Blu-ray: The CW Superhero Universe – ‘Arrow,’ ‘Flash,’ ‘Legends,’ and ‘Supergirl’

Part of the fun of the 21st century superhero shows is the effort put into worldbuilding. Not just the cast of characters but the entire ecosystem of the city, the attitudes towards heroes and villains from the civilians, and histories that hold sway over

The fun of the CW superhero shows—ArrowThe FlashDC’s Legends of Tomorrow, and (as of season two) Supergirl—is the way they’ve worked them into the same universe (or at least connected universes, in the case of Supergirl). You could say the same of the Marvel shows on Netflix, which exist in a tight, decidedly earthbound and mortal world confined almost entirely to New York City. They have a focus, more like a series of graphic novels in a shared universe, and their all-at-once release pattern emphasizes that unity. The CW shows, for better or worse, are more like monthly comic books, with stand-alone episodes like individual issues as well as ongoing story arcs and crossovers with sister series. They are looser, with more digressions, which can also mean more opportunities to play with the possibilities. And because they all roll out concurrently, they offer a possibility right out of the comic book world: stories crossing over from one series to another. This season offered a story that brought all four shows together.

The 2016-2107 seasons of all four shows are now available on DVD and Blu-ray (they were staggered over the past couple of weeks). One note that is applicable to all four shows: these set do not feature the episodes from the sister shows of the crossover stories so you’ll need all four sets to see the full story (though to be fair the Supergirl episodes offer little more than a few minutes of set-up for their portions of the stories). What each set does include is a featurette on the big crossover event (each one focused on the show’s POV).

Warner Home Video

The Flash: The Complete Third Season(Warner) of the most family friendly of the prime-time superhero show on TV opens with Barry Allen / The Flash (Grant Gustin) facing repercussions from his decision to save his mother’s life by changing history and his attempts to repair the results in a world bearing the scars of his actions. his girlfriend Iris (Candice Patton) is no longer speaking to her father Joe (Jesse L. Martin), Cisco (Carlos Valdes) holds a grudge against him, he’s working with a senior forensics scientist, Julian (Tom Felton, of the Harry Potter movies), who dislikes him, and he’s hunted by a new villain named Savitar. Meanwhile, Joe’s son Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale) develops speed powers and is mentored by Barry to become Kid Flash, and Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) struggles against the villainous Killer Frost taking over her identity. You know, comic book melodrama.

Continue reading at Stream On Demand

Blu-ray/DVD: ‘The Man for U.N.C.L.E.’ revived and ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” extended

ManFromUncleThe Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD), Guy Ritchie’s big screen revival of the sixties secret agent series, is an origin story of sorts—think “When Napoleon met Illya”—with the two agents in a wary partnership. Otherwise it doesn’t bother much with backstories or motivations beyond setting the scene, which in this case is Europe in the cold war culture of the 1960s, from the ominous night behind the Iron Curtain to the sunny playground of the Mediterranean

Henry Cavill, who was a stiff as Superman, is quite charming in a cocky, calculating way as Napoleon Solo, a former thief pressed into service as America’s best dressed agent. His mission is to get Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), an East German mechanic whose uncle happens to be a literal rocket scientist, over the wall to help stop some vague master criminal plot to unleash a nuclear bomb. Armie Hammer, dressed in funky proletariat chic so retro it’s cool, is stony Soviet agent Illya Kuryakin, who is after the same girl. So the rival nations decide to pair up their favorite cold warriors to stop the new international criminal threat, leading to a picture-postcard globe-hopping tour and a funky fashion show of sixties style. Oh yes, there’s also Hugh Grant getting in on the fun with his bemused dry wit. It won’t take fans of the TV show long to figure out his place in the scheme of things.

The plot is disposable at best —there’s an elegant mastermind (Elizabeth Debicki) who lives in the decadence of sleek sixties modernism with plans to destabilize the world for fun and profit—but Ritchie goes all out in reviving the Cold War sixties spy movie style and attitude, recalling Connery’s Bond movie with tongue firmly in cheek. The rival agents keep up their macho competitiveness and Vikander’s Gaby rolls her eyes at their juvenile antics, but in between we get elaborate set-pieces: foot chases and car races and physical stunts with real humans and physical objects rather than the manipulated pixels of CGI. Ritchie directs with an affection for sixties gimmickry both in terms of spy technology and filmmaking flourishes, splashing the film with multi-panel split screens (done digitally but evoking optical effects), zooms and whip pans, and the kind of splashy color that reminds us it’s all a fantasy.

It wasn’t particularly well-reviewed upon release and was not a summer hit—don’t expect a franchise to follow—but I found it refreshing and fun. Especially for a film where our two heroes are revealed to be borderline psychotics who have found their true calling in national service.

Blu-ray and DVD, with the supplements on the Blu-ray only: with five short featurettes and one collection of micro-featurettes, fun but a little slim for such a big production. The longest of the supplements—”Spy Vision: Recreating 60’s Cool” on designing the film and “A Higher Class of Hero” on creating the action sequences—are under 10 minutes apiece and the rest under five minutes each: a piece on the creator of the motorcycles in the film and portraits of the two stars and the director. “U.N.C.L.E.: On-Set Spy” collects four little pieces that run just over a minute apiece. Also includes bonus DVD and Ultraviolet HD copies of the film.

HobbitBattleThe Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies – Extended Edition (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD), the final chapter in Peter Jackson’s epically-expanded adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s adventure fantasy, once again offer a longer version of his theatrical film for the home video experience. Opening with the death of Smaug the dragon and concluding with a battle that takes up about half of the film’s running time, this is the darkest of the films. It turns on the transformation of dwarf leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) under the spell of the treasure and delivers The Battle of the Five Armies, an event only sketched out by Tolkien in the novel. Jackson turns the battle into the biggest set piece he’s ever made, showing off his flair for spectacle on a mammoth scale and his gift for creating clarity in sprawling action scenes with multiple stories and central characters to keep track of.

I’m still not thrilled with the ret-con job on the classic story but this chapter is the best of the three, more focused on a central narrative spine to build the spectacle upon and featuring a solid foundation of character and conflict. It also benefits from the extended edition, which adds 20 minutes to the running time, most of it extended conversations and character scenes.

As with his previous five Tolkien films, Jackson saved his grand menu of supplements for the “Extended Edition,” a deluxe three-disc set on Blu-ray and five-disc set for the Blu-ray 3D and DVD editions. There’s commentary by filmmaker Peter Jackson and co-writer/co-producer Philippa Boyens and “New Zealand: Home to Middle-Earth Part 3” on disc one, and nearly ten hours of documentaries on the bonus discs. “The Gathering Storm: The Chronicles of the Hobbit Part 3” is a making-of documentary that runs just short of five hours and “Here at Journey’s End” (aka “The Appendices Part 12”) goes into detail on aspects of the production and pulls out to see the film in the context of the entire Tolkien story told in the six films. If you’ve seen any of the previous “Appendices” you know the kind of access and depth these productions have. A couple of bonus supplements fills out the final disc.

Videophiled: Battling ‘The Hobbit’

Warner Home Video

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Warner, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, VOD), the third and final installment of Peter Jackson’s supersized take on J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy, opens with a spectacular dragon attack on Laketown and tops it with a battle that nearly dwarfs the Middle Earth-shattering war Lord of the Rings trilogy (pun intended). It’s Elf and Man against Dwarf, but for the Orcs it’s personal. Which, as any fan of the original novel “The Hobbit” will tell you, pretty much misses the point of the story. But then Jackson isn’t interested in a faithful interpretation of Tolkien’s novel as much as backfilling a prequel story to The Lord of the Rings, transforming the novel’s story of legacy and destiny warped into greed and hubris, a grand fantasy adventure with dragons and trolls and Shakespearean dimensions, into the initial stirrings of the evil Sauron and a war that will engulf the world and all the races.

That pretty much sidelines Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the ostensible hero of the tale, while redirecting the focus to characters who never appeared in the original novel or in Tolkien’s universe at all, namely the above-mentioned Orcs with a grudge against Thorin (Richard Armitage), the Dwarf who would be king. The final half of the film, which is already the third film in the telling, is an enormous battle and, yes, it is impressive as a physical thing. It’s also exhausting and overdone, with two Orc villains who prove comically unkillable. These guys are fiercer than the next generation Orc-Goblin hybrids that Sauroman breeds in Lord of the Rings.

Those caveats aside, it’s an exciting film with a grand sense of scale and sweep and a sure sense of weaving together multiple stories in the climactic battle. Jackson is quite adept at these things and he keeps the stories straight and the momentum up. What he misses is the heart of Tolkien’s tale. For that, we just may need to wait for someone to edit this story down rather than expand it even more.

It’s released in multiple formats. All of the disc editions offer five short featurettes, all 12-minutes or under: “New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth Part 3,” “Recruiting the Five Armies,” “Completing Middle-earth: A Six-Part Saga,” “Completing Middle-earth: A Seventeen-Year Journey,” and “The Last Goodbye: Behind the Scenes,” plus a music video. This is the same version that played in the theaters but come Christmas you can count on an even longer version from Jackson, with commentary and feature-length documentaries.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Videophiled Collection: ‘Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection’

Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection (Warner, Blu-ray) – There are no remastered editions or new-to-Blu-ray discs in this box set of eight Kubrick classics, from the 1962 Lolita to his final film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999), but this ten-disc set does include the previously-released supplements on each film plus it features two new-to-disc documentaries and one new-to-Blu-ray featurette, along with a lovely 78-page book of stills, storyboards, production art, script pages, and other production paraphernalia from the featured films. Which makes it, if not exactly essential (if you’ve already invested in past Kubrick box sets), at least a terrific cinephile gift set. Here’s the skinny on the films and the extras, which is currently available as an Amazon Exclusive.

Warner Home Video

You have to admire the audacity of Kubrick to adapt Lolita (1962), Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel of a middle-aged man’s obsession with a young teenage girl in the age of pre-ratings censorship. (The ad campaign turned that into a selling point, with the tag line: “Can you believe they made a movie of Lolita?”) Kubrick and Nabokov (who adapted is own novel) raised the age of the grade school “temptress” and left most of the seduction to suggestion, and still made a more provocative and sensitive film than the 1997 remake. James Mason is almost pathetic as the repressed author Humbert Humbert who continues to justify his infatuation with teenage Lolita, yet he’s never less than human. Sue Lyon is Lolita, Shelley Winters her blowsy mother and Peter Sellers (soon to be cast by Kubrick in multiple roles in Dr. Strangelove) is the creepy Clare Quilty.

Continue reading at Cinephiled