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Funko Legacy Action: Firefly - Malcolm Reynolds Action Figure
Funko Legacy Action: Firefly - Malcolm Reynolds Action Figure
Offered by America Collectibles
Price: $24.99
2 used & new from $19.99

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Forget the Reaction figures. This is the one to collect, May 18, 2015
Funko started getting my interest when they started making relatively cheap quality action figures for lots of my favored science fiction shows. The figures themselves mostly looked like pretty weak renditions of who they were supposed to be But the accessories were very cool as they were pretty good reproductions of the movie or tv show props (good for action figure accessories that is). The thing is these toys aren't really up to snuff for the collector. Now Funko has released the Legacy Action collection of figures. These are bigger and more detailed than the 3" figures. Basically everything about them is amped up to a higher level.

Malcolm Reynolds is the iconic captain of the Serenity for the TV series Firefly (and subsequent movie), and this figure is six inches high and has details that make the 3" Reaction figure pale in comparison. For one Mal's face on this figure actually looks like actor Nathan Fillion instead of a nondescript brunette dude (with proper hair sculpting and everything). With the Reaction figure you can get a special edition figure with a cloth cloth coat. Here you have a fully detailed duster. You can see on the pictures the high level of detail on the figure. It may not be quite as high as maybe a McFarlane toy collection, but if you ask me Funko got the the details where it counts.

Some things to point out. The duster/coat is all plastic with no cloth at all, which means it won't move. Articulation is at the wrists, elbows, shoulders, upper torso (limited), thigh (limited), knees and ankles. This gives you lots of posing possibilities, provided you are willing to take him out of the box. Like the smaller action figures this one comes with some impressive accessories. Mal's iconic Frontier Model B pistol looks better than ever with a bit of a tarnished metal look and some good detailing on the mold. He also carries a rifle (looks like a regular Winchester to me). Both can fit on the included holster, but the pistol sets best. Mal also has a trigger finger on one of his hands that fits either gun.

If you are a collector and fan of Firefly forget the Funko action figures. This is what you want to get.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 23, 2015 7:06 AM PDT

Battlestar Galactica: The Definitive Collection [Blu-ray]
Battlestar Galactica: The Definitive Collection [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Richard Hatch
Price: $84.33
6 used & new from $76.47

9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THIS is the collection you have been waiting for, May 12, 2015
Lets cut the felgercarb. This is everything from the original Galactica television series back in the 70's. Both the original first season and the second "Galactica 1980" season are here as well as the theatrical releases. The Definitive collection comes with a score of awesome extras, but other reviewers have covered that. I'm here to answer some biting questions a few of you may have: How does it look?

In a word great! This is not a transfer from the German Blu-Ray previously released. This is a BRAND NEW remaster that I think was done from an original film negative. It looks much better than any DVD or Blu-Ray that came before it. Colors are more vibrant and the image is a lot cleaner. No more bland color palettes. I did notice dark and shady scenes do seem slightly darker, but you still get much better detail. The Definitive Collection is special because it presents you with the series in both a 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios. How did they do it? Does that mean pan and scan or stretched images to fit the ratios? No way. It appears they got the original film and cropped two totally separate versions depending on the aspect ratio.

The 4:3 version has the sides cropped more and you get just about the entire top and bottom filmed. The 16:9 aspect ratio crops a bit off the top and bottom with the sides in full view. The end result is impressive. They took special care in cropping these. You are losing absolutely nothing important on the screen. No heads are cut off. No nifty detail was omitted. On the 16:9 widescreen you lose a bit of dirt and a bit of sky so to speak while the 4:3 you lose maybe half of that last step of someone walking out to the left in the background. I have seen about half of the episodes in both aspect ratios. Trust me. You aren't missing anything with these new croppings. The 16:9 is the best as you get slightly more footage than the 4:3. This also means the 4:3 isn't 100% exact as it was broadcast on TV, but don't fret. Since they got the footage from the original film you aren't losing much, if anything at all (little known secret is lots of shows get cropped before broadcast anyways because of the differences in ratios between the TV screen and the film).

So there you have it. If you have been on the fence in getting this out of concern about the image quality and screwy aspect ratios you can rest easy and fear not. This collection is lovingly remastered and presented in the best available way. If you remember the old show and would love a pristine copy without any crazy packaging to keep it from fitting on the shelf with the rest of your collection (I'm talking to you Special Edition DVD from 2004) this is exactly the one to buy.

In Time [Blu-ray + DVD + Digital copy]
In Time [Blu-ray + DVD + Digital copy]
DVD ~ Justin Timberlake
Price: $4.99
60 used & new from $1.88

4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating dystopia. Blu-Ray looks awesome, May 6, 2015
This is one of those science fiction films that are based on a far out concept and used that concept as a metaphor for current issues. The issue is the separation and imbalance of economic classes. In many ways this movie has gotten a lot of flak playing on the 99% vs. 1% protests going on at the time. To be honest I don't watch movies so they can prove some social/economic point. I watch movies to be entertained, and in the end I was entertained by In Time. The film looks great, and has the right amount of drama and exploration into the story that keeps me interested. It's in no way a perfect script, but if you enjoy science fiction that speculates on a "what if..." scenario In Time Delivers.

In the future man discovers the genetic secret to stop aging. To battle the eventual threat of overpopulation everybody is born with a life clock that starts ticking when you reach the age 25. This clock starts with just one year left on it, and if it goes to zero you "time out" and die. So in order to stay alive you work or are given more time by another person (or time bank), but commerce is based on time too. So you have to pay for rent, food, bus fare, etc with your allotted time. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is a struggling factory working living by the day (literally) until a mysterious stranger gives him over 100 years of time. Will is hunted by a police force called Timekeepers (led by Cillian Murphy), thinking he took his newly given time by murder. He eventually teams up with a young socialite (Amanda Seyfried) and start a Robin Hood style crime spree that threatens to unearth the entire system.

What makes the movie fascinating is the entire premise of your entire existence is now a commodity. You work for time, barter with it, give to friends and loved ones. It's the whole "time is precious" concept to a whole new meaning. With that little nugget of truth the movie runs full tilt on it. One of the very cool things about the film is how they show this new reality. Poor people (those with maybe a day on their clocks) run everywhere they go and seem to always be in rush while the rich people are very leisurely about their day. Family members pass time back and forth with each other in order to make sure the other can make it through the day. There is even a form of arm wrestling that saps your time from you when you engage in it. Lots of little things like that occur in the film, and that's what makes it fascinating. To be enveloped in this world where you simply cannot waste the time you have.

So the premise and the establishment of that premise is really where the real meat is on the film. The story is a pretty good way to move the film forward in this setting, but it's not Shakespeare either. There are lots of little details that don't seem to follow all the way through with the thinking at the time. They aren't plot holes, per se. However if you are a stickler for realism this may push your suspension of disbelief too far. Like how when Will and Sylvia can easily become "time bandits" (to coin a name from another sci-fi movie), stealing from time banks apparently with impunity. They seem unstoppable and nobody seems to be able to track them down in this crime spree. Also some added high tech elements fall flat like the electric cars that sound like they have pistons. I am guessing details like that aren't considered important for the story, and I can forgive them for that since I am so stoked about the things they got right. Still you should be aware of it.

The acting is actually quite good. I never saw Justin Timberlake as a dramatic actor. Just comedic. Yet his rendition of Will is convincing, and hits the dramatic notes when they are needed. One of the things I noticed in the direction is the actors who portray older people in young bodies actually give off that vibe that they have a level of experience of maturity over the younger crowd, even if everybody looks the same age. This is one of the better selling points in my opinion, and if they weren't able to pull it off at any level lower than this it would have lessen the film's impact on me significantly. Visually the movie looks really nice thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins. However you feel about the story or the thinly veiled metaphor on class warfare every shot and every scene looks perfect. The lighting, filtering and spacing give your eyes lots to feel good about.

The Blu-Ray looks amazing. It's a good representation of what a complete digital transfer from a high definition digital source can accomplish. The main track is a full 24bit 48kHz DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and it sounds really good. Maybe not reference level, but I don't think any audiophiles out there will have any complaints. You also get Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, Spanish, and French (with Spanish and French subtitles). The extras are sparse, but I think they are worthwhile. More would have been welcome like a director commentary, but this isn't bad:

The Minutes - This is a mock documentary where the actors in the film play their characters as they are interviewed by a faceless commentator. It plays like an expose on the time inequality among the rich and poor, which gets a bit heavy handed in the preaching by the commentator. However it's a good way to introduce the world setting and gives some interesting info on the discovery that brought the world to where it is.

Deleted Scenes - Several very short deleted scenes that flesh out the characters and story a tiny bit, but I don't feel you missed anything with them gone. While I wouldn't mind seeing this footage come to a director cut or an uncut version of the film. I'm not going to shed a tear if one never comes out.

BD-Live - Connect your Blu-Ray to the Internet and get more extras. So far all I saw was a game and cast/crew profiles.

D-Box - If you have a D-Box enabled chair you get a code to experience this movie in it.

In Time shouldn't be looked as yet another science fiction movie preaching about wealth inequality. It should be looked as a dystopic future with a crazy concept that is worth exploring in the film. Some inconsistencies aside the movie is wonderfully presented. If you are a fan of speculative science fiction I recommend checking it out.

by John Hill
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
30 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars I really liked reading this one, May 1, 2015
This review is from: Heartbeeps (Mass Market Paperback)
The way I rate books adapted from movies is how deeper they go into the content on a written medium as opposed to what you see on the screen. By this benchmark Heartbeeps makes for a very good book. The movie was cute and a bit quirky at times. The book does a lot to explain much of that quirkiness and a lot more. If you have seen the movie and liked it the book becomes a great way to explore the story on a deeper level. If you never seen the movie, but have a soft spot for comedic science fiction this book will also suit you. If you didn't like the movie Heartbeeps... well depending on what you didn't like this book may go a long way in changing your perception of at least the story.

Heartbeeps is about two robots brought to a remote factory for upgrades and maintenance. They decide to leave the facility in a quest to gather more useful knowledge and be better at their designated roles. It is during this time the two robots start to experience a relationship role between each other. So much to the point they start to develop bonds similar to those of love and family. This includes everything from dealing with relationship problems to creating offspring to putting up with that "weird uncle'. Essentially the story is about quantifying some essential components about having a relationship and rationalizing that condition with a logical machine. What is it about their programming that brings them to the conclusion of desiring companionship? How does the logic process of a robot bring it to want to evolve the idea to procreate (making baby robots from spare parts)? What establishes that personal bond between robots that is as legitimate to them as love is to humans? The book does a pretty decent job of explaining all this without going to an Azimovian of explaining the science behind it.

Since this is the early 80's before computers got a big uptick in popularity a lot of the technology mentioned in the book sound a bit dated. The robots use tapes for data storage (hard drives were hardly known at that time) and other little details really date the book. However I find this actually quite charming. Seeing advanced technology through the eyes of a writer 30+ years ago makes for a fascinating look into what was projected or what could have been if technology wen that way. And that's another good thing I like about this book. Being a bit of a sci-fi tech-head I love learning about the science and technology behind the stories. Heartbeeps gave me lots to absorb about this futuristic world. You get a great amount of technical details riddled between the pages. Enough to paste together a technical guide on the robots if you wish. That, for , me is just music for my brain.

The story isn't all touchy-feely "robots learn to love" prose. There is some suspense with the introduction of a malfunctioning police robot that is armed to the gills, a race to capture and retrieve the robots by the factory staff who lost them, and of course a good deal of comedy strewn about every aspect of the book. The comical moments still resonate even today... at least for me. The jokes and comedic moments were still quite enjoyable to read. If you are a sucker for the comedic style of Henny Youngman there is a stand up comic robot that will surely make you giggle.

The book is pretty tame in regards to any controversial content. Sex is more implied with an occasional double entendre joke that clears the PG rating easily. Violence is also muted with some explosive mayhem, but nothing that would put any character in major jeopardy (that may have been a spoiler, but I'm sure you won't put it against me). There is some bad language now and then so review first before reading to the kids. All in a pretty tame book if you look at these kinds of stats.

Heartbeeps is one of those movie adaption books that actually give the movie more depth for reading it. As for whether or not you should read the book before seeing the movie I don't think it really matters. I saw the movie first many years ago, then read the book. So for me that felt appropriate as the book helped me see some scenes with a bit of a different light. I think the other way around may spoil the movie a bit. This book is definitely recommended if you are a fan of light science fiction with a healthy dose of comedy. It's an entertaining book worth a look.

JCVD [Blu-Ray]
JCVD [Blu-Ray]
DVD ~ Jean-Claude Van Damme
Price: $7.88
16 used & new from $2.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly good movie... but avoid this disc if you can, April 21, 2015
This review is from: JCVD [Blu-Ray] (Blu-ray)
Jean-Claude Van Damme is not known for being a prolific actor. He is known for kicking the heads of many opponents in various creative ways and other martial arts mayhem. He is not known for his acting skills, although a few of his films did show he started building the chops for it. In many ways JCVD is the antithesis of the Van Damme movie in that it isn't an action or adventure film in the slightest. It is a drama. Sometimes a humorous and quirky drama, sometimes a morose and emotional drama. The best thing is Van Damme pulls it off splendidly. It doesn't hurt that the film has a solid script and directing style that draw you into this oddly unreal, yet real story about Jean-Claude Van Damme.

JCVD is about Jean-Claude. A down and out action star who is going through a messy child custody battle. He returns to his home town of Brussels for a sabbatical and gets involved in something dangerous. I won't say anything more from there, because doing so would spoil a bit of the charm and magic of how this film moves the story forward. The movie starts with Jean-Claude doing an extended action sequence for a movie (about the only action of any significant level on the film), which isn't a bad intro. From there you get to see a pretty somber life with a custody hearing and other bad news. Then the movie switches into different modes, depending on one's point of view. First you get an outsider's view of something going down involving Jean-Claude, then you get JC's point of view. It's a really cool cinematic element that is pulled off quite well, and that's not the only thing done. There is a monologue that breaks the cinematic fourth wall, a sort of "alternate" take on a scene, and a few other little tricks that help make the film at that more interesting.

It's not just how the film is shot and edited. The camera filtering adds a good deal of grain and a slight color tint that gives the movie a gritty look and feel. A good chunk of the dialog, I think 30%, was improvised. This gave the movie a more organic and even documentary feel. I am guessing some of those unscripted scenes are spots like where Jean-Claude is talking to a cab driver or when some shop owners asked for autographs and photos. This combination of elements make the movie very fascinating to watch.

Like I said before Jean-Claude Van Damme's martial arts aren't so strong in this movie, but he hits it out of the park acting-wise. I don't know if it's because a lot of the content hits close to home for him, or if he's just gotten better with age. Of course his serious and stoic look dominates many of the scenes, but it also works. More importantly are those moments when just looking serious isn't enough. He puts the kind of expression you would expect on a documentary. It's raw and believable, even in the scenes that are undoubtedly fictional in every way. Then there is this monologue he does almost out of the blue and outside of the film's realm. It's hard not to feel for the guy when he spills so much on that scene. It's almost like the entire movie was made just so Jean-Claude Van Damme can have this very personal talk with the film audience.

So the movie itself is great, but this U.S. release leave a bit to be desired. First off the U.S. Blu-Ray disc is a single layer 25 GB disc as opposed to the U.K. BD release at 50 GB. I haven't really noticed any visual quality differences between the two, but the U.S. disc has an odd way to deal with languages. Instead of a languages menu there is actually four separate versions of the film if you believe the menu. The original theatrical release, English version, French version and Spanish version. JCVD was filmed in French with English subtitles. The French version is the same, only the English subtitles are taken out and French subtitles put in for the English speaking scenes. The English version is a badly dubbed version where the dialog is stale and flat. The Spanish version is the Theatrical version only with Spanish subtitles. Really you have just one version of JCVD with different language options presented in a weird way.

Audio also isn't quite as good as the U.K. release as it is presented in Digital 5.1 instead of Dolby TrueHD 5.1. This may not really make much of a difference for most home entertainment situations, but if you have a dynamic audio system and are big on wanting that full low end you will be getting a less than perfect audio experience. All of this is forgivable as a clunky menu and great, but not excellent audio aren't all that bad. However the extras on the U.S. seriously pale in comparison to the U.K. Blu-Ray, which has two excellent featurettes ("A Day with JCVD" and "Making-of JCVD"). Instead you just get five minutes of deleted scenes, which are kind of cool, but really pale in comparison to these two documentaries you are missing out on.

JCVD is a treat for fans of the action hero, but this disc doesn't give you the most bang for your buck. If you can find the Revolver Entertainment U.K. import and get all the benefits of better audio, better menu interface and two awesome documentaries. It's also region free so you don't have to worry about compatibility issues.

Supernova [Blu-ray]
Supernova [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ James Spader
Price: $14.37
27 used & new from $14.29

3.0 out of 5 stars On that razor thin line between good and bad. Blu-Ray is a definite improvement, April 18, 2015
This review is from: Supernova [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Somewhere in this movie lies some great possibilities that seem to have never surfaced. Supernova is a combination of cool sci-fi and bad execution. It's a story that seems to have been told many times before, and Supernova doesn't do anything to break away. It's not really bad movie, but at the same time it's not a good one either. The film just sits there in mediocrity overall. I hear the script was rewritten several times, and the footage was re-shot and re-edited even more. This shows. Supernova is mediocre when you put summarize the whole of its parts.

Supernova is about an emergency medical rescue vessel, Nightingale 229, getting a direct distress call from a long abandoned lunar mining operation (Titan 37). The trip to Titan 37 severely damaged the Nightingale and killed its captain. What they find is a lone survivor and a strange alien object. Only this stranger turns out not to be who he says he is, and is bent on killing the rest of the crew so he can keep the artifact for himself. This is kind of where the movie falls off the rails. At first it's fascinating as you discover Nightingale's crew and its operations. Once the plot moves from discovery to a "trapped with a killer" storyline it feels like nothing else the film presented mattered anymore.

I think this is where the script, shooting and editing changes really show. Supernova establishes a number of interesting things that never show anything for it. James Spader plays a hotshot pilot who is a recovering junkie, and at first you get some great development on this little side story. Then nothing else. It feels like an idea that was going to be useful in the film, but then forgotten. This happens more than once. Like the ship's mainframe being modified to a point of having the potential to turn the plot around yet doesn't. Lots of little character details come and go. It feels like the movie sweeps all this interesting stuff and does a whole, "Nevermind about all that. Lets pick up the pace and focus on a killer on the loose" and that just doesn't jibe right for me.

If the movie was only about the mashup of changes that killed what could have been a good script was enough it would be easy to write Supernova off completely. However the movie really does have a lot going for it. For you sci-fi techie nuts out there this movie has some pretty cool concepts. Like how the Nightingale travels faster than light. It's a dimensional jump instead of hyperspace or wormholes or any of your standard FTL concepts, and it looks really cool. So cool I would love to get a technical manual on the movie. That manual would have more than the ship on it as there are lots of other cool details going on in this film that would make such a book a cool buy. Also the acting is really good. James Spader has always been good at playing characters who are a little off or with complex histories, and he knocks this one out of the park. I can really say the same for all the actors, even the ones that die early. It really is a good cast, and they do a lot to to make this broken script work.

Special effects are slightly hit and miss. From what I hear the movie's budget wasn't that big so I can't fault them too much on this. However the Nightingale is all CG, and sometimes it looks real and sometimes it doesn't. Some scenes are obviously CGI touch ups as well. It's not horrible, and movies released in 2000 have done a ton worse with more money at hand, but you should still be aware it's not perfect. The music score feels odd to me as well. Like the music doesn't necessarily fit completely. There are moments when the music feels like it's just there so you don't get bored with the silence.

So Supernova is not a well-loved film, but that doesn't mean there isn't an audience for it. Scream Factory (which is essentially the wonderful Shout! Factory) took it upon themselves to make sure this forgotten film gets a good high definition release. It's not a reference level transfer, but that may be due to the source material more than Scream Factory's efforts. They did a lot to make the imagery stand out and the muted colors of the film to actually come out with a lot more clarity than I remember on the DVD. There is still some obvious dirt, but I'm okay with that. Makes me feel like I'm seen a reel to reel film in the theater. For audio you get DTS-HD Master Audio for both the original stereo mix and a 5.1 surround mix. The surround it good in lots of parts, but feels strained or forced in others. I prefer the stereo mix overall for this reason, and because it's the original audio presentation. The extras are a surprisingly well rounded for a film like this. It's not a lot of content, and I would have loved to have gotten a commentary from at least somebody involved with directing or editing. However what you get is good.

Making of Supernova - Most films gloss over their problems and try to paint a rosy picture of the production process, hoping if they believe in the movie so will you. This documentary doesn't sugar coat it, which makes it a good viewing if you want to know what really happened to this film.

Deleted Scenes - There are a lot of deleted scenes, which should be obvious with all the editing done. Some are very interesting and some I'm glad stayed on the cutting room floor. This, along with the making of featurette, do a lot to paint a picture on how difficult this film was.

Alternate Ending - This would have been a real downer if it was the theatrical release (the universe dies in the end). At the same time I wish they would have kept some of it. I like the idea of how our killer came to an end better than on the theatrical cut.

Supernova is right there in the middle of the plane between good and bad. There is enough bad in the way the story unfolds and was presented to not like the film. Yet there is enough character development, acting, and attention to detail on the conceptual design to make me not hate it. If you are a science fiction fan, and can find this movie in the discount bin I would say go ahead and waste your money on it. The whole package with the extras I think would be worth a $5-$10 experience. If all you care about is whether or not the film is overall good then maybe rent/Netflix this film if you have time to waste. Supernova had some real potential, but to be honest I don't even know if it's original vision would have been good enough.

300: Rise of an Empire (Blu-ray + DVD)
300: Rise of an Empire (Blu-ray + DVD)
DVD ~ Eva Green
Price: $9.99
58 used & new from $5.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More of the same, but not as good, April 16, 2015
Did you see the original 300? Well this is essentially more of the same. Instead of a romanticized story based on a historical battle with 300 Spartans this is a romanticized story of a historical battle by the Greeks in the same war with Persia. You have the same bravado, same violence, same visual and cinematic style and even the same costume style. Both movies are interchangeable. However for the most part the original 300 film is far superior. Not just because it was first, but also because certain design changes and embellishments made on Rise of an Empire less effective stylistically. Also it doesn't make any attempt to really move past certain tropes that worked the first time, but in the second time around they are either looking tired or droll.

300: Rise of an Empire chronicles the exploits of Themistocles, a Greek general, and events that happened before, during and after the events from the movie 300. You hear tale of the origin of the god-king Xerxes and why he desires conquering Greece, Themistocles' heroic actions at the battle of Artemisium and Salamis, and how Xerxes' respected naval commander Artemisia rose to power and of her battles with Themistocles. The events in the film are loosely based on actual historic figures and battles, and just like 300 there is a lot of artistic license being used to liven up the events.

When I saw 300 in the theaters I knew what I was walking into, but was so impressed by the visual style that it was easy to forgive some of the more annoying aspects of the film. It just feels like this time style over substance isn't enough. For one the style isn't exactly the same, and the changes made don't do the movie any favors. The first movie had lots of violence, but it was portrayed artistically and moved more like a ballet. With Rise of an Empire it was decided to increase the graphic realism I suppose. Buckets and buckets of CGI blood are bathed in almost every scene in the movie. And unlike the painted strokes seen in the previous movie this blood is all drippy and splattering (and everywhere) in spite of the fact it's is obviously computer generated. This focus on the gore in this way does a lot to cheapen this film, and make it less a stylized and almost artsy action flick like 300 and puts it more into the realm of a cheesy snuff film.

If blood were the only problem... no the blood is a big, unrealistic turn off. However there is more misfires than just that. Like I said before this movie feels like a rehash. Themistocles is Leonidas in almost every way. His soldiers dress the same as the Spartans, grunt battle chants the same, and fight almost the same way as well. This is a real conceit because in 300 Leonidas made it a point to mention Greek soldiers are part time warriors and Spartans are all soldier, yet here these craftsmen and farmers by trade kicking butt just as well. I admit Themistocles is the best butt-kicker of the bunch, and he is a full time military man, but still the difference between 300's "brave amateurs" and what we see here are striking.

And don't get me started about the the endless parade of rousing speeches in this film. Just about all of them sound like hollow talking points. "...unbreakable bond made stronger by the crucible of combat", "...they fear our freedom", "It is a wind of freedom! A wind of vengeance." I swear you can play a drinking game for every time they spout out the words freedom, glory, blood and so forth. With 300 there were speeches like these, and they were just as cheesy, but then there were some decent displays of bravado that Rise of an Empire completely lack. Oh yeah... and I don't get the title of this picture. 300: Rise of an Empire is not about any empire rising to power. So the title is misleading at best. There is also the attempt to keep the stylized camera work where certain action scenes are slowed down then sped back up again as well as other things like that CG painted backdrop look and overall filtering. Again this all doesn't hold the same bite as before.

Still 300: Rise of an Empire isn't all bad. You get good performances from Sullivan Stapleton and Eva Green. Sullivan doesn't have the same poise that Gerard Butler had, but he does portray that dedication you expect from a legendary hero. Eva plays Artemisia with both a gleeful sadism that's chews up the scenery and some surprisingly subtle expressions denoting more going on than just what's on the surface. This helps dampen out the off-period wardrobe her character often wears. As much as Rise of an Empire is inferior to the original 300 it does still have many moments that are pure eye candy. That can't be denied. Also the introduction of more refined battle tactics does give this movie a notch up from the hack and slash of the previous movie. So as much as I didn't enjoy the movie overall there were plenty of moments that make me almost... just almost... give this movie a pass.

The video is top notch and in full 1080p. With all the details in the cinematography and the dynamic color palette his can very well be a reference level disc when it comes to testing visuals. Audio is the same way with the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 taking a lot of use from the satellite speakers. A bit overdone at times, but again it makes a great reference disc. You also get Dolby Digital 5.1 in Spanish, French and Portuguese along with subtitles. The extras are surprisingly good, and do a lot to make this disc a worthwhile buy. Here's the list:

Behind the Scenes: The 300 Effect - Four making-of featurettes running at a half hour total go into the production of the movie. The four segments are Three Days in Hell, Brutal Artistry, A New Breed of Hero and Taking the Battle to Sea.

Real Leaders & Legends - This is the real gem of the extras. It's a comparison between the movie and the actual historical events they are based on. It makes for an honest and informative little documentary that would feel just right on the History channel.

Women Warriors - A shorter featurette showcasing the two female leads in the film. It's a nice reminder to a testosterone filled movie that girl power isn't something to be trifled with.

Savage Warships - Another great featurette that taps into the real history of the battles and shows the technology and tactics behind the naval warfare of the ancient Greeks. It's just a little over ten minutes long, but it's got a lot of fascinating information.

Becoming a Warrior - Behind the scenes with the actor training for the roles they do in the film.

300: Rise of an Empire ultimately didn't impress me. There was some potential to stand out, but instead the movie took the approach of aping the first film more than it should have. Don't get me wrong. I may have not liked it overall, but you might. If the action and bravado of 300 is all you really care for you will get plenty of it here to love along with lots of animated blood and gore, partial nudity and some origin stories. If you demand more than a rehash film you may want to leave this film as a rental.

Her [Blu-ray]
Her [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Joaquin Phoenix
Offered by MightySilver
Price: $16.50
52 used & new from $8.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reflective more than romantic view of relationships, April 15, 2015
This review is from: Her [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Some of the better science fiction films are a reflection of real life experiences presented in a way that detaches that experience from a conventional way of looking at it. This doesn't always have to be done with fantastic worlds in outer space or futuristic technology all around. Some of the best sci-fis do it with a simple concept. This is where Her excels. The movie doesn't do so much to convince you of a future world or a technologically advanced society. What is does do is draw you into the relationship between the main characters and gets you enveloped in all the complexities that abound. Her is a reflective film that is devoid of action and spectacle, and in its place you get a though provoking experience on the state of love, relationships and the ability to adapt in those changing environments.

Her is about Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix). A lonely guy on the verge of a divorce from his long estranged wife. He gets Element Software's latest product, OS1, that claims to be the first real artificially intelligent operating system capable of evolving with each new experience. Theodore sets up the OS as a female, who instantly becomes a useful and trusted assistant. From there a relationship builds between the two that goes from friendship to romance. Through this time Theodore learns more about who he is and the complexities of not only having a romantic relationship with a computer, but of relationships in general.

The crux of the film sounds like a stereotypical geek romance with a guy lacking intimate contact with the outside world replacing that with a simulated companion. On the surface that's exactly what it is. However this movie goes much, much deeper than that. Theodore isn't just a shut out infatuated with anything that has an interested in him... including software. He has a job dictating letters that appear to be written by hand for customers to send to their loved ones, and in that job he excels at the art of expressing memories and emotions in the letters he writes. He has trouble communicating to other people, but internally has lots to say. This is a complex character with depth and untapped potential to be better than who he is. Not just a subject of a techno-fantasy.

This is where the movie does its work. Theodore is front and center. Samantha (the AI voiced by Scarlett Johansson) is his focus for most the film, and brings its/her own complex level of understanding of the world surrounding them. The conversations between Theodore and Samantha reflect both his questions and observations on life as well as her fresh look on things and how she expresses them. The movie touches on lots of relationship subjects. Almost feels like the film hits on just about all of the important and complicated ones... even if only briefly. There is possibly even a taste of what interracial or same-sex couples experience from the outside world. As the movie goes further into the relationship the relationship becomes more and more complicated and moves to a level that I won't give away, but does comes to an interesting conclusion that doesn't forget this movie's sci-fi roots.

Speaking of sci-fi the setting is very, very subtle in way of being a futuristic place. It seems this aspect is there not to convey we are in the future, but to further give observation on where society may be going. Everybody has these little computers and ear plugs, and you see them all in crowds, but spending more time interacting with their devices than those around them. The technology that is presented is very cool. Palm sized computers that do just about every organizational task by voice. Video games that use holographic technology to fully immerse your room into the game. Theodore's job alone is a play on how technology is replacing the personal touch. It's no surprise he falls for his new OS, and that there are people cool with that.

So the artist in me sees all this great imagery and the deft handling of the subject matter, but the logical side of me can't help but notice a few things. Samantha right out of the gate has a full set of emotion and expression that is hard for me to accept as being just the latest software gadget you can get at the local Best Buy. The massive advancement of the technology is evident even in the opening scenes. Such a paradigm shift seems to just be an afterthought to everybody, and that messes with my head. Maybe that was all by design to say people are so detached that they almost expect such a thing without much fanfare. It still sticks to my craw too strong to accept though.

With that is the other thing that bugs me a bit. The relationship between Theodore and Samantha developed quickly, and Samantha seemed to express emotions and responses that shouldn't have been so easy to do. We are talking about tactile sensations like their first "night" together that, when you look at it logically, shouldn't be there. I understand that's not the point of the film. Spike Jonze isn't making an intelligent science fiction film. Only a speculative one. One that gives him enough leeway to explore the subject matter with the impunity he has. And for that I cannot fault him or the film for these complaints of mine. Still they are details that stuck with me and I feel the rest of you at least should know they exist.

Visually Her is very soothing. Background colors and textures stand out in eye pleasing ways while the characters feel muted as if they are subjects in a painting. Nice little details are peppered in that give the entire film a very nice aesthetic look. The music also carries a lot of weight on Her. It's as soothing as the visuals, and is such a play on tone poems that every note seems to add to the picture. All in all this movie is a perfect way to please the senses.

I can't tell you how beautiful this Blu-Ray looks. The movie doesn't lend itself to be a reference level film, but the eye candy is there in full 1080p to enjoy. Audio too. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit) gives you a chance to relish every single sound coming out, and this film is big on letting you do that. You also get Dolby Digital 5.1 in Spanish and French (with subtitles all around). You also get some interesting extras as well. I miss the fact there is no commentary as I would love to hear Jonze talk about this work. Essentially all the extras are just additional artistic shorts that don't get to the nuts and bolts of making the film. Here is what you do get:

The Untitled Rick Howard Project - This is a behind the scenes documentary that has an art house vibe to it. No production notes or meaningful interviews. Just footage of the production done in a way that sets a tone. It's almost like a short film an the footage is more for this short film than to give you a making of documentary. Oddly appealing, but not all that informative on the technical side.

Her: Love in the Modern Age - A series of interviews from people not associated with the film who discuss all the imagery and themes from the movie. Again nothing to give you production notes on, but it jibes with the film.

How Do You Share Your Love with Somebody? - A short montage of behind the scenes footage and film footage done to some film dialog. I kind of like it in spite of me getting tired of the extra features trying to be art films in their own rite.

Her is a beautiful and reflective film. Not much else can be said about that. I have heard some people call it a comedy, although I found nothing to laugh at in it. To me it's a romantic drama of the highest order. Is it a date film? I don't think so, but you can bring a date if you don't mind a movie that will almost definitely make you rethink your relationships after watching it. Her stands on its own, and I recommend it to anybody brave enough to want to explore some complicated questions of love.

Short Circuit / Short Circuit 2 [Blu-ray]
Short Circuit / Short Circuit 2 [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Ally Sheedy
Price: $12.97
26 used & new from $8.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Discs just as good as the individual releases, April 15, 2015
I got this one for the first movie and haven't seen the Short Circuit 2 disc yet, so this review is essentially 1/2 the collection. I will update when I do get a chance to view it. Still I got this one because it was a better buy with the two films at about $6.50 per disc. These discs are the exact same ones as on the individual releases so you aren't getting a single disc with two movies on them or a cut rate copy of each. All the same features are in this collection. Now on to Short Circuit:

This is a light-hearted fish-out-of-water themed movie about a military robot who got its programming scrambled, now desiring data input. The robot, Number 5 (or Johnny Five later in the film), befriends Stephanie (Ally Sheedy) while the company that designed him are out looking for him. In Number 5's search for more and more data it starts to build an identity and even consciousness. The robot designers (Steve Guttenberg and Fisher Stevens) eventually come to the aid of Number 5 in trying to prevent the company security detail from destroying it.

The story is a bit simplistic in that the threat comes from a lack of communication and understanding of the situation, but then again that happens all too often in real life as well. What I like on this conflict is how it is handled. The security chief (G. W. Bailey) brings up good points on why he would rather destroy the robot than retrieve it. A detail like that helps keep the conflict plausible, but really it's just there to keep the pacing up and move the plot along. The movie's real focus is the comedy. Number 5's interpretation of the world and how it interacts is the name of the game. The jokes are witty and the physical comedy is enjoyable as well. To see Number 5's various capabilities represented in a humorous fashion make the movie interesting just by wanting to see what the robot does next.

Technically the design of Number 5 is excellent. It's one of the few robot designs that looks completely possible, even in the 80's. What's better is how they were able to use puppet wizardry to make you believe you are actually seeing a robot perform on the screen. Especially at that time. Many people just assumed it was all a remote control robot the actions and designs were so good. This alone is a good enough reason for any sci-fi/robot fans to watch this film.

So the movie is ultimately enjoyable, but not without it's downsides. This being an 80's film there are some stereotypical 80's stuff going with some unbelievably odd physical comedy and other little tells that they are trying too hard to be "hip" and/or funny in places it simply does not work. Also the dubbing in the movie is pretty obvious and could have used more refinement. Above all the movie is dated. While the robot is really cool, and they do a great job featuring it the reset of the film just screams the 80's. Still as a light comedy there is more to enjoy than not.

Acting on this film is... sketchy. It's not that the actors can't act. It's just the movie seemed to use the 80's typecast model and got actors who didn't fit their part. Ally Sheedy was alright as the naive and sweet Stephanie, but since she has done so many similar roles before it's hard not to separate the character from the actor. Steve Guttenberg has the chops for comedy, but as a computer and robotics engineering geek he absolutely can't sell it. Every time to does the geek dialog it falls flat. Fisher Stevens plays someone of apparent Indian descent. While the character itself isn't a racial stereotype other than having an odd relationship with the English language I can't help but feel odd about the fact a white actor is playing the role. G. W. Bailey is another actor that plays to his typecast, but it does work in this film to an extent.

As stated before this is the exact same Blu-Ray disc as was on the individual release. That also means all the limitations are there too. While it's still looks a lot better than the DVD version you will see inconsistencies. Some scenes are clean and vibrant with color while others are duller. Almost like a different film stock was used in those scenes and it transferred the same way. Also the Blu-Ray is in 1080i resolution instead of 1080p. The difference is the "i" stands for interlaced, which is like saying you get two images chopped up that move fast together to make it look hi-def. I usually equate 1080i to the same resolution as 780p, which is still a nice high-def picture. Just not the best. Audio is DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. I don't recall the movie released with surround sound so I believe this is a post-produced track, but it does sound pretty nice sound presence with the additional speakers. Better still the dialog isn't drowned out and has a solid center speaker presence. You get a decent selection of extras, mainly the same stuff from the DVD. All of it is in standard definition, but you get a fair amount for an 80's movie:

Commentary - The director and writers give a thorough commentary throughout the film touching on tons of various little tidbits about the making of the film.

Behind the Scenes Featurette - This is a very brief feature on the filming of the movie. Like a couple minutes short.

The Creation of Number 5 - This was a short feature made back in the 80's on the design and filming of the pivotal robot. It's half promo real and half informational.

Interviews - Another retro-featurette. These are separate interviews with various cast and crew that were made in the 80's. The interviews with the actors and director are pretty short and run at a few minutes. However there is an interview with robot special effects supervisor and conceptual artist Syd Mead that are longer and more interesting.

Biographies and Press Kits - These are the original text pages from the DVD showing actor, writer and director profiles. Plus you get production notes based on the original 1986 press kids and a photo gallery.

Short Circuit is a fun little film that shouldn't be taken seriously. It's not great comedy or sci-fi, but it's good enough. Though I haven't viewed SC2 yet I am told it's not as good as the first, but not bad. The disk for Short Circuit 2 has no special features and has the same 1080p and two channel uncompressed LPCM 2.0 stereo track like the single release of the movie.

Scanners (Blu-ray + DVD)
Scanners (Blu-ray + DVD)
DVD ~ Jennifer O'Neill
Offered by newbury_comics
Price: $22.99
28 used & new from $17.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Turned the telepathic film genre on its ear. This is the Blu-Ray version to get, April 15, 2015
This review is from: Scanners (Blu-ray + DVD) (Blu-ray)
In the telepathic/telekinetic sci-fi sub-genre Scanners stands out as one of the most thought provoking of them. Most people when they think of Scanner they think of that head exploding early in the film. However this movie is far from being a gory styled supernatural horror film. It's a film with a bit of complexity and is in a way thought provoking while at the same time playing on the dramatic sensibilities of the classic conspiracy theory. Scanners isn't a perfect film, but it is a fascinating one that touch on ideas way ahead of its time. If you are into movies about telepathic powers this should be top on your list.

Scanners are a small group of people (numbering in the hundreds worldwide) who have the power to read minds and essentially control the nervous system of their subjects. The corporation, ConSec, is developing scanners for corporate espionage, but a very powerful scanner named Revok (Michael Ironside) is bent on destroying ConSec's plans and any scanner working for them. ConSec's research head Dr. Paul Ruth uses this opportunity to recruit a powerful scanner (Steven Lack) to stop Revok. This being Cronenberg the film isn't so cut and dry, and there are plot twists along the way that make this simple "stop that man" scenario into something more complicated.

The powers of the mind have always brought out ideas of how that power can be tapped to do more. In the 70's extra-sensory perception (ESP) was becoming the rage; replacing psychics as the go-to side-show, so to speak. Science fiction movies started coming out in force over the subject at that time too. Scanners joins the fray after a dozen or so films have been release regarding people with mind powers of all shapes and sizes. Only up to this time most of these movies were focused on using telekinetic powers to essentially enact revenge fantasies. Scanners separated itself from the bunch by being one of the few (aside from The Fury) that makes the telepath a weaponized asset for a corporation, and opposing telepaths with an agenda that goes deeper than revenge. This is also the first film to actually explore the powers and abilities to the point of having an origin to the phenomena which paints an even more complex picture of not only conspiracy, but the implications of having a growing telepathic population. This stuff alone makes Scanners blow the competition out of the water.

The ideas that went into Scanners are still groundbreaking. The concept of how the telepathic powers work is a fresh one even today. The movie even taps into concepts that will only be approached years later by writers like William Gibson (I don't want to give it away, as it's a nice reveal when you find out on your own). If there is one thing this movie lacks in this department it's the lack of further development on the subject. The movie does touch on the theory behind telepathic powers much more than any movie before, and to this day is still uncommon among movies of this genre. So I have to give them credit where credit is due, but so much more could have been said and explored. If the film focused on that it would have been much better for it.

As it stands Scanners kind of mixes different themes, and in some ways this doesn't jibe too well. There are horror elements in the film, but hardly enough to call it that. You get the one iconic scene in the beginning of the film with a scanner's head exploding and couple other gory/scary parts, but that doesn't really qualify the movie as a horror flick. It almost feels like they were put in to get an R rating. I think this ultimately hurt the film as there were only two scenes that had any level of gruesomeness to them. Now this is a slippery slope of thinking since the gory scenes are the most iconic, but when you add the fact the best scenes weren't the violent ones it makes me wonder if the film would have been better received as a PG movie. Still more would have to be done. There are lots of Hollywood style that would need to be fixed. Stuff like cars exploding for no valid reason and other little details that seem to be there more for spectacle than moving the story forward. Also the movie is harshly dubbed, and I can't help but wish they had more time to refine the audio so it's not so obvious.

There are two notable Blu-Ray releases for this film. The Second Sight Films release from the UK and this Criterion Collection release. For me the best buy is the Criterion. Both have a great high definition transfer, but I feel this one is a truer representation with less cleanup of the film grain, and the colors aren't as artificially bright. I also prefer Criterion's 24bit mono audio track to the import's surround track since the original source material is mono, and Criterion's track is super clear. This collection also comes with a mini-booklet with a film essay and notes on the mastering done for this release. The extras are a good mix with some exclusives:

The Scanners Way - A Criterion exclusive, this is a pretty decent documentary that covers a wide range of topics on the making of the film. It has interviews from key production staff and runs at about 23 minutes.

Mental Saboteur - Interview with actor Michael Ironside that covers bits of his career, his work on Scanners and his experiences with working with Cronenberg. 20 minute running time.

The Ephemerol Diaries - Interview with actor Stephen Lack. Very similar to Ironside's interview in regards to what is discussed. 15 minute run time.

The Bob McLean Show - A clip from talk show that aired March 10, 1981. It's an interview with director David Cronenberg where they talk about Scanners and other films Cronenberg has done. Kind of like the the movie plugs you see today on late night talk shows... only 80's style.

Stereo - Here is treat for you. It's a complete feature film Cronenberg did in 1969 that covers the same subject matter as Scanners. It;s only about an hour long, but this is a really cool extra to have. Where else do you get a bonus movie in high def as an added feature?

Trailer and radio spots - Interesting they add the radio adds. I haven't checked them out yet.

Scanners is a trailblazing supernatural/science fiction movie that, if it had more time to refine, would have been a serious contender as one of the best sci-fis of the era. As it stands it's still a very good movie that took on the subject matter in a whole new way. I consider this recommended viewing for fans of the genre. For the average viewer I think this film will make you think. You may have to forgive a few hiccups along the way and if you're squeamish may have to cover your eyes on the first scene, but I think the experience will be worth it.

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