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Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!: Complete Series
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!: Complete Series
DVD ~ Various
Price: $46.09
33 used & new from $39.18

151 of 165 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scooby-doo, Here Are You!!!, September 20, 2012
This set will contain all three seasons of the original Scooby-Doo series, universally referred to as Scooby-Doo Where Are You? (despite the fact that the third season was officially titled The Scooby-Doo Show).

This show is a part of many people's childhood regardless of what generation they are apart of. Originally airing in 1969 it became a classic and that's why even as a child growing up in the nineties I remember watching this series every morning almost religiously. It became so loved that its various incarnations have continued to air from 1969 to this very day in 2012. It also spawned three live action movies and countless animated movies. All that aside, Scooby-Doo Where Are You? is where it all began and what some (myself included) regard as the best. The atmosphere was dark and spooky, the characters were simplistic but well defined and the monsters were still fresh, as were the mysteries.

This new complete series set, is being put out for those who didn't get a chance to pick up the original Mystery Machine Collector's Edition set during its limited edition run. Like that set this one contains three seasons of Scooby Doo, 41 episodes in total spread across 7 discs. It is not technically complete as it is missing 8 episodes (the same as that set was), but it does carry over all the special features from that set.

Season 1
1 What a Night for A Knight
2 A Clue for Scooby-Doo
3 Hassle in the Castle
4 Mine Your Own Business
5 Decoy for a Dogknapper
6 What the Hex is Going On?
7 Never Ape and Ape Man
8 Foul Play in Funland
9 The Backstage Rage
10 Bedlam in the Bigtop
11 A Gaggle of Galloping Ghosts
12 Scooby-Doo and a Mummy Too!
13 Which Witch is Which?
14 Spooky Space Kook
15 Go Away Ghost Ship
16 A Night of Fright is No Delight
17 That's Snow Ghost

Season 2
18 Nowhere to Hyde
19 Myster Mask Mix-Up
20 Jeepers It's the Creeper
21 Scooby's Night with a Frozen Fright
22 The Haunted House Hang-Up
23 A Tiki Scare is No Fair
24 Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Werewolf?
25 Don't Fool with a Phantom

Season 3
26 Watch Out the Willawaw!
27 A Creepy Tangle in the Bermuda Triangle
28 A Scary Night with a Snow Beast Fright
29 To Switch a Witch
30 The Tar Monster
31 A Highland Fling with a Monstrous Thing
32 The Creepy Case of Old Iron Face
33 Jeeper's, It's the Jaguro
34 Make A Beline Away From That Feline
35 The Creepy Creature of Vulture's Claw
36 The Diabolical Disc Demon
37 Scooby's Chinese Fortune Kooky Caper
38 A Menace in Venice
39 Don't Go Near the Fortress of Fear
40 The Warlock of Wimbledon
41 The Beast is Awake at Bottomless Lake

This set will contain all the special features released on the two individual sets AND an eighth disc that was included in the previous complete series set.

Previously Released Special Features Included In This Set:

*Featurette: Scooby-Doo's Ultimate Fans
*Get the Picture: How to draw Scooby and the gang
*Funky Fashions
*Music Video: America Loves Scooby-Doo
*Scooby-Doo Street Smarts
*Scooby Challenge Trivia
*Hannah Barbera from H to B

Special Features Exclusive To This Set (and the previous limited edition release):

*Scooby-Doo The Whole World Loves You: Focuses on Scooby's continued popularity and fans continued love of the character. Features interviews with various writers, directors and actors who have worked on Scooby TV and Movie projects over the last 40 years. (20 mins)

*The Eerie Mystery of the Scooby-Doo History: The executives and creative team behind the show discuss how it originally came to be from their point of view. (10 mins)

*The Scooby-Doo Gang, In Their Own Words: Featurette focusing on the original voice cast of Scooby-Doo and how they originated the characters' unique voices. (5 mins)

The best reason for fans to buy this complete series set, aside from the eighth disc and its bonus materials, is the unique packaging. It may not be the mystery machine of the previous set but it still looks unique and stands out better than the two individual volumes on there own (I personally strongly dislike the slim packaging one gets buying the third season/2nd volume on its own). If you haven't bought the series this is a great opportunity to get the three seasons in one set. Hope this was helpful, I'll update if I learn more, Scooby-Dooby-Doo!!!
Comment Comments (9) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 30, 2015 12:11 PM PDT

The Dark Knight Rises [Blu-ray]
The Dark Knight Rises [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Christian Bale
Price: $10.00
184 used & new from $0.92

4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rises above the hype to become something else entirely..., July 21, 2012
I intend here to delve into the film and discuss it on more than a superficial level. While I want to respect that many may not have seen it yet, and won't reveal what I deem to be major spoilers regarding the much discussed fate of Batman, my goal here is to discuss it on a level that will inevitably cause spoilers pertaining to the film and even its third act revelations (at least if you haven't read the comics), so be forewarned and avoid this review if you must. For those who have seen the film and may have come to this page, like myself, wondering what others thought, please read on and let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

I have now seen the film three times, once in the Dark Knight Marathon after having viewed Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The Second time was after having had some time to reflect upon the first viewing. Before the third time I went back and watched Begins and Dark Knight once again to see what weight they may have gained with knowledge of how the trilogy now ends. SO now to the review of Rises... which begins with how it fits into the overall trilogy.

The Dark Knight Rises is a genius film in that it not only completes a trilogy it gives the previous two films greater meaning and provides characters and scenes in the earlier films with even more depth and levels. The plot goes back and provides new context that adds enjoyment and helps the trilogy feel more cohesive. This is especially true regarding Batman Begins, specifically a scene that occurs at about the twenty minute mark of that film. Ra's Al Ghul is expanded upon and his discussion of his lost love now carries heavier emotional impact. Also, a revelation about what Alfred was up to during Bruce's early travels around the world before becoming Batman also helps add more emotion and new meaning to Alfred's conversations with Bruce throughout the first third of Begins, and even to conversations they share in Dark Knight. It is amazing that Nolan grew as a filmmaker during the trilogy and crafted a final film that rose above where he began, but even more amazing that he took the time to craft a finale that makes the entire trilogy stronger, especially the first installment. Scenes that were clearly crafted on their own initially now seem like they were crafted with this final installment and the trilogy as a whole in mind.

The Dark Knight, especially its final scenes with Two-face, Gordon and Batman are given a greater weight because Rises shows us the results of their decisions and gives us deeper understanding of what Gordon was thinking during those moments. What the film relies on from the Dark Knight, aside from Batman taking the fall for Harvey Dent, is the grittiness based in our reality. Begins had elements of this but Dark Knight pushed the parallels between Gotham and our world even further. Heavier real world issues were seeded throughout that film and that continues perfectly and seemlessly in Rises (financial strife, terrorism, disillusionment with social structures, etc.). The sheer ferocity and insanity of Bane is clearly only made possible by the astounding portrayal of the Joker. The fight, shown in many trailers, where Bane first fights Batman in the sewers is frighteningly real and has been primed by the realistic hostage tapes and menace produced by the Joker. Dark Knight clearly prepared us for Dark Knight Rises, but oddly the film seems to relate more strongly back to Batman Begins in that it provides a more emotional connection. Overall though the trilogy as a whole feels completed by this entry, and though Dark Knight will always stand out as the most provocative (it was so unexpected and something we were so unaccustomed to), in an entirely different sense Rises also stands out as something unique and compelling.

How does Rises stand as a film on its own? Most people seem to be speaking in favor of it. I obviously agree with them. A few people have expressed not enjoying it and have been received very poorly for doing so, I just want to say regarding that, let's respect that each individual is entitled to their opinion. I can actually appreciate their stance as my first viewing was more of an enjoyment and my love and admiration for the film only came through repeated viewings I had planned ahead of my first viewing, despite the dismay it caused my wallet. Dark Knight Rises has many levels when paired up with the previous two movies, but it also has many levels contained within itself. There was a lot to take in and I admittedly had to process it and put it into the proper intended context. There are a slew of new characters, there are huge time jumps, there is not a great deal of time devoted to characters we already know and there are several plot revelations saved for the third act.

Ultimately the thing to keep in mind when watching Rises is 'A Tale of Two Cities'. The story begins here and it really is the best of times, it really is the worst of times. The entire film is based strongly on themes found notably in the classic Dickens tale. Nolan's love for the motif of doubles/dualities throughout the franchise never plays more strongly than it does here. For example, Bane breaks Batman after a crushing blow to the forehead of his mask. Batman later deals crushing blows to Bane by wailing on his mask. Both men only became known for putting on masks. Gordon is a jaded cop who got his hands dirty, Blake is an idealistic squeaky clean cop, Miranda Tate and Selina Kyle also play opposites in their positions relating to Bruce Wayne. Even the film's ending has a quote from Dicken's classic and I think it speaks volumes not only regarding the themes of the film but to the ending and the dualities I believe to be found in it. It is this kind of writing, courtesy of the Nolans and Goyer, that I believe finds the film "being received... the superlative degree of comparison only".

The obvious things are all done with the craft and capability one expects from Nolan's team. The directing is great in that is follows traditional patterns but breaks them at key moments for planned effect (the dropping out of any score during a Batman and Bane brawl makes the hits that much more painful for example). The music plays with themes from the previous films but Zimmer pushes it to a wonderfully operatic crescendo here. The acting is the best of any summer blockbuster (Freeman, Oldman and Caine deliver as alwas) and Bale seems most markedly improved (he's given arguably heavier material to work with here than in Dark Knight and has notably won an Oscar since then). All the newcomers (Hardy, Cotilliard, JGL and Hathaway) fit into the series better than anyone portraying Rachel Dawes ever did (sorry but I couldn't believe Holmes or Gyllenhaal in Nolan's universe). The writing is, as noted above, layered and well done if not slightly compacted due to so much happening.

Some weaknesses, a proper review should discuss the good and the bad and the film does have some issues, at least for me. The villains (Bane and [as most fans guessed early on] Talia) were well crafted by the writers and actors, but their final scenes felt somewhat anti-climatic to me. This may just be due to the fact that they weren't traditional in the Hollywood sense. Bane is sent off ultimately, after an earlier defeat, rather quickly with a joke (though a successful one) made at his expense. Talia makes her exit rather quickly without a direct confrontation and without much of a fight, it is troubling in the sense that she only gets one monologue after her big reveal and then is gone. She is given greater depth by a revelation regarding her childhood but her plan is never really presented in context of her desires other than the classic desire for revenge. She also never seems as strong as her provided origin would have us believe she is. Another annoyance is a character's death by car crash (despite every other character seemingly surviving similar or worse crashes during the trilogy, Joker survived a semi flipping over for example).

Another potential weakness, from my view at least, was that though Gotham was seen falling into despair and decay, there was actually quite little seen of its citizens coping with the horrors inflicted by Bane and the League of Shadows. The majority of the citizens reactions seem to be done in one montage at the beginning of the occupation. Other than their faces during this montage and earlier at the football stadium we are left to guess what life for the everyday citizen in the occupied Gotham is like. That said we do see how the cops and Wayne executives are surviving and a nice reaction shot of Selina Kyle watching the initial looting does provide a great deal of weight and context. Still, seeing more of the everyday men and women trying to cope or survive would have added more weight to Batman's eventual attempts to save them all, it can almost feel like he will only be saving the main characters because few others are seen in the city.

The last big question in my mind, how does everyone seem to know when the bomb will go off? Sure Lucious tells Gordon, Blake and the cops, but Bruce Wayne arrives in Gotham not having spoken to any of them and he already knows when the bomb will go off too. Then Talia always seems to know the exact minute count despite not having even looked at a watch. To a similar but greater point, how does Bruce get back to Gotham, get back into the city when its cordoned off so well and find Selina all luckily on the day before the bomb goes off? Great timing but no indication that he's planned any of it. It's all very coincidental and glossed over, some quick nods to how it all came together would've been appreciated. Further his plan in the finale is still somewhat murky to me, he gathers the police force for the huge wall street battle royale but why didn't he try using The Bat to fly in blasting away and take Bane personally, or using his stealth for that matter, there are many reasons he probably does this (can't take on an entire army at once) but he never explicitly states any and no one questions him.

Debatable weak spots aside, the strongest part of the film overall upon repeat viewings is indeed the ending. What upon initial viewing seems to be a somewhat cathartic and happy ending reveals itself to be a multi-layered and ambiguous one. It is an ending that merits endless deciphering and inspires questioning while provoking thought. I won't put any spoilers in this regard as I don't want to risk anyone accidentally reading it, but I would like to discuss further with any willing participants in the comments or a discussion thread. A crucial scene at the end of the film and a few quick scenes as well as one crucial shot during the final climax all leave room for interpretation to various possible outcomes. Initially I went with the masses and believed Nolan had provided a more traditional and cathartic ending, but upon repeat viewings I think the ending is meant to be ambiguous, just as Inception was. Personally I am drawn to the darker more traditionally Nolan ending. What makes it so genius though is that fans/viewers can seemingly have it either way. Happy ending for all, or a more somber ending with seeds of hope for the future.

That the ending can be interpreted so differently is a testament to the time, effort and genius Nolan and his team put into making this film worthy of the trilogy. I believe it is.

This was not the film that we deserved, but its the one we needed right now. This is a far, far better 'superhero' interpretation than has ever been done. This is a far, far better trilogy than we have ever known. I want to thank you Nolan, even though you'd say we never have to, for producing/creating smart, big budget films that don't condescend to the viewer. Hopefully you've started something...

Brave (Five-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition: Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray / DVD + Digital Copy)
Brave (Five-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition: Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray / DVD + Digital Copy)
DVD ~ Kelly Macdonald
Offered by amazingwildcat
Price: $43.99
21 used & new from $18.60

14 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disney Pixar's Mama Bear, whoops, I mean BRAVE, June 24, 2012
So what is there to say that hasn't been said? All the reviews for this film have nearly universally claimed that the animation is fantastic, as one would expect, and it is indeed. The scenery is gorgeous, the 3D really helps the beautiful visuals pop and provides depth, the character designs are distinctive (if not slightly reminiscent of Dreamworks How to Train Your Dragon). Any animation fan will enjoy watching this film.

As for the film overall, the story is charming, if not also quite familiar, and there is certainly enough humor and funny sounding pronunciations (the Scottish accents are purposefully hammed up at times) to keep children engaged. One caution up front, I would advise against taking toddlers, or extremely timid children, as there is a frightening bear, seen for a much more tame moment in the previews, who has several less tame scenes scattered throughout the film. Another caution for readers of the review, I am going to strongly hint at the major plot point of the film, I won't come right out and say it but I will say that by now most will have pieced it together from previews and other reviews, so this review shouldn't spoil anyone who hasn't figured it out already.

All this said, I usually don't write reviews to simply regurgitate what has been said already, so I do have a point here I would like to make. The difference between this film and a true transcendent classic is that this film does nothing new or truly unique (well perhaps one thing, but we'll get to that). It is excellent to see a female heroine (especially one this strong) but the very notion of putting a female up front is something that has been done purposefully before, so even that cannot be said to make this film unique. I'm sure many, especially some mothers, will adore this film and they have every right to, it is charming in many respects. A great many more people will enjoy this film moderately and put it in their collection to rewatch, but this film will never be as great or as remembered as it could have been, and as an animation/Pixar fan that leaves me somewhat disappointed.

The previews are deliberately vague regarding the actual story of this film. The opening is clear enough, a princess doesn't want to marry and butts heads with her mother so she goes in search of a spell to change her fate... it all seems familiar but is bold in its honesty and execution. However, from there I found the film became less Brave and more like what I will call Mama Bear, somewhat of a spinoff take on Disney's Brother Bear. The film runs with this new conceit, dropping what I deemed to be the more interesting story of the princess's efforts to win her own hand and convince her mother to change tradition, but never goes anywhere with it other than the usual predictable places. Predictability isn't a bad thing, it is often comforting and in many ways is even expected from any film, let alone a family film. But as a Disney Pixar film one would have thought they'd push the boundaries here or at least have the story be incredibly well told. Ultimately, the 'Mama Bear' idea just isn't mined to its full potential, though that doesn't stop it from being fun and having laughs.

Overall the film, which admittedly had a troubled production, feels like a pastiche of earlier efforts by Disney and even some of their rival studios. There is even a random witch character thrown into the mix but then she disappears never to return or be mentioned again. A lot of elements in the film are that way, they appear, play their part in the plot and then disappear or vanish until they may or may not be needed again. There are few strong through lines. More evidence to this is that the only villain truly presented here seems to be stubbornness (and perhaps that scary bear who waltzes in and out of the plot with little purpose), which is again a potentially interesting angle but it doesn't fully develop and things are wrapped up too easily in that regard without any sacrifice and surprisingly little effort. The film also seems unable to decide whether it wants to be classic fairy tale (i.e. Disney's traditional formula) or take the true Pixar/Dreamworks route and have a modern take (i.e. Toy Story, Shrek, etc.), as such much of the film feels in a definite time and place but then certain scenes have modern references thrown in.

Now back to finding praise for the film, the stubborn characters are the princess, and her mother the queen. Both want what they want and desire for the other to see their point of view (sound familiar to any parents of adolescents?). The story does do an excellent job of portraying the trials of a mother and daughter relationship, at least from my experiences as an observer. The teenage princess really goes for the throat and the mother truly loses her control in one crucial moment and it all feels heartwrenchingly true to life. The one original thing I praise about the film is that mother-daughter relationship, but ironically at the same time it feels too realistic and thus out of place in a movie that tones everything else down. Another positive note is that neither the mother nor the daughter ultimately gives into the other but instead a wonderful scene shows how both have come to understand the other and they find a common ground, which is much better than simply having a stubborn parent realize they were wrong (you know, little mermaid style).

I do recommend this film to animation fans, children kindergarten and up, or even for mothers and their adolescent daughters. It is well made and extremely well animated but overall as a 23 year old male film fan who adores Pixar (and Disney even more so) I have to say this film reminded me of Disney's Brother Bear, which was unfortunately only moderately successful. While I personally love that film and feel it brings together so many themes so wonderfully (the Inuit culture, man vs. nature, family bonds, beautiful and unique settings) this film takes the conceit from that film and never plays it out as well as it could or with the originality one comes to expect from Pixar. Even a straight A student gets a B once and a while, I just wish this film had been as strong willed as its main character, picked one direction and been more... well, Brave.

Still highly recommended, with less gags but definitely more depth than Madagascar 3, but far from a must see for the casual filmgoer.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 29, 2012 11:30 PM PDT

Mongolian Chop Squad: Box Set S.A.V.E.
Mongolian Chop Squad: Box Set S.A.V.E.
DVD ~ Greg Ayres
Price: $19.49
14 used & new from $17.34

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beck is Back, though in fewer words, April 6, 2012
____ Mongolian Chop Squad was discontinued by Funimation a couple of years back. They promised it would be back but little was heard regarding it. A few months ago I emailed them and they assured me it would be available this summer, and apparently its true. Now that they've cleared up some legal issues they are re-releasing it without the BECK section of the title. How much of the series has been changed to facilitate this is still unknown, likely an episode name change and a title card change at least, but if you've been waiting to own this series this is the best way to pick it up. Old DVD sets with the Beck title run anywhere from $60-$200 on online sites such as e-bay, and despite the true name missing you still get this great series to own and enjoy at your leisure.

The animation in this series is limited for cost purposes, the show is arguably slow paced and has a slow burn arc over the season and yet all these things help add to the series tone, this is one of the best slice of life anime out there, possibly the best. This show catches the essence of adolescence, what its like to have too much time on your hand and the need to fill that time with aspirations for greater things. What is nice is that the show moves from that into exploring a very realistic portrayal of the underground club/music scene and what it is like for a band just starting out. The English Dub is actually quite well done, despite the lip flaps not matching during the majority of songs. The music is great too considering it was just written for the show, you can tell they employed real talent to help them create songs that would sound genuine while echoing familiar bands from whom MCS draws their style, as most start ups do whether purposefully or not.

If you haven't seen this series and it seems interesting Funimation has all the episodes up for free on Youtube, if you have seen this show you are more likely than not one of the many who love it (I can't see why the small percentage who dislike it would visit this product page). So for $20 the changes will likely be tolerable, as unfortunate as they are.

My only qualm about the series itself is a personal one. The ending felt rushed, around episode 23/24 everything puts you on a high, while the manga continues on with the bands adventures in America the anime just ends at episode 26 with a slide show alluding to some of these events. It's not a big deal but it leaves one anticipating a second season, though I'm happy this was a 26 episode series as they tend to be some of the strongest out there (Cowboy Bebop comes to mind). It also seems odd that there is little conclusion to the love story established throughout the series, they had the perfect opportunity at the end of the final episode and seemed to leave it hanging only because the manga did, but the manga continued on.

This is a five star series without a doubt. At least fans are being given the chance to own it again and hopefully new fans will continue to find it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 26, 2012 10:20 PM PDT

Castle in the Sky (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Castle in the Sky (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
DVD ~ James Van Der Beek
Price: $17.29
54 used & new from $13.09

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Charming Miyazaki Classic..., April 4, 2012
Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli fans in North America are finally getting what they've been waiting for. To coincide with the release of Arrietty on blu-ray Disney is releasing Castle in the Sky and Whisper of the Heart on blu-ray as well, two more terrific studio Ghibli films. While Whisper of the Heart is a lesser discussed Ghibli film, only boarded by Miyazaki, it is nonetheless an animated gem in its own right. Castle in the Sky is a Miyazaki directed film, as such it sticks closer to Miyazaki's favorite themes. A female heroine, flight, an epic/mystic back story, fallen civilizations, nature and technology. These are all themes that were prevalent in his previous film, Nausicaa. Here in Castle in the Sky he revisits them to wonderful effect while further developing his film making talent.

While all Miyazaki's films are well rounded, I'd suggest there are three categories of Ghibli films. There are the epics (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke), there are the tales of childhood wonder (Totoro, Ponyo), then there are the charming slice of life style films with a twist (Kiki's Delivery Service or Porco Rosso).

Castle in the Sky stands out to me as a film that, more than the others, fits in to all categories. Possibly on account of the filmmaker having so many things he wanted to explore. This is a film telling a charming story but it does so over an epic backdrop. The story of a young girl, Sheeta, with ties to an ancient flying city is brought down to earth, literally, when she falls from a airship and is found by a young boy, Pazu. The two begin a journey to find the ancient flying city of Laputa, the castle in the sky. Sky Pirate's and a man named Muska with great political ties are out to capture Sheeta. It's not the originality but the charm of the story that makes it stand out. Unlike most Miyazaki films, but similar to Castle of Cagliostro, the villain is more archetypal here. He is just a man corrupted by the quest for power. I don't find this detracts from the film, it seems to fit the pulp/Saturday matinee serial nature of the film.

The animation is admittedly from an earlier era (the 80's, lol), the character designs and backgrounds are not as sleek, stylized or as recognizably Miyazaki as his later works, understandably, but what stands out here is the storyboarding and layout. Both are amazing, a foreshadowing of the greatness to come. The designs of Laputa and especially an opening sequence are exquisite and purely imaginative, but more on that in a moment.

As always the dub is terrific for those who enjoy watching these films in English. In regards to sound, another excellent aspect of Ghibli films is the sound design. The realistic sounds really help convey this animated world as a reality. The score is melodic genius, you can sense how it is echoed by his other films, particularly Spirited Away. While all Miyazaki's films have wonderful scores this one has always stood out to me. The simplicity of it and how it starts out so simplistically genius and builds to something much more epic and grandiose. I especially love the opening titles of this film and the score that plays over the wonderfully Da Vincian style drawings (perhaps there is a more apt description but it doesn't come to mind) of flying cities - the images look to be moving pictures in a children's fairy tale, appropriate since the concept of Laputa is borrowed from Gulliver's Travels.

A five star film that any animation fan should add to their collection, especially now that it is being made available in high definition (I'll post more on the quality once I have viewed the transfer but Disney has always treated these films with special care). The true reason to own this film, charm aside, is to see a master developing his craft.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 12, 2013 9:23 AM PST

Whisper of the Heart (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
Whisper of the Heart (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
DVD ~ Yoshifumi Kondo
Price: $17.29
36 used & new from $13.29

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A special gem of an animated film..., March 30, 2012
Most (if not all) animation fans love anything that comes from Studio Ghibli, that said, this is one of the more obscure titles from the studio. It was story boarded/scripted by Miyazaki himself but actually directed by another talent, Yoshifumi Kondo (who likely would've become Miyazaki's successor had he not passed unexpectedly in 1998 at the age of 47). The animation is gorgeous, though the effort has been put into capturing the reality of a young girl's life in modern day Japan more than in creating an epic world of fantasy one might expect from a Ghibli film. Still, there are a few scenes of imagination that allow for that broader style of animation. Beautiful animation aside this film is a real gem, it's something that is hard to find not just in animated films but in live action or film in general. I anticipate it will shine even brighter on Blu-ray.

The charm of this story, like the charm of the animation, is in the realism. This film harkens back to that time in life between childhood and adulthood, the time when you are too old to be a kid but are too young to even be a young adult.

The main heroine, Shizuki, is trapped in a world of childhood fantasy, she loves to spend each day reading book after book. The rest of the world is telling her it's time to grow up but all she wants to think about are her stories. When an oddly ordinary looking cat leads her into a real life story of her own she meets a young boy, Seiji, not entirely unlike herself. He is dreaming too, but he is working to make his dreams a reality. His talent creating violins inspires her to become active and put her efforts into becoming a talented writer. As she tries to write her first story she drifts further from schoolwork and other obligations. Conflict comes realistically from her wanting to do what she is passionate about while having school and familial obligations. When she finishes the first draft she isn't sure it's good enough, will she be able to pursue her passion? Has she been wasting her time? Does she have any talent at all?

These are doubts every youth can relate to and that's what makes this film so great. No spoilers, but in the end she learns a wonderful lesson about finding your inner talents and developing them into something more. Then there is the forming relationship between her and her new friend, Seiji, which adds a sweet touch to the film overall. It's also nice to see her parents portrayed realistically as concerned but caring. As a matter of fact all the relationships are excellently crafted, including Shizuku's relationship with her older sister and her relationship with her best friend. Each rings incredibly true.

This film has an excellent lesson for children and preteens, school doesn't have to get in the way of your passions or interests, it should be used to enhance and strengthen your passions. As difficult as that may seem, especially at the time, it is all about attitude. In a world where every youth oriented show finds the main characters being rich, being pop stars, being television stars, being wizards, going to expensive boarding schools, and generally having unbelievable lives of fun with little adult supervision, it is nice to have this film. A film that depicts realism and does it all with beautiful animation and a wonderfully crafted, but simple, story. This is the kind of story we haven't seen since before preteens were tapped as a profitable market. As such, it may be too simple for the preteens of today (I still suggest they view it) but it will certainly be adored by young children and will provide nostalgia for adults who remember simpler times, before preteens were thought of as major consumers. This film is especially recommended for Ghibli fans or animation enthusiasts.

The sound design is terrific in this film and as with all Disney/Ghibli dubs this is top of the line. You have the Japanese track if you prefer it but the English dub here is superb and perfectly casted, Brittany Snow, David Gallagher, Ashley Tisdale, Cary Elwes, Jean Smart, all do excellent work.

I'm very pleased more Ghibli films are finally coming to Blu-ray in the U.S. I've been waiting for a long while for news on Spirited Away or Howl's Moving Castle, but never did I expect this would be one of the first titles to make the jump to HD. Since it's listed with Castle in the Sky and Arietty, I can only assume Disney is putting it out as a more obscure title hoping fans of those more prominent titles will pick it up at the same time, and I suggest they do. It makes sense if this comes out right alongside Arrietty as both are simpler stories about a young girl coming to terms with the world, and many parents took their children to see Arrietty. That seems to be the marketing decision behind it. Either way I'm not complaining, quite the opposite. I'm so glad this film is coming to blu-ray and hope many more Ghibli titles follow closely behind.

Pick this 5 star film up with Castle in the Sky and Arrietty.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 6, 2012 11:29 AM PDT

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Blu-ray)
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Blu-ray)
DVD ~ Robert Downey Jr.
87 used & new from $0.50

127 of 154 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remember how much fun the first Pirates of the Caribbean was?, March 17, 2012
Well this film is that level of fun. After kicking into gear they quickly take an old and familiar setting and bring it into the modern day (figuratively that is, since this is actually set in the late 19th century). They manage to do this without making it too youth oriented. The true fun in this film will be in rewatching it, the quick banter and fun plot twists that turn out to be thought out well in advance (for the most part), will only be more enjoyable upon multiple viewings. The layers, much like those found in the Pirates script, are multiple and cerebral. They hit the viewer without our full awareness and when we later realize this it brings a smirk if not a smile to the face. Many plot points that seem by chance or appear to be toss away jokes end up returning and playing a larger role in the story, it's nice to see some effort in a big budget blockbuster - especially when its a sequel.

The action and staging of set pieces might not properly belong in the era portrayed (according to some critics) but it makes for a fun and well balanced film in my opinion. This isn't meant to be historically accurate, its meant to be a version of history much like Gladiator or Pirates. The performances are excellent and I found RDJ to be even more comfortable in his role as Holmes, surprising since he has so many other films and franchises now on his plate. Having laid the groundwork in the first film he spends more of the film flexing Holme's emotional levels, mainly regarding his relations to Watson and Irene Adler. Jude Law becomes much more familiar as Watson and thus becomes much more likable because this time he adheres to the objective with much less resistance (possibly because he has a chance to really let out his frustrations with Holmes early on). The two obviously have that strong relationship that goes beyond friendship, something Ritchie quite enjoys playing with but that makes for something different and refreshing while allowing for moments of strong humor.

Also compelling was Noomi Rapace, filling a space left by McAdams departure after a short but meaningful cameo early in the film. Noomi is given somewhat of a small role and largely facilitates plot purposes but her character does have an arc and emotional stakes that make her important to the story, if not always fully utilized. She of course develops an interest in Holmes but again this is well justified given the events that transpire and doesn't feel as forced as one would assume. Another new face is Jared Harris, who is a very cerebral Moriarty. I really enjoyed his performance but was prepped for it, having enjoyed him on the series Mad Men. For those not familiar with his "proper/formal" Englishman style I'm not sure if he will come across as menacing as some might hope or expect, even based on the first film. I thought he played the villain in a unique way and did so quite well.

In short, if you enjoyed the first you will enjoy this, at least I don't see how you couldn't. If you didn't enjoy the first because of the occult vs. science storyline, the pacing, or perhaps the uneven still developing characters, I will say I personally found this one to be much improved and much more comfortable with itself all around. I did enjoy the first but never thought I'd need to see it again, but I found myself rewatching it after seeing this sequel, and this film I want to own and rewatch, again and again, just as I do with Pirates Curse of the Black Pearl.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 16, 2013 8:05 PM PDT

War Horse (Four Disc Combo: Blu-ray/DVD + Digital Copy)
War Horse (Four Disc Combo: Blu-ray/DVD + Digital Copy)
DVD ~ Jeremy Irvine
Price: $14.99
43 used & new from $5.17

567 of 594 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A miraculous kind of an horse..., February 19, 2012
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. After seeing it at the theater I came onto Amazon, as I often do, to add it to my wishlist. I then read the unexcited reviews that were found on the product page and thought I should write a review to posit a counter opinion. The other reviews posted didn't seem to have enjoyed the film, two major criticisms being that they found it melodramatic and heavy handed, comments like these make me wonder if audiences have become so cynical that they view any attempt at displaying open/honest emotion to be an attempt at manipulation. Everyone has differing opinions but I feel this film will appeal to anyone who enjoys stylistically well made films and/or anyone who enjoys stories about bonds/will being tested. In a general sense Spielberg uses the story of this horse to explore the human condition and explore some very well done set pieces/environments.

As I saw it, the horse is a metaphor for hope and how it can be shared and spread, how it can inspire and endure. I don't mean this in an over sentimental way but just in a very real way. We are all hopeful for different things, big and small, and this film is about how under the right conditions and with the right persistence that hope can avoid being snuffed out or lost.

The film, based on a play I have not seen and cannot compare it to, is episodic as the horse goes from owner to owner during the years of World War 1. The fact that the film was episodic didn't make it feel chopped up or give it the feel of a broken narrative. I felt the through line of the film was the human condition and the traveling horse facilitated the telling of several viewpoints while exploring the excellent recreation of a time period. The acting was top notch by everyone seen on screen. To counter another criticism, the main human character, a boy named Albert, does show strong affection for the horse, a character in the film quips "come on now boy, it's not as if he were a dog". I didn't find this relationship to be strange, the horse simply becomes very important to Albert because as we see he doesn't have much to his life and the horse is something he gets that then works to make his life better. Perhaps I also never found it strange as I always found the horse to be representative of hope rather than as just some random animal.

The writing in terms of dialogue flowed and felt incredibly natural, as it does in most Spielberg films. John Williams score, while clearly a John Williams score, is the perfect mix of innocence, action/adventure and drama as the story calls for it. I would strongly compare the pacing and acting to Catch Me if You Can, as that film also had several major settings that shifted as the film progressed. I found War Horse to actually be better paced as it has a few more settings (about 5, possibly 6 in total?) and each one is shorter than the ones in the aforementioned film. Best of all the film actually ends when it ends, the story concludes and there are no tacked on or forced endings for the sake of pandering or over explaining as many recent films have had.

As far as the directing, I don't know if one can compare anything to the seeming effortless magic he created in his early films or certain efforts from the 90's but this would be Spielberg above his recent best and closer to those older films in quality. Everything unfolds visually in such an easy to follow an familiar way while still being unique and involving. There are some masterful shots that recall the opening of Saving Private Ryan but in an artistically different way. This is unquestionably due in part to the fact that this film has been made family friendly, while that could serve as a criticism I didn't find the film to be aimed specifically at families, though it has been made to facilitate viewing by younger children. Rather than illustrating the pure violence of battle as he did in SPR, Spielberg spends his time in this film showing the brutality of war in a creative fashion that suggests the horror more than displaying it. There is one such scene in particular where mounted soldiers ride into battle and on the other end of the shot their empty horses emerge without many of the riders they once carried.

In a sea of films about special effects, high concept stories or big names here is a film that is a complete film on its own without any gimmicks, as fun as gimmicks can be (Mi4 for example). This film is an actual experience for those who are open to it. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was an excellently crafted film that pushed the dark and grittiness, War Horse is a excellently crafted film that pushes the lighter elements but both are equally enjoyable and excellently made. Watching a good Spielberg film is like watching the epitome of what film is. It's like more recently watching Christopher Nolan's films, there are always flaws in any film but films such as theirs are so carefully and purposefully made as films that they are engaging and fully engrossing.

One potential weakness I will admit, though I feel a reviewing of the film would diminish it, is that the film doesn't have as strong an arc as most films. The characters change but so much of it is internal here. The horse's first owner does change but he is absent through the middle of the film, the various other owners also change in varying ways but all during their own vignettes. The horse itself has changed in much the same way as his owner as suggested by the final shot of the film, but perhaps critical audience members won't pick up on this. That said, one could (and I would say should) view this subtlety as purposeful. The film isn't as much about how the boy or the horse has changed but how despite all they've been through they managed to stay so much the same, they maintain what could easily have been lost.

I dunno, I personally love it (5 Stars) but for objectivity I'll give it 4/5 for general audiences, I think most everyone I described at the beginning of this review will like this film if they view it. For those who feel it is heavy handed and melodramatic go and watch Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, its also an excellent film but there is no overt display of emotion to be found there. Thanks for your time
Comment Comments (36) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 25, 2013 10:04 PM PDT

South Park: Season 15 [Blu-ray]
South Park: Season 15 [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ South Park
Price: $12.98
36 used & new from $9.27

46 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Goin' on down to South Park for the 15th time..., February 16, 2012
"South Park season 15 is... South Park. This March, South Park s***s in your eyes, ears and mouth. South Park, season frrrp, rated Arg for Pirates, f*** you!"

Oh, how many times will I head on down to South Park? Likely until the series ends. Still, these last two seasons have found my interests shift, not that I don't love the show and respect Matt and Trey as much as I always have, but priorities change and like Stan, I fear I'm getting old. There's something poetic about Stan only turning 10 and my having found this show when it started airing right as I turned 10. While I'll always follow this unique trailblazing show these last two seasons have found me picking up a lot of the episodes after initial airing due to life circumstances. Many times I forgot a new episode was on or that the new season had started. That said, when I found time to watch the episodes I enjoyed the majority of them.

I will say this is a standout season from recent years. Many episodes this season follow the series' best of formulas, they aren't one-off episodes as much as they are a cumulative effort. A lot of quality ideas tossed together in a blender with some weirdness and some abstractness. You know what you have when you do that? You have yourself that classic South Park we all love. It's a shame not every episode can capture that old fresh charm the show once had but shows have to evolve and viewers change/desensitize. In the end this is a season worth owning for anyone who is still a fan or for those who possibly grew up on this more recent evolution of South Park. The purchase for those individuals is made even easier to justify given that they've included the insightful, and hilarious, documentary "6 Days to air: The Making of South Park". I actually think that is a highlight of this set along with the Getting Old/A$$ Burgers episodes.

So what exactly are you getting yourself into with this season? Well, "frrrp, dee derp frrrp". But I'll break it down in a simpler fashion. 14 Uncensored (Yes Actually Uncensored this time) episodes:

Kyle doesn't know what he's signed himself up for when he agrees to iTUNES latest terms of service and user agreement. This episode perfectly mocks apple, social networking and the low budget horror film about a human centipede. Some people I know thought it missed the mark but I think they were unaware of the HC reference.

Germans create a robot that plans to take comedy to its logical extreme, global annihilation. Jimmy and Tyler Perry must save the day. To me the funniest part of the episode was Token being unable to keep a straight face at Tyler Perry. "Oh Lor-awd!"

Royal Pudding
Matt and Trey have always loved Terrence, Philip and the Canadians more than their general audience. So an entire episode about mocking the Royal Wedding with Canadian characters probably didn't sit well with most American viewers. As a Canadian I likely found it more enjoyable than I imagine they did, you know what I mean, eh there buddy-guy!

When Cartmen believes the school has posted the boys wiener sizes he freaks and lands in anger management, soon after Randy joins him and they start a riot and the form a political party with demands for the government. A simple concept that I found enjoyable, the notion that all anger management is correlated with small manhood size may have some merit.

Crack Baby Athletic Association
Kyle gets roped into Cartmen's new racket of helping crack babies by making them play basketball and raking in profits. I'm told, and it seems to be a commentary on the NCAA but I don't know enough about that to say anything meaningful. I know the episode all started from wanting to mock those commercials with the sad Sarah McLachlan song and I now know that Slash may or may not be real, but he is definitely a feeling in your heart.

City Sushi
Butters is diagnosed with multiple personality disorder and the City Wok guy deals with new competition in town (and within himself). I found the idea of Butters being diagnosed MPD for playing pretend to be funny, then the idea that his therapist is the real sick person really topped it off nicely. I wonder, do younger fans appreciate the Psycho reference at the end as much as older ones? I liked it.

You're Getting Old (1)
Stand turns 10 and everything looks and sounds like crap to him. This episode, as mentioned, sparked a great deal of interest in the show again. Leaving off on a potential cliffhanger and actual serious moment like the show had never really seen. This episode will hit so close to home with many fans of the series, it sums up not just the majority of thoughts on the series itself, but a true aspect of growing up.

Ass Burgers (2)
Stan's negative attitude might be the result of a mild form of autism. Meanwhile Cartmen and Kyle start selling burgers of a special variety. This episode was hilarious. "If there really were a social developmental disease you wouldn't call it ass burgers, that's, that's just mean". Unfortunately for me this episode is funny and comes up with a resolution to the last episode that seems fitting but the continuing storyline will end here. The answer to all life's problems seems to be becoming an alcoholic.

The Last of the Meheecans
A game turns Butters into the last Meheecan (or Mexican). Cartmen becomes a boarder patrol guard as Butters travels to Mexico and a lot of the stupidity regarding the hysteria over illegal immigration is mocked.

Bass to Mouth
A new gossip website is posting about the students at South Park elementary. The funniest thing here is that nobody cares until a post effects them and then they are all on board. Also nice to see Lemmiwinks return to take down his rival Wikileaks.

Broadway Bro Down
Randy learns the secret rewards of taking you wife to a musical and decides to write his own. A good episode that satirizes the Broadway scene, or 'Brod Way' in this case. All this is obviously on account of Matt and Trey's huge success with their own broadway hit, The Book of Mormon. It's fun to see the guys get to satirize something you know they've been wanting to.

History Channel Thanksgiving
A history channel documentary leads the boys astray in regards to Thanksgiving and Natalie Portman's wormhole must be opened. A nice satirizing of how pointless and speculative the supposed history channel has become and the movie Thor among other things. This was a good episode that is sure to become a Thanksgiving classic.

Cartmen's screw ups in phys. ed wind up finding all the other students being punished for his failings. Then they all gang up against him. A relevant episode that satirized and mocked the whole OWS movement in a classic South Park fashion.

Poor Kid
Kenny's parents get taken away for shouting loudly and Cartmen doesn't know who to rip on for being poor anymore. Mysterion makes a welcome appearance and the concept of parents not being allowed to parent anymore is well explored. This was a well done finale for the season and if the giant reptilian bird at the end through some for a loop, think back to the agnostic foster parents speech.

So there you have it. I think some people have stopped caring about the show as much after Comedy Central seemed to castrate it by foolishly censoring the 200&201 episodes last season, even on DVD/Blu-ray. I still and always will have a soft spot for this series. I may not keep up with the new episodes like I used to but it doesn't seem the show is going away just yet (3 more seasons) and I can always catch up on Blu-ray if I start missing the episodes altogether. I do hope that when the show does end Matt and Trey will find a way to give it a fitting end, obviously not a resolution exactly (there can't be one to a series like this) but something hilarious or shocking enough that it encapsulates the true spirit of the series. There would be no Animation Domination without this series. As much as people can say this series was possible only because of the Simpsons opening the door, none of the recent animated comedies would have been possible without South Park being the first ones to really push the boundaries, break down some more doors and punch some people in the face. This series truly founded adult oriented animated series'.

I'll be buying this season because I loved the getting old episode and enjoyed most of the others in this batch. I always enjoy Matt and Trey's mini-commentaries. Then there is the great documentary I've already discussed which is included as a special feature along with behind the scenes of City Sushi and some deleted scenes. I felt slightly compelled by Stan and others getting old who see everything as crap to give this season only 4 stars. But in re-watching it before this review I have to say it is a marked improvement over other recent years with only the usual debatable misstep or two. The second half is especially solid.

I opened with a rephrased quote from the season and another one seems to fit adequately in regards to my purchasing decision, lol:

"Is this season worth owning? It's the boys from South Park in... whatever, you'll pay to go see it, f*** you, coming March something. Derp-dee derp frrrp."
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 4, 2013 10:29 AM PST

The Secret World of Arrietty (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
The Secret World of Arrietty (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
DVD ~ Bridgit Mendler
Price: $17.29
46 used & new from $8.99

128 of 133 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wondrous Film Going Experience..., February 16, 2012
This film is a must see for anyone who loves hand drawn animation. This is an experience filmgoers just don't get at the theater anymore and I praise studio Ghibli (and in tandem Disney as far as North America is concerned) for continuing this tradition. I also implore anyone who feels interested in seeing this film at any level go do so and support the studio, I would like to see them around for years to come and I don't think many will be disappointed with the experience.

First of all, no, Miyazaki didn't actually direct this time around. He only penned and planned the story along with other production guidance. So I'm okay with saying this arguably isn't Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, or Howl's Moving Castle, but this is that studio Ghibli magic you love. I feel it closely kindred to Kiki's Delivery Service or My Neighbor Totoro. I personally fail to see how any Studio Ghibli fan could walk away from this film unhappy. For that matter I fail to see how any child at heart could walk away from this film without a smile on their face. Films like this evoke a feeling of childhood and a sense of wonder.

The animation is gorgeous and possibly even more stimulating since we see virtually no hand drawn animation on the silver screen in North America (though so far this year I've been blessed with the Beauty and the Beast re-release and a Fullmetal Alchemist film at my small town theater). As far as Arrietty is concerned the background designers paid great attention to detail while the characters have that streamlined Miyazaki look but move with fluidity and such realism. It's very captivating to see the familiar concept of creatures living between floorboards in such a new inventive way. Seeing what they borrow from the humans and how they use it is part of the charm of the film. I also have to say that this film, like all Ghibli films, does such an excellent job of capturing the majesty of nature. The outdoor scenes here make one long to go for a hike in such an area.

Characterization is also well done. While the characters may not seem as standout or unique as previous Ghibli releases they are all distinct and have formed personalities that are revealed in such refreshingly subtle ways, you don't get a bunch of exposition explaining characters you just see who they are through how they move and act. In this light it was also nice to see traits from the original borrowers material carried over into this representation (the mother being very worrisome, etc.). Arrietty is rightfully the most compelling character, a girl venturing into the larger world for the first time with fear but also curiosity and courage. One note, I would have liked to see more of the other characters, especially Sho/Shawn, but I was very pleased with what I did get to see.

Voice acting is something I really have to give Disney credit for. Dubs are very hard to get right and I've found that they've put good effort into the casting and voice directing of their Ghibli dubs. The voices all sound like they are coming from the characters (with perhaps the debatable exception of David Henrie as Sho/Shawn, who does a great job but sounds a bit deep voiced for the young character), and 99% match the lip flaps. Bridgit Mendler as Arriety does a standout job, Amy Poehler and Will Arnett are charmingly cast as her parents and Carol Burnett is humorous as the house cleaner, Hara. The performances, like the film itself, are understated but very engrossing (for fans of this genre at least). I look forward to being able to listen to the original Japanese dialogue for comparison purposes but I think even those who don't enjoy dubs should give this one a try if it's the only option at your local theater.

Lastly there is the sound. A key component of establishing the reality in any animated film. In Arrietty the sound has been well selected to evoke the feeling of an idyllic summer, especially in outdoor scenes. Sound was also extremely well used to establish Arrietty's unique perspective of the human world. For example, in one scene where Arrietty enters a human kitchen for the first time, the familiar sounds of appliances humming and an empty room at night are used to create a sense of unfamiliarity and vastness. In addition to the excellent sound design I must compliment the score of the film, the music fits well and has a Celtic influence that captures Arrietty's lively spirit.

If there is a fault to be found it is the running time. At 94 minutes this film is one of Ghibli's shortest (only Totoro comes to mind as being shorter). With such an immersing experience at the beginning of the film I would have loved to spend more time in Arrietty's world exploring the day to day of their unique lifestyle. Further, once the story got going I would've loved more twists and turns that a longer running time might have allotted. A positive regarding the length is that the film will be an excellent experience for most children. One more note regarding children, parents should know that there is a discussion about death in the film. It depends on your children and their age but the characters discuss the fact that we all die someday in a brief scene, it is handled much like the circle of life discussion in Lion King so judge for yourselves, I can't see it being a problem.

In conclusion, I suggest everyone take their children to see this film, it's a wonderful re-imagining of a wonderful tale and I dare say this is my favorite adaptation of The Borrowers story yet, and having grown up in Canada with BBC I've seen quite a few. I highly recommend fans of animation see this film and I hope Disney releases this Blu-ray quickly, I eagerly anticipate watching this beautiful animation in HD on my home theater. It's nice to experience a film that puts magic back into the movies.

**I also eagerly anticipate the rest of Ghibli's catalog titles being released on Blu-ray, hopefully sooner than later.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 12, 2013 9:10 PM PST

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