IR DVD Review: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS – Part I [Warner Home Video]

Approaching and trying to compare Frank Miller’s late 1980s dystopian opus “The Dark Knight Returns” to the new animated perception of it requires a degree of separation. Miller’s perception of a darker view of the older, worn-down exploits of Gotham’s crime fighter can be reflected at times in “The Dark Knight Rises”. In adapting this noir progression, the director and animators do an effective job of respecting the source material and the dark color schemes. “TDKR” was always a difficult property to adapt because of the age of its lead character but also the general myopic view of the state of society. Most of the graphic novel works from the access of how the news media sees how these ideals in the world function. Oddly enough, what Frank Miller envisioned in 1986 is much more prevalent today than it ever was because of the internet and cable television. While The Mutants (including their grandly fat leader — who has more than a passing mixture of DeVito’s Penguin and Tom Hardy’s Bane), there is something less human and more lethal about them especially with his physical form (like the Clown from “IT”). The story has a built-in cliffhanger which probably intersperses itself from the books. This is the crux of the waking of Joker out of a coma in Arkham Asylum which is nicely played within the final moments without overarching what it means. The intermittance of a new female Robin actually plays more into the texture of today even more so than in the 80s when it was written. The use of incessant incantations of blood also in a more realistic setting does set the progression aside because it feels more grounded. The small featurette on the disc points to the next installment with a little bit of animation as well as concept drawings which seem to keep it in texture. The inclusion of a promo for a dark Batman/Superman animated film where they are hunted down like villains keeps in the track of the general tones of the DVD. The presentation of “The Dark Knight Returns – Part I” is bare bones but understands necessity and the point of the track without overdoing it.

B

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IR DVD Review: KING OF THORN [Funimation]

The intention of another plague like the one in the Middle Ages seems like a given at some point in modern life. The key is how does one fight against this kind of knowledge versus what we are able to control. “King Of Thorn” attacks this idea with an old world resonance, using mythology against us. The “Medousa” virus is born out of that legend of the woman/lizard who turned men to stone with a glance. The same element rules here with an incubation period of 60 days which is 100% fatal. Creating a Noah’s Ark type scenario, a scientist brings together a way to stop the virus until a cure can be found. The set up is wonderfully clever despite many holes along the way. The director interview on the extras would have one believe that everything is tied in together (which might be true) but the reality is that there is a lack of clarity on first viewing. The visuals and labyrinth approach in terms of structure are quite interesting but, not unlike the new “Dredd”, it suffers as well from the “just-get-out” problem. The reality is that the timeline and the basis of two twins becoming the catalyst for dreams (or video games) coming to life just doesn’t connect. The back story which involves the lead scientist and CEO finding an alien that was created by a little girl in Siberia by her mind tries to recount “Hellboy” but again without a truly specific through line. Even the intrigue behind the scenes with both the planted engineer as well as the soldier/spy sent in to protect the “experiment” seem a little far fetched. The influences from “Resident Evil” and beyond are apparent. The narrative is a bit clearer in the English dub but only based on the precedent of differences in accents and backgrounds in the character which for English speaking audiences cannot ascertain in the original Japanese dialogue. The eventual revelation of the two sisters as well as the connection to the computer/spirit of Alice has possibility but is not truly flushed out. The Q&A in the extras as well as the director interview tries to explain some of this but the visuals seem to take an overall higher road. The pilot film hints at something much more religious and intensive in the process and shows why the director got the job because there is scope. The overall film itself carries this but, towards the end, it forgets about context. The Japanese trailers do play to the strengths but the initial overseas trailer does the best job outside the pilot film. The US trailer uses different music which works but takes the idea in a different direction. In terms of other previews on the disc, “Stein’s Gate”, with its notions of time travel, has interesting possibilities until the microwave scenario cuts in. “Gai-Rei-Zero” in terms of its tone provides the most energy and darkness with a sense of knowing. “King Of Thorn” is ambitious in many ways and succeeds in some of them. However, despite its good ideas, there is a lack of overall clarity, some of which might be cleared up in consequent viewings, but nonetheless creates confusion on first impression.

C

IR Television Review: MAD MEN [AMC]

The tendency of people to find themselves again always seems to reflect in some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Don Draper of “Mad Men” is no different. In trying to affect his own sense of moral center, he is moving against who he really is and not what he is appearing to be. After the jump in years which made intuitive sense, the ideas of the entire agency begin to show the motivation of who they want to be. Pete Campbell, the newly fulfilled partner in the firm, wants to create the perfect view of what life should be in his eyes but, in doing so, feels even emptier than what Don has become. In doing this parallel storyline with Pete’s fading morality and belief in what is really definitely shows the dexterity of Matthew Weiner’s writing. The progression of “Mad Men” is cyclical but also universal: one always wants what they don’t have. This is especially true in high-competition industries.

The handling of the female lead story lines, particularly Joan and Peggy through the season, shows two characters moving towards the same center from completely opposite directions. Joan starts off the season as a new mother trying to adhere to her place but realizing that this is against her nature which she promptly rectifies at a certain point. Peggy’s ambition, like everyone, reflects in how much she is needed and what she has learned. When she comes to a life change (which also inter-played with her decision in an earlier season arc), she makes the right decision. At one point, she and Pete intersect and the slight moment created is just enough to show the cycle.

Don meanwhile, in this deck of cards, is trying to be the doting husband and be supportive in what ways he couldn’t with Betty because of the secrets he is hiding from her. His wife, albeit 15 years younger than him, knows all his secrets and he tries to stay in line but anything that is familiar can eventually get boring which eventually strays his thoughts. The intention of the closing of “You Only Live Twice” shows that life renews itself but creates the same temptations. The use of different emotional components like Don’s supposed hallucinations of one of his old conquests coming back to haunt him shows that the ghosts are still there. Like Pete who is experiencing his similar problems of year past, the belief of redemption is steeped in thoughts of middle-dom which does not suit this world. Life is short.

A-

IR DVD Review: .HACK//QUANTUM [Funimation]

The balance between the real world and the virtual world continues to meld in many ways as the aspect of what is crucial and not seems to disappear into the void. The aspect that has always been true with “.hack” in terms of the storyteling process is projections and what people consider real and false in terms of identity in their own life.

Like the concurrent novels, the anime adaptation “.hack/Quantum” takes the structure of quantum computers to create a notion of lost souls able to live on without a physical structure to keep them present in the real world. The narrative motivation here reflects on the increasing amount of plugged-in personalities who start to diverge from the real world since the texture of inhibitions and notions of self take a back seat and become a type of metaphorical idea of what an alternate world would be.

This specific interlay follows three gamers who meet up and travel in “The World”. When the structure of the gameplay seems to deconstruct because of “server maintenance” causing players to actually “hurt”, the balance between administrators and consumers seems to shift, both online and in the outside world. The element of having modern thinking and placed characters existing in an almost sword-and-sorcery world where dragons and monolithic statues of doom seem real creates an interesting dynamic. The statue of doom is particularly impressive because of the sense of scale interrelated with the use of clouds. This anime in its current form shows the balance of 3D and 2D concepts working well together.

The most sensitive of the girls meets up with a young boy/cat named Hermit who seems to have a hacking app inside the world all his own, though his motivations turn out to be more dastardly in an overall form leading to the injury of people on the outside world. The questions that “.hack” continues to ask have distinctifying presence in today’s youth society where people can text but not talk.

In terms of technical, the transfusion between Japanese and English language in terms of structure is negligible except for a bit of hankering around Tokyo. The extras seem to play a little more Eastern than usual. The “Chim Chim” animated interstitials are a bit of world play but simply fail to translate in an overt sense. The short subject of Yuo Oguaa including a quiz and cooking school are overly indulgent though a visit to the animation studio has some fun bits despite a lack of converted information. The promotional videos and trailers for “Quantum” interrelate the growing intent that this idea of connected worlds is different from virtual reality. Of the additional trailers, three that stand out are “Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040” (simply for its furturistic intensity), “Chrome Shelled Regios (because of its uber “1984” paranoia) and “”Requiem For The Phantom” (just for its pure gothic viciousness).

“hack//Quantum: cointinues to show the intentions in a world split between connectivity and disconnection which is of dire prevalence in our current state.

B

IR Television Review: Human Falacies & Supernatural Idiosyncracies – Returning TV Shows – Spring 2012 – Part I

The intention of human fallacies in unwittingly non-normal situations whether it is tracking drug smugglers, taking down a government agency or trying to exist as a supernatural create in a world of human brings its own set of idiosyncrasies which allows the participants to react in a variety of ways but most necessarily in the normality of who they are.

Justified [FX] Adjusting to a life without a murdering matriarch consumes itself to the will of Yankees invading the plot in the smiling goodness of Neal McDonough, Now granted Raylan (the always cool Timothy Olyphant) is still pervading his sense of Southern law, but, at some point, the women in his life get sick of it. His former flame returned to darkness in the intent of her ex, Boyd Crowder, who has found his way to enlightenment through a more demonstrative criminal method. The realization of Raylan, especially when he gets into another shootout in a hotel, seems to prove that he doesn’t have what is needed to be “father” material. Enter Carla Gugino (always a welcome sight) as a Director in the Marshall service who gives Raylan a run for his money. In terms of her resurrection in terms of intermingling with Raylan’s heart, only time will tell. This bodes darkly, especially with a treacherous and involved runner of organized crime who seems the figure to beat, personified in the visage of Mykelti Williamson who brought tenderness as “Bubba” in “Forrest Gump” but hits the intended notes of intelligence and intimidation which has not quite yet come to fruition.

Nikita [CW] Involving the notion of psychology into the reasoning behind Nikita’s actions to take down Division, the source of all her strength and death, becomes more dastardly when the woman responsible for recovering her from her initial life as a junkie becomes one of the masterminds behind the company that caused her so much grief. Many of the plot developments begin to take on double negatives especially with a girl Nikita brought back from the brink now the focus of an internal hit squad. Percy, right now the most engaging of the villains (after getting out of his box), mingles a turn of loyalties with the wantonness of Nikita to try to balance both sides of the equation but situations, despite her best efforts,  are likely to explode on cue.

Royal Pains [USA] HankMed has truly got into a normal functioning matter-of-course with Boris’ illness somewhat under control and the boys’ dad taking responsibility for his earlier sins. The more interesting structure of this season, by extension, is Evan’s relationship with his girlfriend-now-fiancee. The class structure progression of this ideal is something that some people might relate to if one has experienced The Hamptons because the possibility of all is right around the corner and it dexterously keeps you on your toes. Hank’s pressing perception also lies in the fact that Jill, his past and present girlfriend, is leaving to do her part in Uruguay and that his one true friend on the peninsula, a pro golfer named Jack [played with aplomb abandon by Tom Cavanagh], is suffering from a manageable but deadly progression of lupus and just wants to joke it away. Divya is dealing with class structure pressures from the opposite direction in that she has to pay back her part for bailing on her Hindu wedding. All within, the series is attacking more domestic issues which give it a sense of depth without the ideal that everything in these people’s lives will collapse at any given moment.

Being Human [SyFy] The predatory nature of the leads involved in this series dictates that everything in their lives cannot remain structured and unchanged as life (or death) always has a way of creeping up on you. Our lead vampire, despite being able to quench his thirst for blood while working at a hospital, only needs to watch the undoing of his maker from last season to propel him into a situation he cannot control. The most intriguing of all is the introduction of his lost love who supposedly went on a rampage when he was around in the 1920s. The flashbacks and the way they are captured are undeniably forthcoming because it shows the indelible sense of self-control that is required of this person. Our werewolf in question is both bringing and diminishing more from his pack and the dichotomy of his new girlfriend because of what she is, emboldens the idea of alpha versus benign into a very tense atmosphere. Our ghostly female roommate-in-question finds more of her own and finds out that it might be possible for her to sleep (and therefore dream) but it unlocks something inside her which, when compounded with certain forms of addiction (like possession of a human to experience sex), creates an interesting form of withdrawal which is unbalanced by the death of her mother. The series continues to explore utterly human experiences in otherworldly situations using a seemingly progression of morality.

Creating Identity & Mysterious Energy – New Television – Fall 2011 – Part II

Creating characters with a sense of self and putting them in a mileau which puts the notion of identity to the test is the landmark of any great new series because personas need room to grow or else they are of no consequence to the audience. Whether it be secret computers, new roommates or traveling 85 million years in the past, if the mystery and energy is not there, no narrative can save a misguided concept.

Person Of Interest Melding ideas of “Big Brother” with a vigilante intention has different angles to pursue but only with the plot device to push it forward. A supercomputer which configures possible motives insinuates the plot. With exceptional actors like Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson [of “Lost”] there is always interesting character work but the line that the creators want to create between reality and high drama is short lived. The comparison can be made to “Life On Mars” which, while still trying to be grounded and slick, varied because of a sliver of disbelief that creeps into the progression (much like “Unforgettable”]. Uncovering a secret past in the gist of Caviezel’s soldier character keeps the intrigue going but the mythology of Emerson’s eccentric billionaire needs to be expanded because without the mystery and stakes, the series feels simply like another procedural with a couple new neat toys.

The New Girl Throwing a girl (and a weird one at that) into the mix always makes for interesting television if the actress can sell it. Spinning a reverse “Three’s Company” in an age of cynical relationships and quick bedding with a sense of innocence though is not an easy sell. Zooey Deschanel has the ability to play out the backstory of eccentric and uncool while still being cute and likeable (which is helped by her friend in the series who happens to be a hot model). The key is watching her extrapolate the indiosyncracies of the men without losing her own identity which she does by forming a relationship with a similarly weird violin player. The series works in its quirky way because of its relatability whether being at a wedding or picking up stuff from an ex’s house. Add to this essence a killer music supervisor who can mix nostalgia with a sense of new and that gives this show a consistent spin.

The Secret Circle Making a witch’s haven comparable to the “Buffy” universe is always a difficult persistance especially if humor cannot play as much of a placement in your arsenal. The idea of high school witches unable to Cope with an onslaught of demons threatening their town feels like an ode to “Witches Of Eastwick” more than anything else without the comedy. The angle here is to key it into CW’s young demographic and make it slick while also vivid enough to appeal across the board. While the soap essence overwhelms the show at times, the characters are aware enough to make their dire circumstance personal to the audience depending on the interrelation of what the characters actually want to accomplish.

Terra Nova The big wait is over in terms of this highly anticipated series that has been watched for like the second coming of “Lost”. The problem is that no series can live up to that type of scrutiny. Granted the pilot is impressive but it is necessary to sell the world. It is not so much the element of the dinosaurs and the prehistoric period that the money was spent on as it is the future world coming to ruin. One can tell that the latter angle took most of the special effects budget there but as the series progresses into subsequent episodes, it becomes truly “Swiss Family Robinson” with some high tech gadgets. While the family is interesting, it doesn’t carry the cool attitude or simple energy of say the family from “Lost In Space”. The addition of Stephen Lang as the commander of the post keeps the tension running as an ongoing feud between him and a rebelling faction keeps the ammo firing as does various prehistoric creatures. However, the immersion factors feels both authentic and yet fake at the same time despite the modern family take.

Prevalent Riffing & Inner Focus: Returning Television – Fall 2011 – Part I

Animation and improvisation doesn’t always go hand-in-hand much like live action riffing but this first batch of returning shows highlights the ability to work both sides of the line. “South Park” is the most prevalent of these with the ability to turn headlines within the week though its dramatic subtlety is becoming more defined as time goes on while “Archer” while smaller in its amount of episodes is becoming more highly ironic. “Community” is moving into left field with some great elements of spontaneity but needs to find its inner focus while “Fringe” has purely reinvented itself while keeping everything that has made it an exceptional show.

Archer Coming back with an abridged mini-season in a three-episode arch entitled “Heart Of Archness”, our oft-maligned and inspid hero has vanished for a couple months after the death of his Russian fiance. We find him on an island screwing newly honeymooned women until Rip (played with Peppard accuracy by Patrick Warburton) comes at the request of his mother to take him back. Archer makes the seaplane crash and they are capture by pirates. Archer ends up killing alot of them on an ambush back to their fortress island and he becomes “Pirate King”. The progression of that is what we come to expect from Archer: ideas that might work in a feature film but perverted to a point as to make it totally ludicrous.

South Park The continuing intensity of off-shot humor especially where Cartman is concerned knows no bounds except when it takes a toll on his mental health. Whereas Kenny will always be the poor kid, Cartman is coming face to face with his own mortality on more than one occasion. While Kyle is dealing with a more homeward-bound problem, Cartman is having to deal with more deep seated personality issues. While this element of poverty, reliance issues and “Assburgers” are all done in jest, the intermittent darkness seeping through the cracks is making the show all the more dexterous in its ability to tackle pretty exceptional drama under the guise of comedy.

Fringe Perceiving the idea of life without Peter Bishop does alot to reset the stakes of what is possible in the universe, even parallel ones. In creating this new paradox, the series has done something undeniably clever: reset the clock in terms of mythology as well as romantic and dramatic tension. The alternate universe creation might be resolved but the problems within the personal structure in terms of Walter and Olivia are not because they don’t understand or embrace what Peter is. Meanwhile new alliances are formed and Fringe level events still go on without the worry of disbelief. Peter Bishop is the man out of sync with the world and yet he is the only one who knows what is going on. Succinct storytelling is exampled but with an innate sense of keeping the audience on edge.

 

Community The team seems to innately run more in the stratosphere but not with the same creativity they have showed in the past couple years though the moments of levity still come quick and unabated. It is almost as if they know how far they can go so the line isn’t as much of a taboo thing anymore. Consequently the stories tend to lean more towards morality tales which the participants perceive as “dark” though the climactic paintball episode last year stretched the limits. The series has undeniably set characters now that the audience can run with but without a structured base of where they need to go, their lives may or may not be complete.