Sunday, September 5, 2010

With superfriends like these...

“Super Friends! Season One, Volume Two”
Review by Wayne Klein
Studio: Warner Home Video
Release Date: 7/14/10
Special Features: Trivia game
Rated: NR
---Review: Before cartoons became dark and violent in the 1970’s Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and others were part of the “Super Friends” which was the OTHER extreme—lame, weak stories highlighted by poor 70’s limited animation. The good news is that the design for the characters looks quite sharp and captures the look of the characters from the original comic books although the detail wasn’t quite there. The difficulty facing the producers and writers was creating conflict and action without violence and they had to carry “messages”, i.e., pollution is bad, conservation good. While messages are important I’ve never felt that the sole purpose of cartoons was to educate kids and have some sort of message. Message is inherent in the medium and the way the story is told. That somehow escaped the network that was facing pressure from advertisers and the FCC.
***That said the folks that grew up on the “Super Friends” will enjoy digging into the past to a simpler time but also may find themselves bored silly. Aside from the superheroes hanging out at the Hall of Justice as if it is a glorified Starbucks, occasionally dealing with the invading alien or bad guys that demonstrate no ability to reason—which makes you wonder HOW they rose to the top of the class for bad guys—you have a series that would have been ripe for parody on an animated version of “Mystery Science Theater 3000”.
---Image & Sound: Bright, colorful and surprisingly good looking for a nearly 40 year old TV show. Detail is dicey at time but overall decent. There are the occasional artifacts such as edge enhancement but overall the show looks pretty decent.
***Audio sounds quite good with the mono highlighting the dialogue (and, of course, the nicely intoned voiceover by the late actor Ted Knight) which is how it should be.
---Special Features: Extras? We have the SUPER FRIENDS we don’t need any extras. OK, well, we do get a trivia game for a truly trivial show from the 70’s. Seriously, there are other animated shows that deserve to come to DVD ahead of “Super Friends” (which amazingly ran for 7 years despite the increasing indifference by its aging audience) and WHY they haven’t come out ahead of this is beyond me.
---Final Words: If you’re part of the increasingly small crowd that remembers this show fondly, you’ll find that memory quickly brought into the cold light of reality; “Super Friends!” was hardly entertaining and really was no more than a glorified babysitter for parents that wanted to sleep in on Saturdays.

Classic Altman film finally arrives on DVD

“Brewster McCloud”
Review by Wayne Klein
Studio: Warner Archive Home Video
Release Date: 7/14/10
Special Features: Trailer
Rated: PG
---Review: There truly was nothing in Robert Altman’s previous films to prepare one for “Brewster McCloud”. After the success of “M*A*S*H” Altman was given the keys to the store and allowed to do whatever project he wanted to do. Altman’s film about a boy who lives in the Houston Astrodome and longs to fly was a box office disaster earning either scathing or puzzled reviews but little appreciation by anyone. It features all the hallmarks of an Altman film from the overlapping dialog to the often off-beat humor that filtered through even into his most serious projects.
***McCloud (Bud Cort of “Harold and Maude”)spends his days working on a set of wings that will allow him to escape the world. His guardian Louise (Sally Kellerman) wants Brewster to succeed keeping a close tab on the young man. A subplot involves a police officer Frank Shaft (Michael Murphy) as he tracks a serial killer. Brewster finds himself distracted by a young tour guide (Shelly Duvall)as he struggles to complete his dream project.
***Written by Dora William Canon who also wrote Otto Preminger’s odd film “Skidoo” and penned a acclaimed TV adaptation of “Brave New World”, “Brewster McCloud” remains amusing and the strangest thing directed by Altman. Unfortunately, Canon’s career petered out in 1980 a quarter century before her death in 2005. It’s clear that some of the quirky nature of the film came directly from the writer and other elements from Altman and his cast improvising on the set. Either way, this is an oddly enjoyable film that still has plenty of Altman in it.
---Image & Sound: As with all of the Warner Archive releases very little beyond trying to find a clean pristine copy of the film was done to restore “Brewster McCloud”. The film looks solid if not spectacular. Detail is good if and image quality varies a bit from soft to fairly sharp. Depth isn’t as good as it could be but, again, considering the age of the film it’s a solid if unspectacular presentation.
***The mono audio track is decent as well.
Special Features: It’s a pity that Warner sat on this for so long as since this was a favorite of Altman’s he might have participated in some special materials for a special release with him gone, it would have been nice if Warner had put together a deluxe edition. I realize that this film would have cult appeal but, perhaps, after this Warner could license this out to a small house that could assemble some outtakes (if they exist) and a retrospective featurette with Kellerman, Duvall and Cort. All we do get is a trailer.
---Final Words: A cult classic “Brewster McCloud” finally arrives on a decent looking DVD-R from Warner Archive. It’s a solid looking DVD but it could be better. That shouldn’t prevent you from getting this because I doubt we’ll see a better re-release immediately.

Welcome to retromovies at retroactivemovies

“Hamlet” (1996) Blu-ray
Genre: Drama
Review by Wayne Klein
Studio: Warner Home Video
Release Date: 08/17/10
Special Features: Commentary track, featurettes, theatrical trailer
Rating: PG-13
---Review: The play’s the thing quite literally in Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s tale of murder set within the royal court of Denmark. Hamlet (Branagh) suspects that his uncle Claudius (Derek Jacobi) murdered his father the King of Denmark in order to wed Hamlet’s mother (Julie Christie) and ascend to the throne. When the ghost of his father (Brian Blessed) appears Hamlet is convinced he must expose his step-father/uncle for his duplicity. His mother worries about Hamlet’s behavior believing that he has gone mad (“I am but mad north - north-west” a nonexistent heading providing the title for a classic Hitchcock film and also cluing us in that Hamlet is ANYTHING but mad). Hamlet schemes to use a traveling group of actors (led by the late Charlton Heston) to put on a play portraying the murder of his mother and plans on watching Claudius’ reaction. Unknown to Hamlet Claudius who suspects has plans of his own for his nephew.
The best and most complete film version of Shakespeare’s plan receives the most imaginative and colorful (and cinematic) presentation ever. Making director Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 imaginative version seem like a pale shadow of THIS version. Even Lawrence Olivier’s 1948 version pales in comparison with Branagh’s ambitious interpretation where he visually interpolates elements implied in the original and revised portfolios of the play neatly providing us with a subplot that adds tension to already rich plot. Branagh often transposes lines of dialog to compliment other scenes adding subtext and enriching the work of the Bard as only an exceptional director can. If you add in the brilliant visual interpretation of the play (where Branagh moves the action up to the early 18th century allowing the brilliant production designs by Tim Harvey and cinematography of Alex Thomson to shine, you have a deeply ambitious cinematic work that manages to stay true to the original roots of the play AND become a cinematic masterpiece.
---Image & Sound: A rich, colorful film “Hamlet” provides a stark contrast between text and subtext of the play with its varied, intricate look and what is occurs in the film itself. The transfer looks sharp with a nicely rendered transfer the film. The presentation isn’t flawless however as the bit rate is relatively low (with all 244 minutes of the film plus extras crammed on to one dual layered Blu-ray disc) resulting instances where detail isn’t quite as good as it could be in some darker scenes. There’s also the issue of the pink hue to faces throughout of the film. I recall the skin tone being a bit more natural in the theatrical presentation I saw years ago. Truly the film should have been presented over two discs to capture the rich look of the film. One of the few films shot in Great Britain in 70 millimeter in the late 20th century, this blu-ray edition looks good but could have looked brilliant. I would have gladly traded the book-style presentation of the film (with some nice stills included) for a two discs special edition with the film broken up over two discs.
***That said the film doesn’t suffer from the overuse of DNR I was afraid of when I first heard that this was going to come to Blu-ray. So while the film doesn’t get its definitive presentation here, it looks good if not exceptional.

***Audio is equally impressive with an immersive 5.1 mix. Although NOT an action film Branagh actively and imaginatively uses the sound to convey the tension in the court. The lossless presentation sounds marvelous with dialog up front when it needs to be.
--- Special Features: Director/star Branagh and Shakespeare expert Russel Jackson (who worked as a consultant on the film)appear on the commentary track ported over from the 2007 DVD presentation. The two discuss everything from the framing of shots, shooting conditions to the editing of the film. We learn quite a bit of trivia about the play as well and the history of various versions through the years in addition to the production here.
***“To Be On Camera: A History of Hamlet” gives us a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the production which gives us information on everything from the casting (and the decision to put American actors such as Billy Crystal, Robin Williams and Jack Lemmon in the production with the British actors) to why Branagh felt he needed to adapt the entire 4 hour version of the play.
***We also get an “Introduction by Kenneth Branagh” and we get a vintage promo from the Cannes premiere that is carried over from the 2007 edition of the film plus the theatrical trailer (the latter two presented in standard definition). While there wasn’t an effort to add material for this Blu-ray edition (it might have been interesting to include alternate versions of various scenes for example), the whole package is quite nice.---Final Words: A brilliant, outstanding achievement, Branagh’s “Hamlet” remains true to the Bard but transcends its stage-bound origin making it a brilliant film that outpaces every other film version done to date. Although one could argue with some of the casting (and the inconsistent accents due to the mix of American, French and British actors), the overall impact of the play, the brilliant cinematography and the sharp direction (and performances) make this truly the ultimate (and best) version of Shakespeare’s classic work. Highly recommended.