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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

ARROW Finds Target

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'Arrow - The Complete Fourth Season' on Blogcritics.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this blog post. The opinions I share are my own.

The CW’s Arrow is coming back for year five soon, so let’s take a look at the WB release of The Complete Fourth Season, available now. The four-disc set contains all twenty-three episodes of the run (of course), plus a handful of bonus features.

The end of season three found our hero, Oliver (Stephen Amell), and his gal, Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards), riding off into the sunset together. It’s no surprise that they will be drawn back home early in the season, as Arrow wouldn’t work without the whole team, which also includes Laurel (Katie Cassidy), Diggle (David Ramsey), and Thea (Willa Holland), in Star City. It’s also no surprise that the couple will go through their share of drama over the course of this run, as an hour-long series needs personal strife in order to keep it humming along.

Thus, season four is as much about Oliver and Felicity finding identities apart from one another as it is them finding a way to work together. While Felicity struggles to run the company she is now CEO of, Oliver jumps into a frantic election for mayor of the city. It’s good material for each to work with, even as long-time shippers will ache each time something comes between them, and the frequent additions of Felicity’s mother, Donna (Charlotte Ross), and employee, Curtis (Echo Kellum), are a delight.

A lot of the first half of this season is very obviously gearing up for the mid-year launch of spin-off DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. Several of the characters announced for that show (which was released on Blu-ray, Digital, and DVD a week earlier) are dead in the Arrow cannon, so in order to prevent that new program from being bogged down in origin stories, they must be brought back on Arrow. The result is lots of screen time having to be given up from the main arcs in order to accommodate this set up, though it isn’t too distracting, since these are mostly characters Arrow fans already care about.

Speaking of caring, a nearly year-long tease of Oliver at a grave provides a compelling mystery that propels the plot. By the time we realize who has been buried, there have been multiple false starts, but not enough to take away from the impact of the death. (SPOILER!) Press materials promising a return in some form do not do much to lessen the sting, at least at this point, and did not come to light until well after the fateful hour aired.

The main drag on year four is the same one that brought down years two and three: the flashbacks. Even as each subsequent present-day story gets better and better, Oliver’s journey leading up to the beginning of the series has become tedious and unimportant. While it does give some scant clues about the Big Bad this season, Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough), it’s not enough to be worth it. Hopefully, knowing season five will complete this arc will infuse the events with a new sense of urgency to make them less cumbersome in the upcoming installments.

The best bonus on this set is The Flash crossover episode. Arrow and The Flash did a two-parter in the fall, and while I suspect most of the audience is shared between the two, I appreciate that Arrow makes it easy for those who just watch this show to follow along. Three featurettes are more mixed. I think the one on Darhk is definitely appropriate, but cared much less for those on Hawkman and Hawkgirl, the most forgettable characters in Legends, introduced in this episodes in this set. There is also another regrettably truncated Comic Con panel, as well as some deleted scenes and a gag reel. So, overall, the amount of material included is fine, but the quality is a bit lacking.

Still, I definitely recommend checking out Arrow – The Complete Fourth Season, now on sale.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Own DC'S LEGENDS OF TOMORROW Today

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'DC's Legends of Tomorrow - The Complete First Season' on Blogcritics.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this blog post. The opinions I share are my own.

Once upon a time, two successful television shows, Arrow and The Flash, had a wealth of great, fun recurring characters between them. Unable to devote as much time as the writers would like to these personalities, given that they had lots of main characters to serve, too, it seemed that fans would have to wait impatiently for little snippets of them when they fit into the stories.

A solution presented itself, though. What if a whole bunch of the supporting players were lumped together and given their own team spin-off? And to sweeten the pot, how about add time travel into the mix, opening up a lot more possibilities and setting the story apart so it didn’t run into the continuity of the other series every week? Thus, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow was born, an Avengers-style team-up of heroes and villains.

Those chosen are a pretty strong crew. There’s Sara Lance / White Canary (Caity Lotz), Ray Palmer / The Atom (Brandon Routh), Leonard Snart / Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), Mick Rory / Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell), Dr. Martin Stein (Victor Garber) and Jefferson Jackson (Franz Drameh), who together become Firestorm, and a couple of Hawk people that aren’t all that interesting, but are essential to the first Big Bad’s plot. Toss in Doctor Who’s Arthur Darvill as Rip Hunter, the man who as seeks their help, and it’s an incredibly ensemble right off the bat.

Barely has the season began when (SPOILER ALERT) the premise is blown apart. Originally, Rip tells these people that they are Legends in his time, and that’s why he’s sought their help. Instead, it turns out that they are forgotten footnotes who won’t be missed if something happens to them. This is a painful twist, but one that makes the following proceedings all the more emotionally moving, as each player suddenly has something to prove to both themselves and the word. It’s a really neat idea.

The season itself, comprised of sixteen episodes on this two-disc set, is a tad uneven. For every really cool event, there’s also a snoozer that no one will care about. But for me, already a fan of the six players and newbie mentioned above, I found the run to be overall quite engaging. There are some heroic sacrifices and emotional moments that make the occasional hokey action sequence or repetitive Hawk flashback worth it. Add in fun crossover cameos and a cool cliffhanger featuring Hourman (Patrick J. Adams, Suits), and this show is definitely worth watching. I am very excited to see where it goes when it returns for a second season.

The extras in this release are good. I like the tour of the Waverider, the ship the troupe travels on, which is a pretty spectacular set that begs for further examination. The history major in me also appreciates the featurette on real-life events, even if I wish it were a little more in-depth. The Comic Con panel is, like on most home releases, shortened considerably, which is pretty disappointing, considering most of us will never get the opportunity to travel to San Diego. Still, it’s nice that some of it is here. There’s also a bit on the character of Jonah Hill, who is much cooler in this show than in the recent film flop, and a gag reel, which many people like.

This means I’m pretty happy with the whole thing, and appreciate that the also-ran of the CW’s DC-lineup (which didn’t quite hit as strongly as the two shows that spawned it) isn’t also the black sheep of the Blu-ray market. I look forward to an even better second season, and if you skipped this one, give it a chance. It’s probably better than you think, superior to most broadcast network television.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow – The Complete First Season is available now.

Monday, August 29, 2016

LUCIFER Not That Devilish

Article first published as DVD Review: 'Lucifer - The Complete First Season' on Blogcritics.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the DVD I reviewed for this blog post. The opinions I share are my own.

WB’s Lucifer, a weekly show airing on FOX, has now released its freshman season on Blu-ray and DVD. Having premiered in January on FOX, so its first run is short, this set contains all thirteen episodes on the three-disc set, plus bonus features.

Lucifer is a great example of wasted premise. Here, we have a hugely charming protagonist with a rich, complex backstory in Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis, Miranda). So does the series dig deep into the character’s mythology, play with his morality in interesting and challenging ways, and make it one man’s journey towards finding his compass in life? Especially given that the premise has him bored with Hell and looking for some other meaning?

No, it’s just a crime procedural. Don’t get me wrong; it’s an entertaining crime procedural. But why pair up the devil himself with a detective (Lauren German, Chicago Fire) and have him solve cases when there are so many more ripe story possibilities? Why kowtow to the same tired, boring format, essentially cloning its case-of-the-weeks from dozens of other shows just like it, when it could be something so much cooler?

It’s not like Lucifer‘s producers didn’t have source material to draw from. The series is based on a comic book co-created by the wonderful Neil Gaiman (The book, for the record, is not as crime procedural). And it’s not like the cast isn’t up to the challenge. Ellis is terrific, and is joined by wonderful performers like Kevin Alejandro (True Blood), Rachael Harris (Suits), DB Woodside (24), Lesley-Ann Brandt (Spartacus), and Kevin Rankin (Justified). Instead, the production ignores the potential it has and goes the “safe” route of copying what has been successful with other shows in the past. In doing so, they fail.

The fact that Lucifer is enjoyable to watch anyway is probably the most frustrating thing about it. Which isn’t to say it’s a great show; it definitely isn’t, especially in the way Lucifer’s powers are handled. But when I have it on, I do like it. This is a testament to how good so many of the people involved are, which makes me wonder what this cast and crew could do it they truly set out to make an original, deeper series. It’s not too late to change future seasons. They should really consider it.

The extras on this set are sadly not great. The four, really five, character profiles are pretty pointless for anyone who is actually watching the show, as is the “Devilish Duo” video. A gag reel is a gag reel, and while I do see the entertainment value of them, they aren’t something I’m particularly fond of. This is an overall mediocre batch of deleted scenes. And even the Comic-Con panel is truncated and pretty bland. I really, really wish the studios would do a better job of producing these panels and releasing them for home viewing, as I think they could be a very valuable bonus, but so rarely are.

If you’re looking for some mindless entertainment, Lucifer has you covered. If you’re looking for something that will make you think, impress you, and maybe take home some award show gold, then you can skip this one because it’s not destined to be a long-remembered series with a passionate fan base. At least, not unless it changes it’s strategy completely.

Lucifer – The Complete First Season is available now.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

GOTHAM's Villains Rise

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'Gotham - The Complete Second Season' on Blogcritics.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed for this blog post. The opinions I share are my own.

WB’s Gotham – The Complete Second Season, which aired on FOX last television season, has recently been released on Blu-ray, Digital, and DVD, just in time for a catch up or for a refresher before the third outing. Picking up after the events of the season one finale, the power dynamic in the city has shifted, luring new villains into the conflict, and making our heroes’ jobs even tougher.

With Fish seemingly dead (come on, this is a comic book series and we haven’t seen the body), The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) is the Big Bird in town, so to speak. His reign is almost immediately threatened when Theo Galavan (James Frain, The Tudors) and his sister, Tabitha (Jessica Lucas, Melrose Place (2009)), arrive. They aren’t after The Penguin, specifically, but if he stands in their way, then they won’t hesitate to fight, and are more than capable of taking the crime boss on.

These are far from the only baddies, though, in the season dubbed “Rise of the Villains.” Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) continues his compelling descent into madness, while Barbara (Erin Richards) struggles with maintaining sanity. Worse (or better, for viewers?), Dr. Hugo Strange (BD Wong, Law & Order: SVU) is now running Arkham, and he delights in experimenting with superhumans and above-average criminals along the lines of Firefly (Michelle Veintimilla, Not Cool) and Victor Fries (Nathan Darrow, House of Cards). So the city is facing no shortage of trouble.

Our hero remains Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), but he is certainly racking up more allies than just Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), which feels necessary, given what Gotham is facing. Chief among Gordon’s allies is Captain Nathaniel Barnes (Michael Chiklis, The Shield), who comes in with the goal of cleaning up the force. Bruce (David Mazouz) is making progress on his path towards becoming Batman, but he’s still a ways away from that.

And these are only a few of the characters that populate Gotham. At times, I worry both the city and the cast list is over-stuffed. But one thing you can say about such a large ensemble is that there are always plenty of plot threads going on. Gotham throws a lot at you and does it fast, burning through story, well, the way a comic book does. Usually, it works, though I think most of us with Jerome (Cameron Monaghan, Shameless) had stuck around a little longer. It isn’t as deep or as emotionally moving as the DC shows over on the CW, but it is an interesting drama done in a cool, unique style that remains enjoyable.

Speaking of the style, one of the best extras this release contains is a twenty-five minute look at the noir tone of the series. In “Gotham by Noir Light,” the crew gets nerdy in the best of ways as they discuss their influences from the films of yesteryear.

Two other interesting featurettes on the four-disc set are “Alfred: Batman’s Greatest Ally” and “Cold Hearted – The Tale of Victor Fries.” Each of these delves deeper into a specific character on the series, giving some background and insight into the approach Gotham takes on them versus other incarnations of the players in past works, a topic a many super hero shows sadly downplay.

There are a lot of other extras, too. The Comic-Con Panel is cool, but sadly shortened, as most panels are when included on home releases. Then, there are a lot of shorts, most of which are a waste of time to watch. There are little bits from different actors musing on what is coming up for their characters, as well as some teaser scenes. Numbering more than a dozen, these were probably effective advertising when released prior to the episodes, but seem extraneous here. While I do complain when shows have too few features, Gotham has enough meaty stuff that, if they drop most of these (a couple are semi-interesting), they’d be better off overall, favoring quality over quantity.

Still, overall, I’m satisfied with Gotham – The Complete Second Season, which is on sale now.

Monday, August 15, 2016

11.22.63 Blu-ray Review

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: '11.22.63' on Blogcritics.

Recently released on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD is 11.22.63, a Hulu original miniseries in which a man goes back in time to try to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Based on the novel of the same name by horror master Stephen King, produced by the great J.J. Abrams, and written by the terrific Bridget Carpenter (Friday Night Lights), 11.22.63 touches on a number of moral concepts as the characters struggle with how much they should try to change time, and as time fights back. It’s an intriguing premise, though one surprisingly unevenly executed, given the talent involved.

When I first reviewed Hulu’s 11.22.63 pilot, I had a few problems with it. I thought there were scenes that would be better in book form, lacking the insight audiences need into the thinking process of a character or two. I thought the general scenario was cool, but the actual way in which the adventure was approached was too simplistic, squandering rich, deep ideas, favoring instead immediate actions. I also thought it was a bit of a copy of the Final Destination movies, albeit not nearly as bloody.

Having now watched more of the eight-episode miniseries, I’d say two of the above three complaints hold steady throughout. The last one, comparing it to Final Destination, no longer seems all that fair. There are elements the two works have in common, but the parallels lessen the more you watch of this program.

Instead, my main problem is just how the series skips around and glosses over the issues I really want it to explore. For instance, the pilot finds our protagonist, Jake Epping (James Franco, 127 Hours, This Is the End), pushing against the course of history and he is smacked back for it. But in the second episode, Jake pushes even further, and nothing seemingly of consequence happens any time soon. It’s puzzling what the rules are of the world, and rather than dig into the mythology, the focus is just on Jake’s mission and whatever side trips he briefly makes.

Speaking of side trips, Jake decides not to go things alone. Knowing he will be in the 1960s for several years, he reluctantly takes on a sidekick, Bill Turcotte (George McKay, Pride), and a girlfriend, Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon, Total Drama). It doesn’t quite seem fair to these two, especially the latter, that Jake would involve them in his life. Yet, 11.22.63 doesn’t even attempt to address that, pushing instead ever onward as Jake spies on Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber, K9) and his possible governmental cohort, George de Mohrenschildt (Jonny Coyne, Alcatraz).

I don’t want to get into the ending at all because if you’re watching 11.22.63, that’s probably what you’re most anticipating, and I hesitate to spoil anything. Overall, though, I think it’s strangely paced, a little random in the parts of the story it tells or doesn’t tell, and Franco is a bit miscast. He’s not a bad actor in the right role, but I don’t think this is the right role for him. That being said, the rest of the ensemble, which also includes the likes of Chris Cooper (The Bourne Identity), Cherry Jones (24), T.R. Knight (Grey’s Anatomy), Nick Searcy (Justified), Josh Duhamel (Las Vegas), Kevin J. O’Connor (Chicago P.D.), and  Lucy Fry (Mako Mermaids), is pretty solid. So I like this miniseries, but don’t love it.

As far as extras go, there is a single featurette entitled “When the Future Fights Back.” Funnily enough, that’s a topic I wanted more of in the series itself, and so it feels a little dissatisfying here, especially because this is a general “Making Of” and not specifically about the query.

11.22.63 is available now.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Get Down With THE GET DOWN

Article first published as THE GET DOWN Review on Seat42F.


From Baz Luhrmann (The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rogue) comes a brand-new period drama on Netflix entitled THE GET DOWN. Set in 1977 (except for a brief framework bit in 1996), the series portrays the creation of hip hop in Bronx, New York through the eyes of a group of youngsters. Teeming with music and style, it’s an impressive drama.

Personally, I don’t care for most modern hip hop, but when the genre is performed well, it’s amazing. THE GET DOWN serves the style in the best of ways. In a world where disco reigns, that is, the minority neighborhoods in a run-down part of the city, the beat feels fresh and exciting. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the characters, and root for them when they grab the mics.
Specifically, I’m talking about rooting for Ezekiel (Justice Smith, Paper Towns), the central protagonist of the program. Having lost both his parents, Ezekiel turns to poetry and rhyme to help him cope. He naturally drifts towards a style that will become a musical movement, and his friends and teachers, or at least one teacher, are suitably impressed.
But, if not for a quirk of fate, it might go no further than that. Ezekiel is afraid to express his feelings, afraid of what his peers might think of him. He’s a kid who’s struggling, considering dropping out of school, and certainly not ready to expose his soul to the public. Multiple characters in the series call this cowardice, and Ezekiel almost lets his fear get the best of him.
I don’t think it’s spoiling anything at all to say Ezekiel overcomes this. If he didn’t, there would be no story. The kid meets Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore, Incredible Crew) one night, and inspired, finds his voice. Which, while serving as the climax of the ninety-minute pilot, will only be the beginning of Ezekiel’s story.
Baz Luhrmann worked with Nas to make this series, and that influence shows, lending authenticity to the piece. He also chooses to depict the music in the context of larger society, with a politician, Francisco “Papa Fuertre” Cruz (Jimmy Smits, Sons of Anarchy), possibly fighting to save the neighborhood, and possibly just trying to line his pockets. Combined with street art and some other cool design elements, what is painted is a complex portrait of individuals in a time and place that they are not just a product of, but help shape the environment themselves. Taken all together, it’s very cool.
Of course, this being a drama, there’s a love interest; there’s always a love interest. Ezekiel is all about a girl named Mylene (Herizen F. Guardiola, Runaway Island), who is talented in her own right and dreams of being a singer. Mylene doesn’t let others define her, resisting Ezekiel’s advances not because she doesn’t return his feelings, but because she is determined to let nothing keep her from our career goals. In episode one, most of her story is shown in how it relates to Ezekiel. Hopefully, this will not be the case as the show goes on, with Mylene deserving of the spotlight in her own right.
There were a few things about THE GET DOWN that seemed off. The pacing moves a little slow in places, and the great Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) seems pretty wasted in the first installment. But overall I thought this series was well-made, well-performed, and while the initial description didn’t appeal to me all that much, I find myself wanting to view the additional five episodes that are set to release this Friday.
THE GET DOWN premieres August 12th on Netflix, and a second half dozen episodes are already ordered.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

SUPERGIRL Takes Flight

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

Disclaimer: Warner Bros. Home entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray reviewed in this article. The opinions I share are my own.
The first season of CBS’s Supergirl arrives on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download this week. The 20 episodes set up the titular character just as she becomes a superhero, introducing us to her life both with and without the cape. It’s a rollicking fun time, and while it doesn’t quite hit the quality of some of the other DC Comics shows on the air right now, it is far better than what the comic brand is churning out for the big screen.
Glee‘s Melissa Benoist stars as Kara Danvers, a.k.a. Kara Zor-El, a.k.a. Supergirl, a young woman who has been living on Earth for awhile after her home planet was destroyed. Having had plenty of time to adjust to her new home, Kara is an adult as the series begins, working as an assistant for media mogul Kat Grant (Calista Flockhart, Brothers & Sisters, Ally McBeal) and trying to start a career. This is somewhat derailed when Kara finds she can no longer sit still, creating a costume with the help of her best friend, Winn (Jeremy Jordan, Smash), and saving the day. These actions gets her noticed by the DEO, a military organization devoted to protecting the planet from aliens, and which secretly employs her sister, Alex (Chyler Leigh, Grey’s Anatomy). But even after joining up with DEO leader Hank Henshaw (David Harewood, Homeland) and his crew, Kara manages to balance both lives, a modern woman who can have it all.
The girl vs. woman issue is addressed head-on in episode one. Supergirl is a show to which no feminist should object. Kara is strong, independent, and fierce. She’s also brave and loyal and very capable. The only other character that even comes close to her level of accomplishment is Cat herself, so strong females are well represented on the series, lest anyone think the title is a step backwards for the fairer sex.
Sadly, since production is moving to Canada, Cat will be a less frequent presence in season two, which is a shame because Cat and Kara’s relationship is pretty much a linchpin of the show.
Unlike Superman, her already famous and successful cousin, Kara was old enough to remember their world of Krypton when it was destroyed, which influences the way she sees the world, as well as her hopes and dreams. Due to a flight into the Phantom Zone, Kara’s arrival on Earth (and waking up for her pod to begin aging again) was delayed awhile. Unfortunately, when she arrived, she brought the horrible prisoners of Fort Rozz with her, including her Aunt Astra (Laura Benanti, Go On) and Uncle Non (Chris Vance, Transporter: The Series). This sets the stage for the baddies Kara will face in her new crusade.
There are a lot of fun bits for those already familiar with the world of Superman. While the Man of Steel himself only makes fuzzy and at-a-distance appearances (though he has recently been cast for season two), we see the likes of The Martian Manhunter (no spoilers), Maxwell Lord (Peter Facinelli, Nurse Jackie, Twilight), Lucy Lane (Jenna Dewan Tatum, Witches of East End), and Sam Lane (Glenn Morshower, Bloodline) in this series. Not to mention, Jimmy, sorry, James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks,Necessary Roughness) is a main character and love interest. There are also tributes to previous Superman and Supergirl incarnations, such as casting former Clark Kent, Dean Cain, and former Kara Danvers, Helen Slater, as Kara’s parents. So I appreciate the tributes paid.
But Supergirl is also its own world. It’s very clearly not the same universe as the recent DC films are set in, nor is it on the same Earth as the CW shows take place on. Thanks to a multiple Earths theory, DC has the freedom to portray lots of different versions of the same characters and places at the same time. Which doesn’t prevent a guest appearance from The Flash‘s dimension-hopping Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), nor preclude more crossovers with its small screen peers after Supergirl moves to the CW this fall.
So, while the series starts out as too case-of-the-week, and while it ends with some exaggerated and easy outs, most of this run is pretty good. It’s easy to root for Kara and her friends, and I like the positive approach and outlook the series supports. I look forward to seeing where future seasons go, and can recommend this first season without hesitation.
On The Complete First Season, we get a fair amount of extras. A pair of ten-minute featurettes reveal how the show approached their version of Krypton and The Martian Manhunter, two wonderful elements in the story. We also get a too-short look at the cast attending Comic-Con, a gag reel, and deleted scenes for almost half of the episodes. My complaints are the very outdated menus and the extra padding at the start and end of every deleted scene. But other than that, it’s a decent batch of bonus material.