Warner Brothers’ Superman Reboot Anything But Invincible

Courtesy:  Warner Brothers Home Video

Courtesy: Warner Brothers Home Video

Man of Steel was one of the most highly anticipated movies of 2013.  However, in the days following its premiere, neither the critics nor the fan boys and girls were overly kind to the movie.  Each had their own reason for disliking the movie.  Superman is without a doubt the single most iconic name in both the world of comic books and of movies based on comics.  The major problem with this new take on Superman’s origin story is its writing.  There is much to be said there.  Just as problematic with this movie is its new home release.  A simple change could have been made with the packaging to make it better.  But Warner Home Video didn’t even take that simple step, serving only to shoot itself in the foot so to speak.  Man of Steel had its share of problems, obviously.  In its defense, it did have at least some positives. One of those positives was the acting on the part of Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon.  Also to the movie’s benefit is the collective bonus features included in its home release.  The bonus features included in the movie’s home release are extensive to say the least.  But there are two that stand out among the others. They will be noted at a later time.  That bonus material along with the acting of Cavill and Shannon are the movie’s saving graces.  They balance out the whole presentation and make it worth at least one watch by any fan boy or girl of the original boy in blue.

Man of Steel wasn’t a terribly awful movie.  It isn’t even one of the worst of the year.  But thanks to its writing, it is also not one of the year’s best, either.  The writing behind Man of Steel is plagued with problems.  The most obvious of those problems lies the unbalanced character development and action elements.  Goyer and Snyder spend too much time both developing the movie’s backstory and on the conflict between Superman and General Zod.  Viewers didn’t really need as much of an in-depth look at Krypton as they got.  Given, it was good ot have a story of how Krypton met is untimely end.  But the constant transitions between Clark’s boyhood and his adult life were messy and unnecessary.   Rather than setting specific transition points, the story—written by David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Blade Trilogy, DaVinci’s Demons) and Zach Snyder (300), jumps back and forth between the present and Clark’s past at will.  The obvious attempt here was to fill in the gaps of Clark’s childhood without bogging down the overall story.  Goyer and Snyder are to be commended for making the effort.  But the end result was in fact that it caused the story to do just what they were attempting to avoid.  It’s just one part of what makes the movie’s writing problematic.  The movie’s dialogue is another problem with the writing.  It gets pretty campy at some points.  One of the worst of those moments comes when General Swanwick (Harry Lennix—Ray, The Matrix Revolutions, State of Play) states of Zod and his ship in its first sighting, “Whoever is piloting that ship plans on making a dramatic entrance.”  If ever there was a cheesy line, that line is it.  It’s a—pardon the term here—John Madden “no duh” type of statement.  And it’s just one of many really cheesy lines thrown in throughout a movie that otherwise tries pretty hard to be taken seriously.

The end result of Goyer and Snyder’s writing definitely caused its own share of problems for Man of Steel.  Now that the movie has been released to DVD, Blu-ray, and combo packs, it suffers from one more problem.  That problem is the movie’s packaging.  The discs included in the Blu-ray/DVD/VUDU combo pack were stacked on two spindles.  The primary disc containing the movie and primary bonus features was stacked on top of the set’s second disc containing the remaining bonus material.  There is nothing between the discs to protect them from one another.  The set’s third disc however, is set on its own spindle on the right inside side of the set’s case.  Why the people at Warner Home Video did not just include an extra plastic insert on which it could have placed either of the first two discs is questionable to say the least.  But it definitely takes away even more from the movie’s overall presentation and hurts the overall product in the long run.

Man of Steel had its share of problems, as one should be able to tell by now.  But it wasn’t without its positives, either.  The acting on the part of Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon was the most praiseworthy of the movie’s positives.  Shannon might not have exactly had the look of Terence Stamp’s Zod.  But he more than made up for that with his acting.  He is brutal, cold, and calculating.  Yet in his own eyes, he doesn’t see himself as a villain.  And Shannon (Take Shelter) expertly translated that personality style, too.  He made Zod’s character fully believable with his portrayal.  In the same vein, Cavill’s brooding nature as he attempts to come to terms with his powers and how he fits in with his world is just as believable.  He presents Kal-El as not so much the “god” type of figure but as being just as flawed as a human.  Much has been said of how he handles Zod at the end of their final battle.  What many people don’t seem to remember is that he shows real emotion at what unfolds.  It’s another example of what makes this Superman just as much a sympathetic character as any others previously portrayed on the big screen.

The acting on the part of Cavill and Shannon are collectively Man of Steel’s saving grace.  Both men are entirely believable in their roles.  Their acting is just one of so many aspects of the movie discussed in depth in the bonus features included in its home release.  Just as interesting to note in the bonus features is the fact that the crew went to every measure to make sure the cast was able to do its own stunts.  Audiences will see the rigorous workout regimen through which the primary cast members were put in order to be fit enough for that task.  To see actors and actresses doing their own stunts in the place of stunt doubles is something very rare in today’s movie industry.  For that reason alone, the movie gained a new respect at least by this critic.  Of course, it is only one of the extras that makes the movie even more worthy of a watch now that it has been released to DVD and combo pack.  The bonus “commentary” included in the second set of special features is the highlight of the movie’s bonus features.  It too is something that especially today, viewers don’t see much of, if at all.

The second disc included in the Man of Steel Blu-ray/DVD/VUDU combo pack includes a special second screen commentary that is a bonus feature in every sense of the term.  This second screen feature is something that today is typically reserved only for those with tablets, iPhones, etc.  Yet here, anyone with a Blu-ray player can watch this bonus hybrid commentary. It includes not just audio commentary, but visual, too.  Audiences get to hear and see from the cast and crew while watching the movie.  They can even watch the making of the movie all at the same time.  It brings everything full circle for viewers whether viewers are seeing the movie for the first time, the fifth or more.  It still doesn’t make Man of Steel one of the best movies of the year.  But with the movie’s other positives, it makes the movie one of the best home video releases of the year.  It is available now in stores and online at http://www.wbshop.com/search.do?query=Man+of+Steel.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle Is A SUper Documentary

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Comic books are big business today.  One look across the TV spectrum and through theaters in recent years shows just how massive a money maker it has become.  The problem is that so many people today still think that comic books past and present are just that.  Thankfully, PBS recently released a new documentary centered on comic books that proves that commonly held belief is completely wrong.  It reveals just how closely comic books and everyday life have been ever since the first comic heroes hit the printed page way back in the 1930s.  Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle follows the history of not just superheroes, but the comic industry from its earliest days in newspapers to its current era.  It splits the history of the business into three separate segments beginning with its earliest days in 1938 to the present.  Each of the three segments clearly explains how the comics industry and American society affected one another.  Interviews with those that created some of the greatest superheroes to those charged with bringing those characters to life help to illustrate these stories, as does the inclusion of vintage video and audio showing the impact of the pair on each other.  The interview segments included with the main feature are collectively a real bonus to the presentation.  That is because audiences get to hear from great names such as Stan Lee, Linda Carter, and even Adam West as they expand on the topics raised in the main feature.  Their thoughts are quite enlightening and make the documentary’s overall presentation all the more worth watching whether one is a comic book fan or not.

Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle is quite the documentary.  Whether or not one is a comic book fan, audiences will appreciate it as it shows one more way in which art and real life can and do affect one another.  It dispels the beliefs about the comics industry that have been held for far too long by those that are less knowledgeable about the industry.  The entire documentary comes in at a total run time of roughly three hours.  Those three hours are split in three separate roughly hour-long presentations.  The first takes audiences from 1938 – 1958.  The second takes viewers through some of America’s most turbulent years from 1959 – 1977.  And the last of the three segments runs from 1978 up to the present.  Over the course of each segment, viewers get an in-depth look at just how closely world culture and the comics industry are connected.  One of the most interesting facts that audiences will learn is the uphill battle the comics industry has faced against the government from early on.  Even as late as the late 1970s, the comics industry remained under fire from government bodies.  Just as interesting is the seeming up and down trend that the comics industry has experienced from its earliest days.  There is much more that audiences will be able to take away from each of the documentary’s three segments.  Each viewer will find something for himself or herself when they order the DVD direct from PBS’ online store.

The information shared through each of the documentary’s three segments is in-depth and at times eye opening.  But it would be nothing with the vintage video and photos to help illustrate the many subjects discussed within the course of each segment.  Audiences actually get to see and hear former President Jimmy Carter voicing his negative opinion of the comic book industry.  There is also footage of the classic Batman TV series starring none other than Adam West and Burt Ward as part of a discussion on its connection to the era in which it aired.  There’s even a discussion on the most beloved of the Superman movies complete with footage from said movie, and footage of soldiers reading comic books during World War II.  It shows collectively just how important the comic industry has been to America throughout the ages even in its lower points.    It’s one more aspect of this documentary that viewers will appreciate regardless of whether or not they are comic book aficionados.

From the information shared throughout the whole of Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle to the accompanying video and audio footage, this documentary is another success from PBS.  But no documentary would be complete without at least some bonus content.  And this DVD more than offers that.  It offers as bonus content, interviews with the likes of Adam West, Stan Lee, Linda Carter and others within the comics industry.  Stan Lee shares his thoughts on how his characters came to be.  One of the funniest moments is his anecdote about how students in a college level course were discussing the Silver Surfer at a deep philosophical level.  Carter discusses the role of Wonder Woman in feminism.  And West discusses the role that his Batman played in the country’s nuclear age and how that led to its campiness.  As with the in-depth information shared throughout each of the documentary’s three segments, there is even more to discover from the bonus interviews.  There is even a remembrance of sorts for animation legend Jack Kirby.  That and so much more is contained on one disc that audiences can order now online from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=23148226&cp=&sr=1&kw=superheroes&origkw=Superheroes&parentPage=search.  More information on this and other releases from PBS is available online at http://www.facebook.com/pbs and http://www.pbs.org.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

PBS’ Superhero Docu-Series Will Impress Any Fan Boy Or Girl

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS is the last true bastion of worthwhile programming on television today.  That includes both cable and non-cable networks.  The once powerhouse networks that are History, Discovery, and TLC have been almost completely polluted by reality television in recent years.  This has left them nonfactors to anyone looking for programming with any substance.  And while it may not be the first network to present a special on the comic book industry, PBS has still proven with its new special, Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle, why it remains the last true bastion of quality programming.  The special takes a look at the formative years of the comic book industry, and how some of the most beloved characters in the comic book industry went from the pages of newspapers to being their very own entity.  It examines the impact of comic books on the war effort during World War II and vice versa, and the effect of television on the future of comic book characters, among so many other topics.  Perhaps the only downside to the entire presentation would be the DVD’s box art.  It’s pretty obvious that this is only the first of an ongoing series of specials on the comic industry.  Keeping that in mind, it is a good start for anyone that has ever had any interest in the history of the comic book industry but didn’t know where to begin.

Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle is a good starting point for anyone that has ever had any interest in the comic book industry, but did not know where to begin with their research.  The first of what looks to be three hour long installments, it covers the comic book industry’s first twenty years, beginning with the advent of comic strips in newspapers.  Audiences will be interested to discover that Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster didn’t gain immediate success with their Superman comic strip.  Rather, it took five years before the pair’s strip was finally picked up by any newspaper.  Because this first installment is painted with a broad brush, the controversy that would follow is largely omitted.  There is a passing reference to it.  But it is at least made.  Perhaps that will be included in the second installment.  The advent of Batman and Wonder Woman were just as interesting subjects about which to learn.  Even the most well-rounded comic enthusiasts probably never gave much thought to how different Batman and Superman were both in terms of their characters and their how they rose to fame.  And the controversy surrounding Wonder Woman (and the role of women in comic books) is just as intriguing.  The discussion is raised on the presentation of Wonder Woman as a symbol of a strong woman in a very male dominated society versus that of a standard damsel in distress because she was always being caught and handcuffed, tied up, etc.  The term “fetishy” is even thrown out in the discussion on her negative presentation to readers.  It definitely makes for quite the discussion point for anyone regardless of whether one is a comic book fan or not.

The creation and controversy surrounding Wonder Woman is just one of the points in which audiences will take an interest during the first portion of this documentary.  Also discussed is how the outbreak of WWII led to the creation of one Captain America, and even got Superman almost involved in the war.  Those that might be novices in the world and history of comic books will take interest by connection just how popular comic books were among America’s armed forces during the days of the war.  And that is likely thanks to the fact that both Marvel and DC offered Americans of every calling someone for whom they could cheer in the war against the Nazis.  By direct contrast, it is even more interesting to note how the popularity of comic books actually declined after the war, and how the industry even came under fire thanks to the rise of the “Red Scare” brought on by Joseph McCarthy.  That is one that even the most devout comic book enthusiasts might not know.  Of course, it was the “Red Scare” that eventually led to the “comics code” that many readers know of today.  The first of this three-part series ends up discussing not just the censorship that followed McCarthyism, but the rise of television as a new outlet to regain audiences that had been lost by that movement.  It will be interesting to see where PBS takes viewers in the second and third installments of its comic book based documentary.  The entire series will be released on DVD October 15th.  It can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=23148246&cp=&sr=1&kw=superheroes&origkw=Superheroes&parentPage=search.  More information on this and other PBS programs is available online at http://www.pbs.org and http://www.facebook.com/pbs.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

ITV Import Another Impressive Addition To PBS’ Programming Lineup

Courtesy:  PBS/itv Studios

Courtesy: PBS/itv Studios

It’s been said time and again that people love a good story.  People also like drama.  So if this is the case, then why is it that so few people are watching PBS?  The network’s recent import of itv Studios’ Mr. Selfridge offers viewers both a good story and more than its share of drama.  The ten-part mini-series is expertly led by veteran actor Jeremy Piven (Entourage, PCU).  His performance in the role of the famed retail magnate on which the mini-series is based is his finest yet.  The same can be said of co-stars Frances O’Connor (A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Madame Bovary), Aisling Loftus (Page Eight), Zoe Tapper (Zen), Katherine Kelly (Coronation Street), Gregory Fitoussi (Spiral), and Trystan Gravelle (Anonymous).  Together with Piven (and the show’s writers), the ensemble crafted a work that fully immerses viewers both male and female into its world and keeps them engaged through each episode.  Of course, one would be remiss to omit any mention of the show’s production values in its success, too.  As viewers will note in the bonus “making of” featurette, painstaking work went into creating a historically accurate world.  The sets and costumes took massive amounts of time to get just right and accurate.  This understanding makes the final product that much more entertaining for those viewers whose minds are open enough.  By the time it’s all said and done, audiences will see that while it is a British import, much as with Downton Abbey, Mr. Selfridge shows even more the value and importance of PBS.

The choice of bringing in Jeremy Piven to lead the cast for this itv mini-series was the first positive choice in bringing to life Harry Gordon Selfridge’s story.  His portrayal of Selfridge was completely believable.  He presents a man that despite being a strong and self confident businessman on the surface was also emotionally fragile and complex beneath the surface.  He showed that while Selfridge was this larger than life character, he was just as human as anyone else.  It makes him deeply relatable to viewers.  That ability of viewers to relate to Selfridge is the starting point of the show’s success.   Viewers will see this for themselves when they watch the program for themselves.  On a side note, perhaps most intriguing of all about Piven being picked was why he was chosen.  It was noted in the included bonus features that an American actor was specifically wanted to portray Selfridge.  The woman that is interviewed tells viewers in her interview that while there were plenty of British actors that could easily handle an American accent, an American actor was wanted over a British actor for his role.  This is important considering how many British actors have played American roles recently.  Two prime examples would be Christian Bale and Henry Cavill as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Clark Kent/Superman respectively.  There are others, but these are the first two that come to mind.  Keeping this choice in mind, it makes Piven, the show and its heads worthy of even more respect. 

The acting on the part of Jeremy Piven and his co-stars is one of the prime reasons for the success of Mr. Selfridge.  Their ability to interpret the writing will keep viewers fully engaged from the series’ opening minutes to its bittersweet end.  Staying on that note, the writing behind Mr. Selfridge is another reason for the show’s success.  So much goes on throughout the course of the ten episodes that make up this standout British import.  Despite the number of storylines that interweave throughout the primary story, the show’s writers don’t allow the story as a whole to get bogged down even once.  Rather, the script moves fluidly and at a fast pace.  It isn’t too fast to lose viewers, either.  The different storylines incorporated into the bigger picture make the whole thing even more successful in that they will entertain both men and women.  Men will appreciate watching Selfridge’s personal journey from upstart businessman to one of London’s biggest names to an emotionally broken man.  They will enjoy seeing him in his highest of highs and lowest of lows.  Women will enjoy the series’ more soap opera style elements.  There is infighting between the women working the displays.  The infighting is the result of power struggles and to a far greater degree, romantic interests.  Because the storylines are able to keep from bogging down the mini-series as a whole, it allows viewers in general to focus on one more factor that makes Mr. Selfridge even more believable.  That factor is the series’ production values.

Viewers will see the painstaking efforts taken to make every episode believable in the set’s bonus features.  The bonus features included in the set tell a little about a lot.  This isn’t a bad thing.  Those that are interested in set construction and related topics will enjoy the discussions on how a carpet warehouse was turned into the first Selfridge & Co. store.  It’s incredible to think that such an open space could be turned into such a stunning set.  And anyone that has any interest in fashion will appreciate the discussion on making sure that the costumes worn by both the men and women were precise for the period.  Viewers will especially appreciate the discussion on the use of the corsets for women’s attire.  One of the female cast members even states that she liked using the corset and wearing clothes from the period of the story.  Not many women would likely so openly admit this.  But she did.  It’s one more entertaining and enjoyable aspect of the set that proves programming on PBS is just as valuable as any mainstream American dramas.  It is available now and can be ordered from the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=19273126&cp=&sr=1&kw=selfridge&origkw=Selfridge&parentPage=search.  And for all of the latest update on PBS’ Masterpiece series, fans can go online to http://www.facebook.com/masterpiecepbs and “Like” it. 

For all of the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Fleischer’s Superman Flies Higher Than Ever In New Blu-Ray Re-Issue

Courtesy: Gaiam

Superman is flying again.  And this time it’s thanks not to DC, but to a little company called Gaiam.  Thanks to Gaiam, Max Fleischer’s classic Superman cartoons have been restored and made available once again to the public.  These classic cartoons are an example of everything that was once right with animation.  And now not only can the generation that grew up with these classics enjoy them once more, but so can a whole new generation.  At a time when DC and Marvel are increasingly going toe to toe with one another, churning out feature after feature (both on the big and small screen), this double disc collection is a welcome breath of fresh air for comic book fans the world over.

While there may have been only a grand total of seventeen episodes of Superman created by Max Fleischer between 1941 and 1942, those seventeen episodes are some of the finest animation to ever grace any television screen.  As with so many early pieces of animation, Fleischer and his team of nearly six hundred (yes, nearly six hundred) animators gave Superman its own identity through their work.  This is something that has so sadly been lost in today’s “animated” features.  Being that so many “cartoons” are created via computer, they all look alike.  They’re sterile.  They have no real identity, compared to the likes of Superman.  Sure, older cartoons such as these took massive amounts of time, money, and staff.  But the end result is well worth it.  That is evidenced here.

One might ask how it’s known that Fleischer used nearly six hundred animators and large amounts of money to create Superman.  The answer to that is simple.  The commemorative booklet included in this double disc set gives a full in-depth history lesson on how Fleischer came to ring one of the greatest superheroes of all time to the small screen.  Dr. Thomas R. Reich, Ph.D. explains in the culled information that the shorts collected in this set were the result of discussions between Paramount and Fleischer Studios over a Superman movie.  Because of the costs that the movie would have incurred, the two sides agreed that instead of a Superman movie, Fleischer would break up its movie proposal into what is now one of the earliest of the Superman TV series.  Dr. Reich explains with excruciating detail how the series eventually came to life, and just as soon came to its end.  There are also discussions on Fleischer Studios’ early days creating the likes of Gulliver’s Travels, Betty Boop, and even Popeye.  The bonus booklet even includes a full episode listing with equally in-depth synopsis for each episode.

The bonus booklet included in this new Superman Set offers loads and loads of trivia for audiences.  The story of how these seventeen shorts came to be is enlightening to say the least.  Just as enlightening is the revelation that it’s Fleischer and company who are to be credited with the now famous lines, “Faster than a speeding bullet” and “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.”  This is just one more example of the value of this set to audiences.  Valuable information such as this, along with the equally impressive animation and storylines make this Blu-ray re-issue of Max Fleischer’s one of the best kids’ releases of the year.  It also makes it one of the year’s best in the category of general DVD’s and Blu-rays.  It will be available in stores and online on Tuesday, October 30th.

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