Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Looney Tunes: Golden Collection Vol. 6

The deep animation vault at Warner Brothers appears to be getting a bit shallow on this, the sixth and final Golden Collection box set. Casual fans expecting four discs of popular Bugs and Daffy shorts should keep away from this set as it delves into lengthy stretches of lesser-known characters such as Bosko and rarely-seen World War II shorts. However, viewers with a healthy appetite for animation history and the patience to wade through some clunkers will find a deep, fascinating look at some truly rare material.

As in past releases, the new box set is spread over four individual discs arranged by specific theme. Each disc has 15 main shorts plus an assortment of bonus material of varying quality. Of special interest are the 15 additional WB shorts contained in the bonus features, as well as 5 more shorts spotlighting some of director Friz Freleng’s work for MGM. Two TV specials make an appearance as well, “Bugs Bunny in King Arthur’s Court” and “Daffy Duck’s Easter Eggcitement”.

Disc 1: Looney Tunes All-Stars will be of most appeal to the mainstream fans with its focus on the favorite characters from the studio. This one is just like watching the old ABC Saturday morning show with its uninterrupted and random selection of shorts featuring the best Looney Tunes stars. Its 15 primary shorts include a nice mix of hits including the debut of Yosemite Sam (“Hare Trigger”) and a smattering of Foghorn Leghorn appearances. Bonus features include commentary tracks on a few of the shorts as well as music-only tracks, the TV specials, and some of the bonus cartoons.

Disc 2: Patriotic Pals is the war cartoons as well as a few oddball shorts that preach the virtues of capitalism. Bugs shows up behind enemy lines in Germany in “Heir Meets Hare”, while Daffy joins the war effort in “Daffy Goes Commando”. Bonuses are more commentary tracks and bonus shorts, as well as the Freleng MGM shorts.

Disc 3: Bosko, Buddie, and Merrie Melodies highlights the studio’s earliest work in the 1930s before the Looney Tunes stars became famous. See that little black and white guy you don’t recognize on the cover? That’s Bosko, and his character design should give you a pretty clear idea of the contents of this disc. No real madcap antics or decent plots, just simple song and dance that thrilled audiences new to sound cartoons. Bonus features include commentaries and an entertaining look at Schlesinger Christmas Party reels along with optional commentary that identifies the studio production participants, allowing viewers to match names to faces. These reels were only produced to be shown before the employee Christmas parties, so it’s a real treat to find them included here.

Disc 4: Most Requested Assorted Nuts includes a smorgasbord of rare oddities not normally associated with the studio such as “Horton Hatches The Egg” loosely based on the Dr. Seuss book. Bonuses are more commentaries, isolated music tracks, more cartoons, and the cherry on top, a 70-minute documentary on legendary voice actor Mel Blanc.

True Warner Brothers fans and completists will find much to admire in this box set, and with 80 shorts (60 plus bonuses) plus a healthy assortment of bonus material, there’s plenty here to tide over the heartiest zealot until the next non-Golden DVDs from the vault inevitably surface.

Looney Tunes: Golden Collection Vol. 6 is now available. For more information, visit whv.warnerbros.com.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

The Simpsons: The Complete Eleventh Season

There’s no point discussing the merits of any series that actually reaches its 11th season; by the time it gets there, it has long since reached mass cultural awareness and either made fans or foes out of the viewing audience. What’s remarkable to consider is that in the case of The Simpsons, the 11th season marked only the show’s mid-life (or less?) rather than its swan song. Like most shows, the series struggled with hit-or-miss episodes, but thankfully they still hit most of the time.

Notably, this season contained a few game-changing events: the death of Maude Flanders ("Alone Again, Natura-Diddily"), the sobering-up of Barney ("Days of Wine and D'Oh'ses"), and the birth of Apu's octuplets ("Eight Misbehavin'"). Among its best episodes were "Pygmoelian" where Moe had plastic surgery and became a temporary star; "Bart to the Future", where a mystic showed Bart's future as a washed-up rock star while Lisa was President of the US; and "E-I-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt)", where the family visited Homer's childhood farm and raised a potent tobacco/tomato hybrid crop called "tomacco". This season's installment of Treehouse of Horror also had a classic segment featuring Lucy Lawless reprising her Xena character as she escaped the clutches of Comic Book Guy.

Since your purchasing decision ultimately won’t be swayed much by the show itself, let’s take a look at the extras included in the new DVD box set:

- Intro from Matt Groening
- Audio commentaries on every episode with Exec Producer Mike Scully as well as writers/actors/directors (but only two appearances by Groening)
- A Star on Hollywood Blvd featurette
- The Many Faces of Krusty featurette
- Deleted scenes with commentary, multi-angle animation showcase, and original sketches

Unfortunately, all of those extras are housed on DVDs stored in inexcusably cheap cardboard holders. As Comic Book Guy might say, “Worst. Packaging. Ever.” An unfortunate departure from the previous releases that had easily accessible plastic spindles, the new packaging forces users to slide each DVD out of its incredibly tight cardboard sleeve, subjecting the discs to considerable potential scratches and fingerprints unless users are exceptionally careful. Even with the lightest touch, you may still find that the discs were scratched going INTO the holder pockets at the factory or shifted during transit, and while some light surface scratches probably won’t affect their play, it’s still disappointing that Fox proceeded with this extremely poor design choice. I thought we’d seen the worst with the infamous Homer head clamshell packaging many seasons back, but I was sorely mistaken. At least Fox came around and partially corrected the Homer debacle with vouchers for replacement exterior packaging back then, so we can only hope they receive enough heat to do something similar this time.

The box set is initially available in two configurations: a standard box and a limited edition box with raised Krusty face packaging. The contents are the same, although the limited set comes with a voucher to go to the front of the line on The Simpsons ride at Universal Studios. Of course that puffy head packaging makes it impossible to stack with your other DVDs or match with your other Simpsons seasons, so it’s definitely not the ideal choice for all fans. The head reportedly peels off easily enough if you’re so inclined and doesn’t leave any sticky residue behind, but you’re still stuck with a plastic outer sleeve that won’t conform to your head-less box.

The Simpsons: The Complete Eleventh Season is now available. For additional information, visit http://www.foxhome.com/.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Love Guru

Oh Mike, where did it all go wrong? What was once charming schtick for at least two theatrical go-rounds in both Wayne’s World and Austin Powers has turned into unbearable drivel that doesn’t even hold up for one outing in The Love Guru. Sure, the cracks were definitely beginning to show in the third Austin Powers, but this time out the train has come completely off the tracks.

While any number of reasons could be offered for this disaster, the biggest cause is the insufferable star character played by Myers, an unlikable, crude, and ridiculous caricature that hits almost all entirely wrong notes. Where Wayne and Austin Powers were loveable oafs, the Guru is just an oaf. As an Indian-esque self help teacher very loosely modeled on Deepak Chopra, the Guru spouts inane platitudes to his clients while concurrently offering no discernible help to them. It’s impossible to suspend belief far enough to accept that any sane clients would be swayed by this idiot, or that he would have achieved any kind of fame and fortune, and Myers doesn’t help the case by returning to the potty humor well far too often. By the time we’re presented with an extended scene of elephants humping on an ice rink, it’s clear that any attempts at redemption have been trumped.

To its credit, the film’s co-stars are allowed to shine a bit. Jessica Alba is merely ok as the object of the Guru’s affection, but she gets special mention for performing in a couple of brief Bollywood musical numbers. Romany Malco plays it mostly straight as a hockey star with marital and mommy issues, somewhat wasted by the subdued nature of the role. Justin Timberlake is consistently funny as a flamboyant French-Canadian hockey star, although he’s definitely best in the short bursts he’s given here. And finally, Stephen Colbert nearly steals the entire film as a hilarious sportscaster.

The DVD is packed with extras, and the best of these are the extended/bonus scenes featuring Colbert’s outtakes. Frankly, you’re better off skipping the film and going straight to the bonus features as there are far more laughs to be found there than in the rest of the film. The Love Guru is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

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