Arrow Season 2 Blu-ray – This is the Season Smallville Should have had

Warner Bros’ ambitious comic book adapted series, Arrow, took us on a journey of adventure, conspiracy and a crap load of action in its freshman season. In season one, we found security in our heroic vigilante, even if he wasn’t secure in whom he was or the kind of hero he wanted to be. Arrow Season 2 takes all of our comfort zones and squeezes them through the ringer. Deathstroke is in the mix as well as array of other villains. And the Green Arrow has got to put his inhibitions aside and grow his team. That’s right, Smallville fans. Arrow has pushed the story and adrenaline forward in a way we only wished could have happened by Smallville’s fifth season. Plus, the showrunners tossed in enough comic book Easter eggs to make even the staunchest fan giddy with excitement.

What did the producers get right in Season 2? The first thing you’ll notice is that Oliver Queen’s hair doesn’t look like a bad toupee. His hair was painfully distracting in all the season one flashbacks. Thankfully, without the hair waving about in the wind, you get to enjoy all the great action on the island.

This season, the flashbacks actually feel like a self-contained story. We really get a chance to get inside the psyche of Slade Wilson and his inevitable transformation into Deathstroke. His relationship with Oliver becomes as close and strained as Oliver’s tenuous relationship with his mother. By creating this long term, symbiotic relationship between Slade and Arrow, the producers were able to give more weight to their falling out.

While Slade’s story was top notch, Roy Harper’s story was touch and go. After getting injected by what can only be called DC Comics’ version of a super soldier serum, Roy has to learn how to balance his new found strength without taking out the mental stresses of the serum physically on his friends, and especially Oli’s sister, Thea.

But, Roy isn’t the only powered-up ally on Arrow’s team. Sara joins the roster as Black Canary. With all these heroes in the mix, one has to wonder where does Diggle fall into play – especially with Oliver basically having the martial arts skill of Batman (an attribute that was never present in the comic)? Unfortunately, Diggle takes a back seat this season. He’s more there to offer Oli sage advice, whenever Oli gets a little too heroic for his own good or fails to separate his personal life from his vigilante life. However, he does get a few brief moments to shine when Amanda Waller’s Suicide Squad starts to take shape.

Quentin Lance is also an oddity this season. At first, it seemed he would become more like Star City’s version of Commissioner Gordon. However, he ends up being more of a needless plot device to create an additional riff between Oliver, the Arrow and Laurel.

Regardless of a few pitfalls in character overload, Arrow continues to pulsate with enough high-velocity tension to keep you glued to the screen week-to-week. This is simply one of the most intense drama and action series on broadcast TV that you need to tune into, if you haven’t already done so.

The Blu-ray release adds several bonus features that you’ll want to dive into. While I do enjoy when studios include special features that involve cast sit-downs, I prefer to see more off-the-cuff interviews with third parties. You get to see the cast in a different light – even if some of the answers are canned responses. However, what I do love are bonus features that show how the magic of a series is executed. Arrow is one of those shows that hinges on cool stunts and special effects. Even though there’s a reality to Star City, there are a few fantastical elements that we tune in every week to see.

There are two great bonus features to check out on this blu-ray release. The first is the visual effects of Arrow. We get to hear from the visual effects team and learn how they helped bring season two to life. The second special feature is the wirework of arrow. This is great since Arrow is basically the Batman of Star City. So you get to see how all these intense stunts are performed so that the talents live to perform another day.

Arrow Season 3 premieres on Oct 8 at 8/7C on the CW.

Arrow: Season 2 [Blu-ray]
Starring: Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, David Ramsey, Willa Holland, Emily Bett Rickards
Studio: Warner Home Video
Release Date: September 16, 2014

Rating: 8.5 / 10

The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Seventh Season Blu-ray – A Year of Breakthroughs

Although traditional sitcoms toting the banner of laugh tracks and “filmed live before a studio audience” are going the way of the dodo, The Big Bang Theory has managed to achieve critical success for seven years running. Now entering its eighth season, with no signs of petering out, the series pushed the character arcs just a tad farther in season 7. There were relationship breakthroughs, a Star Wars calamity with James Earl Jones, Penny reassesses her career, pseudo-scientific discoveries and Raj became a little less awkward.

The season began with Leonard out on his North Sea expedition. While Leonard was away, Penny and Sheldon had a chance to bond. Penny has come a long way from being the Kelly Bundy figure of the group. Sheldon begins to turn to her for platonic companionship as well as advice.

This was a great advance in the group dynamic. Even though Sheldon is always condescending towards Leonard’s Princeton education, we all know that Leonard is his best friend and compatriot. Adding Penny to the mix, turns their little duo into a trio. But what happens when Leonard and Penny’s relationship eventually goes to the next level? It’s food for thought, but hardly one of the sticking points of the season.

Raj has one of the most fun arcs this season. We all know how bad he and Howard are with women. Well, we get to see Raj push his social awkwardness to a new level. There’s online dating, a great scene with his cat’s vet and even a moment where Raj becomes a “playa” – so to speak. Although Sheldon usually steals the scene, Raj takes the spotlight several times this season. I found myself anxiously anticipating the next Raj scene and hoping that he’d finally get a woman.

Laughs with Howard’s character tend to come primarily from his bromance relationship with Raj and in the way that Bernadette reacts to it. The over-protective and needy mother jokes with Howard seem like they have run their course. Thankfully, Melissa Rauch cute, but feisty characterization of Bernadette keeps Howard interesting.

Season 7 was filled with big payoffs. Each character, including Stuart, found resolutions that he or she had been facing since day one. Even Howard seemed to find some new way of dealing with his mom; one that finally gave he and Amy some modicum of happiness in dealing with mommy dearest.

It will be interesting to see where the story goes from here. We all know that Sheldon hates change. Well so do fans. But how will life change within this scientific cabal should Sheldon and Leonard part ways? At the very least, season 8 should maintain the same casual format. But we’ll have to see how the laughs change post-wedding.

As for season 7, this may very well be the height of the story. The jokes were still fresh and the story didn’t get boggled down with too many plot points, which often sap the life from the casual sitcom.

You can catch the season 8 premiere of The Big Bang Theory, Sept 22 at 8/7C on CBS.

The Big Bang Theory: Season 8 [Blu-ray]
Starring: Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Melissa Rauch, Mayim Bialik, Kevin Sussman
Studio: Warner Home Video
Release Date: September 16, 2014

Rating: 8 / 10

Person of Interest: Season 3 Blu-ray – The Most Intense Season to Date

The third season of every series is a pivotal point. Networks are anxious to see if the series will go into syndication, while fans are wondering if their honeymoon relationship with said series has run its course. Person of Interest’s third season surpassed its predecessors in many ways. We learned the truth about Harold, new enemies emerged and old enemies became unlikely allies. Season 3 was the proverbial pay off for being a loyal fan. And watching it in a marathon on blu-ray is a twenty-three hour treat.

At the end of season 2, we had several looming questions. What would become of Agent Carter’s unlikely alliance with Carl Elias? Now that Root had successfully made a connection to The Machine through its system reboot, how would that impact Harold and Reese’s mission? Will HR be a serious problem through its new “partnership” with the Russians? And, just what the heck is the deal with Decima?

In season 3, all pots start burning on full blast. Agent Carter is still dealing with the loss of her boyfriend, Cal Beecher. Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize that Cal’s godfather, Alonzo Quinn, is the head of HR and the one who order the “hit” on Cal. Carter decides to turn vigilante on her mission to uncover the truth regarding Cal’s death. She operates independently of the police department (which still suffers from HR’s corruption) as well as Harold and Reese. Needless to say, this wasn’t the best move. The walls begin to close in around Carter on what was easily Taraji P. Henson’s best arc throughout these last few seasons.

Although we still see Reese and Harold saving people here and there when the numbers present themselves, it’s really Carter’s story that is drawing you in as a fan. She’s the one with undying urge to take down HR.

However, she’s not the only woman that makes you want to keep watching. Sarah Shahi as Sameen Shaw and Amy Acker as Root give us two more phenomenal women to be fully engaged in. Season 3 is all about finding Shaw’s humanity. Much like Reese, Shaw only shows off an overly stolid and unfeeling exterior. We learn more about her origin and how she was able to shut down her emotions. Every scene where Shaw has to go undercover as a civilian is an utter joy, filled with laughs. Viewers get to see Shaw “try” to show emotion, which she just can’t seem to do because of her past. Shahi wears Shaw’s her awkwardness around men and kids to perfection.

Root relationship to The Machine becomes one of love. However, it’s also a little twisted. She looks at the machine as a god on earth. Root follows the machine’s orders even when it puts her in danger. It’s a great dynamic, which becomes one that Harold, Reese and Shaw must rely on despite their apprehension.

This season adds Vigilance into the mix. It’s an anti-government group that wants to expose the truth about government surveillance. Although it doesn’t appear to be a threat to team Harold at first, Vigilance becomes a key piece of the story. As the government and Decima continue to narrow in on Harold and the Machine, Vigilance serves to thwart their every move.

The Person of Interest Season 3 finale, “Deus Ex Machina,” pushes team Harold to the brink of disaster and pushes the series in entirely new direction. This is really the most intense season yet. Plus Fusco also proves his worth, yet again.

The writers will have their work cut out for them in Season 4. “Deus Ex Machina” ostensibly changed the series. All of our familiar locations and dynamics will be thrown out the door. And our new enemies are even stronger than before.

Person of Interest Season 4 premieres September 23 on CBS.

Person of Interest: Season 3 [Blu-ray]
Starring: Joseph Jim Caviezel, Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Chapman, Sarah Shahi, Michael Emerson
Studio: Warner Home Video
Release Date: September 2, 2014

Rating: 8.5 / 10

‘The Originals’ Blu-ray – First Season Excelled in Paternal Relationships

Whenever a spinoff is announced, fans wonder if the new show will simply reuse the plot, theme and character dynamics of the core series. Successful spinoffs like The Jeffersons and Frasier were nothing like their forefathers All in the Family and Cheers respectively. Others like Sex in the City’s spinoff The Carrie Diaries, which targeted a totally different audience and serve as a prequel, were doomed from day one.

So when the CW announced that it would spin off The Originals from The Vampire Diaries, there was some apprehension. After too many repetitive shocks, The Vampire Diaries was already starting to lose its edge, an edge that was due in large part to the original family. The show stopped being about character dynamics and more about who would die next and then come back to life through some miracle lore. Then, the whole Stelena vs. Delena back-and-forth dynamic started to wear numb. How would The Originals be able to carve out its own niche?

The series focuses on the original family, consisting of Klaus and Elijah Mikaelson. Although Rebekah is part of the family, she’s only a supporting character (which is a little weak sauce). In the pilot, Klaus heads down to New Orleans and has to deal with a bunch of witches that have hexed Hayley, the mother of his unborn hybrid-werewolf child. Elijah follows him down to NOLA, hoping that this baby will be the key to Klaus’ salvation and the rebirth of the Mikaelson family as a loving unit.

Unfortunately, right away we get the hint of a love triangle. Elijah falls in love with Haley and we’re all thinking, time for another episode of The Vampire Diaries. Thankfully, that’s not the case. The first season focuses on the salvation of Klaus. While Elijah does develop feelings for Haley, Klaus never develops the same type of love for the mother of his child. Instead, Klaus develops a protective, familial love for Haley. As a Vampire Diaries viewer, once you realize that this seemingly orchestrated love triangle will never be, you can enjoy the series.

Now, it’s only fair to say that this series does drum up some old villains from TVD, which can potentially be laborious. However, the freshman season focuses more on Klaus trying to retake New Orleans from his adopted vampire son, Marcel. This is the relationship that really sets the series apart from TVD. It also adds another layer of depth to Klaus’ already intricate personality.

The Originals explores tests the many layers of family bonds, both blood bonds and those that develop through time and experience. There are witches, vampires and werewolves. And you’ll get to see them all interact in a struggle for survival. Of course, there are a lot of shocks since the producers are the same as those on TVD. But for right now, it’s really the dueling family dynamics that make the show interesting. Sure, the original family has its own family beef to deal with that does at times feel like a TVD rehash. But when the focus turns Klaus, Marcel and Davina (Marcel’s adopted witch prodigy), The Originals truly excels. Also, the witches and the werewolves finally get to show off some badassery, which is reason enough to watch.

The Originals Season 2 premieres Oct 6 at 8/7C on The CW.

The Originals: Season 1 [Blu-ray]
Starring: Joseph Morgan, Daniel Gillies, Claire Holt, Phoebe Tonkin, Charles Michael Davis, Danielle Campbell
Studio: Warner Home Video
Release Date: September 2, 2014

Rating: 8 / 10

‘Machete Kills’ Blu-ray: A Stylized Hero gets his Heart Ripped Out

machete killsRobert Rodriguez is one of those directors that everybody has heard of, but nobody really gets. Most viewers want to firmly decide whether they love or hate Rodriguez. After all, he directed El mariachi, Desperado, and From Dusk Till Dawn. He also worked alongside Frank Miller on Sin City. If you forget the Spy Kids franchise, or chalk it up as his good deed for children, that’s a pretty solid list of credits. All of those movies warrant a second watch.

He’s also become the hipster filmmaker hero, after he released his book “Rebel Without a Crew.” Just about every aspiring filmmaker has read this Rodriguez’s tale of run-n-gun shooting. Spike Lee recommends the book to his students at NYU.

But, then comes along The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D, Grindhouse and the subsequent film Planet Terror and you have to ask yourself one question. What is this guy really doing? Is he just taking any job that comes along, trying to make a statement or is he aiming to be a stylized director like his partner-in-crime, Quentin Tarantino. It feels like some kind of bizarre mix of the two.

Machete worked much like Desperado to give viewers a kick-butt action hero, who wasn’t white. It was needed. Not only was Danny Trejo playing a Hispanic Captain America, but he also got the girl. And, not just one girl either… No, no. Machete got all the women.

Sure the movie was balls-to-the-wall insanely unbelievable, but that’s what any action movie is at the end of the day. Action movies are unbelievable ways for us to escape and experience our inner hero. And, why shouldn’t there be a Hispanic hero who is damn near immortal and a sexual icon? And, of course, the villain should be your stereotypical, clean-cut Hollywood actor, Don Johnson.

Machete may not have had plot depth, but it had heart thanks to Machete’s relationship with Luz, Michelle Rodriguez, and Sartana, played by Jessica Alba. I even went so far as to proclaim Machete as the number one action hero of 2010 so long ago.

Unfortunately, that’s where Machete Kills fails. The film sidesteps all of Machete’s personal relationships and just goes for stylized action. Even the worst 80’s action movie knew that a hero needs something or someone tangible to be a hero. Luz and Sartana are virtually absent from the sequel and Machete is left running around under the orders of the president, played by Charlie Sheen. There’s just nothing compelling to keep you watching.

Sadly, there’s even a nod to a sequel to the sequel as well as a cliffhanger. Unlike The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which was able to cheat in a cliffhanger (that we all hated), Machete isn’t a big enough film franchise to warrant such a cliffhanger. Plus, the reveal of the cliffhanger happens at the very beginning of Machete Kills with a b-movie teaser trailer for Machete Kills Again… In Space!

There’s a lot of potential in the Machete franchise, or at least there was. But somebody’s got to grab Rodriguez by the collar and help him figure out what he’s really trying to do. Then, give the man a plot and some interesting characters that we want to follow. Machete needs to save people we want to see saved.

The first Machete movie was statement of propaganda. Machete Kills was just a painful mishmash of action and useless Lady Gaga scenes. It was almost Rodriguez’s answer to Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch – another action film lacking even the slightest sliver of substance.

Machete Kills [Blu-ray]

Starring: Danny Trejo, Sofia Vergara
Studio: Universal Studios
Release Date: January 21, 2014

4 / 10

Blu-ray: ‘The Great Muppet Caper’ & ‘Muppet Treasure Island’ Of Pirates & Pigs 2-Movie Collection

Ever since <em>The Muppet Movie revitalized the Muppet empire, muppet flicks have been making their way to Blu-ray. Muppet Treasure Island and The Great Muppet Caper have both been released on Blu-ray as a part of a new combo pack. When you hear combo pack, you might think you’re getting two movies on two discs. Nope. The second disc is a DVD since both flicks come on one disc. Before you squeal, remember that TV series often have three to four episodes on a single Blu-ray disc, while maintaining the video quality. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here. But, we’ll get to that.

The Great Muppet Caper debuted in 1981, between the release of The Muppet Movie and The Muppets Take Manhattan. While The Muppet Movie and The Muppets Take Manhattan both serve as somewhat of an origin tale for the muppets, The Great Muppet Caper is more of a comedic, crime noir film.

Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear are investigative reporters for the Daily Chronicle. There is also a running gag about the two being identical twins, which is only noticeable when Fozzie has his hat on. Gonzo the Great is the third wheel in their trio, who serves as their photographer. He also just loves to take pictures of chickens. When the three head off to England, they end up in the middle of a jewelry heist. Kermit and Miss Piggy also meet for the “first time,” with Miss Piggy posing as famed fashion designer, Lady Holiday.

Muppet Treasure Island is a musical based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel. This film was developed in the 90s, when the muppets were doing less original movies and more adaptations. While it’s an entertaining romp, seeing Tim Curry as Long John Silver, the story and musical numbers don’t have as much zing as some of the older muppet films. However, I still respect adaptations like this, which use notable kids’ icons to encourage children to read.

The HD transfer for The Great Muppet Caper is borderline abysmal. You’ll notice right at the opening credits that you might as well be watching this on a VHS tape. The colors are washed out and there are tons of artifacts. The hairs on Fozzie’s body have no definition or contrast at all. Where’s the quality control?

Oddly enough, Muppet Treasure Island has a much better transfer. This is unfortunate since The Muppet Caper is the more notable of the two movies. Also, as the muppets’ second movie, it deserves a video quality upgrade just for archival purposes.

It’s clear that whoever commissioned the release and transfer of these two films did little to no research on the muppets’ history. Instead of releasing a double-feature pack, The Great Muppet Caper deserved its own release. Muppet Treasure Island could have been released with The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz. At least that would make sense since the two movies are adaptations and this is an anniversary year for The Wizard of Oz. Alas, such was not the case.

The Great Muppet Caper and Muppet Treasure Island [Blu-ray]

Starring: Frank Oz
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Release Date: December 14, 2013

6 / 10

‘Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year’ Blu-ray – It’s Time to Give Pooh More

Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh YearWinnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year has made its way to Blu-ray. It goes without saying that Winnie the Pooh tales make for great cross-generational viewing. There’s always a lesson to be a learned and an adventure to discover when Pooh, Tigger, Roo, Eeyore, Piglet and the rest of Christopher Robin’s friends get together. I still cherish all those Saturday mornings watching The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh as a kid. However, as far as holiday specials go, the Winnie the Pooh tales tend to fall short.

When it comes to holiday favorites for kids, there are a few classic tales that come to mind. First, I always think of The Christmas Story. Who can forget the infamous double dog dare or the Ralphie’s coveted red ryder beebee gun? Next, comes the holiday Scrooge tales. For me, Mickey’s Christmas Carol and the Muppet Christmas Carol rank at the top – with the Muppet Christmas Carol winning out. Muppet tunes with Michael Caine’s Scrooge make for an unforgettable combo. Finally, there’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. People actually sell tiny Charlie Brown Christmas trees during the holidays just because of this movie.

But, where is Pooh during the holidays? The honey-loving bear has Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too and Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year. However, neither film ranks high as a memorable holiday feature. Why is that when Even Shrek the Halls has its own time to shine?

Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year was first released in 2002. At the time, it was a combination of a new Pooh tale as well as a mash-up of past Pooh adventures to deliver a full-length feature.

The story starts out with Pooh hiding Piglet’s gift. Then, Pooh’s friends meet up to discuss past Christmas tales. This is when the new adventure cuts over to the old adventure seen in Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too. After, you’ve watched the old adventure, the story cuts back and Pooh and his friends exchange gifts, only for Pooh to realize that he’s forgotten where he hid Piglets gift.

Days float by without Pooh finding Piglet’s gift and before long it’s New Years. The group assembles together again to discuss old stories, this time it’s a story about Rabbit wanting to move away because he’s had enough of the gang. While its sort of a new tale, told as an old one, you may get confused since you just saw Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too.

Pooh compilations like this are always fun to watch, but are also a little annoying. I just want a full, original Pooh adventure without any throwback material. This happened in The Tigger Movie as well.

Pooh deserves a memorable, full-length holiday feature or at least a new half-hour special that doesn’t feel like just another Saturday morning episode. Don’t get me wrong. This may feel like a rant, but I actually enjoy the animated film. I just feel that Pooh deserves more. And that includes musical numbers that rival Disney’s best.

Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year [Blu-ray]

Starring: Jim Cummings, Peter Cullen
Studio: Disney
Release Date: November 5, 2013

7 / 10

‘The Wizard of Oz’ 3D: A Wondrous Journey Back to the Yellow Brick Road

Every so often, like once a week, I get caught up in a nostalgic conversation about TV, Movies and Games from yesteryear. One day, the conversation is about favorite 80s cartoon theme songs and a week later I’m chatting about favorite quotables from Casablanca.

Recently, the conversation turned to favorite horror movies and monsters. Carrie, Freddie Kruger, Jason, Pinhead, The Thing, Godzilla and Xenomorphs all came up. But then I stopped to say, “You know who really scared the crap out of me as a kid? The Wicked Witch of the West.”

There was something about Margaret Hamilton’s evil laugh that gave my four-year-old self, endless nightmares. The Wicked Witch could pop up in any place at any time in a puff of smoke. She liked to steel slippers and burn scarecrows. When the witch didn’t get what she wanted, she would unleash an army of flying monkeys on you with her cantankerous cackle. Plus, she hated dogs!

Thankfully, Dorothy was there with a bucket of water to save the day and thus became my first movie hero. That’s why The Wizard of Oz holds a special place in my heart to this day. It’s one of the first movies I saw, where an unlikely hero rose up to take down a ghastly villain.

Now, The Wizard of Oz has received the 3D upgrade to make it modern audience friendly. Like some, I balked at the initial news. When I hear about a classic movie going 3D, I immediately think of all those fantastic black-and-white movies that were wrongfully colorized. 3D can be such a gimmick. More often than not, I prefer to see a film in 2D first, especially if the film wasn’t actually shot for 3D.

After watching The Wizard of Oz in 3D, I breathed a sigh of both relief and awe. The 3D transfer simply works for a movie like this. It doesn’t feel like too much was done. In the opening Kansas scene, there is just enough subtle 3D to get you ready for Oz. The studio also didn’t force obvious scenes to be 3D. For instance, the flying monkeys are generally 2D since they primarily fly horizontally.

Instead, it’s actually the witch who gets the real 3D upgrade. It’s as though Warner dipped into my childhood nightmares and said, “Let’s see if we can freak him out one more time.” The witch’s sharp features seem to stick out more, giving her a more menacing look. Each villainous glance is a jab into your personal space. So when she says, “How about a little fire, Scarecrow?” She means it.

This is a great way to get younger audiences into the age-old classic. While purists may prefer the standard Blu-ray and all it’s wondrous colors, the 3D is still something special to see. The revamped version of Oz offers a different perspective on the film, without taking away any of its original glory.

‘Iron Man 3′ Blu-ray: One of the Best in Marvel’s ‘Avengers’ Franchise

After rewatching Iron Man 3, I have to say, I just don’t think this particular movie series could survive without the comedic genius and timing of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Everything from Tony’s relationship with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and new found friendship in Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins) to Iron Man’s superhero exploits only work because Downey Jr. can crack jokes under fire without being a jerk. He’s a conflicted hero, and Downey Jr. helps to make this Iron Man movie one of the best in Marvel’s Avengers franchise.

The events in Iron Man 3 spin out of The Avengers movie. Tony is suffering from PTSD after the aliens attacked New York. Now, he’s having problems sleeping and it’s putting a strain on his relationship with Pepper. It’s a very common, work-related problem that is easy to empathize with. Whether you put long hours in on the job or you’re a veteran, work stress can easily seep over into your personal life. Even though Tony spends his nights working on new Iron Man suits, we forget that we’re watching a superhero movie for the moment and just see a man who is suffering. Sure, he cracks the occasional cavalier joke, but Downey Jr. has a way of making us see Tony’s pain lingering behind every sarcastic remark.

Of course, this is a superhero, and it’s not long before our villain appears in the form of The Mandarin, played by Sir Ben Kingsley. His portrayal of the Mandarin is a little creepy and cliche. Right away, if you are a comic book fan, you’re thinking that this Asian villain has been white washed like so many other film characters (I’m looking at M Night Shyamalan and The Last Airbender). However, there are several unique traits about this particular villain that’s worth investing your time into watching. Hopefully, if you haven’t seen the movie so far you haven’t caught the spoiler on the nuances of this particular Mandarin.

Iron Man 3 balances big fight scenes with several strong, introspective moments. Director Shane Black really gives us time to get inside the psyche of Tony Stark. Tony’s mental stress is taking a toll on his body, as well as his personal life. You really get to savor Tony’s evolution as a person since the first Iron Man film. Coincidentally, there are several moments where Tony isn’t even wearing the suit while Iron Man is fighting. This gives us the sense that it’s not Iron Man that’s the hero, but really the man behind the costume who pulls the strings.

Some kudos should be given to Disney/Marvel on the Blu-ray release for adding in the Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter short. This film short spins out of the Captain America: The First Avenger movie, focusing on Peggy’s character after the events in the movie. As diverse as this country and world is, we still can’t seem to get a good comic script out there that portrays different races and genders in a leading role. It’s nice to see Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, but she’s really just The Avengers without her own film.

Iron Man 3 [Blu-ray]

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Release Date: September 24, 2013

8 / 10

‘Now You See Me’ Blu-ray: The Magic’s Been Extended, But the Plot Still goes Nowhere

Now You See Me

Now You See Me is one of those movies that you want to love. Put living legends Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine on the screen together and you can’t go wrong – especially with a little Mark Ruffalo sprinkled on top. But things can go awry when your top three players have muddled story arcs and the Four Horsemen that the movie thrusts into the limelight leave you wishing that they remained in obscurity. If you can turn on your blinders to thoughtful characters, then perhaps you can let yourself be amused by the wild magical romps that get bigger and more unbelievable at every turn. I was able to do it, but hey, I think magic is kind of cool even when the plot in this case isn’t.

J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are four less than mediocre illusionists. When a mystery benefactor decides to turn them into celebrities, the group catapults from performing street shows to the Las Vegas spotlight. They also get tagged with the illustrious group name – the Four Horsemen.

The immediate problem with the story is that everything Director Louis Leterrier asks you to invest in is tossed out the window once introduced. A secret society of magicians is hinted at but forgotten. Freeman and Caine both fizzle out, just after a potentially heated scene, which ends up meaning absolutely nothing. Freeman’s character is so loosely wrapped up that it just doesn’t make sense and almost seems like it was thrown in at the last moment. And the Four Horsemen are simply a bunch of slimy characters that are never really appealing. At one point, you may think that they have some kind of redeeming qualities, but that’s tossed out the window in favor of just being totally self-absorbed.

The only character that sort of makes sense throughout the film is Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent). She just kind of has an innocence that makes sense. Laurent even makes the forced romantic tension with Ruffalo seem like a worthwhile plot thread to follow.

On a positive note, the nefarious magical capers are pretty cool to watch. There’s a feeling of watching the Usual Suspects or The Game when you see this movie, just don’t expect a phenomenal payoff. Still, it’s great to think about a secret cabal of magicians that use illusions to take over the world. It’s something right out of a comic book. Franco actually comes off as some kind of magical Spider-Man in one of his later scenes. Even the wacky car chase and subsequent explanation are pretty cool to watch. Too bad the plot always gets in the way.

For die-hard magic fans, the Extended Blu-ray release offers a wealth of bonus features. Probably the best two are the featurettes: “A Brief History of Magic” and “Now You See Me Revealed.” If you’ve ever wanted a quick primer on the inception of illusions, mentalism or escape tricks, then you’ll find it in “A Brief History of Magic.” The behind-the-scenes featurette is also a nice little addition. It’s good to see the actors learning how to do the tricks and adds the “realism” of the magic tricks and slight-of-hand tactics used in the movie.

Now You See Me [Blu-ray]

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Isla Fisher
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Release Date: September 3, 2013

6 / 10