bounty hunters, scraping by.

The Bebop is on Mars near Halloween when a terrorist strikes, releasing a deadly virus.  The Mars government offers the biggest bounty in history to catch him, and Spike and company set off to claim it.

Cowboy Bebop is not a case of style over substance, it is instead the full integration of style into substance.  The look and sound of the franchise inform the characterizations and stories leading to a full and complete whole.

The music (all done by super-composer Yoko Kanno) plays an integral part in this process, and sets the overall tone.  One of the best things about the TV series was its variety.  Jazz, heavy metal, rap, rock, opera; all lead the stories into different directions; from comedy, to horror, to romance.

Cowboy Bebop The Movie reins in the creativity to a large extent.  While it plays like a singe episode of the series, it takes the most vanilla approach to it.  It’s like they looked over the whole series, and picked the most average elements.  So we have one genre of music, classic rock, with an action movie laid on top of it.

While it’s not the best that Bebop has to offer, it’s still good in and of itself, and sufficiently stylish to set it apart from most other anime titles.

The protagonists of Cowboy Bebop all have beautiful character arcs in the TV series.  In essence, the show is about people’s pasts coming back to bite them in the ass.  We don’t see any of that with the main characters here.  The movie is an isolated moment where we don’t learn anything new about them, or see any real depth.

The new characters, the terrorist Vincent, and security agent Electra do have something of an arc, but it’s limited by their sparse screen time, and the fact that Vincent is portrayed as deranged; but it is reminiscent of the themes of the series, and is more than enough to drive the plot.

Cowboy Bebop The Movie is not the best episode of the series; but judged on its own merits, it’s a solid and stylish action movie.

The Blu Ray:  This is a lazy, but watchable presentation of the film from Image Entertainment.  The video is fairly good.  The credits are left in Japanese at the end, though the title screen is changed to take out ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,’ which is sad, as the title fits really well with the movie.  The image is clear, and has grain.

The audio is PCM stereo in Japanese, and English.  It’s clear but with a 5.1 track available in Japan, it’s inadequate.

The subtitles are white with a black border, and were written by someone that didn’t care about their work.  For instance, one character is named Edward, or Ed for short.  Japanese doesn’t have a separate ‘d’ sound, so it’s approximated as ‘e-do’ in Japanese.  A translate that was skilled, or had bothered to do research on the title they were translating would know that the characters were saying ‘ed,’ and translated it as such.  Instead we get ‘Edo.’

Even worse is a scene with a big truck in in.  The truck has ‘tortoise’ written on the side.  Spike calls the company, and the translator writes the company name as ‘Tortas.’  Really.

The disk sells for a little over $10, and it’s utilitarian.  If you don’t have the movie already, it’s an okay presentation for a movie that deserves far better.

Blu Ray Review: The Crazies

The Crazies

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Crazies (2010) is a remake of the George Romero (Night of the Living Dead) movie of the same name.  Romero’s films are known for working on multiple levels; plot, metaphor, social commentary, etc.  The Crazies is no different, and this remake retains much of the depth of the original.

Ogden Marsh is a  small, peaceful farming town; that is, until  an infectious disease is released into the population, turning them into homicidal maniacs.  After the first 40 or so minutes of set up, the majority of the film plays like a survival-horror zombie movie.  Timothy Olyphant plays the sheriff, naturally, who leads a small band of survivors on a quest to escape the town, avoiding the titular crazies and the military, who is trying to contain the  outbreak by any means necessary.

One of great features of Romero’s original is play on just who the ‘crazies’ are.  The panic and paranoia that grip the survivors drives them to disparate acts which are scarcely different than those committed by the crazies themselves.  When watching the original, it was hard to tell which was which.  I half expected the movie to end with a revelation that there hadn’t been a major outbreak at all.

The remake takes a clearer stance on that.  The infected are very sick looking, and by the end are given zombie-like makeup.  While it does make for a clearer narrative, it loses some of the sense of confusion, which adds greatly to a thriller.

The biggest change in the remake is the removal of the second plot line.  In the original, there was a plot about a scientist desperately working on a cure to the virus and constantly running up against bureaucratic road blocks (for instance, every time he wanted to talk to the president, he had to call, and then wait for someone to analyze his voice to ensure that it was him, a process which took hours).  In the remake, the government is just a faceless enemy lurking in the background, basically just like the crazies, but better organized.

The scientist plot was actually kind of a drag in the original, it slowed the pace and killed the tension, so its exclusion isn’t a bad thing; although it’s replaced by an awkward expostional technique of having the heroes randomly run into government officials who each tell them part of the back story.

The original movie wasn’t that great, and this remake does improve on it; ironically by taking some of the techniques Romero used in his zombie movies, to improve the horror aspects of the survivors’ trek.

Even so, it’s a fairly straight-forward plot, with no real twists or turns.  Timothy Olyphant is great though, and keeps it from feeling like the low budget horror movie that it is.

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Blu Ray Review: The Man Who Could Cheat Death & The Skull

The Man Who Could Cheat Death & The Skull

Legend Films / Paramount

 

 

 

 

 

The Man Who Could Cheat Death is Dr. Georges Bonnet, who discovered a surgical means of extending life about 60 years ago.  The surgery has to be repeated every ten years, and near the end of those ten years, a serum has to be taken.

On some level, the film feels like a version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  The serum has a side effect of making Bonnet a homicidal maniac.  But unlike Mr. Hyde, who was a metaphor for the darker, animal nature in all of us, Bonnet’s dark alter-ego is just a drug addled maniac.

Produced by Hammer Studios, the masters of Gothic horror, The Man Who Could Cheat Death is not one of their master works.  Bonnet, played by Anton Diifring is a one note character.  He is obsessed with living, and will harm anyone that gets in the way.  Ironically though, he doesn’t seem to do much with his life, other than sculpt and murder a girl once every ten years.

The bigger problem with the movie is that it tips it’s hat really early.  If the ‘horrible’ truth of what he is and what he does to stay alive were built up to, it would have more effect.  Instead, we just have to watch the tertiary characters slowly piece together what we already know.

The second movie in this set is The Skull, produced by Amicus Productions, and starring two Hammer regulars, Peter Cushing (Frankenstein) and Christopher Lee (Dracula).  It’s about the skull of the Marquis de Sade which apparently has been possessed by a demon.  Anyone in possession of the skull finds themselves compelled to kill.

Cushing, playing Dr. Maitland, comes to own the skull, despite the warnings of its previous owner, Lee, playing Philips.  The influence the skull exerts over it’s owner isn’t that strong, as it’s frequently beaten, and it seems kind of random; making people kill themselves, or others, or over pay for things at auctions.

When that fails, the skull floats into the air on very visible strings and chases people.  It’s more silly than horrific.  Cushing and Lee, two of the greatest horror actors of all time, are wasted on the material.

The two movies each have their own Blu Ray.  The video quality is a very good encode of a very bad master.  There’s a lot of faded colors, scratches, and dirt, but they’re all reproduced very well.  There are no extras at all.

This is only the second Hammer movie to be release on Blu Ray so far.  The other one, Vampire Circus, is much better, and a perfect example of what made Hammer great.

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