Thanos, Doomsday make tough days for superheroes

By Tom Von Malder | Aug 17, 2018
Photo by: Marvel Studios Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) are enlisted to fight Thanos in "Avengers: Infinity War." Both actors are notable for their popular portrayals of Sherlock Holmes in other projects.

Owls Head — Avengers: Infinity War (Marvel Studios/Disney, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 149 min.). The 19th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) disorientingly opens up in the middle of a battle and with it comes the first major character death. There is more darkness to come, however. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo do a good job of merging the various franchises of the MCU into this over-stuffed film, but then they accomplished a smaller version of that in "Captain America: Civil War," which brought Spider-Man and Black Panther to the Avengers party.

The baddie this time is the biggest known one in the universe: Thanos (voiced and motion-captured by Josh Brolin), who, following the doctrines of Thomas Robert Malthus that exponential population growth will use up all food resources and is not sustainable, plans to solve that problem by wiping out half the population of the universe, so the remaining half can live better lives. To accomplish his task quickly, he needs all six Infinity Stones, which, while looking ordinary, have tremendous powers. Thanos already has the Space and Power Stones, while, on Earth, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) has the Time Stone and Vision (Paul Bettany), currently vacationing in Scotland with his girlfriend, has the Mind Stone. The Soul Stone is presumably lost, but Thanos guesses correctly that his adopted daughter Gamora (Zoe Zaldana), one of the Guardians of the Galaxy, knows where it is hidden. The Reality Stone is with the Collector on Knowhere.

Thanos goes to get some of the Stones himself; for others, he sends Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon) and Corvus Glaive (Michael Shaw). Another of Thanos' lieutenants is Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor). In all, the film features about 134 characters. And when one hears The Spinners on the soundtrack, one knows it is the Guardians of the Galaxy's turn to show up and bring some humor to the proceedings. Many of the characters are then divided up and paired in unusual ways, as Thor (Chris Hemsworth) goes with Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper, played on-set by Sean Gunn) to Nidavellir to seek a new hammer for Thor. Thor continually refers to Rocket as "rabbit." Meanwhile, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Star-Lord  (Chris Pratt) go to Knowhere.

Side-note interesting are scenes in which Iron Man and Doctor Strange, played by two actors famous for portraying Sherlock Holmes in film and on TV respectively, go one-on-one verbally and even compare goatees, and three actors named Chris interact as Star-Lord, Captain America (a bearded Chris Evans) and Thor. I give the nod to Thor this time around.

There are fights on far-flung planets, on space ships -- Thanos uses donut-shaped ones -- and an ultimate big battle at Wakanda, where Vision has been taken to have the Mind Stone removed from his brain and destroyed. For all of the action, it is the scenes between the fighting that I enjoyed most. The Wakanda battle, with 70 extras turned into 500 combatants digitally, is too vast, and the viewer is less involved. However, the film, which only is the first half of the wrap-up to 10 years of MCU storytelling, ends on a somber note, including the sole post-credits bonus scene.

Bonus features include audio commentary by the director brothers and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who point out how plot elements from other MCY films were interwoven; four featurettes (32:18) that look at how the different tones and characters from the other film series  were combined, Thanos' fourth appearance in a MCU film, the 2,900 visual effects shots and behind-the-scenes looks at the action on the planet Titan and at Wakanda (filmed at a big ranch in Georgia); a gag reel (2:05); and two deleted and two extended scenes (10:13 total) with the best use of the song "New York Groove" by Ace Frehley. There also is a code for a digital exclusive Director's Roundtable (32 min.), with eight directors reflecting on how their movies contribute to the MCU's larger storytelling adventure. Grade: film and extras 3.5 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

The Death of Superman (DC/Warner Bros., Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 80 min.). The iconic 1992-93 comics, an 11-issue crossover DC event that became the bestselling "Superman" comics ever, has been made into an entertaining animated film, the 33rd release in the DC Animated Universe. This effort actually is a bit of a repeat, as the first DCAU release was "Superman: Doomsday" in 2007, with the vocal talent of Adam Baldwin, Anne Heche and James Marsters.

This time, Superman/Clark Kent is voiced by Jerry O'Connell, while Lois Lane is voiced by Rebecca Romijn, O'Connell's real-life wife. Lex Luthor is voiced by Rainn Wilson, while Rosario Dawson is Wonder Woman, Nathan Fillion is Green Lantern, Christopher Gorham is The Flash, Matt Lanter is Aquaman, Shemar Moore is Cyborg, Nyambi Nyambi is Martian Manhunter and Jason O'Mara is Batman. As you can see, the whole Justice League shows up to battle Doomsday, a primal force of aggression that falls from space in a meteorite.

The film's senior director is Sam Liu, who has overseen seven of the last nine releases in the DCAU and who reportedly plans several sequels to this release, including the upcoming "Reign of the Supermen," which is given a 9-minute sneak peek in the extras. The follow-up, like the original comics, will tell the story of the four replacement Supermen who show up: Superboy (Cameron Monaghan, so excellent as the proto-Joker on TV's "Gotham"), Steel (Cress Williams), Cyborg Superman (Jerry O'Connell) and The Kryptonian Eradicator. In the comics, Hank Henshaw plays Cyborg Superman; in this film we see the Doomsday asteroid strike Henshaw's space shuttle.

Prior to Doomsday's arrival, there are scenes of Clark and Lois dating, with Clark wondering if he should tell her he is Superman. When he does, her reaction is a very funny: "This is unethical. You even wrote stories about yourself." Clark's adopted parents also have a role in the story. Lex Luthor is supposedly under house arrest, but of course manages to slip the leash whenever he wants to.

An additional bonus is a making-of featurette (16:23) that discusses the four-issue original battle with Dan Jurgen's designs. Among the interviewees is artist Jon Bogdanove, who worked on "The Death of Superman," created the character Steel with Louise Simonson and lived in Friendship, Maine at the time. There also is the two-part "Dark Victory" episode from the cartoon series "Legion of Superheroes" season two (45 min.). A limited edition of 50,000 comes with a cool miniature statue of Superman with his costume super-distressed. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3 stars

Supergirl (1984, Warner Archive, Blu-ray international version, NR, 124 min. + DVD director's cut, NR, 138 min.). The film, directed by Jeannot Szwarc, marked the film debut of Helen Slater, who played a naive version of Supergirl/Kara/Linda Lee. The film has plenty of star power, as it also features Simon Ward ("Young Winston") and Mia Farrow ("Rosemary's Baby") as her parents (also Superman's uncle and aunt), Peter O'Toole ("The Lion in Winter") as Kryptonian scientist Zaltar and Faye Dunaway ("Bonnie and Clyde") as evil sorceress Selena. Selena is occasionally aided by Nigel (Peter Cook of "Bedazzled") and Brenda Vacarro ("Midnight Cowboy")plays her assistant Bianca. Hart Bochner ("Die Hard") is thrown in as eye candy/yard worker Ethan, the subject of a Selena love spell, who falls for Linda instead.

The script by David Odell is both simplistic and silly, especially, the character of Selena, who is more jokey than menacing, even if she conjures up a couple of storm beings. The Selena elements border on camp. The story starts in Argo City, the sole remains of Krypton. Zaltar has "borrowed" the city's core energy source to use in his sculpting and Supergirl accidentally has it shoot out of the city and find its way to Earth and Selena. So, Supergirl follows and adopts the persona of Linda Lee as she hides at a girls prep school, where her roommate is Lucy Lane (Maureen Teefy), Lois Lane's relative and a good friend of Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure, the only carryover from the three previous Superman films).

Slater is not asked to do much, as she does nothing but smile for the first 20 minutes. However, it is a nice bit when she learns she can fly and soars for the first time. She also works well with Bochner, when Supergirl takes Ethan to an island for safety. One apparent Supergirl power that we never knew about is her ability to manufacture clothing outfits in a few seconds, including the iconic Supergirl outfit, which she suddenly is wearing when she lands of Earth. One silly special effects segment has Ethan being chased by a driverless earth excavator. Another big question is how Selena knows about the Phantom Zone.

Nonetheless, the film does have a certain charm. This international cut is 10 minutes longer than the U.S. theatrical cut (not included). Bonus features include the director's cut, which adds yet another 14 minutes, taken from the 2-disc limited edition issued by Anchor Bay in 2000. Also ported over are audio commentary by director Szwarc and special project consultant Scott Michael Bosco, plus a making-of featurette, introduced by Dunaway (49:46). Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 3 stars

Arrow: The Complete Sixth Season (Warner Bros., 4 Blu-ray or 5 standard DVDs, NR, 1,098 min.). The basic arc for this super-sized, 23-episode season was the falling apart of Team Arrow -- until, at one point, it was just Oliver Queen as the Green Arrow alone -- while Oliver (Stephen Amell) tries to balance being the mayor of Star City as well as the masked vigilante, while trying to keep his family -- wife Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) and son William (Jack Moore) -- safe from harm, particularly that posed by the new threat in town, Ricardo Diaz (Kirk Acevedo of Syfy's "12 Monkeys"), who is working with Cayden James (Michael Emerson) and old Russian ally-turned-enemy Anatoly Knyazev (David Nyki). Also in league with the bad guys are Black Siren (Katie Cassidy) and Vigilante (Johann Urb).

The soon-to-be-broken-up Team Arrow includes John Diggle (David Ramsey), who was promised he'd be the Green Arrow while Oliver deals with being the mayor, protecting his family and emerging from first city prosecutor and then FBI trials and accusations that he is the Green Arrow. Notably one character emerges from the grave to help Oliver. However, while that proves a trick, the season does see the demise of one major character. Also formerly on Team Arrow are inventor Curtis Holt (Echo Kellum), who finds a cute new boyfriend; Rene Ramirez/Wild Dog (Rick Gonzalez), who has fatherhood issues of his own; and metahuman Dinah Drake (Juliana Harkavy). Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) also returns to Star City to help, and reports are that he will be a regular cast member again next season.

The season definitely picks up in its last third. Extras include all four episodes of the "Crisis on Earth X" crossover event with "DC's Legends of Tomorrow," "The Flash" and "Supergirl"; the best of the 2017 Comic Con panel (58:27) with candid and behind-the-scenes footage shown as well as questioning of the panel members; a closer look at Deathstroke/Slade Wilson, played by Manu Bennett (11:48); an in-depth look at the crossover event (41:59); and a closer look at "hactivist"-turned-criminal Cayden James, played by Emerson (10:52). Grade: season and extras 3 stars

How to Talk to Girls at Parties (Lionsgate, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 102 min.). Silly me. I went into this film thinking it would be like "The Benefits of Being a Wallflower"; instead, it was just wild. Set in 1977 Croydon, outside of London, the film is based on a 2006 short story by Neil Gaiman ("American Gods," "The Sandman"), who, according to the extras, almost joined a punk band as a teenager, but was dissuaded by his father. Director John Cameron Mitchell ("Hedwig and the Angry Inch") wrote the screenplay with Philippa Goslett ("Little Ashes").

The story centers around three punk-loving, teenage friends: Enn (newcomer Alex Sharp), it's short for Henry; Vic (newcomer A.J. Lewis); and John (Ethan Lawrence of "Bad Education"). Thus, the film is filled with lots of good punk music of the time. There also is a local punk band, The Dyschords, fronted by singer Slap (Martin Tomlinson, lead singer and creator of the cult musical project "Selfish C*nt") and managed by Queen Boadicea (Nicole Kidman of HBO's "Big Little Lies," the film "Moulin Rouge"), a nasty character. One might be surprised to find Kidman in this rather indie project, but she worked with director Cameron in "Rabbit Hole" (2010). The Dyschords perform a couple of good, original punk songs.

After a Dyschords concert, the three lads search for the after party, only to stumble on a house full of weirdly dressed -- some in latex outfits -- people, who turn out to be visiting aliens, who eat their young to continue their species. Not knowing that for a long time, Enn meets Zan (Elle Fanning of both "Maleficent" films, "Super 8"). With an instant attraction and Zan into more individuality than the aliens allow ("All we ever do is observe and consume," she complains.), Zan decides to go with Enn for the next 48 hours. One thing she wants to do is learn about punk, which leads to Zan and Enn singing "Eat Me Alive," another good original song, on stage.

The film is unexpectedly funny and has heart. It also embraces the chaos of the punk scene at the time of the Queen's Jubilee. This time, it is the aliens who are the conformists. The film slightly nods to both "Earth Girls Are Easy" and "Liquid Sky." Extras include audio commentary by Cameron, Fanning and Sharp; a brief making-of (12:22) that includes Gaiman, costume designer Sandy Powell and actor Matt Lucas ("Doctor Who") who plays one of the aliens; and three deleted and one alternate scene (7:43 total), with the best an unused Dyschords performance and the worst an awkward stairwell conversation between Boadicea and a female alien. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2 stars

Dead Shack (Shudder, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 81 min.). Another unexpected delight is this comedic zombie film, directed and co-written by Peter Ricq on a small budget and set at a cabin and house in the woods.

Jason (Matthew Nelson-Mahood) sets out on the weekend trip with his best friend Colin (Gabriel LaBelle), Colin's bit older sister Summer (Lizzie Boys) to whom he is attracted, but keeps striking out with, Colin's dad Roger (Donovan Stinson) and Roger's current girlfriend Lisa (Valeria Tian). The two adults are basically drunk during the whole movie (except for when Roger drives them to the cabin).

The three kids, bored, wander off into the woods, where they find a house and some abandoned cars. As they investigate, a woman (Lauren Holly as the Neighbor) drives up with two tipsy men. While the men think they are going to have sex, the trio sneak peeks and see Neighbor drug the guys, kill one and feed him to something. It turns out she has a family of zombies. When the kids manage it back to the cabin, drunk Roger grabs an axe and goes to investigate, which eventually leads to the kids barricading themselves in Neighbor's house.

Most of the film's quippy humor comes in the first half, then the film turns gory with lots of blood and whatever, as well as many an axe chop. There is no real horror though. The bonus feature is an interview-filled behind-the-scenes piece (20:10) that is interesting. Grade: film 3 stars; extra 2.25 stars

Strike Back: The Complete Fifth Season (HBO, 3 Blu-ray or 3 standard DVDs, TV-MA, 471 min.). New members of the fighting, special ops Section 20, a secret unit of British intelligence, are introduced this season, in which they have to deal with terrorist Omair Idrisi, who escaped from Syrian authorities. Idrisi has a British co-conspirator wife, Jane Lowry. The action goes from North Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Korea, from glitterati soirees to underworld cage fights, and there is an uneasy alliance with a CIA team.

The team includes Sgt. Thomas "Mac" McAllister (Warren Brown of "The Dark Knight Rises"), Sgt. Samuel Wyatt (Daniel MacPherson), LCpl .Gracie Novan (Alin Sumarwatts) and Capt. Natalie Reynolds (Roxanne McKee of "Game of Thrones"). MJ Bassett returns as executive producer and director this season, and Cinemax already has ordered a sixth season. Bonus features include a look at the season and a look at the new team and its tactics as they fight terrorism around the globe. Grade: season 3.5 stars; extras 2 stars

Saban's Power Rangers: Ninja Steel: The Complete Season (Lionsgate, 3 DVDs, NR, 8 hours 15 min.). This is the 25th year for the pop-culture phenomenon. Deep in space, Galvanax is the reigning champion of the most popular intergalactic game show in the universe, "Galaxy Warriors," in which monsters battle to prove who is the mightiest warrior. Galvanax is determined to become invincible by controlling the mythical Ninja Nexus Prism, which contains six supernatural Ninja Power Stars. (Thanos, anyone?) The only thing standing in his way is a new team of heroic teenage Power Rangers who possess it. Galvanax sends his warrior contestants down to Earth to steal the Ninja Power Stars, and each epic battle against the Power Rangers is broadcast throughout the universe. Together, the Power Rangers must master their arsenal of Ninja Power Stars, Zords, and Megazords, each made of legendary Ninja Steel, in order to save Earth from destruction.

The set includes a printed excerpt from Boom! Studios’ 25th-Anniversary Artist Tribute Book, and has all-new box art, exclusive to the home entertainment release, by illustrator and comic artist George Caltsoudas (TV’s "Batman: The Animated Series" and the graphic novel "Star Trek: Boldly Go").

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