BATMAN: THE COMPLETE SEASON 5
TEEN TITANS: THE COMPLETE SEASON 5
With Batman: Dark Knight around the corner, anything remotely related to the Bat is hitting the DVD shelves. Gotham Knight’s a separate review guys, but that doesn’t mean we’re lacking releases either.
This review is dedicated to the last animated series, which is still skulking around what was the Kids WB. While they were at it, Warners thought it was time to issue the last volume of Glen Murakami’s superlative Teen Titans series. So let’s get down to business.
Remember when The Batman debuted back in 2004? The hue and cry from of hardcore Gotham fans was tremendous. Fortunately for the general public, Warners ignored their bleating and mewling and let the series grow. As time went on, Alan Burnett became the story man while Murakami, among others, worked in an advisory capacity. The change was notable.
As they now say in the extra content, when this latest animated incarnation of the Dark Knight started, he didn’t know how to team up and play nice. Let’s forget that the Joker was like a green-haired Rasta on laughing gas or Bruce Wayne’s best friend would become Clayface, not that other guy. The original creative team took what already was a relatively malleable franchise and trampled it underfoot. It was only with the third season, with the introduction of Batgirl, that Caped Crusader started getting back into shape. With season four, Burnett was on board and so was Robin. Burnett still pulled an interesting twist. He made Batman realize the value of teamwork, so when the season ended with the introduction of Martian Manhunter, our hero was now more than ready to be a team player.
So what does Burnett and company do for the final season? They push this concept to the limit. While Batman cracks to Superman--who’s now the antisocial one--that the name “Justice League” sounds too much like a baseball team for even his own liking, we get to see a preview of what the upcoming Brave & Bold could be like. If this is any indicator, it isn’t going to be that bad. Heck, they can even be incredibly good.
The bulk of these episodes find the Dynamic Duo hooking up with DC stalwarts as Big Blue, both Green Arrow and Lantern, Flash and actually a far superior Hawkman than the one in JLU. Not that all the episodes are guest of the week episodes. One of my personal favorites is “The Metal Face of Comedy,” which is basically now just the more appropriately dressed Joker and the usual suspects.
Is every episode worth watching? Well, I’ve yet to see any 22 minute block make me want to see the Terrible Trio again, in this series or in the past. Still, you got to love Mirror Darkly, when Bats goes up against one of the key members of the Flash’s rogue gallery, Mirror Master. One can see the animators had fun putting together the most tripped out sequences they could think of in that one.
So let’s be grateful this series lasted as long as it did. If not, we would have been deprived of the last two seasons of truly fun animated superheroics. I know I am.
Speaking of truly fine super deeds, Teen Titans also suffered the slings and arrows of initial fan hatred. On the other hand, Murakami stayed the course and proved that his particular vision was right from the very beginning.
For this last year, he also gave a number of us true old timers something to marvel over. For starters, the main adversaries are the Brotherhood of Evil. From there, what would it be like if the Titans didn’t get an assist from the original Doom Patrol? From there, while I admire what Murakami attempted to do, it was a somewhat fallow period for the Titans.
The problem with the middle part of the season was while the idea of expanding the Titans was a sound, the way Murakami and company went about it went way too long. We see our main heroes going on a global recruiting drive that didn’t end up as painful as the “Avalon” arc of Gargoyles, but could have used a bit of a nip and tuck. Yes, the producers marinated with some nice one-offs like the origins episode “Go!,” but it otherwise it took out some of the steam. Fortunately, when it’s time for the final big fight, it’s well worth it. Also, the final episode, “Things Change,” with the open-ended question of Terra’s final fate, was a strange one in and of itself.
Still, when you get down to it, the season surely had its moments. Maybe it wasn’t quite the ending of the Batman series, but before then it was a lot of fun. What was ironic were all the non-believers screaming their heads of when the series started sure sang different tunes when both series were all over. With both Dark Knight and Gotham Knight coming out soon, it’ll be fun to see what they say about these releases now.
AQUARION/Season Two (FUNimation) (2 DVDs)
When the first volume of this modern day mecha series hit the streets, I personally was pretty jazzed. I wish I could say the same about this final half.
Fundamentally, the animation is still top-notch, but the story dives into realms of pseudo-mysticism and neo-Jungian psychobabble that just throws one monkey wrench after another into the mix, ruining any appreciation of the end in the process. Yes, it doesn’t quite go down to the mindless clap trap of Neon Genesis Evangelion, but that isn’t saying too much.
Quite a pity, too. Aquarion looked like it was going to be a bold strike forward. Instead it ends up hoisted by its one onerous petard.
BL STRYKER: Season Two (Arts Alliance America) (4 DVDs)
EVENING SHADE: Season One (CBS) (5 DVDs)
If I got to give Burt Reynolds props for anything, it’s that there’s no job too low, no role too idiotic, no project too unbelievable for him. If the money’s right, he signs, does the job and then looks for the next one. Sometimes this leads to some interesting stuff, like his incredible guest appearance on X-Files. Other times, well…
For the record, Reynolds did Stryker and Evening Shade during a particularly prolific TV period. In BL, he played a low-budget detective working off the South Florida coast, drove a broke down Cadillac, had a group of oddball friends and solved the occasional crime. If it bore an uncanny resemblance to another detective who road around in a sports car in Honolulu. Maybe it had something to do with the executive producer being a certain Tom Selleck. Maybe not. Right…
Actually, Reynolds breezes through this series in a way that’s not too hard to handle. Having guest stars like Ned Beatty, Dom DeLuise and a very young Julianne Moore didn’t hurt either. Not the greatest TV the world has ever produced, but beats a Quincy or ChiPs marathon any day.
As for Evening Shade? Reynolds is now surrounding by a cast of old timers that included Ossie Davis (who was also in BL), Charles Durning, Michael Jeter and Marilu Henner. The producers are Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomlinson, who were riding high thanks to their other series, Designing Women. He’s retired football player Wood Newton, who went back to his hometown in Arkansas to coach his old high school team. Even though he hasn’t won a game in over 2 ½ seasons, this very eccentric town still has a place for him and his family. Then again, with a ton packed with as many losers as this one, Newton starts to look pretty good. The simple truth is Evening Shade is simply an updated version of the likes of Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres and those other purely corny comedies CBS used to grind out 30 years before. Yeah, Jed Clampett never had to worry about his vasectomy, yet I don’t see Buddy Ebsen ever agreeing to a similar role either.
Not that this is any concern of Reynolds. He got his share of kudos when these series aired. He also had the last laugh every time he went to the bank. Personally, all I can add is more power to him. After all, every so often he still comes up with a role like Boogie Nights or something equally impressive.
BIRDS OF PREY/The Complete Series (Warner Bros) (4 DVDs)
A while back the WB thought it would be a good idea to give the DC title Birds of Prey the Smallville treatment. As the liner notes stated, by DC head honcho Paul Levitz no less, they decided to go with the Earth-2 version of Huntress (the daughter of Batman and Catwoman). They teamed her with the Earth-1 version of Oracle though. They made the main villain, Harley Quinn, from the animated series. Lord knows where they came up with Dinah Prince aka Black Canary. Probably the most bizarre point though was not a single sign of a certain Mr. Wayne or any of his wards. What you ended up with was an unholy mess.
Yes, it did have a cast of highly attractive, butt-kicking gals fighting their share of meta-humans and personal issues. Yet as the series progressed, it went further and further from the source material and, quite frankly, the entertainment value went with it. By the time it finished its 14 episode run, any crime fighter in the DC universe could have called it justifiable homicide, and gotten away with it.
Yet the collection has some value. It includes all three seasons of the internet series Gotham Girls. This was a net-only series featuring the cast of members of The Adventures of Batman & Robin and utilizing a Flash style that came pretty close to that series. That’s right, you had Adrienne Barbeau (Catwoman), Diane Pershing (Poison Ivy), Arlene Sorkin (Harley Quinn) and Tara Strong (Batgirl), mainly playing it up for laughs. Running from 2000 to 2002, it actually came up with a good joke or two throughout the 30 episodes. This is especially nice since many of the first 20 episodes are no longer available through its original source.
So, as an animation nut, I might have to keep this one. Then again, I could also burn all 90 minutes of Gotham Girls and pass the rest of these disks to someone desperate enough to want the BoP set. I’m not certain, but there should be a law against this.
I DREAM OF JEANNIE (Sony) (4 DVDs)
This is it folks, the season where one of the more enjoyable magic girl comedies of the 60s literally jumped the shark.
For those who don’t know, when Sidney Sheldon launched this comedy back in 1965, it became an immediate mega hit. TV mags of a perplexed Larry Hagman ogling Barbara Eden in her silks and satins were all over the place. The Jeannie juggernaut kept on performing admirably for the next few seasons. That started falling apart though, with season four, and the ratings showed signs of slippage.
That’s when the PTB’s did the inexcusable. They married off Captain Nelson (Hagman) to Jeannie (Eden). As soon as they tied the knot, the main element that provided the dramatic tension fell flat on its face. Yes, most of the characters didn’t know Jeannie could blink her eyes and turn the entire planet upside down, and her ignorance of the ways of the modern world was part of the problem. Yet the real comic gold was the tension between the unmarried couple living in the same house. Many of the best jokes were no longer possible, and Sheldon and company didn’t come up with appropriate material to replace it.
So, if you love 60s comedy, get this set only if you want to complete the series. Otherwise, stick to the first four sets. You’ll be glad you did.
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (Genius)
The only reason I can think of the release of this series is to hopefully cash in on the upcoming feature film starring Brendan Fraser.
In this variation, Rick Schroeder and Victoria Pratt (“Sarge” from Cleopatra 2525) go to the upper climbs of Alaska to hunt for Peter Fonda. From there we get a seriously mild reinterpretation of the Jules Verne science fiction classic with some Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness thrown in for who knows why.
Quite frankly, the acting is so stiff it makes the 1967 Filmation animation version look like Shakespeare. The SFX budget is also pitiful, as the only appearances of any prehistoric beasts are kept to one small sequence. This made-for-ION Television movie is, to be quite honest, so boring the only reason you should ever watch it is if you suffer from a sleeping disorder. Thirty minutes of this and I guarantee you be sleeping like a baby.
The ghost of Jules Verne should be seeking revenge for this schnorer. Let’s hope he gets it.
MAIKO HAAAAN!!! (Viz)
This latest bit of Japanese madness owes as much to Jerry Lewis as it does to Animal House.
It tells the tale of Kimihiko Onizuka (Sadawo Abe), a salaryman with a Moe Stooge haircut whose obsession with Maiko (young geishas) borders on the totally irrational. He dumps his girlfriend for one particularly promising pleasure lady, only to have his dreams thwarted when a rival in the form of a pro baseball player (Shinichi Tsutsumi) appears. This leads to situations so broad and burlesque that the actor must have the chops of a Lewis to pull this off. Then again, this film is driven by the same guy who gave us such movies as Ping Pong and Zebraman, so being broad isn’t the issue.
To his credit, Abe handles this cartoon character within acceptable bounds. The small insights the movie also gives us on the role and function of these pillow ladies can also make one see why there are those who get obsessed with them. Maybe not everyone’s cup of green tea. Still, it has its refreshing moments.
PUNK’S NOT DEAD (MVD)
Watching this film gave me a horrible revelation.
Everyone now accepts the birth point and date of punk rock as May 10, 1974, when the band Television built and then performed on the stage at the legendary New York club CBGBs. 34 years later, and it’s now entirely possible that there are people who went to that club who are not just parents, but GRANDPARENTS.
The creation of a young and promising documentarian, Susan Dynner (her first film, Brick, got a Sundance Jury nomination), PND is the latest attempt to sort the sloppy history of the movement that challenged corporate rock in the 70s through today. She put together an amazing cast of interview subjects to back her up, including one of the last surviving Ramones, Marky; Jello Biafra, Henry Rollins, Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks, X’s John Dow and modern day hit makers like Green Day, The Obsessed and Pennywise. We also get to hear the opinions of the likes of journalist Legs McNeil, Warped tour manager and founder Kevin Lyman, DJ Rodney Binghemheimer and L.A. club owner Brendan Mullen.
What’s amazing about it all though is punk still exists. It doesn’t hide the fans are basically immature (well the nice word is dreamers) who have turned the once bracing and refreshing music into something as rigidly confined as what the originals fought. They forget the original movement included Suicide, Talking Heads, Blondie, Pere Ubu, Tuxedomoon and many others that didn’t stick to the 4/4 rigidness or fashions of the Sex Pistols. As one member of the UK Subs points out, they scream non-conformity, yet pick on a kid who’s Ramones shirt has Marky’s name instead of original drummer Tommy. Dynner has given us a documentary that isn’t afraid to show punk’s ugly zits as well as incredible energy.
The extra content, which includes everything from tributes to fabled lost clubs like CB’s, the Masque and the Roxy, to lots and lots of interviews that didn’t make the final cut, is also well worth glomming through.
Still, when all is said and done, one has to come to one sad conclusion. Punk should never have lasted this long. Like many of the artists it idolizes, it should have self-destructed with the end of the Reagan administration at the furthest. Now we have honest-to-god toddlers running around with yellow, pink and blue mohawks making requests for the “clown bands.” It makes you wonder if that sickly smell you notice is from the kneebiters’ diapers…or their elder followers Depends.
SHOGUN ASSASSIN 5/Cold Road To Hell (AnimEigo)
One thing I have to say about this live action adaptation of Kazuo Koike’s manga of family bonds and revenge, it still hasn’t lost any of its luster.
This fifth chapter in the continuing adventure of the Lone Wolf and Cub finds our hero and his son now travelling north to finally take on the head of the family that ruined his reputation and killed all the rest of his kin. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. The man must go up against a literal army of 8th century samurai and a possible edict from the Emperor himself.
What’s great here is the film continues to deliver. The final battle sequence in a field of snow is everything a fan of samurai films could ever want; acrobatic swordsmanship, incredible violence and lots of blood and virgin white fields.
You can’t ask for more, can you? I know I can’t.
‘TIL DEATH DO US PART (Anchor Bay) (DVDs)
Based on a British TV series, Love You To Death, this anthology adaptation takes a rather jaundiced view of marriage to its extreme. It’s supposedly based on real court cases where one spouse took the final solution to his/her better half.
The best though is it’s hosted by no less than the legendary John Waters. The man who gave us such sin-ematic classics as Hairspray, The Diane Linklater Story, Female Troubles and, of course, Pink Flamingos assumes the role of the “Groom Reaper,” where he’s as charming as Vincent Price and every bit of humorously macabre.
This set includes the only 13 episodes that have been made. If it continues, it stands the chance of losing the edge it now has, so savor what you have. While this series never quite goes to the extreme levels of ghoulishness of Tales from the Crypt, it has more than its share of moments on its own.