Thursday, September 30, 2010

Superman/Batman #76

For a comic that boasts the names of two of DC Comics most famous heroes in it's name Superman/Batman has been largely forgettable. There are several reasons for this which include so-so storytelling, hit-and-miss art, and the fact it takes place outside of DC's continuity.

With issue #76 writer Judd Winick puts Dick Grayson under the cowl for the first time. The story begins just after Final Crisis and runs, roughly, up to the present. That's quite a bit of ground to cover. Given that, the result is a bit mixed.

On the plus side the story gives us Superman's perspective on the death of his friend in some pretty well-written scenes between Supes and Lois, and later with Wonder Woman, and (more than a few) shots of the Man of Steel staring into space. There's also a very human, if completely un-characteristic moment when Superman sees Dick in the Bat-suit for the first time. It works, but it's a little heavy-handed for my tastes.

For an issue of this title it's one of the best, but that's not saying much. Aside from a panel here and there (such as Batman being brought back to the Batcave) I'm not that impressed with the art by Eddie Berganza who can't seem to draw Superman the same way in any two panels (there was even one panel I thought he was weaving Superboy into the story for a moment!), or draw him significantly different than anyone else with dark hair seen here. That said, it's a story that should be told as well as read. Worth a look.

[DC $2.99]

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Castle and Human Target

A couple more DVD reviews for you in one handy dandy post.

Mystery novelist Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) returns for another season to shadow, and bother, NYPD Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) in the second season of Castle.

Highlights from the season include the publication of Castle’s first Nikki Heatnovel “Heat Wave,” vampires, the “best case ever” concerning a dead con man who may, or may not, be dead (and may, or may not, be a secret CIA agent), models, a dominatrix (Dina Meyer), a missing bullet, a two-parter involving a serial killer obsessed with Nikki Heat, a murdered bigamist, a Mayan curse, a new boyfriend for Beckett (Michael Trucco), and Alyssa Milano guest-stars as Castle’s long-lost love, and the one who got away, in A Rose for Everafter.

The five-disc set includes all 24 episodes from season two as well as a short collection of extras including a set tour from the show’s sidekick detectives Seamus Dever and Jon Huertas, bloopers and deleted scenes, Fillion spending some time with various members of the cast and crew while on a location shoot, a featurette giving credit to those who play the many, many dead bodies seen on the show, and a pair of music videos from the episode “Famous Last Words.”

Would I like some commentary, or a pre-packapged t-shirt? Sure, but for less than $2 an episode you could do far worse than pick up another season of Castle on DVD.

Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) is a former assassin who now works to save lives as a security specialist by blending into the background, diagnosing a threat, and eliminating it.

Along with former police detective Laverne Winston (Chi McBride) and the unscrupulous Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley), our hero tries to protect various clients by putting himself in harms way. The series is loosely based on the Vertigo Comics series about a detective/bodyguard who assumes the identity of the target as a master-of-disguise (which isn’t a skill set of the TV-character).

The first season includes a runaway train, a princess (Christina Cole) on the run, hidden treasure in a isolated monastery, a hacker (Ali Liebert) with a skeleton key to the Internet, breaking into the Russian Embassy, an crime boss (William B. Davis) and his estranged district attorney daughter (Kristin Lehman), a weapons designer (Kevin Weisman) held captive, a world class assassin (Lennie James), an ultimate fighting tournament, a trip to the jungles of South America, and (in the season finale) the story behind the birth of Christopher Chance.

This season includes plenty of notable guest-stars including Amy Acker as the woman who changed the course of our hero’s life, Lee Majors, Moon Bloodgood, Grace Park, Armand Assante, Tricia Helfer, Timothy Omundson, Peter Wingfield, Courtney Ford, Leonor Varela, and Emmanuelle Vaugier in a recurring role as an FBI Agent who crosses path with our hero.

The 3-disc set includes all twelve episodes, deleted scenes, commentary from the Pilot with creator/producer Jonathan E. Steinberg, producer Peter Johnson, Valley, and McBride, and featurettes on the action sequences of the show, the character of Christopher Chance and creation of the television show.

Human Target is often better than it should be. You’ve got action, suspense, humor, a story-telling perspective that includes fast-forwards and flashbacks, and usually a lovely lady of the week. It’s an awful lot of fun, and definitely worth a look.

Party On Dudes!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chuck, Glee, and The Big Bang Theory

A collection of three DVD set reviews all in one handy dandy post.

It’s the season where everything changes. Chuck‘s third season might not be the series’ strongest but it has more than its share of memorable moments, betrayal and love conquering all, along with some notable recurring guest-stars and few surprises along the way.

With the new and improved Intersect 2.0 our hero Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi) will finally fulfill his dream of becoming a real spy and get a chance at a real relationship with Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski). We’re also given the introduction of new team leader Daniel Shaw (Brandon Routh), the lovely Hannah (Kristin Kreuk – that’s right this season has Clark Kent and Lana Lang), Casey (Adam Baldwin) tries his hand at civilian life and discovers he has a daughter (Mekenna Melvin), and Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez) becomes a spy (no, really!).

The extras this time around include a Jeffster mockumentary, a gag reel, and a featurette on the show’s biggest edition this year – “Chuck-Fu.” Sadly, there are commentaries or real in-depth look at the characters or the season. It’s a good thing the show is strong enough to stand on its own because you certainly aren’t going to pick up this set for the extras.

There’s plenty of changes, character development, and an evolution of many of the series relationships (which rubbed some fans the wrong way) over the course of Season Three, but at the end of the day, as Sarah says, Chuck is still Chuck. That’s more than enough for me.

New love. Old enemies. Madonna. Kiss. Olivia Newton-John. Gaga. And the Journey (at least this step) comes to an end. We even get a little Vanilla Ice, a “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” a “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. What more could you ask?

The second-half of Glee‘s first season includes some memorable numbers and a strong finale. Highlights include the Joss Whedon directed episode “Dream On“ with Neil Patrick Harris, the very funny music videos for “Run Joey Run” and “Vogue,” and the Rick Springfield song I should have seen coming but still surprised me.
This three-disc set includes a small group of featurettes on the costumes and choreography of the show as well as the creation of the Madonna episode and Vocal Adrenaline’s big number. The best feature, however, is the Glee Jukebox which allows you to watch just the musical numbers from all of the nine episodes.

There are a couple stumbling blocks along the way. Rachel’s (Lea Michele) relationship to rival Jesse St. James (Jonathan Groff) both begins and ends more abruptly than I’d like, the storyline involving Rachel’s mother (Idina Menzel), while strong, feels a little rushed, and I’m not the biggest fan of the musical choices for “Funk.” Even with these small complaints the second volume is solid and definitely worth picking up.

This season finally puts Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco) toghether in a real relationship as well as giving Jim Parsons plenty of fun crazy to play as Doctor Sheldon Cooper. (Sorry, Sheldon’s not crazy. His mother had him tested.) Parsons even took home the Emmy for Best Actor for this season.

Season Three also includes a trip to the emergency room, two appearances by Sheldon’s arch-nemesis Wil Wheaton, Howard (Simon Helberg) gets a girlfriend (Melissa Rauch) and gets a fantasy visit from Katee Sackhoff, Raj (Kunal Nayyar) faces possible deportation, the one ring to rule them all, Sheldon’s short stint working at the Cheesecake Factory, and we finally get the story of how Leonard and Sheldon met.
In terms of extras the three-disc set is a little light but the third disc does include a set tour and a disciussion of the show’s third season by the show’s creators over dinner. The version I picked up also included a “Bazinga t-shirt” for the same price. (I wish other DVD-sets would do this!)

Fans of the show’s nerdy humor should enjoy this season which includes several memorable moments and some fun scenes of my favorite relationship on the show between Sheldon and Penny (such as this one) as well.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Batman Beyond #4 (of 6)

Final panel aside, this one's a pretty good read. McGuiness learns why Nightwing hung up the tights years ago (and why he hasn't talked to Bruce since). That said, there are some problems. The Catwoman (or is it Catwomen?) angle seems to be get unnecessarily complicated, and for a comic with Batman in the title there's very little of Batman in action (unless you count Bruce's robot) in this issue.

And then there's the final panel... Yeah. Um, yeah. I won't ruin for it for in case you plan to pick this one up, but lets just say the final panel flushes the promise of the previous pages right down the toilet. Sigh. I doesn't work, whether it's real or simply yet another twist (this comic has more than a Shyamalan marathon). We'll have to see if the series can rebound, but I have my doubts. Hit-and-Miss.

[DC $2.99]

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Deadpool #27

Deadpool gets to meet his hero. And, wait, did Steve Rogers just offer to make Deadpool an Avenger? Okay, a Secret Avenger, but still!? Nah, he couldn't have. But Rogers is known for looking for the best in people and trying to inspire and rehibilitate them. But this is Deadpool we're talking about! Well... he did let Moon Knight on the team. Hmm...

What? Oh, yeah. This issues about terrorists under a mini-mart. Or something.

Deadpool, Secret Avenger. Hmmm...

Worth a look.

[Marvel $2,99]

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Town

“Charlestown, a blue collar Boston neighborhood, produces more bank robbers and armored car thieves than any square mile in the world.”

This isn't the first time Ben Affleck has adapted a novel for the big screen. The Town shares much in common with Gone Baby Gone including plenty of local Boston color, an Affleck in the starring role (though it's Ben this time, not Casey), and, once again, a good build-up which leads to a somewhat unsatisfying ending.

Doug MacRay (Affleck) is the brains behind a Charlestown armed robbery crew that includes local boys Gloansy (Slaine) and Dez (Owen Burke), and his unstable best friend Jem (Jeremy Renner). Doug went into the family business working for the local crime boss (Pete Postlethwaite), just as his father (Chris Cooper) did before earning a life-sentence in prison.

On the latest job, Doug falls for the assistant bank manager (Rebecca Hall), who the crew take hostage. (Did I mention he's the smart one?) Finding an excuse to meet her under other circumstances, the pair begin an unlikely romance that hinges on her never discovering his involvement in the crime. (Gee, I wonder if she'll figure it out?)

Also along for the ride is Jem's sister (Blake Lively), also Doug's former girlfriend, and the FBI Agent (Jon Hamm) in charge of solving the crime and bringing the crew to justice.

In Gone Baby Gone I felt most of the film's weaknesses were a result of the twists inherent in the source material. With The Town I'm not sure that's the case. This film, based on Chuck Hogan's novel Prince of Thieves, is much more uneven than Affleck's directorial debut. The Town is far more formulaic and less compelling. It's really kind of a mess.

I was not a fan of Lively's performance as the junkie single-mother. She does what she can, but appears woefully miscast in the role. I'd mention Chris Cooper but he's given so little to do here that his presence isn't necessary. Hamm gets far more screen-time, but is likewise wasted. The police investigation is little more than an afterthought, often disappearing completely for extended stretches. And though the high-action climax gives us plenty of bullets and bloodshed, I did not appreciate the far-too-cute coda tagged onto the film's ending.

That's not to say there the film is a complete waste of time. There are several clever moments, one darn good car chase through the windy single-lane back streets of Boston, and more than a couple of good laughs. Although we get none of the planning on-screen, the heist scenes themselves also work well. Affleck is serviceable in the lead, Renner is well-cast as the volatile best friend (a role he could do in his sleep), and Hall gives the character as much heart as the script allows.

Both the book and the film begin with quotes about Charlestown creating more bank robbers than any other neighborhood in the country. It's probably the most interesting piece of information the story gives us, but sadly it's also one point that isn't explored (except on the surface) by the film. The setting feels natural to the tale, but it never really breathes and enhances the story (except during the two big action sequences which fully take advantage of the surroundings).

The Town plays like a B-movie version of Michael Mann's Heat without (forgive the pun) any real heat. It aspires to be, and should amount to, more. It has its moments, but more than a few missteps as well. As a sucker for heist films I'll give it the slightest recommendation, but unless you love heist flicks too or you're a huge fan of anyone involved (and maybe even if you are) you could easily wait to check it out on DVD or cable (where it probably belongs).

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Covert Affairs - When the Levee Breaks

Season One of Covert Affairs is done. The season finale "When the Levee Breaks" tied-up a few loose ends, including the Anne/Ben relationship (hopefully for good). I liked this first season, especially the episodes that didn't get hijacked by Anne's lost love, and am happy it got renewed for a second season beginning next summer. Take a look at the finale below with a few more of my thoughts (*SPOILERS* included).


The season ends with the apparent death of Ben Mercer (Eion Bailey) and I really hope he stays dead. While I didn't mind the mysterious man from Anne's (Piper Perabo) past, I felt the stories involving Ben took the show away from its strengths and the story it should be covering - Anne's development as a CIA operative. I also didn't think the chemistry between Anne/Ben was as good as Anne with both Auggie (Christopher Gorham) and Jai (Sendhil Ramamurthy). Either or both should now be allowed to flourish. That is as long as he stays dead (as the short teaser for Season Two suggests) and doesn't make a "surprise" return.

Probably the least surprising thing from the episode was the identity of Liza Hearn's (Emmanuelle Vaugier) source. I hope she returns for a second season. One of the nice surprises of Season One was her relationship with Auggie.

Overall, it was a good first season. Maybe not as strong as the first seasons of Psych or White Collar, but still worth watching. Although I am afraid I might tire of the storyline with her sister (Anne Dudek ) - please no more family vacations which happen to turn into missions, I am looking forward to Anne and the rest of the gang returning for more fun and mayhem in August.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Even though his villains disagree...

...I think Spidey is totally rockin' his new bracelet.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Firefly cast reunites for Dragon Con

Okay, I loved me some Firefly. Although the show has been off the air for almost eight years now, four of its stars (Morena Baccarin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, and Summer Glau) reunited for a panel at this year's Dragon Con. Some of the video is your basic Q&A, but there's also some great moments involving a phone prank by Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk and some funny zingers from the group - including Maher asking the question "What's Castle?"

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Batgirl #14

I believe a petition needs to be started immediately for a Batgirl/Supergirl book. Yeah, that's how much I liked this issue. When Supergirl comes to Gotham and 24 Dracula's burst into life from a 3-D movie, well, you know fun is to be had. Lots to enjoy here included the little quips between Kara and Stephanie about everything from college flicks to super-heroing.

Writer Brian Q. Miller actually makes me like Supergirl again (who's been languishing in some of the lamest and most depressing story arcs in her own book for months). This is the Kara, the super-powered girl from Krypton who thinks pillow fights are in integral part of college, kicks serious ass, and innocently wonders if Steph's bra has a bat on it (it doesn't), that I want to see.

Throw in several humorously drawn moments from Lee Garbett as our pair of heroines take down the Dracula's all over town, and a terrific cover by Stanley Lau, and you've got yourselves a one hellova fun comic. I wasn't kidding about the petition. I definitely want to see more of these two together. Must-read.

[DC $2.99]

Friday, September 10, 2010

Batman #703

There's nothing really bad about this issue (with the possible exception of a wind surfing baddie), but there's really nothing all that special about it either. The story focuses on the return of the Getaway Genius, a villain Dick Grayson's past as Robin, and the further snooping of Vicki Vale. There's some nice moments between Dick and Damian, but nothing that would make anyone other than hardcore Bat-fans pick this issue up. Nice cover, though. For fans.

[DC $2.99]

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

LEGO Excitebike

I never owned a copy of the game, but still spent hours at a friend's house playing Excitebike. Justin Harder has created this short Excitebike-inspired Moto Cross promo made out of LEGOs for Fuel TV, which has a little bit of the awesome. You can find more about the creation here.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Going the Distance

Romantic comedies are far from my favorite genre. The cream of the crop are passable at best, and for the rest, well, just take a look at Kate Hudson's filmography sometime. Perhaps it's because the bar is set so low that Going the Distance finds a way to be a halfway decent, and at times even funny, entry into the genre.

The story focuses on the burgeoning relationship between low-level record company exec Garret (Justin Long) and waitress Erin (Drew Barrymore) which is put on indefinite hold when Erin's internship working for a major metropolitan newspaper ends and she leaves New York for San Fransisco.

The film follows a similar plot to many romantic comedies but I'll give the script by Geoff LaTulippe credit for at least taking some effort to minimaze the "cute" insanity most of these films are known for. Almost all of the struggles and fights the lovers have over the course of the film comes from problems arising out of the nature of their long-distance relationship rather than your usually gluttony of bets, misunderstandings, missed connections, ghosts former loves, curses, or other nonsense roadblocks only couples in romantic comedies ever find themselves faced with.

That's not to say the film steers completely out of harms way. There are a couple of scenes involving attractive co-workers (Kelli Garner and Oliver Jackson-Cohen) that present just the kind of simplistic temptation and jealousy the film that says it wants to deal with more difficult themes could do without. Although the script does allow these pieces of the story to grow, it knows enough to bring out the weed-eater before things get too sticky.

Although Long and Barrymore don't have sizzling on-screen chemistry they do make a nice couple. And I'm even willing to forgive their meet-cute over a game of Centipede. The story focuses much more on an honest relationship instead of attempting to give us the one-of-a-kind burst into song movie love found so often in similar films. The result is far less sappy (at least until the last act trots out the basic lessons our characters should learn about life and love), if still a bit too silly, than I was expecting.

Even with a cute couple and some funny moments, Going the Distance is still plagued with several problems of its genre. Garret and Erin's first date is sickeningly cute, as is most of their early montaged relationship. We're also stuck with awkward comedic sidekicks as friends for him (Charlie Day, Jason Sudiekis) and an overbearing sister for her (Christina Applegate). That's not to say these actors are bad, or they don't add something to the film - they do. Most of the film's most bizarre and funniest moments (the philosophy of a 70s mustache, some awkward bedroom conversation through the wall, and the open door bathroom policy) come from them, and not our leads. I just wished they were a little less one-note and not written as thin as single-ply toilet paper.

Even if there are some genuinely funny moments, there are also plenty that should be funnier, including a tanning session and the obligatory embarrassing walk-in on a couple having sex (twice). Then there's the litany of juvenile humor on everything from phone sex to dry humping. I'm not sure if the film was written to be romantic and the crude humor was added later or vice-versa, but half of these Apatow-aping moments fall just on the wrong side of weird or raunchy.

I'll give it a slight pass because the story has heart and takes an effort to say something about long-distance relationships (when it doesn't get in its own way). I have no doubt you can find a better film, or more honest dramedy on the subject of long-distance relationships just browsing through Netflix, but for a formulaic romantic comedy it puts forth more than most.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Shadowland #3 (of 5)

Well, duh! It's about time somebody noticed. We finally learn the truth about what's going on under Daredevil's mask and, sigh, let's just say it could have been handled better. As I had feared, it turns out the entire struggle of Matt Murdock's control of the Hand is moot since he's no longer in control of his actions. Oh, and Bullseye's on his way back far faster than most readers not a carrot chompin' super-hero reviewer thought. Sure, this Hand demon gives our heroes a big bad villain to fight, but it also undercuts the only real dramatic thread the mini-series had going for it. Nice to see Elektra finally show up, though. Hit-and-Miss.

[Marvel $3.99]

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The American (and some very beautiful women)

Is there anything we won't forgive George Clooney on-screen? Con man, thief, lawyer, killer - it seems his charm can overcome just about any handicap the script attempts to throw at his character. And that's why he's the perfect choice for a role just like this, especially when you surround him with such beautiful women.

In his latest foray into cinema Clooney stars as an assassin chased from the warmth of a beautiful woman (Irina Björklund) and warm fireplace in Sweden. Retreating to the Italian countryside he attempts to lay low while accepting a job creating a custom made rifle for one beautiful woman (Thekla Reuten) as he throws his passions into the arms of another beautiful woman, a local prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido). (Did I mention this film includes beautiful women?)

The American is an art film turned thriller. Some might be put-off by it's slow pace, including long stretches between action scenes, and unwillingness to force the action (at least early on), but they'd be missing the point.

Adapted from the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth screenwriter Rowan Joffé give us something close to a character study of man whom we barely get to know. Clooney's Jack is terse, hard, quiet, and hardly ever breaks a smile. We learn very little about our protagonist over the course of the film other than his obvious professional talents, quiet intellect, and love of butterflies.

What we are able to glean comes mostly from the flm's quiet scenes much more so than those depicting his skills as a gunsmith and killer. Whether it the aftermath of the shooting in Sweden, a walk through the woods with the town's local priest (Paolo Bonacelli), a pair of picnics with (you guessed it) beautiful women, or the lucky happenstance of running into Clara around town, each give us clues to how Jack perceives the world and what he's willing to kill for.

Also worth noting are the settings themselves which seem to mirror Clooney's character, particularly that of Castel del Monte, Abruzzo (where Jack has gone to lay low) - old and worn, attractive but stark, hollow and empty. Each is well-chosen, as is the beautiful oasis of a nearby stream where Jack retreats to but knows he can not remain.

The film does begin to stumble in its final act when it amps up the action and becomes much more predictable. Although the ending isn't what I'd call satisfying, it does fit the tone of the movie. Although Clooney is terrific, The American doesn't quite live up to its potential. It isn't a great film, but it is solid and works well both as an art film and a slow-building thriller. That, and it has some very beautiful women.