Monday, November 2, 2009

Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960's volume 2

Warner Brothers bring us another volume of animated classics from the golden age of Saturday mornings and sugary cereals, the 1960’s. Its two discs full of anthropomorphic heroes, theme songs that you just can’t get out of your head and at times, straight-up weirdness. At 299 minutes, there are enough cartoons in this collection to last several Saturdays.

Some highlights include classics like the Bugs Bunny Show, Porky Pig and the Road Runner as well as Magilla Gorilla and Touché Turtle. There are a few oddballs on here as well: Space Kidettes features a group of adorable tots living in a space capsule who constantly outwit Captain Skyhook, who is apparently a space pirate of sorts. Young Samson is reminiscent of He-Man and Captain Marvel, with a teenager and his dog transforming into a powerhouse superhero and his pet lion. And of course, there’s The Adventures of Gulliver, which comes across as the bastard offspring of Scooby Doo, the Smurfs and Johnny Quest.

Okay, here’s the skinny: If you’re a baby boomer looking to relive your youth, this is a fantastic collection. If you’re an animation aficionado looking to expand your tastes, this is an excellent sampler and an affordable way to get a brief glimpse of a lot of different cartoons. If you’ve got children and you want to shut them up without having to sit through crap like Barney or the Fresh Beat Band, this set is definitely for you. And of course, if you’re totally stoned out of your mind, you’ll like it.

If you don’t fall into any of these categories, it boils down to a whole lotta “meh”.
Sure, you’re pretty much guaranteed to laugh at least once during any given episode of any given show included on this disc, but you’re also guaranteed to roll your eyes a lot when faced with the extraordinary amount of formulaic concepts. Almost every cartoon boils down to one of three concepts: a witless hero and his possibly retarded sidekick, a witless hero and his vastly more intelligent sidekick, or a cool-as-hell hero and his merry band of idiots. The second disc is practically unnecessary, as it just rehashes a bunch of the same cartoons on the first disc.
Yes, there are a handful of great cartoons on here like a couple shorts featuring Sylvester and Tweety, a little bit of Road Runner and a lone episode of Tom and Jerry; but if you’re a fan of these characters, chances are you’ve probably bought collections of their work and you don’t need this set. There’s weird stuff like the aforementioned Gulliver, but it’s really only funny once.

All-in-all, I found myself none too impressed, but it’s more because of the content than the concept. As someone who loved making mix tapes for my friends (and someone who still enjoys making mix discs in the 21st century), I am a HUGE fan of the idea of tossing a bunch of cartoons from a particular era on a couple of discs with no rhyme or reason. As it turns out, I just don’t like cartoons from the 1960’s. However, if you do enjoy this era of animation, you’ll probably dig this set.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Batman: The Brave & The Bold volume 2 - DVD Review

The Caped Crusader is back in another collection of animated outings. Eschewing the grim n’ gritty Batman of recent years, The Brave and the Bold embraces an incarnation of the Dark Knight that most fans and writers choose to forget. Harkening back to the 1950’s era of a smiling Batman who traveled time and was just as likely to fight dinosaurs and ghosts as he was mobsters, this popular series has made Batman fun again and introduced him to a whole new generation of fans.

Not only does Batman: The Brave and the Bold introduce Batman to a legion of new fans, it also introduces a bevy of other characters from DC Comics. That’s how the series works: in every episode, Batman teams with another costumed crimefighter in order to solve whatever crime is at hand. We not only get a whole bunch of cool heroes, we also get a whole bunch of different interpretations of Batman. This DVD collection finds Batman acting as a mentor to the teenage Blue Beetle, helping the young hero find his way. We see the Caped Crusader give guidance and advice to Wildcat, an aging hero looking for a new path. And of course, there’s Batman’s ever-present rivalry with Green Arrow. The two act almost like sparring brothers: constantly trying to one-up each other.

In addition to the more mainstream heroes presented on this show, each episode opens with a brief segment featuring more obscure characters like B’wana Beast, Kamandi or Guy Gardener who also threaten to steal the show from our hero. And it’s all done with a combination of dry wit and psychedelic style that will please children and old-school comic book fans alike. The great thing about Batman: The Brave and the Bold is that despite its cartoony animation style and sense of humor, it also features some really good scripts. While the style might be reminiscent of a more simplistic era in sequential art, it’s got stories and dialogue that’s written well enough for any adult to appreciate.

But it’s not for everyone. Fans who can’t handle an all-ages version of Batman will want to stay away. Comic book readers who can’t handle the fact that their favorite characters might also appeal to children will want to steer clear of this show and anyone who takes themselves too seriously will probably be happier watching old episodes of Batman: the Animated Series. But if you’re a parent who wants to introduce their kids to their favorite costumed crimefighter or if you’re just a superhero fan who appreciates a good time, then this is the show for you.
The four episodes contained on this DVD collection are:

Day of the Dark Knight, a medieval tale featuring Green Arrow, the Demon and Merlin the Magician.
Enter the Outsiders, in which Batman shows an old dog new tricks and guides a team of teenage metahumans that sometimes raging against the machine is counterproductive.
Dawn of the Dead Man, an episode in which Batman almost meets his maker and teaches Deadman that he can still have a purpose without having a pulse.
Fall of the Blue Beetle, which delves into the history of the men who have been known by the name of Blue Beetle and shows a young man doing his best to live up to a legacy of greatness.

All-in-all, it’s a collection worthy of a special place on the DVD shelf of superhero fans of any age.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tom & Jerry's Greatest Chases volume 3

Since 1940, children have thrilled to the (literal) cat n’ mouse games of the masters of mayhem known as Tom and Jerry. In 2009, children and animation fans continue to enjoy their mischievous antics as countless collections of shorts are compiled, released and re-released on DVD. Tom and Jerry’s Greatest Chases volume 3 continues the proud tradition of cherry picking a few shorts from here and a few more from there and slapping them all together for your enjoyment.

There are 14 animated shorts in this collection, including the Academy Award-winning Two Mouseketeers and its Oscar-nominated follow up, Touché, Pussy Cat! They aren’t presented in any sort of historical context or chronological order. The transfers look good, but don’t really appear to be restored, retouched or anything like that; unless you count the fact that they appear to be at least somewhat edited. I know there were plenty of racist jokes in those old cartoons that had to be edited out of this collection. So if you’re a collector who wants that stuff preserved for posterity, this disc isn’t for you. If you’re a parent who just wants to show their kid some good old fashioned violence and not have to worry about a bunch of negative stereotypes, you’re cool.

It’s a pretty bare bones package. Animation historians or the sort that demands their cartoon collections archived with in-depth booklets detailing the behind-the-scenes information of the creation of these animated classics will likely be disappointed. If you crave extras, interviews, sketches and gossip, this collection will leave you hanging. But if you just want some good cartoons, you’re in luck because these ones are awesome.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the duration of your entire lifetime, I don’t need to tell you how fantastically funny these cartoons are. Here’s the deal: Tom is a cat who is easily annoyed. Jerry is a troublemaking little mouse. They fight. And fight. And fight and fight and fight. There’s a lot of property damage, a few tails slammed in waffle irons and some of the most outrageous violence you’ve ever seen in animation. There are a bevy of Rube Goldberg devices intended for mouse catching, a touch of romance and even a little feline rivalry. In short: it’s loads of fun and will leave you in stitches.

As previously stated, this is not really a compilation for collectors; it’s for parents who want to shut their kids up on road trips. And at the low price of $15 for 101 minutes of entertainment, they can’t be beat. If you just want a good time with a little over an hour and a half of animated excitement, then you can do a whole lot worse than the third volume of Tom and Jerry’s Greatest Chases.

Cartoons include:
Cat NappingThe Flying CatThe Two MouseketeersSmitten KittenBaby ButchDesigns on JerryPecos PestTouché, Pussy Cat!The Flying SorceressBlue Cat BluesThe Night Before ChristmasThe Bowling Alley-CatFine Feathered FriendPuttin’ on the Dog

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Babylon A.D. - DVD Review

Babylon A.D., based on the novel Babylon Babies by Maurice Georges Dantec, is a futuristic tale of politics, religion and cybernetic enhancement. Let me rephrase that; Babylon A.D. gave me the impression that it was supposed to be a futuristic tale of politics, religion and cybernetic enhancement. Really, it’s just a derivative wanna-be Blade Runner with some pretty sweet special effects. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The story tells the tale of Toorop, an American mercenary living in Russia a few years in the future. He accepts a contract from a mobster to transport a teenage girl named Aurora to New York. It’s a dangerous mission, as Russia has basically become a gigantic war-torn slum. The two are accompanied by a nun who has basically raised Aurora since birth.

This is the first time Aurora has been among the human element, and the stress wears on her. She seems to personally experience the anger, frustration and pain of each individual she encounters along the way. She exhibits precognitive abilities and knows how to operate a Soviet-era submarine. It is eventually revealed that she could speak 19 languages at the age of two and has always possessed an uncanny knowledge of things she had never been exposed to. Toorop realizes there’s more to this girl than meets the eye and remains wary of her, but eventually they save each others lives and earn each others trust.

And of course, there’s more, but I won’t spoil it for you in case you want to see the movie. Here’s the deal with this film: it’s not bad, but I get the distinct impression that there’s supposed to be a bit more to it than what I saw. I know the director, Mathieu Kassovitz, expressed a great deal of displeasure with 20th Century Fox and the producers of this film, and it isn’t hard to figure out why. I got the idea that had the movie been about a half an hour longer and had certain elements of the plot been a bit more fleshed out, it could’ve been a really good movie. It’s got a lot really intriguing ideas, and it seems like there’s a lot bubbling under the surface that isn’t really allowed to get free. It’s almost as though Babylon A.D. wants to be a more meaningful movie, but it was unfortunately kept on a short leash and ended up being just another action flick.
But as far as action flicks go, it’s pretty cool. Visually, it’s a great movie: there’s a sense of realness to the cities and the costumes. Everything looks very gritty, dirty and used. The special effects are impressive and the action sequences are quite exciting as well. And I’m shocked to admit that I didn’t even dislike Vin Diesel in this movie! It’s really a shame that the movie seems to have a split-personality. If it had simply been a mindless action movie, it might’ve been a lot of fun. If it had been a more highbrow sci-fi adventure, it might’ve broken some interesting new ground. As it is, it’s somewhere in the middle and it doesn’t end up being very effective at all. I don’t know if the director or the studio is to blame, but something got lost along the way, and it’s really too bad.

The DVD features the usual assortment of behind-the-scenes extras as well as a really interesting animated prequel that lays a bit of groundwork for the movie. It’s worth watching.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia - DVD Review

Okay, I’ll be perfectly honest with you. The only reason I even watched this movie was because it starred Ken Anderson, better known as Mr. Kennedy of World Wrestling Entertainment fame. I hadn’t seen the first two films in the Behind Enemy Lines series and really had no desire to. I didn’t have any desire to watch this movie either, but I’m a big fan of professional wrestling and I figured “Why not?” How bad could it be? I assumed that a worst-case scenario would be me having a good laugh over a bad movie, and the joy of watching stuff blow up. It’s always fun to watch stuff blow up.

I had no idea what I was in for. Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia is really bad. I mean, really bad. I guess I should’ve known: it’s a direct-to-DVD film co-produced by WWE Studios. I’d seen the previous two films produced by WWE Studios (See No Evil and The Condemned), and while they certainly weren’t going to take home any awards, they were entertaining, if mindless, movies. Heck, I actually liked The Condemned! But the third installment in the Behind Enemy Lines franchise is no Condemned. It’s actually somewhere between Iron Eagle IV and Delta Force 3.

The plot concerns a bunch of Navy SEALS on a top-secret mission in Colombia to observe a meeting between government officials and insurgent guerillas. But when the meeting is attacked and a teammate is taken hostage, the SEALS are framed for the crime and left behind by their own government. It was one of those “the government will disavow any knowledge of your existence” kind of missions. So the intrepid team of military specialists have to save their friend, clear their name and fight their way out of hostile territory, and they have to do it quickly, before the war spills onto U.S. soil. Sounds like kind of an interesting plot on paper, but clearly something was lost in the translation.

The first 30 to 40 minutes of this movie basically consists of a bunch of guys in camouflage loading and unloading gear, checking to make sure their rifles work and sending hand signals back and forth. The hand signals and equipment were all authentic. I know this because I watched the plethora of extras on the DVD, the majority of which were vastly more entertaining than the movie itself. It’s the standard extras package: interviews with cast members about the training they went through, a little vignette featuring the demolitions expert and the stunt coordinator, a gag reel and commentary. Definitely worth watching if you buy this movie, are given this movie, or find this movie in the trash.

The second half of the movie is a series of action sequences, corny jokes and laughable dialogue that you’ve seen a million times before in a million other movies, only they were done in a far more interesting fashion in those movies. Even the explosions in this movie look cliché and are even somewhat boring. I found myself falling asleep a lot, or trying to fall asleep. That hasn’t happened since I saw Silent Hill at the dollar theater. I wanted my money back then, and I want my 2 hours back that I spent watching this movie. Or maybe it was only an hour and a half, I can’t remember. It felt like the better part of an afternoon. I actually began to wonder if I was trapped behind enemy lines and this was part of some sort of insidious torture that I was being put through. Thankfully, I made it out alive, thought I’ll probably never be the same again.

In my mind, there’s nothing to really save this flick, but I’m sure it will appeal to some folks. It’s a very bland and generic by-the-numbers military action flick and some people like that. More power to them: I hope they have a good time with this one. God knows I didn’t. For the rest of you, I would only recommend Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia if you are laid up in bed with some sort of illness and there’s absolutely nothing else to watch.