South Park: The Complete 18th Season Blu-ray Review

Boy, the South Park home video releases sure have come a long way. During the first season, single DVDs of four episodes each were released. When they finally did The Complete First Season, the commentary tracks got pulled, but you could order them for free on CD. After that incident, and because it would take forever to talk for over 220 minutes each season, Trey Parker and Matt Stone decided to only do mini commentaries for each episode. They always managed to address everything significant about the show’s conception, production and inspiration.

When the show when HD, the home video releases went Blu-ray too. Even though South Park is based on crude, simple animation, don’t take it for granted how beautiful they look on Blu-ray. The colors are so bright, and the subtle shadings give you all sorts of distinct tones.

At this point, there are several deleted scenes per season. The drones episode has a good dig on the celebrity nude leak scandal that was understandably cut for time. In the virtual reality episode, Cartman’s prediction of Kyle’s warning to Butters is great, but it’s Butters’ reaction that really sells it. A long explanation of Wacky Races by the parents in the “Handicar” episode is just unnecessary.

Now we have social commentary, where tweets from the live broadcast are reproduced as a subtitle. The audio commentary confirms many of them, like in fact the entire South Park office went gluten free, and many remained so, for the gluten episode. It’s also interesting to hear Parker and Stone express feeling old and out of touch with the current pop culture. That’s what being on for 18 years will do, but they’re still a premiere voice in topical humor.

Fresh Off the Boat: Season 1 DVD Review

Fresh Off the Boat was one of the funniest new comedies last season, but like most first season shows, I didn’t really discover it until it had been on a few months. So I’m glad the first season DVD is out now so I can see the episodes I missed, with more Constance Wu high fives. Sparkle Time Beauty Horse will never get old either.

The first season fits on a lean two disc package, since the first episode was only 13 episodes. Next year’s DVD will be a double sized box and I already can’t wait. Here, you get to see the show gradually develop its voice, with recurring gags like the high fives, and developing Louis (Randall Park)’s more outgoing bravado.

I was a bit disappointed the trivia track is only for the pilot. I wanted trivia on all the episodes! The gag reel has mistakes as random as face ants. Hopefully, the season two DVD will have more bonus features with the cast, but this is a good start.

Rumble in the Bronx and First Strike Blu-ray Reviews

Back in the ‘90s, Hollywood had the idea to dub Jackie Chan movies in English and release them as new movies. New Line was the pioneer of this with Dimension Films following their lead. This week Warner Home Video brings two of the New Line titles to Blu-ray for the first time and I’m happy to revisit them, after nearly 20 years now of obsessively watching everything in which Chan was involved.

rumbleRumble in the Bronx was the first time I ever saw Jackie Chan. Cannonball Run was before my time and probably not my thing as a kid anyway. When I saw Chan move gracefully bouncing off the walls, before there was such a thing as parkour, I was enthralled. And then the fact that he made fighting funny was everything I ever wanted in action. Now I know Rumble is somewhat mild for Chan’s full abilities. There’s a great warehouse fight where Chan climbs through a shopping cart, and another where he dives into a sunroof while a motorcycle drives over him. That would prep me for earlier movies where he fights in a rope factory or future movies where he’d swing a ladder around.

The new Blu-ray for Rumble in the Bronx looks great. It’s a perfectly clear picture with sharp details. You can see all the textures and grime in the warehouse, and on the city streets. The film is full of bright colors too, with the street gang’s flamboyant wardrobe and pastel painted bikes. Bright, sunny Vancouver looks great too, and it’s really close enough to New York. Hollywood uses it all the time.

firststrikeFirst Strike was the victim of more unfortunate cuts, with 23 minutes total removed, including nine minutes from the climactic underwater fight scene. I understand cutting the plot to fit in a 90 minute timeslot, when you can dub over lines to fill in transitions. At 84 minutes there was plenty of room for the full action. Why would you cut the main attraction? Having seen the Hong Kong version back in the day, I recall the extended underwater fight flowed better and gave a better sense of how the fights were breathing in between kicking and punching.

This isn’t the Blu-ray to restore the original fight, and compared to Rumble the First Strike Blu-ray is much rougher too. There’s more fuzz and digital noise which is a shame because the film has better locations with the snowy mountains, the coastal beaches and underwater scenes. There is a dragon dance funeral procession that shows off the bright colors of the Chinese dragon.

Rumble in the Bronx is a definite must own Jackie Chan Blu-ray and First Strike may be only for completist, but it is the one with the ladder fight and some good improvisational fighting in a hotel room. Both Blu-rays are available now.

GOTHAM Recap: “The Last Laugh…”

GOTHAM RECAP: The name of the episode is “Rise of the Villains: The Last Laugh.” Last week, the police station was attacked and there was a death in the family. So this week, Harvey and Jim are playing “Bad Cop, Worse Cop” with potential bad guys, who may or may not have info on Jerome.   Jerome is the Joker-type dude who took credit for the attack, on camera. And while this episode wasn’t as action packed as last week’s installment, it still packs a punch. Continue reading

Labyrinth of Lies Review: Pre-Courtroom Drama

Labyrinth of Lies (Im Labyrinth des Shweigens) is a pre-courtroom drama. It’s about all the preparation that went into a major trial of Nazi war criminals, which can have just as much drama as the actual prosecution. In theory, at least. Labyrinth of Lies is good enough at conveying the story but drags on when it tries to become more of a film.

Alexander Fehling (Rolle: Johann Radmann)

Alexander Fehling (Rolle: Johann Radmann)

Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling) is the German prosecutor who leads the case against Auschwitz war criminals in late ‘50s Germany. If you can imagine, it was far enough after World War II that people weren’t talking about Nazis anymore and would just as soon forget them.

If this were an American movie, I could imagine Matthew McConaughey playing Radmann, a good looking but scrappy underdog fighting the establishment. Fehling is that type, and kind of where McConaughey was at the point he made A Time to Kill and Amistad. The restrictions of the case give him a system to work within and around. For example, the statute of limitations has run out on all crimes except murder, so he can’t just get them for nonfatal abuse.

Alexander Fehling (Rolle: Johann Radmann), Josef Bichinsky (Rolle: Robert Mika), Lukas Miko (Rolle: Herrmann Langbein)

Alexander Fehling (Rolle: Johann Radmann), Josef Bichinsky (Rolle: Robert Mika), Lukas Miko (Rolle: Herrmann Langbein)

Testimony of survivors is handled well. A few incidents are recounted sporadically but we don’t hear the detailed testimony. Instead we see a secretary emerge from the deposition traumatized by what she’s heard. Certainly the audience has seen enough movies and learned enough history in school that we know what sort of atrocities the Nazis committed without having to repeat them. However the film also successfully illustrates a Germany where the youth hadn’t even heard of Auschwitz. It’s as if the millennials of today were ignorant of significant history of the 90s.

The process of sifting through disorganized files and trying to extradite criminals like Mengele are interesting. You get the sense that the case drags on, but there’s also a lot of downtime. I found myself zoning out and forgetting to read the subtitles sometimes. I snapped back quickly and remembered oh yeah, it’s not in English so I have a little extra work to do. But a good legal thriller should keep me engrossed.

Alexander Fehling (Rolle: Johann Radmann), Frederike Becht (Rolle: Marlene Wondrak)

Alexander Fehling (Rolle: Johann Radmann), Frederike Becht (Rolle: Marlene Wondrak)

Even more distracting are the personal relationships of Radmann included to humanize the legal history. Radmann is dating a seamstress, Marlene (Friederike Becht) and she is sometimes his muse for ideas, and sometimes the one to confront him for his obsession. When a torn sleeve becomes a blatant metaphor for their relationship, come on!

Radmann’s obsession does make him antisocial. He won’t help anyone by lashing out against everyone. He’s struggling with the big question: What’s an appropriate punishment for something as unconscionable as The Holocaust? The resolution to his conflict offers something more constructive than simple punishment.

Labyrinth of Lies is a competent portrayal of a middle period in history between the war and the actual accountability for war crimes. It’s worth telling, with good performances and period details. The actual legal story could be tightened up and drop some extraneous additions, but it’s still there within this structure.

Franchise Fred Review: Pan Has Prequelitis

As Franchise Fred, I am biased against prequels. I’m interested in stories moving forward, and going backward takes away what I love about sequels. Even after I wrote about that in a Freditorial, I recalled some prequels I liked. Oz the Great and Powerful worked mainly because it was an excuse for Sam Raimi to beat up James Franco, and X-Men: First Class was the series’ best while still in continuity. Reboots are a different classification, because they’re designed to reset continuity, not fit in seamlessly.

PANThere’s a lot I did like in Pan. Joe Wright directs some imaginative sequences. I’ve never seen bungee jumping pirates in the sky before, and the flying pirate ship vs. WWII bombers was cool. I even liked the inclusion of rock songs, Moulin Rouge style, or more accurately A Knight’s Tale style because they are sung by the extras diegetically. Peter (Levi Miller) falling on his balls is never not funny.

Unfortunately, the origin of Peter Pan turns out to be the same origin as 90% of other fantasy movie characters. He is the chosen one in an ancient prophecy. There’s a theory that there are only seven original stories in the world anyway. If every origin story is a chosen one prophecy, then there aren’t even seven.

PANOnce we hear Pan is the chosen one, the rest of the film is just going through the motions. It’s already been prophesied so every set piece is just busywork to get there. Now, Wright can direct a green screen set piece better than most. The animated Memory Tree sequence is a better looking way to deliver exposition too. Although by the time Hugh Jackman and Rooney Mara are dueling on the beam of a ship, it made me sad that there was never even a pair of stunt performers doing anything graceful at a reasonable height. It’s all just Mara and Jackman tracing a line on the green screen stage.

J.M. Barrie added fairy dust as a requirement to fly, because when he just said “think happy thoughts,” kids would try to fly and hurt themselves. Now parents need not worry because even happy thoughts and fairy dust aren’t enough to make one fly. Only the chosen one can fly.

It’s an unnecessary explanation. Peter is already able to fly temporarily at the beginning of the movie, but then only tries flying again to fulfill the prophecy. Why would a kid need any motivation to try flying? If he flew once, he should be driven to learn to use this power at his leisure.

PANBy the time Peter learns how to fly (spoiler for Peter Pan. He can fly.), there’s no indication that he learned to think happy thoughts, even though it’s clearly suggested that this is what made him fly the first time. Maybe it’s that he’s come into contact with more fairy dust, but it seems to just happen because it’s the end.

PANHook (Garrett Hedlund)’s hook is just a tool he uses so it was nice that they didn’t make too big a deal out of “his name is Hook and he uses his hook! See?” But when Hook meets the future Smee (Adeel Akhtar), the film can’t even wait to point out their future connection, to the point where it even annoys Hook that it’s happening so quickly. It’s another trap of prequels, that they become obsessed with explaining major elements of the original too quickly, so their significance is reduced.

I’m still waiting for the prequel that recontextualizes a franchise so that you can watch the originals from a different perspective. If you were wondering how Peter Pan got all those powers and met his cohorts and nemeses, the answer in Pan is simply: “he was prophesied and chosen to do so.” That only reinforces the status quo. He became Peter Pan because they already decided he would be, which is also no different than “because J.M. Barrie created him.” It also robs Peter Pan of agency, but you can look forward to agency in the sequel, written by J.M. Barrie 100 years ago, where Peter Pan does things of his own accord.

Fantastic Fest Review: Assassination Classroom

Assassination Classroom is the kind of idea so strange they could only get away with it in Japan, yet so whimsically absurd that it’s what movie audiences everywhere need. At least this one does. It is based on a manga, which has also been adapted as an animated series too, yet you need no knowledge of the source material to appreciate its weirdness.

Unkillable Teacher in Assassination Classroom

Unkillable Teacher in Assassination Classroom

An alien destroys the moon and is planning to destroy the earth, but makes a deal with the government to train a classroom full of students to assassinate him. If they succeed, they win 10 billion yen in addition to saving the world, but otherwise this just keeps him busy until his deadline. He can dodge bullets, regenerate tentacles and more, so they call him Unkillable Teacher, or UK for short.

A comedy about school violence is understandably a tough sell in the U.S., but trust me, there is no risk of imitation, nor bad taste. The students are provided with weapons that will only hurt the Unkillable Teacher, but have no effect on humans. It is literally just a bizarre self-fulfilling premise that allows teenagers to shoot and stab an alien while never committing human on human violence.

The kids come up with some inventive ways to try to exploit UK’s weakness, but every time they do, it seems like UK has some new power he’d kept secret until such time as it benefited him. Or, such time as the audience needs an explanation for why he’s not dead yet.

What’s so weird is how hard the film tries to make sense out of such a nonsense premise. UK takes genuine pride in his students and you see them become emotionally attached. It doesn’t really play the whole “student must overtake his master” card. It’s just an absurd emotional roller coaster that rings true at every loop.

How could you kill a face like that?

How could you kill a face like that?

The visual effect of UK looks cartoonish. That’s appropriate since the live-action movie was preceded by art and animation. A Hollywood film would make the mistake of making UK more realistic, but this way matches the tone of the subject much better.

I just couldn’t believe what I was watching, and that’s a great feeling to have after decades of watching movies. And there’s already a sequel, Assassination Classroom: Graduation, so Franchise Fred approves!

Streaming Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was one of my favorite movies at Sundance. I love movies about grief because I think it is a healthy subject for humans to explore, yet one most tend to avoid. Humor is certainly a helpful coping mechanism.

One thing I knew when I saw Me and Earl at the film festival was that I couldn’t wait to get a Blu-ray of it so I could freeze frame and see all the fake movie titles. See, Greg (Thomas Mann) and Earl (RJ Cycler) are teen filmmakers and they make their versions of acclaimed movies. Only they don’t choose popular movies like Star Wars or The Matrix, they remake highbrow art films.

Well, I didn’t have to wait until the Blu-ray to find out. The digital HD edition of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl hit in September, ahead of the October 6 Blu-ray release. I was able to freeze frame on Greg’s DVD shelf and read all the titles. Here are all the movie spoof titles from Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, except for the ones they show prominently on screen because of course you didn’t miss those:

Senior Citizens Kane

Eyes Wide Butt

Rosemary Baby Carrots

The 400 Bros

Nose Ferret 2 (I had to struggle to figure out this was Nosferatu)

Ate 1/2 (of my lunch)

The Turd Man

The Rad Shoes

Anatomy of a Burger

Vere’d He Ho

Raging Bullshit

49th Parallelogram 

3: The Last Crusade


Rear Wind

Second (Helpings of Dinner)

Crouching Housecat Hidden Housecat

The Lady Mannishness

Yellow Submarine Sandwich

The Janitor of Oz


The Battle of All Deer


It’s a Punderful Life

The Last Crustacean of Christ

Wages of Beer

The Fake Tricks

2:46pm Cowboy


My Best Actor is Also a Dangerous Lunatic


La Geli

Gone with My Wind

A Billion Years of Solitude 

The Vudu version looks like a Blu-ray already, and I was only getting three out of four bars on Wifi. It maybe gets a little more pixelated in scene transitions but the color and detail are there.

GOTHAM Recap: “Knock, Knock”

The name of the episode is “Knock, Knock.” Last week, certain villains from Arkham were kidnapped. And this week they are unleashed on the city. The leader of the newly formed gang is Jerome, the Joker-like character. I don’t consider this a spoiler since he’s been all over the video and commercial promotions. But he’s not the only villain of note; Barbra is becoming a pretty sick and dangerous girl in her own right. If she’s not Harley Quinn, she ought to be. Continue reading

Streaming Review – The Avengers: Age of Ultron

This review originally appeared on Nuke the Fridge:

The Avengers: Age of Ultron falls into the mode of sequels darker than the original. I’m not sure why they keep making sequels this way since no one seems to like a darker sequel (except for Franchise Fred!), but this is Joss Whedon’s riff on the trope of a darker sequel. Joss Whedon never met a cliche he couldn’t deconstruct so this is a wonderful approach to a shared universe superhero team up.

Marvel's Avengers: Age Of Ultron..L to R: Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)..Ph: Jay Maidment..?Marvel 2015

Marvel’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron..L to R: Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)..Ph: Jay Maidment..?Marvel 2015

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has learned nothing from Extremis or any of his other dangerously failed experiments, so he creates Ultron (James Spader), an artificial intelligence that assimilates every asset or information in his path and grows stronger than the combined Avengers can handle.

This is pretty heavy. One of their own has created an enemy more powerful than the entire universe threw at them last time. To literally embrace that dark tone, they fight Ultron at night and in a dark, dank factory. Even the introductory set piece is in a gloomy winter castle but Whedon undercuts the darkness with absurdly giddy jokes about the cliches of action movies and villains lairs. Then it actually opens up into a bright sunny Marvel movie again. So you can place your heroes in new, darker environments without sacrificing what makes them distinct in the first place. We are talking about the inherent dangers of preventative warfare though. Exploring that with jokes about Tony’s ego is pretty great.

I was worried that a sequel to The Avengers would just be a normal superhero movie, since the fun of The Avengers was that they don’t really get along. Once they’re a team, what makes them different than any superheroes fighting monsters? Well, now they have inside jokes, and now they know how to play off each other’s strengths. Their celebrity is almost a greater super power than their super powers. The best jokes in the movie are just mumbled excitement over fulfilling genre cliches or the moaning bad guys laid waste in their paths.

The cameos create the Marvel world, and references to those absent are merely to explain they didn’t just forget about them. We don’t need every single character. The ones included are great, although I think the two actors in the barn filmed that scene on separate days, Expendables style. (Why am I blaming The Expendables for that. It’s Sin City/Machete style,) My point about what the cameos add is that sense of treating the superheroes as people who have lives and who may get along sometimes but still have differences. A group scene with Thor (Chris Hemsworth)’s hammer articulates the fun you can have even in a harmonious scene. Although Stark makes a Prima Nocta joke. Prima Nocta was a policy where kings allowed their nobles to rape women on their wedding night. Not cool.

It’s true, the opening action scene looks unfinished. The character introductions are so busy I didn’t even know what I was watching. Some old school visual effects are downright sloppy, like a forced perspective of The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) that doesn’t even look like they have the right eye lines, let alone are positioned right for that effect to work. Captain America (Chris Evans) gets a cool motorcycle flip in that sequence though and once they get to the castle it has some of the best lines in the movie.

Marvel's Avengers: Age Of Ultron..Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson)..Ph: Jay Maidment..?Marvel 2015

Marvel’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron..Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson)..Ph: Jay Maidment..?Marvel 2015

While that scene looks under choreographed, the rest of the film’s action seems carefully designed to maximize the team. The filmmakers crafted beautiful, intricate chains of destruction that are a joy for audiences. The finale is better than the generic alien fight of the first Avengers. Did anyone notice Black Widow’s comment about the view is eerily similar to Steve Buscemi’s in Armageddon? Age of Ultron also takes the time to pause on some moments of beauty.

There is some exposition about the Infinity Stones and we know that Infinity War is the big Avengers two parter. I really didn’t feel it distracted from any of the scenes in which it was mentioned. A few lines of dialogue to keep the next film in continuity are okay by Franchise Fred. I was more distracted by the romantic subplot between Bruce Banner and Black Widow. It’s not the worst age difference in a movie, but are we just okay with another one of those? Am I getting too social? I mean, maybe that’s another Hollywood trope on which Whedon is riffing too, but I don’t think so because it’s not satirized. Unless Banner turning into Hulk is his rage at ageist Hollywood stereotypes.

I loved Spader’s tone of voice as Ultron. I preferred his more primitive form to when he fixes himself up. It just had more personality when he was jittery and glitchy, but that too demonstrates the emotional flaw in his obsession with a perfect system. The messy one is more fun. Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are great additions with body language that really sells all the flashing lights around them. The Vision (Paul Bettany) is a soothing presence too.

A few other subplots go nowhere, like a particular hostage taking that is resolved without hindering the plan in the slightest. Everyone proves a vital part of not just the Avengers team, but the current film they are in. Even Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is given not only a backstory, but a chance to become my favorite Avenger.

Bonus Features: 

Marvel's Avengers: Age Of Ultron..Thor (Chris Hemsworth)..Ph: Jay Maidment..?Marvel 2015

Marvel’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron..Thor (Chris Hemsworth)..Ph: Jay Maidment..?Marvel 2015

The Disney Movies Anywhere digital edition of The Avengers: Age of Ultron includes all the DVD and Blu-ray bonus features. The deleted scenes include an extra/extended scene in Thor’s cave, if you can believe that, and I still don’t understand what’s going on there. They also explain how all the individual Marvel movies fit together, a helpful recap to jog your memory or if somehow you’re a first timer.

I found accessing the Disney Movies Anywhere bonus features easy on a laptop. Just click on the thumbnail to open the video in a window. By connecting Disney Movies Anywhere to my Vudu account I can literally watch this movie on all my devices. That includes HD version on my TV.