Warner has put out a few solid films and television shows on home video this year. There are a few of them that would make fine gifts for the home theatre fan on your Christmas list. From superheroes to hobbits and vampires, there’s something in this list for everyone. Wouldn’t hurt to snag a little something for yourself, now would it?
All The President’s Men:
This is a film that has become a significant contribution to the very the timeline it depicts, which is that of US President Nixon being forced into resignation after the Watergate scandal. This film is an engrossing depiction of the actual reporters who used anonymous tips to help uncover a scandal so big that it rocked the entire US nation. This film was released only four years after the infamous attempt to bug the Democratic offices in Watergate, which spurred the entire course of events in this film. This was a bit of a passion piece for Robert Redford, as he began production while its main characters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (who would be played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, respectively) were still reporting on related elements. Redford spent tireless hours, acting officially as the producer and star, researching the stories and the characters in order to deliver a compelling but painfully accurate adaptation.
Man Of Steel:
“What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended? What if a child aspired to something greater?”
It’s appropriate that exactly 75 years ago this very month Superman was born at the hands of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. He was born to be the patriotic hero symbol for a nation on the brink of a devastating world war. The war came and went as many others would since the hero’s inception. Styles would change. Technology would come and go. Superman would find himself invading each and every medium that has come along since. Television shows, cartoons, comics, novels and even previous films have all continued the ongoing adventures of the man from Krypton. In those years styles have changed so much that the symbols of the hero himself have become quite dated. But in any time there will always be a need for larger-than-life heroes. They don’t come any larger than Superman, The Man Of Steel. Can he be as relevant today as he was in 1938?
Henry Cavill does a pretty solid job of playing Superman. He has the strength and the iconic poses down. I’m not too hopeful for his future Clark Kent. That remains to be seen. The film is stolen by Michael Shannon who dominates as General Zod. He delivers a lot just with a stare. I must admit to being a bit reluctant about the casting. I’m happy to have been proven wrong here. Amy Adams is fine as Lois Lane, but she doesn’t have any chemistry with anyone else in the cast. Lois is best here when she’s a lone wolf. It’s a different kind of Lois Lane. Laurence Fishburne is absolutely great as Perry White, when he gets the chance to show it. Unfortunately, Perry has very little to do. Most of his scenes are relegated to delivering serious looks in reaction to the destruction going on around him. Of all of the characters it is Fishburne’s Perry White I have the most hope for in future movies. Law & Order: SVU’s Christopher Meloni does a solid job as Colonel Hardy. Finally, a nod must be given to Russell Crowe, who delivers the most action-packed Jor-El ever. Who knew that Superman’s daddy was really Maximus? He kicks butt in the short time he has the screen. This is not a Brando-style attempt at a powerhouse image and little more than voice-overs throughout.
James Wan is simply a director who continues to impress me. Ever since Saw was released, I’ve been a fan of his visual style that he brings to every film. Let’s face it, Saw is pretty much the biggest horror franchise of the past decade, and it all started with a simple little indie film that took place mostly inside a dirty bathroom. When Death Sentence came out, I was floored by how well he managed to construct a Death Wish film for a new generation. The parking garage scene was just freaking awesome. Then along came Insidious, which was another massive smash for Wan. Sure, the movie had its creepy moments, but for me the final act just fell apart. Now Wan is set to release The Conjuring upon the masses; is it another smash hit like Saw and Insidious, or will this be destined to fall flat as Dead Silence did?
The Conjuring is based on a true story about famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren who are staples of the paranormal investigation history and made famous for their “findings” with the Amityville investigation in Long Island. With ghost-hunting shows saturating the cable channels, it was inevitable that we would finally get a tale about the investigators who somewhat started it all. But this isn’t so much just about the Warrens, but instead about the most terrifying case of their lives.
In my humble opinion I believe James Wan made a horror film that will become a staple of the Halloween season. How he captured the life of the 70’s and replicated it for the screen is all the more impressive considering its budget. I read earlier a sequel is already in the works, and to a point that leaves me excited but yet a little sad. I’d love to see the further exploits of the Warrens and how the events of the film impact them later on, but if it’s about the Perrons I feel perhaps it will take away from the believability factor of the film. The most important thing to be learned after watching the film: always double check to make sure no one ever died on the property, and if they did, stay as far away as you can.
“We always thought that alien life would come from the stars, but it came from deep beneath the Pacific.”
The only thing we seem to love more than giant monster movies are movies about giant dudes going a few rounds with said giant monsters. It was huge television fare in the 1960s and 1970s. We had Ultraman, Space Giants, and Johnny Socko. All of them were Japanese imports that gave us daily or weekly monsters doing the old “Tokyo Stomp”, and just when things appeared at their darkest, the giant hero would arrive and give us a show more akin to the weekend wrestling shows than anything else.
The result is the kind of Transformers vs. Godzilla action that you are likely going to see. The action here is completely nonstop and quite manic at times. The entire film is intended more as a visual spectacular than anything else. It’s an amusement ride, and don’t be too surprised when one of the Florida parks decides to do just that. The images are nothing short of incredible. The monsters are imaginative and are different enough from any that have come before that the experience will be fresh and unique. The robots are a kind of cross between Real Steel and Transformers. The fights will remind you quite a bit of Transformers, actually. That’s both a marvel and a bit of a disappointment. Sometimes the action is filmed so fast that it’s quite difficult to pin down what you are seeing. When more than one of the robots gets into the action, things move so quickly that it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint exactly who is fighting whom. Often the flashes make it just as impossible to focus on anything long enough to truly appreciate everything you are seeing. I’m sure del Toro is paying very keen attention to the most minute details, but it will not always be possible to appreciate the finer aspects of the special effects.
I suspect there will be more from this universe. I can’t see Warner Brothers turning down the franchise potential here. del Toro has the same inner kid that most of us movie fans keep not so well hidden in our own hearts. Pacific Rim gives us a place to let that kid roam and look up in wonder once again. For that alone, it’s worth the price of admission. Perhaps it’s been a while since you let your inner child come out and play. Perhaps you’ve tried, but the serious world around you hasn’t afforded you the opportunity. “Would you like to try again?”
House Of Wax 3D:
There’s a saying that in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. No one would have expected that a one-eyed man could become the king of 3D. But that’s exactly what happened with House Of Wax. The film has become one of the definitive films in the 3D format. To look at it on Blu-ray now, it holds up quite nicely in a day where 3D has become almost passé. Still, it’s hard to believe that Warner Brothers would choose a man with only one eye to shoot their 3D film. That man was Andre’ De Toth, and he was at the forefront of 3D filmmaking. He had written a 1946 article on the potential of the format, and it’s likely what got him the job. The result is a horror cinematic masterpiece.
It’s not just the 3D that makes the film so special. It was the earliest horror film to be presented in stereo sound. Actually, it was really an early version of the surround sound we enjoy today. In addition to the stereo tracks there was a rear track called a scream track that made it appear as if the film’s screams were coming from a member of the audience behind you. It was called Warnerphonic sound and actually cost more for theaters to reproduce at the time than the 3D did. How cool it must have been to see the film in 1953 in all of that “high” tech glory. This release certainly comes the closest.
The movie also works because of the brilliant performance of Vincent Price, and his fans can thank this film for his wonderful horror career. The studio wanted Boris Karloff in the role, and I’m sure he would have been just as wonderful. But then we might never have had Price in the many horror classics that would follow. Price was considering a career in theater at the time and was at a crossroads. We’re all thankful he took the film. Not only because of the presence he brought here but for The Tingler, House On Haunted Hill, the Dr. Phibes movies and all of those wonderful Poe AIP films that followed. Price was quite an expert on the subject of art and was a bit of a dabbler in art himself. He once considered a career in teaching the subject. Who knows how much of that art knowledge and appreciation added authenticity to Jarrod? Price also brings a unique air of aristocracy to his role. His characters are just as evil, but they always carried themselves with that certain touch of class.
“You give me a uniform, you give me a number on my back — and I’ll give you the guts.”
More than any sport, baseball is all about numbers. Unfortunately, some of those numbers — like 73 (home runs in a single season) and 500 (career homers) — mean a little less in light of the steroid era. Others, like 56 (Joe DiMaggio’s legendary hitting streak), seem destined to live on forever. The most significant number on that shortlist might be 42, worn by Jackie Robinson when he broke major league baseball’s color line on April 15, 1947. 42 — the film, not the number — is significant for a somewhat surprising reason. The movie succeeds as rousing, crowd-pleasing entertainment by functioning less as a straight-up biopic and more as the story of how Robinson became, arguably, the country’s first African-American crossover star.
Late in the game, Rickey tells Robinson about a white boy he saw emulating Jackie’s batting stance. It’s a sly point reminding the audience how Robinson’s influence far predated everyone trying to dunk like one Mike or moonwalk like another in the ‘80s. A lot of us may know the Jackie Robinson story, but 42 works because it brings the man’s history-making journey to vivid life.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey:
“My dear Frodo, you asked me once if I had told you everything there was to know about my adventures. Well, I can honestly say I’ve told you the truth, but I may not have told you all of it…”
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a decade since Peter Jackson last brought us to the fantastic lands of Middle Earth. It was one of Hollywood’s most ambitious projects ever. Jackson took on the perilous journey of adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous Lord Of The Rings trilogy, perilous because of the beloved place the works hold in the hearts of those who have read them over the years. There is such a wonderfully detailed world delivered by Tolkien that we already had very vivid ideas of these places and characters. To his credit, Jackson proved to be up to the task and delivered a trilogy that one can only describe as brilliant. The lands and people were just as I had envisioned them since I first encountered them in my own youth. Expanded versions hit the home video market, and about 12 hours of story have made it to our screens. And there it has sat for the better part of that decade.
When it was decided to go back to the well and relate the events of the earlier and more child-friendly book, The Hobbit, there were many obstacles to overcome. For one thing, Peter Jackson was engaged in a lawsuit fight with New Line over his cut of the trilogy’s profits. Thanks to wonderful studio accounting it appears this multi-billion dollar franchise didn’t make any money after all, at least not when it came to paying Jackson his fair share. There was also the issue that the rights belonged to a different part of Tolkien’s estate and had to be negotiated all over again. Plans went forward without Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro was signed to write and direct two films based on The Hobbit. Events would lead to del Toro’s exit and a settlement between Jackson and New Line. Suddenly the band was back together, and the film project would eventually expand to another trilogy. The material would come not only from the book itself but other notes and unfinished manuscripts by Tolkien himself. The wait was over, and the new wait had begun.
Now that wait is also finally over, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is ready for its traditional Christmas season release. The story is quite faithful to the original material with exceptional added pieces.
Sadly, Warner did not offer us the extended version for consideration.
The Vampire Diaries: The Complete 4th Season:
It’s all about the season’s new quest. It’s the search for the cure. Apparently, there is a big bad original immortal lying cold somewhere clutching a vial that contains a cure for vampires. Every one of our players wants the cure for their own reasons. Of course, Stefan wants the cure for Elena. Klaus wants the cure to continue his dream of an army of hybrids. Some want the cure to destroy it. Others want the cure to destroy the originals and all of the vampires they’ve sired. Some have other reasons. The pieces are held by a few key players.
Enter Professor Atticus Shane (Alplay). He’s training Bonnie in a new kind of magic that doesn’t require a connection to the spirits. It’s quite powerful and is called expression. He’s going to need it, because he’s also in the race, but not for the cure but for Silas himself. The legend says that Silas will bring back the dead, and he has a loved one he wants to see again. He also has been working on the puzzle for years and has been to the island where it all lies hidden. He’s going to lead the group on their quest. Of course, he’s not telling all either.
The map. Jeremy has discovered he was intended to be a vampire hunter. There is a group called the Brotherhood Of The Five, and each time they make a kill a body tattoo grows larger, eventually revealing the location of Silas and the cure. Only another potential can actually see the tattoo, and when a visiting member of the Brotherhood arrives in Mystic Falls, Jeremy begins his journey. His urges to kill vampires might be a little problematic when his sister happens to be one these days.
The key. Klaus has a sword which works a lot like a Da Vinci Code device and can interpret the symbols on Jeremy’s expanding tattoo. No one really trusts Klaus, so getting his cooperation hinges on his feelings for Caroline who needs Klaus to give up a vendetta he is loath to let go.
Typical of The Vampire Diaries, this all sounds pretty convoluted in such a limited summary. It’s a game of alliances that change about as often as a bad episode of Survivor. With so many conflicting and merging agendas it really is hard to keep track of who is on whose side this year, and that’s exactly the way the show runners want it. You really have to be paying attention, and even then players are changing teams fast. If you thought free agency made it hard to follow sports teams and athletes, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Of course, there is much more going on here than the quest. Each of the characters has their own little struggles, and Nina Dobrev really gets to shine here. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a particular fan of the actress. But it’s not for lack of talent. There’s just something about her that I could never really attach to. Even I have to admit that her acting chops are tested like no actor on television this season. She has to play so many sides of Elena that I’m impressed that she just manages to keep track of who she is supposed to be each week. The character begins by dealing with not wanting to be a vampire. Then she must contend with a relationship with Damon complicated by a sire bond. At one point she turns off her humanity and delivers her best stuff in the entire series. There’s the Elena who begins to accept her new life and the one that is an emotional wreck as all of the loss crashes upon her at once. Then there’s the reappearance of her doppelganger Katherine. It must have been an exhausting year for the young actress, but the results help make this the most compelling season of the series yet.
Supernatural: The Complete 8th Season:
What amazes me most about Supernatural is the incredible balance the show manages to keep up week after week. Of course, there is that creature-of-the-week idea, but without taking anything away from each episode, there is an overall story arc that ties these creatures and moments together in such an intricate yet easy-to-follow fashion. Each episode blends just the right mix of darkness, comedy, and series mythology. Even The X-Files wasn’t able to spin so flawless a tapestry. I also can’t say enough about the leads. Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles have a wonderfully complicated chemistry that gives us an element even Kolchak never had. This is not a one-trick-pony relationship. Under all of the brotherly love and shared tragedy there are far more emotional themes that surface from week to week. There are resentments and rivalries that can suddenly dominate their intercourse. Unlike most shows, these conflicts are real and remain a part of the fabric of this relationship, not to be brought out and then quickly overcome never to be seen again. Each of these events leaves a visible mark on their personalities. This kind of continuity is almost unheard of. It requires discipline and dedication by everyone involved, from the actors, writers, and production staff. And again, the season finale will leave you counting the hours until the next episode.
Dean has been trapped in Purgatory for a year while Sam has taken a crack at a normal life. He’s found a girl named Amelia (Balaban) and sort of settled down. Meanwhile Dean and Angel Castiel (Collins) have teamed up with a vampire, of all things, named Benny (Olsson) to get out. Only Sam and Benny make it out, and Dean isn’t so happy that Sam gave up the cause and settled down. It doesn’t matter, though, because there’s yet another mission ahead of them, and the brothers will have to put the past year behind them and concentrate on the new quest before them. That won’t be easy, and for most of the season we’re going to be treated to flashbacks of each of their lives over the past year.
The new quest involves a chance to close the gates of Hell forever. That means no more demons and monsters to fight, because they will all be sealed forever in Hell. You see, there’s a new prophet in town, and he’s Kevin Tran (Chau). He has discovered within a demon tablet written by God himself the instructions to shut down those gates. It’s not going to be easy. Crowley (Sheppard) isn’t going to let it happen, if he can help it. In fact, he has his own reasons for getting his hands on Kevin and the tablet. That leaves a bit of a tug-of-war between the Winchesters and Crowley for both Kevin and the tablet. The task takes an overwhelming toll on Kevin, and Crowley is getting nastier than he’s ever been. That sounds almost hard to believe, but it’s true. Crowley’s desperate to keep the instructions out of human hands.
Meanwhile Castiel manages to bust out of Purgatory, but he also had some help. Enter Archangel Naomi, played by everyone’s favorite Samantha Carter from Stargate, Amanda Tapping. She keeps whisking Castiel to Heaven where she makes some odd and bad (for the Winchesters) demands of the controlled angel. For Castiel’s part he wants to make up for all the damage he did previously when he wasn’t, shall we say, exactly himself.
That’s the big story in a nutshell, but the beauty of Supernatural is that it’s not really that simple. The season takes the usual twists and turns and leaves you not sure what to expect week to week. Best of all, there are plenty of stand-alone “Monster Of The Week” episodes that add the variety needed to keep the intensity from overload.
Arrow: The Complete First Season:
“My name is Oliver Queen. For five years I was stranded on an island with only one goal: survive. Now, I will fulfill my father’s dying wish to use the list of names he left me and bring down those who are poisoning my city. To do this I must become someone else. I must become something else.”
That someone…that something else is the DC Comics character Green Arrow. Not to be confused by the same-colored Hornet or Lantern.
The comics industry in films and television has been having somewhat of a modern-day renaissance in recent years. The Dark Knight Trilogy and Smallville have been huge hits for DC, and Marvel is basically printing their own money with The Avengers and each hero’s own franchise. Smallville is gone, and DC is not about to surrender that niche to Marvel, who has their Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. arriving soon. Enter Arrow and another origin story of a young hero before he became the icon that appeared in the world of comic books.
Arrow follows the same basic idea that Smallville did for Superman. The character has just begun his new identity, and like Clark Kent in Smallville is not even known by his popular name yet. In Smallville Kent was known as The Blur or The Blue Blur. In Arrow, Queen is pretty much known as The Hood, The Archer or The Vigilante. There are only a couple of times you’ll hear the name The Green Arrow, and they’re basically throw-away lines meant merely to tease the comic fans. Fans will also recognize the Queen mansion as once belonging to a certain bald-headed arch-nemesis of Clark Kent. Yes, it’s the same location. It’s a famous castle in Vancouver where both shows were/are shot.
But this is not Smallville. Similarities aside, the new series has set out to deliberately distance itself from the earlier series. The first point is pretty obvious. The Oliver Queen/Green Arrow character became a significant player in Smallville, particularly in its last years. On that show he was played by Justin Hartley for 72 episodes. The obvious move would be to allow that actor to spin off and do his own thing. The crew for Arrow wanted to set a different tone and tell their own story from the beginning. Now Stephen Amell. This show is much darker from the beginning. It’s also far more violent and action-packed.
Each episode has two very separate but related parts. It’s a complicated acting challenge for Amell, but it gives the series a unique look and formula. One part of the episode happens as Oliver tackles the bad guys as The Hood. He eventually forms a team that consists of bodyguard and ex-military man John Diggle (Ramsey) and computer nerd Felicity Smoak (Rickards) (pronounced smoke). As a cover Queen opens a nightclub with an old abandoned factory the family owns. Underneath is the Arrow Cave where they base their operations.
The second part of each episode involves Oliver’s five years on the island. There he first encounters Chinese ex-prisoner Yao Fei (Mann), who teaches him how to survive on the island. But there is more to this place. It was once used as a penal colony and has since been abandoned. But now it’s used by a militant group who plan some pretty bad things. Oliver must continually hide from these bad guys and also try to thwart their plans. He also encounters Slade Wilson (Bennett) who also attempts to teach him to fight. It doesn’t help that we’re talking Crixus from the Starz Spartacus series, and this character happens to like to use…what else…swords.
The series is flush with colorful and interesting characters. While the series does not hold any closer to comic canon than Smallville did, you’ll be happy to know that there’s a lot here from the comics. It’s a veritable Easter egg hunt in every episode. You’ll see allusions and references to plenty of comic lore. Many characters are named after the artists and writers who have worked on the comic over the decades. If you notice a large use of the number 52, it refers to DC’s controversial reboot of their comic universe a few years ago. Even with so much homage paid to the comic incarnations, this is a stand-alone universe and often drifts from the characters and kinds of events portrayed over the decades in its four-color splendor. Purists are often bothered by that sort of loose playing with canon, but this needs to establish itself as its own thing with its own history and dynamic. Go with it, and you’ll likely find it an intriguing idea with superior writing and production values.
Production values is another place this series shines. They’ve done a tremendous job of creating an atmosphere that immerses you into this particular corner of the DC universe. The city is often rainy, and most of the action happens in the night. There’s a gritty underbelly to this place that’s mostly found in the city’s poor area known as The Glades. It’s this economically challenged location where Oliver puts his nightclub and lair. It’s also the focus of the ongoing diabolical plan known as The Undertaking. The action is filmed almost in a documentary style. All of this lives in a stark contrast to the glitzy world many of our characters live in during the daylight.
John Ceballos and Brent Lorentson contributed to this article.