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Friday, August 30, 2019

'Arrow' S7 DVD & BD: Penultimate Season Hits Bullseye

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this Blog Post. The opinions I share are my own.]

The Warner Brothers Home Entertainment August 20, 2019 separate DVD and Blu-ray releases of the 22-episode penultimate season of the daddy of all Arrowverse series "Arrow" provides plenty of time to either catch up on or review the series before the October 15, 2019 premiere of the 10-episode 8th season on your local CW channel.

It is clear early on that this action and lore-packed season is intended to be the last. We check all of the boxes as to the unmasking of the titular hero, an unjust imprisonment of that savior, old friends and foes showing up, and an epic finale that provides closure that leaves you wanting more. Team Berlanti provides more in the form of frequent flash-forwards 20 years in a storyline that very validly can be titled ""Arrow: The Next Generation." 

The following 2018 ComicCon trailer for "Arrow" S7 provides teasers galore (including toned-down "Ozesque"  scenes of Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) in the prison shower) about the thrills and chills to come. On a related note, both the DVD and the Blu-ray have a feature containing the highlights of the DC TV panels at that Comic Con. This kicks off with Team Supergirl discussing their adventures.

As indicated above, the blessing and the curse of S7 is that the well-orchestrated developments are much to plentiful to properly present here. Two primary and heavily related themes are that the events are a continuum, and that virtually every character is trying to come to terms with his or her past. 

Our story begins with an unmasked Oliver out of the closet and in the big house as part of a deal related to revenge-obsessed nemesis Ricardo Diaz, Wife/Overwatch Felicity is in hiding with Oliver's teen son William Clayton. The rest of disbanded Team Arrow is trying (not always so well) to work within the system to do good in ways that include capturing Diaz for reasons that include an essential prisoner exchange of Oliver for him.

Urgency regarding this extends beyond Oliver being a fellow guest of the state who would not have that distinction but for him. A disgraced psychiatrist is giving Oliver an insidious form of electo-shock with impending dire consequences. 

Meanwhile, a new Arrow is taking over the role of illegal vigilante. Rene Ramirez (a.k.a. Wilddog of Team Arow) switch-hitting is only the tip of the iceberg. Oliver and company learning the reason for these most sincere form of flattery dredges up fairly ancient history and creates textbook conflicting emotions.

All of this begets super-villain Dante and his previously covert centuries-old society known as the Ninth Circle, This requires borrowing from another corner of the DCU by having Diaz and his version of the Legion of Doom (complete with an evil version of MCU hero Captain America) form a "Suicide Squad" clone known as The Ghost Initiative. The similarities extend to these desperate measures having bombs implanted in their heads. 

The 150th episode "Emerald Archer" centers around a documentary about this character and his not so merry men and women. Of course, reality (and associated conflict) intrude on this project.

The aptly titled episode "Confessions" is more of a traditional procedural than a super-hero action-adventure show. Team Arrow (plus an old friend) are persons of intense interest as to the killing of two innocents during a violent mission that is par for the course as to this group, The message as to this one follows the sci-fi principle that death is not always permanent; we also get a heavy dose of the aforementioned element of atonement.

In true Arrowverse style, all this leads to a story arc that leads to a climatic showdown in which inner and outer demons both face battles. 

The aforementioned essentially game-ender nicely ties in with the epic three-episode cross-over "Elseworlds" in which our reality is repeatedly altered for much more fun than profit but still involving global consequences.

​This always fanboy delight, which only is fully presented on the Blu-ray sets of the relevant "Arrowverse" series, is particularly awesome this time. It BOTH introduces Bruce Wayne cousin/Batwoman Kate Kane (who gets her own series this year) and drives significant action later in "Arrow" S7.

The special features extend well beyond the Comic-Con panel and the full presentation of "Elseworlds." The DVD and Blu-ray sets have the special feature "Villains: Modes of Persuasion" on DC super-villains, a feature on "Elseworlds," and a gag reel, 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

'NCIS: New Orleans' S5: More Hard Cases in the Big Easy

The CBS Home Entertainment August 20, 2019 DVD releases of "NCIS: New Orleans" S5 shows that that entry in that 16-year franchise is going strong. This release coming one month after the (reviewed) CBSHE DVD release of S15 of the still equally strong series "Criminal Minds" provides procedurals fans plenty to watch before the season premieres of each series in a few weeks, 

The press materials for "New Orleans" S15 describe the twist in this one as that the close-knit group of quirky law-enforcement experts operate a"field office that investigates criminal cases involving military personnel" in the titular city. That city, which is one of the most unique (and has experienced one of the worst natural disasters) in America literally and figuratively adds wonderful color to this shot-on-location series.

"Quantum Leap" and "Star Trek: Enterprise" veteran (and real-life righteous dude) Scott Bakula is perfectly cast as soft-spoken all-American boy team leader Dwayne Pride. The always off-beat CCH Pounder does equally well in her role as coroner/mother hen Dr. Loretta Wade. We also get real-life spinal-cord injury survivor Darryl "Chill" Mitchell adding good energy as wheelchair-bound Patton Plame, whom the press materials aptly describe as "an animated and talented hacker."

The casting of Mitchell provides a good opening to mention "Cosby Show" veteran Geoffrey Owens having a cameo as a Naval doctor. This casting follows a real-life attempt to shame Owens by posting a photo of him working at Trader Joe's on the Internet. Rather than making Owens a national laughing stock, it revitalizes his acting career. 

A variation of the "Cousin Oliver" tactic comes in the form of drafting Pride, who finds copious justifications to remain active in the field, for a desk job, This promotion leads to bringing in Hannah Zoury (Necar Zadeghan). She adds diversity that extends beyond bringing what hilariously tough-and-gruff Tammy Gregorio (Vanessa Ferlito) describes as balancing the boy girl ratio on the team. 

The action picks up in the immediate wake of what should have been a fatal shooting of Pride by a highly skilled (and equally determined) assassin. Our heroes split up to simultaneously try to capture that armed and dangerous foe and pull off the trick of keeping the boss out of her hands while still giving him desperately needed medical care. These outings in any series in which the prey is just as skilled and tough as the hunters are always fan favorites. 

For his part, Pride is having an outer-body experience that is reminiscent of "Leap" and "Enterprise." A woman from his past is urging him to go toward the light, while he rages, rages against doing so. In the end, he decides that his time on earth is not over.

This turn-of-events leads to a Pride becoming the boy with something extra in that having premonitions and reliving memories helps him put right what once went wrong. This also ties into the voodoo aspect of New Orleans culture. The icing on the cake is Pride conversing with a colleague who essentially is a hologram. 

As the charming DVD special feature "King Cake" states regarding the 100th episode, the new talent of Pride comes in particularly handy in that outing. We also share the frustration of Bakula as to his reminding us that "Leap" and "Enterprise" fall just short of the century mark. 

This aptly titled adventure "In the Blood" goes even further than the usual ones that are personal, The tie-in of a meet gone fatally wrong is that the crime-scene evidence includes a Hardy Boys novel from the library of a young Pride ala a possession of "Johnny Archer" showing up in an "Enterprise" episode.

This quickly leads to a reunion with ex-con and largely estranged father Cassius Pride ("New Orleans" semi-regular Stacy Keach). This turn shifts the focus to a frigid cold case involving a casino robbery. Another twist introduces a new character who becomes a reoccurring addition to the series. 

Hannah shines in the especially clever "Sheepdog" episode. She is pitted against an extreme student activist who is anything but radical. This one reunites Pride with an old friend who is a college professor whose message of peaceful protest does not sit well with the primary villain of the week. The old ticking time bomb aspect adds more drama and prompts an awesomely creative solution.

A lighter and more fun "The Spy Who May Have Loved Me" episode gives awkward genius Sebastian Lund (Rob Kerkovich) a chance to shine. He bonds with a clever and deadly MI6 agent, who may simply see him as an adorkable means to an end. Their cat-and-mouse game that continues right to the end provides plenty of solid entertainment. 

All of this culminates in an epic two-part season finale with shades of the S4 season finale. This centers around Team Pride that somehow forms a family taking their variation of a trip to Hawaii. They go far overseas to try to rescue a kidnapped FBI agent and of course find themselves in grave danger. 

CBS builds on the fun of "King Cake" with a plethora of other special features. We get the cast and crew discussing S5 and a few similar treats. The icing on these pecan rolls are the pilots of "SEAL: Team" and even more aptly of "Star Trek: Discovery." 

The debriefing regarding this release that does well by this strong addition to the "NCIS" franchise, which in turn does "father" "JAG" proud, is that cast and crew know what people who like quality procedurals with a "hook" want and deliver it. I garontee it. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

'Pinsky' DVD: Brookline, Ma. Memoirs

The Breaking Glass Pictures DVD release of the 2017 film "Pinsky" provides a chance to see the best movie about a hipster Boston 20-something lesbian with a domineering Russian immigrant grandmother having a quarter-life crisis that you will see this year. The accolades for this quirky indiecom include the Best Narrative Feature at the 2017 Santa Fe Independent Film Festival.

Much of the appeal of this dysfunctional Jewish family film relates (pun intended) to it evoking thoughts of the Neil Simon semi-autobiopic "Brighton Beach Memoirs." That one tells the tale of an adolescent Simon living in a full house with his parents, his brother, and the rest.

"Pinsky" opens on a terrible, horrible, no good day for titular Millennial Sophia Pinsky (producer/writer Rebecca Karpovsky). Her grandfather drops dead in the street within hours of the live-in girlfriend of Sophia leaving her a Dear Jane letter. All of this is on top of Sophia still working at the Jewish grocery store that is her college-era employer. 

These worlds initially collide due to the death prompting Sophia to attending Shiva at the apartment of her grandmother (a.k.a. Bubbie). This is the first interaction of these women in several years after Bubbie cuts Sophia out of her life for moving in with her girlfriend. 

The rest of the story in this regarding is that family rabbi Bob Stern (Alan Blumenfeld of the Marion Ross Jewcom "Brooklyn Bridge"). We subsequently learn that Bob has a very personal interest in the activities of the Pinskys.

Bubbie first exerts her Yenta side in coercing newly single Sophia to move back into Temple Beth Pinksy. The fellow members of the congregation are Sophia's father, who is obsessed with his ballroom-dance partner, and aimless sibling Victor, who has delusions of qualifying for the Boston police force. One can give Victor credit for realizing that he lacks the right stuff for the BFD. 

The unavailability of an eligible Jewish doctor prompts Bubbie to aggressively promote the next best thing. She coerces Sophia into dating long-time family friend/medical researcher Trevor. Trevor agrees to play along despite having no romantic interest in Sophia and knowing that she prefers her phallic items to be of the plastic variety.

The final piece of the puzzle comes in the form of Sophia beginning a friendship that she apparently hopes reaps benefits. This object of her affection is Jessica Elliott, whose black skin is one of a few characteristics that distinguish her from the other patrons at the aforementioned Jewish market.

Jessica being an open-mic night regular introduces Sophia to the world; that leads to her aspiring to become a hipster lesbian version of Jerry Seinfeld; not that there is anything wrong with that. 

Families of every religion and nationality can relate to the developments in the wake (pun intended) of the death of the grandfather leading to comically extreme trauma and drama at a Shabbat (a.k.a. Friday Night) dinner. The Mogen David freely flowing may be a factor regarding the gefilte fish hitting the fan. 

Part of the gist of the listing of grievances is Bubbie laying the mother of all Jewish maternal figure guilt trips regarding her heavy sacrifices for her ungrateful family; we also learn that Trevor has his limits. 

The biggest picture is that "Pinsky" illustrates the truth of the expression that you can pick your friends but not your relatives. It also brings to mind a foreign film from a few years ago in which a nice young Parisian Jewish man is planning to move to Israel; his sister reminds him that his planned destination is full of people who are like their parents. A third perspective is the Seinfeld joke that Jewish men marry shiksas because they want a wife who does not remind them of their mother.

The always excellent Breaking DVD extras this time are an interview with Blumenfeld and a short clip of Karpovsky doing stand-up. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

'The Practice' CS DVD: Danny Thomas as That Short-tempered Grumpy Doc

Warner Archive goes old summer school regarding the July 16, 2019 DVD release of the 1976-77 Danny Thomas NBC sitcom "The Practice." This textbook '70scom, complete with an urban setting, largely divides its focus between cantankerous older Dr. Jules Bedford (Thomas) of the West Side struggling to help patients and battling with 30-something son Dr. David Bedford (David Spielberg) of Park Avenue over their different approaches to life and to providing medical care. It is unknown if any glass tables are harmed in the filming of "Practice,"

The legacy of "Practice" arguably includes the Henry "Fonzie" Winkler 2005-06 sitcom "Out of Practice." Winkler plays the head of a family of doctors who live in the same building. Further, Thomas plays a very similar role to that of Jules in a 1984 episode of the ABC sitcom "Benson." The "Benson" connection continues with Didi Conn playing a ditzy naive assistant in both series. Further, Danny son Tony Thomas works on both series.

The "dram" and the "edy" start out strong in the pilot. Arthur Jarvis (J. Pat O'Malley of "Maude") is the first in a continuum of long-time patients/close friends of Jules experiencing serious medical problems. In this case, both Arthur and David are much more accepting the seemingly imminent death of the former than Jules. 

Next up is Barbara Simms (Marge Redmond of "The Flying Nun"), who is equally distressed about her goiter and her husband recently leaving her for a younger woman. "Daddy" saying no regarding an operation prompts Barbara to ask "Son," who arranges for the procedure. We first see that Father knows best and that Barbara makes room for Daddy in the actual sense of that phrase.

Much of the "com" relates to Jules having to let Barbara down easily after purposefully giving her the wrong impression to ensure her recovery from her operation. 

Things get a little edgy when a terminally ill local drug lord (Vic Tayback of "Alice") demanbds treatment. The solution regarding whether letting this guy who does not know the meaning of "do no harm" die or honoring the Hippocratic Oath is creative and believable; one can argue that Jules should have taken things even further. 

One of the more amusing S1 episodes has David force Jules to go on a vacation only to have that dedicated physician treat hotel workers and guests in his room. Meanwhile, David gets comically overwhelmed as to taking over the practice of his father. 

Although a time constraint is behind not watching many more episodes for this review, the back-cover liner notes remind us of the star power during the rest of the "Practice" run. This begins with Mike Evans of "The Jeffersons" becoming a regular in the role of "Lenny ... a young, wisecracking medical intern."  

"Special" guest stars that surely contribute a great deal to their episodes include Lucille Ball and Edie Adams; Thomas daughter Marlo returns the favor as to her father appearing on an episode of "That Girl."

All of  the above illustrates the appeal of "Practice;" it is a relatable amusing mostly edge-free traditional sitcom that is akin to the scores of its peers that keep basic-cable networks, such as LAFF and Antenna TV in business. 

Friday, August 9, 2019

'Pan Am' CS DVD: 'Mad Men' Meets 'Love Boat'

The Mill Creek Entertainment August 2019 DVD release of the 2011-12 ABC period piece dramedy "Pan Am" provides another bite at the apple regarding this show that reminds us that flying was not always the horrendous nightmare that it is today. This series also is notable for launching the career of Margot Robbie.

"Pan Am" must be put in context that is apt for its "Love Boat" style format of each episode centering around a flight that has passengers whom guest stars of varying calibers play. It is fluffy fun with a relatively strong prime-time soap vibe. 

The following YouTube clip of an ABC promo. for "Pan Am" provides a good sense of the strong production values and the related style of this series set in the mid-60s. The network further reminds us that the cred. of the series includes "West Wing" and "ER" veterans. 

On the broadest level, "Pan Am" follows the "Marshall Plan" that reflects the wisdom of "Happy Days" creator Garry Marshall. Marshall notes that setting a '70s sitcom in the '50s prevents it from looking dated. 

The opening scenes of the pilot (no pun intended) demonstrate the good balance between exposition and getting down to action that indicates that a show has good potential; fanboys think of this as "The Firefly Lesson."

We see our four central "stews" in their morning routines ahead of their inaugural flight on the maiden voyage of the brand-new Clipper jet of their titular employer. This montage helps establish the personalities of this '60s version of the "Sex and the City" quartet. 

The Robbie character Laura "Charlotte" Cameron represents the mix of plausible and absurd that makes the 14-episode "Pan Am" the best of shows and the average of shows. It simply seems that the producers want to provide a little something for everyone in a show, with a strong girl-power vibe.

The closest to sublime element of Laura is that she is a bright, intelligent, and charming recent college graduate. The spring of her discontent relates (no pun intended) to seeing that rebellious black-sheep Pam Am flight attendant sister Kate "Miranda" Cameron (Kelli Garner) is enjoying the freedom and adventure that increasingly is available to their generation, 

The gradual descent toward ridiculous begins with Kate showing up at the last-minute for the wedding of Laura to a nice clean-cut young man and facilitating the "Thelma and Louise" style prison break of the runaway bride.

This lead to the more improbable developments of rookie flight attendant Laura being at the right place at the right time in that a Life  magazine photographer snaps an impromptu photo that ends up on the cover of that publication, This ultimately leads to an increasingly liberated Laura posing for "art photos" that end up getting very public exposure (pun intended) that catches the eye of a "pop" idol of the era. 

The pilot adventure of Kate revolves around the CIA recruiting her to be a Cold War courier. This leads to increasingly dangerous adventures that ultimately involve aiding assets from behind the Iron Curtain, engaging in gun play, and helping expose a double agent all while maintaining the on-the-job poise, grace, and femininity that her day job requires. 

French-born Collette "Carrie" Valois (Karine Vanasse) largely provides the perspective of someone who spent a childhood under Nazi occupation; this is especially prominent in which the flight crew attend the Kennedy "Ich nin ein Berliner" speech in Germany.

The entertaining absurdity of the Collettte story arc relates to a romance that becomes a royal disaster. A background check regarding her suitability for the relationship reveals both a surprise regarding her heritage and the existence of a relative about whom she lacks prior knowledge. 

Last but not least is Maggie "Samanatha" Ryan, who is portrayed by Christina Ricci of "The Addams Family" movies. Maggie represents the liberated Bohemian woman of the era. She is a very feisty problem child who seems even more sexually liberated than European Collette. 

The absurdity of Maggie relates to her radical (as in subversive, rather than awesome) boyfriend Max essentially throwing her in the arms of a Congressman, who essentially is a poster-child for the Republican party. We also see Maggie not hesitating very much as to throwing a co-worker under the jet when her wanton ways seriously jeopardize her job.

As is the case in every series that centers around a fantastic four group of women, the men are all deeply flawed and mostly are window dressing. Largely hairless WASPy pale farm boy Dean Lowrey lacks much personality and emotes so much about runaway fiancee/flight attendant Bridget that even men who eat quiche everyday likely want him to man up at least a little.

Co-pilot who considers himself a god Ted Vanderway resents his privileged background not providing enough pull to have him sit in the "right seat" has more of a personality. He has the same Daddy issues as many sons of a wealthy "master of the universe" type father. Ted also is a former "Top Gun" Navy test pilot who has a past "incident" that is why he no longer in the service. 

All of this occurs in the context of the times that are a changin' in the mid-60s. We see prejudice against a black sailor who enters a friendship with potential benefits with one of the stews, get a lesbian woman who is looking to enter an open marriage of convenience, and even get a side trip to Haiti during great unrest on that island.

The broadest appeal of all this is showing they folks who think of the mid-60s as the beginning of the end regarding true style in America and others who consider that period as one in which the oppressed begin overthrowing the oppressors and the general population begins to get woke that the truth lies in the middle. 

Thursday, August 8, 2019

'Knightfall' S2 DVD: Mark Hamill Goes From Jedi to Knight Templar

The first of many wonderful surprises regarding the Lionsgate August 6, 2019 DVD release of the 2019 second-season of the History Channel period-piece drama series "Knightfall" is that not having seen S1 is not a handicap. The S2 season premiere provides a nice S1 synopsis before picking up soon after those events.

It also is nice to see that having Mark Hamill play "drill sergeant" Talus, who molds recruits into full-fledged Knights Templar, is not merely a case of stunt casting. This hardened old soldier can be considered a much less kind and gentle version of Luke Skywalker. 

The following "Knightfall" S2 trailer does a good job conveying the depiction of the early 14th-century in the series; it also provides a good overview of the testosterone-fueled soap-opera elements in this variation of "The Tudors."

The misdeeds of disgraced knight Landry (Tom Cullen of "Downton Abbey") are the root cause of much of S2 trauma and drama; the "fruit" of his cuckolding former friend King Philip strongly intensifies the hatred of the latter toward the brotherhood of the former. This leads to papalcide, not- so-holy crusades, and a related campaign to turn the hearts and minds of the people of France against "God's Executioners."

Our man without a country also faces the challenge of obtaining the forgiveness of his former knights. His deviating from the program and incurring the aforementioned wrath of the monarch get him ousted from his fraternity; one spoiler is that the cost of regaining his former status requires that he repledge this boys' club.

Meanwhile back at the castle, excitable boy Prince Louis is finding the task of producing an heir with wife Margaret inconceivable. Margaret also must contend with the covert resentment of Princess Isabella, who understandably is upset about her upcoming  version of a crossbow marriage to Edward II.

Isabella and Margaret have INDISPUTABLY the best scene in the entire season. The two women delight in a feast of "cock" and even comment on the taste of that meat. This sets the stage for Isabella to Cosby her sister-in-law as the first step in having her disgraced. 

All of these events lead to heightened emotions that result in Philip getting his ally ensconced as pope, and the knights having a long series of very bad days.

​One of the most tense moments revolves around the holy soldiers already having their ranks depleted when it seems that their remaining numbers are destined to for horrific deaths. Whether a knight in not-so-shining armor rushes in to save them remains doubtful., 

Suffice to say, as is the case regarding the end of S1, the behind-the-scenes crew of "Knightfall" leave us wanting more.