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DVD REVIEW: Phineas & Ferb Mission Marvel
Blog, TV
Posted on Oct 11 2013 by Greg

This double-episode length mash-up, the first between a Disney property and Marvel since the Disney purchase of Marvel, of course got lots of buzz when it was announced as a Disney Channel special episode of the an animated series that not only deserves its praise and popularity, it has not allowed success to spoil it.

Because of the Phineas & Ferb premise, literally anything can happen during its perpetual “summer vacation,” so an out-of-nowhere encounter with Marvel characters doesn’t have to be over-explained with a dream sequence or other device.

It’s neat to see how the Marvel heroes, which have the advantage of inherent sly humor on their own and thus don’t need to be “sent up,” work with Phineas, Ferb, Candace and the gang, swapping powers and pretty much doing everything the talented writers could come up with.

The heroes appearing are: Iron Man (voice of Adrian Pasdar); Spider-Man (Drake Bell); Nick Fury (Chi McBride); Thor (Travis Willingham) and Jerry Mathers as The Hulk (just kidding—he’s voiced by Fred Tatasciore.

The comedy gold of the whole show is the very funny interplay between Dr. Doofensmirtz and the Marvel villain, who, unlike the heroes, take themselves very seriously and therefore cry out to be made fun of. I laughed out loud at the musical number, “My Evil Buddies and I.”

The villains who romp and frolic with Doofensmirtz are Venom (Danny Trejo); Red Skull (Liam O’Brien); M.O.D.O.K. (Charlie Adler); and Whiplash (Peter Stormaire). Yes, Stan Lee’s in there, too, as per tradition.

I would have loved a nice audio commentary on this disc or perhaps a short doc about how it was done but there are, instead, these episodes included as bonus features (wouldn’t it be nice if they released a full season?):

• Fly on the Wall
• Sidetracked
• Primal Perry
• Backyard Hodge Podge
• Knot My Problem
• Mind Share

In addition, the package includes a comic book and a poster, so it's a fine value for the P&F and Marvel fan.

DVD REVIEW: Iron Man 3
Blog, Movies
Posted on Oct 04 2013 by Greg
Before we attend to details about the movie itself, I want to draw your attention to an item I spotted in the lab scene (6:17). When Tony asks for the Christmas music to begin, there's a quick shot of the record player. Nearby, there's a red album cover on the table.

This vinyl gem is A Charlie Brown Christmas, the read-along storybook and record album with dialogue from the sound track. It was released in the late '70s on the "Charlie Brown Records" label, a division of Disneyland/Vista Records. You won't see this factoid anywhere else, nor should you. Apparently talented visionary genius types like Tony Stark like Peanuts -- and cool cartoon records.


Anyway, I wish the entire film was such a delightful surprise. Iron Man 3 was certainly entertaining in the current superspetacular movie-as-theme-park-ride way, but there are some serious story flaws that I suspect sprang from whoever forced the filmmakers to add the "twist" of the Mandarin being an actor.

I do not object to the idea as a comic book fan as so many have, but because you can tell that the rest of the film seems to have been reconfigured to make this micro-managed plot splotch work.

It may be a guess, but if the film were not reconfigured, that would make the two years of work by the entire cast and crew seem less than what they are clearly capable of. The film works so well up until the scene in which the fake Mandarin is revealed, I cannot believe that such an experienced, accomplished team did this by design.

Something's fishy, no matter how much the director and screenwriter valiantly try to make excuses for the situation on the otherwise fascinating audio commentary (which reveals more about the personalities of the duo than the film).

Robert Downey, Jr. is the heart and soul of the film, optimizing both the dramatic and comic aspects. The Pepper character is just as strong, caring and competent as ever, though her sports bra superpower moments also seem added -- Pepper was plenty strong already folks, without supplements.

The special effects are of course, top of the line, especially in the home destruction scene. What is truly remarkable is the nail-biting aerial rescue as the people plummet through the sky. This is what makes this kind of film great. Yet, the climactic battle scene is just one explosion after another, with as many Iron Man suits as they could fit into the scenes -- again, seeming to come from someone saying, "Let's cram in a lot of suits? That'll make it better!"

Again, I have to wonder if the climactic battle was always between Tony and Killian. Guy Pearce is a superb actor in the right role, but he doesn't come across as the "real" Mandarin. He's much better as the smarmy, creepy toady of the real boss (as he was in Bedtime Stories). No matter how things burst into flames and explode, Pearce as a super villain never gets very scary, just very very moussed and veiny.

I sure hope that in the next Avengers movie, Sub Mariner finds the Iron Man chest thingy that Tony threw into the ocean at the end. We need an Iron Man 4. This film made enough money to finance it. Let's hope this is not the last time we see Downey don the suit.

Bonus Features:
• Audio Commentary

• Marvel One Shot: Agent Carter
• Iron Man 3 – Unmasked

• Deconstructing the Scene – Attack on Air Force One
• Behind the Scenes Look – Thor – The Dark World
• Deleted and Extended Scenes

• Gag Reel

DVD REVIEW: Hanna-Barbera's Captain Caveman and The Teen Angels
Blog, TV
Posted on Oct 01 2013 by Greg

Another very popular late '70s Saturday morning cartoon has just reached DVD through Warner Archive and, depending on your attachment to childhood memories, is either a reason for celebration or for an "Ugh." Actually, either way, it still adds up to an "Ugh," flawlessly performed by the great Mel Blanc himself, in one of his last leading cartoon character roles.

Wouldn't it have been weird to be at the network pitch for Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels? "Okay, there's this caveman guy, but he's a super hero that's been trapped in ice for about 2 million years until these shapely young detectives, who happen to be exploring the frozen north in their miniskirts, discover him and he helps them solve mysteries...

"No, it's not another Scooby Doo. Not exactly. It's like Charlie's Angels but with a hairy caveman instead of David Doyle...

"Let me put it another way..."

In 1977, Charlie's Angels was all the rage, along with disco music and Star Wars. Hanna-Barbera worked both into several cartoons of the era, including another series you may think you dreamed but really happened called Casper and the Angels (which I kind of liked anyway). Even Yogi Bear eventually flew into the galaxy and visited floating space discos. (You didn't dream that, either.)

Captain Caveman looks like one of the Slag Brothers from Wacky Races and must have been the most fun element of the show to animate. Being composed of lines and scribbles, he was the seven dwarfs to the more naturalistic Teen Angels, who presented more of an animation challenge, as with Snow White (this may be the first time Captain Caveman has been compared to Snow White.)

Therefore, sometimes the Teen Angels look wonderful, striking the poses on the model sheets at one moment, but look awkward the next. Such is the result of breakneck production speed at limited budgets, especially when you consider that Captain Caveman was a ten-minute segment sandwiched into the two-hour Scooby's All-Star Laff-A-Lympics.

In its premiere year, the two-hour block contained a segment of Laff-A-Lympics, a Scooby Dooadventure, a Captain Caveman and another Laff-A-Lympics. The Scooby segments have been released as the "lost" third season. You can even find pretty much all of the Laff-A-Lympics on various DVDs, and can re-create your Saturday morning paradise. I would suggest frying some bacon to make it a multi-sensory experience.

A few more Captain Caveman shorts were made for the second season, retitled Scooby's All-Stars.You could also root for Cavey and the Angels as competitors on the "Scoobie-Doobies" team in the Laff-A-Lympics segments. In Spring 1980, the Captain got his own half hour. The DVD set pairs two stories into 20 half-hours; 40 total cartoons. This is likely the way the series was packaged for syndication and cable.

Clearly this was a satisfactory, if not phenomenal, success for Hanna-Barbera and ABC. A board game, coloring books, comics and other merchandise graced the store shelves. I even have a card game that features Cavey, Taffy, Brenda and Dee Dee.

The three Angels don't get much time to develop character aspects in the short episodes. The premise itself, in HB tradition, is spelled out during the theme song in 30 seconds by none other than Gary Owens. Like Charlie's Angels, there is a "smart one" in this trio - that would be Dee Dee. (Remember the wonderful Vernee Watson? I recall seeing her as the Bachlorette on The Dating Game!) Brenda comes up with wacky plans and schemes and is voiced by Marilyn Schreffler, who also played Olive Oyl around this time. Taffy (Laurel Page) flirts with Cavey to get him to do brave deeds.

Cavey yells his name a lot. I would imagine millions of kids did, too, though Blanc's performance of the yell is clearly the same one used over and over. Also used a lot is a transition device with a window and other things flying at the camera. Because of the brevity of each story, they all start with a Teen Angel exposition line: "Well, here we are on a Mississippi Riverboat!" "Golly, it's groovy to be here in New York City!" It is recommended that a few Captain Caveman episodes be savored at a time, instead of binge viewing, because of these patterns.

There is no real theme song, just some of the background music with Owens, telling us how hilarious and sometimes scary it's going to be. The first and second season end titles, at least on the DVD set, come from the tail end of Laff-A-Lympics and look like the type was laid over that spin art some of us used to make at the carnival.

The third season end titles have a country sound to them with different credits. There are some fun stories in the mix, including one that finds the Teen Angels back in time to meet Cavey's parents. Unlike Scooby Doo mysteries, which are always supernatural in theme, the stories here are also about jewel robberies and smuggling rings without as many of those disguised ghosts that can inexplicably fly through the air and pick up solid objects even though they turn out to be 16mm films with crude little sound systems.

Zoinks, I'm getting nostalgic. Excuse me now while I fry up some bacon.


SEASON ONE (Segments of Scooby's All-Star Laff-A-Lympics)

1.              The Kooky Case of the Cryptic Keys - September 10, 1977

2.              The Mixed-Up Mystery of Deadman's Reef - September 17, 1977

3.              What a Flight for a Fright - September 24, 1977

4.              The Creepy Case of the Creaky Charter Boat - October 1, 1977

5.              Big Scare in the Big Top - October 8, 1977

6.              Double Dribble Riddle - October 15, 1977

7.              The Crazy Case of the Tell-Tale Tape - October 22, 1977

8.              The Creepy Claw Caper - October 29, 1977

9.              Cavey and the Kabuta Clue - November 5, 1977

10.           Cavey and the Weirdo Wolfman - November 12, 1977

11.           The Disappearing Elephant Mystery - November 19, 1977

12.           The Fur Freight Fright - November 26, 1977

13.           Ride 'Em Caveman - December 3, 1977

14.           The Strange Case of the Creature from Space - December 10, 1977

15.           The Mystery Mansion Mix-Up - December 17, 1977

16.           Playing Footsie with Bigfoot - December 24, 1977

SEASON TWO (Segments of Scooby's All-Stars)

17.           Disco Cavey - September 9, 1978

18.           Muscle-Bound Cavey - September 16, 1978

19.           Cavey's Crazy Car Caper - September 23, 1978

20.           Cavey's Mexicali 500 - September 30, 1978

21.           Wild West Cavey - October 7, 1978

22.           Cavey's Winter Carnival Caper - October 14, 1978

23.           Cavey's Fashion Fiasco - October 21, 1978

24.           Caveys Missing Missile Miss-tery - October 28, 1978

SEASON THREE (Stand-Alone Half Hour Show)

25.           The Scarifying Seaweed Secret - March 8, 1980

26.           The Dummy - March 15, 1980

27.           Cavey and the Volcanic Villain - March 22, 1980

28.           Prehistoric Panic - March 29, 1980

29.           Cavey and the Baffling Buffalo Man - April 5, 1980

30.           Dragonhead - April 12, 1980

31.           Cavey and the Murky Mississippi Mystery - April 19, 1980

32.           Old Cavey in New York - April 26, 1980

33.           Cavey and the Albino Rhino - May 3, 1980

34.           Kentucky Cavey - May 10, 1980

35.           Cavey Goes to College - May 18, 1980

36.           The Haunting of Hog Hollow - May 24, 1980

37.           The Legend of Devil's Run - May 31, 1980

38.           The Mystery of the Meandering Mummy - June 7, 1980

39.           The Old Caveman and the Sea - June 14, 1980

40.           Lights, Camera... Cavey! - June 21, 1980

Voices Include Mel Blanc, Vernee Watson, Marilyn Schreffler, John Stephenson, Lennie Weinrib, Casey Kasem and Virginia Gregg
Created by Joe Ruby and Ken Spears
Directed by Charles A. Nichols, Ray Patterson and Carl Urbano

DVD REVIEW: The Legend of Korra, Book One
Blog, TV
Posted on Sep 24 2013 by Greg

It's kind of nice that The Legend of Korra breaks its seasons out as "books," because that really describes the way the series unfolds. It also points up how a TV series, when done well, can do something even the most spectacular, multi-million-dollar, star-studded tent pole movie cannot do.

TV series can take advantage of serialization. There is no way that all of the story arcs, character arcs and "small" moments could fit into even an overlong big screen epic. It's an advantage that the creative team relishes. These characters grow, change and - most importantly - stop and think. An action series sometimes is best judged on what happens between the arena games, battles and explosions. If you can't get invested in the stakes involved and the character's issues, it can become a cacophonous video arcade.

The series, created and executive produced by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, is a paean to anime, though it's production originates in the U.S. Because of that, the voice work is done before the animation and you get to watch the lips movement synch to the words, rather then being crafted to fit after the fact.

Judging from the DVD audio commentaries, the voice actors are having a ball with their meaty roles. Janet Varney sounds sincerely elated at the opportunity to play Korra and work alongside actors she has long admired.

And clearly, Konietzko and DiMartino work hard to see their vision through. They even mention being challenged about the whole idea of Korra being female and whether quiet, pensive music should be used in a specific battle scene.

"One of the biggest inspirations for the entire Avatar universe was the work of Hayao Miyazaki," said Bryan Konietzko on the commentary of the first episode. "I just remember at a time in my career when I was particularly disenchanted with working on American animated sitcoms which, you know, obviously millions of people love. Just as an artist, it really didn't speak to me and the kind of stuff I wanted to put out there in the world. It was usually just really sarcastic, insincere, mostly parodies and things and I just wanted to make something really earnest and kind of heartfelt and sincere. 

"So when I saw Princess Mononoke, it was like, there are really no clear-cut good guys and bad guys. It was just people with conflicting agendas, interests and philosophies. [Miyazaki] set up the villain, but then you realize that she's just taking care of these lepers and what not.

"It's not the first time I'd seen a story like that but it hit me at a time in my career when I needed to see that. That's the kind of stuff that really resonates with me. The older you get you realize that there really are no absolutes, most of life is just this grey area. It's not 'good versus evil,' kids. the only 'good versus evil' is inside of you."

DVD REVIEW: The Legend of Smurfy Hollow
Blog, TV
Posted on Sep 18 2013 by Greg

Who would have thought that the years-long discourse about the relative positives and negatives between CG and traditional animation would be so sharply delineated by The Smurfs? Scoff not - check out this new DVD.

On the surface, Sony Pictures Animation The Legend of Smurfy Hollow is a half hour Halloween special (actually 22 minutes). The basic story - fitting neatly into its brief duration rather than being padded for an hour or for feature length - finds Narrator Smurf telling a scary story to Hefty, Panicky and Clumsy.

The story is based loosely on Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, only this time, Brainy Smurf’s chances of winning a Smurf berry competition is being threatened by kilt-rocking Gutsy Smurf.

In "Brom Bones" fashion, Gutsy does the same thing Scooby-Doo villains do to get the berries. What follows must have been, at least in part, inspired by the Disney version of Sleepy Hollow, with a visual tribute to the climactic scene.

Almost all the Smurf voices are performed by the same actors as in the feature film. In addition to Alan Cumming (The Good Wife) as Gutsy, Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live) reprises his role as Brainy, as do Tom Kane (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) as Narrator, Anton Yelchin as Clumsy, John Oliver (The Daily Show) as Vanity, Gary Basaraba (Mad Men) as Hefty, Adam Wylie (Peter Pan on Jake and the Never Land Pirates) as Panicky and Frank Welker (Garfield and almost everything else) as Azreal. Hank Azaria, who appeared on screen as Gargamel in the two Smurf movies, provides his voice in Smurfy Hollow.

Papa Smurf is voiced by Jack Angel (Toy Story 3) rather than the late Jonathan Winters, who played the character in the features. Melissa Sturm (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2) voices Smurfette instead of Katy Perry. Both actors did the same in the direct-to-video A Smurfs Christmas Carol).

What can be perceived as having an undeniable impact, especially to animation buffs, is the radically juxtaposed animation transition. There have been CG films with cel-animated segments (more commonly CG made to look like cel). Rankin/Bass has even included some cel animation in their stop-motion specials, like Rudolph’s Shiny New Year. I just can't remember ever seeing what amounts to a side-by-side comparison within the same production. Maybe it’s because "CG vs. traditional animation" is still such a lively discussion topic.

The CG animation in the bookend sequences certainly looks as rich and detailed as they did in the last Smurf feature (and most likely were made from elements carried over from that production into this one). These segments are dimensional and seem to be the “real world,” as it were. 

But when the cel-animation bursts onto the high-def screen, it has a luminescence that reminds you why this technique is unique unto itself. The blazing primary color, stunning backgrounds and varied angles seem to be "making a case" for traditional animation. It's unlikely that this comparison was not the intent. And it doesn’t necessarily suggest one approach is better than another, just that they are dramatically different.

The CG was done by Sony Pictures Imageworks; the cel animation was made domestically by Duck Studios (with such artists as Tony Bancroft and Phil Nibblelink), with additional cel animation produced in Spain by The Sergio Pablos Animation Studios (aka The SPA Studios, formerly Animagic). The hand-drawn line textures lack the variances of Peyo's artwork (and to a degree, Hanna-Barbera's), but the fluid movement and character draftsmanship are consistent throughout, unlike those in many made-for-video films. 

The disc is low priced, and has no bonus features - just trailers for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (coming to theaters), Hotel Transylvania (already released on Blu-ray and DVD) and The Swan Princess: A Royal Family Tale (a future CG direct-to-video feature).

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