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Phineas and Ferb, The Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension

It’s wildly inappropriate to sing the praises of a Disney Channel show by saying that it pisses genius, but “Phineas and Ferb” does just that, deftly blending dry relationship humor with high-concept science and one of the best pop soundtracks you’ll find outside of “South Park” (back when they wrote songs, anyway). Having wrapped their 39-episode (!) second season last fall, their first all-new show of 2011 is the wildly ambitious full-length movie “Across the 2nd Dimension,” and to the surprise of no one, it’s pretty awesome. Phineas and Ferb invent a portal to another dimension, and they discover a world where the nefarious Dr. Doofenshmirtz is a much more successful evil genius than the one in our world, and he plans to use the boys’ portal to take over our tri-state area as well. The producers have a great time playing against type (the other Candace is an ass-kicking resistance fighter, while the boys are timid and never leave the house), but the overall tone of the film is quite dark, which may not sit well with younger kiddos. Thankfully, the movie’s mini-tunes are the ringing pop gems fans have come to expect, to the point where one of the movie’s best songs wound up on the cutting room floor.

The DVD of “Across the 2nd Dimenson” uses the alternate world in a cheeky manner by splitting the bonus features between two title screens (poke around the main screen, and you’ll figure it out). The deleted scenes are quite good, but the two musical numbers, a longer version of “Robot Riot” and Candace’s great “Mysterious Force” (arguably the best song Ashley Tisdale has sung in years) are the winners. They also included the episode “Attack of the 50 Foot Sister,” which each universe in the DVD sporting its own audio commentary, one of which is the voice actors behind Dr. Doofenshmirtz and Major Monogram in character. This should satisfy fans of the show while the producers are hard at work on the show’s third season.

Click to buy Phineas and Ferb, The Movie from Amazon

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Les Miserables: The 25th Anniversary Concert

I’ve never seen “Les Miserables,” so watching this celebration of the enormously long-running Anglo-French pop opera recorded at London’s enormous O2 arena was like being introduced to “Star Trek” at a convention full of rowdy Trekkies. In this semi-staged version, Alfred Boe sings and acts the role of Victor Hugo’s impossibly good ex-convict, Jean Valjean. Valjean, of course, stole a loaf of bread to save his infant nephew, only to break parole and be hunted by the fanatical and pitiless Inspector Javert (Norm Lewis, superbly intense). He does this while becoming a wealthy bourgeois and experiencing guilt over his treatment of the tragic Fantine (Lea Salonga of “Miss Saigon” and “Aladdin”).

Later, Valjean tries to help Fantine’s daughter, Cossette (Katie Hall), who in turn must endure the perils of pre-revolutionary France while finding love with the heroic young Marius (Nick Jonas, yes, that Nick Jonas). Along the way, we bump into a pair of nasty and putatively comical brothel owners, the Thénardiers (Matt Lucas and Jenny Galloway). Lucas, his teeth blacked out, performs the damnably annoying earworm and George Costanza favorite, “Master of the House,” as the audience goes bananas. The geek-out goes into overdrive as the show proper ends and several casts are brought on stage. Encore highlights includes “the Four Valjeans.” Fans of “Les Miserables” will eat this stuff up. The rest of us should just either shell out for an ordinary production or wait for the movie. It might not be all that great, but it’ll beat being an outsider at a fanfest.

Click to buy “Les Miserables: The 25th Anniversary Edition”

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Denis Leary and Friends Present: Douchebags and Donuts

Well, this isn’t going to help Denis Leary’s reputation when it comes to stealing other people’s jokes.

Here’s a little back story: According to the biography American Scream, Leary used to do chunks of the routines of the late, great Bill Hicks. Hicks was aware of this, but since Leary played parts of the country that Hicks seldom visited, he let it go. Then Leary made No Cure for Cancer in 1992, where he committed the unpardonable sin of recording Hicks’ material, and taking credit for it. Louis C.K. later claimed that Leary’s song “Asshole” was based on a bit that he used to do. Leary has denied stealing from anyone because, well, what else is he supposed to do? Fortunately, we were able to ask Leary about Hicks directly, to which he gives a lengthy, thoughtful reply. (You can read it here.)

Now comes “Douchebags and Donuts,” a comedy show Leary organized with a few friends as a fundraiser for his charity. It’s a great cause, and it’s great that the show was a success. But the first word in that title has already invoked the ire of one Jay Louis, editor in chief of the sublimely funny site Hot Chicks with Douchebags. Louis went on a long and unusually pointed rant about Leary’s thievery, and how he’s been championing the mock of the douchebag for five years, building a mini-empire out of it. And that’s fine, but it’s not as if Louis created these goofy-haired halfwits – he was just the first to dedicate a site to mocking them, and in fact should be honored that his efforts have created such a groundswell that the phrase is slowly working its way into the pop lexicon with his definition as the #1 description. Before Jay, calling someone a douchebag just meant they were a jerk; now, it defines a very specific kind of jerk. Well done.

Having said that, Louis should have waited to see “Douchebags and Donuts” before criticizing it, since doing so makes him like those Republicans who call out movies they’ve never seen. If he had waited, he would have realized that the ‘douche signifier’ portion of Leary’s routine is pretty small, though it’s hard not to think of either Louis, Jay or C.K., when Leary performs his new song “Douchebag.” The rest of Leary’s routine is pretty tame, though, showing mug shots of Nick Nolte and James Brown and dissecting the side effects to popular medications (side effect for Viagara: Death). It’s no Cure for Cancer, or even Lock and Load, but it definitely looks better compared to the routines of his friends Lenny Clarke and Adam Ferrera, who come off like blue-rated Blue Collar guys. The star of the show, without question, is Whitney Cummings, who rips her mostly male audience to shreds while having fun with the idea of women as crazy bitches.

Some might point to the infrequency of comedy routines from Leary as an indictment that he is indeed a thief. That’s faulty reasoning, but Leary isn’t helping his case with “Douchebags and Donuts.” He’s clearly a funny guy, but one gets the sense that he was too busy with his myriad of other projects to work very hard on his own routine for this show.

Click to buy “Denis Leary and Friends Present: Douchebags and Donuts”

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Caprica: Season 1.5

When “Caprica” first premiered, I wondered (out loud) if anyone was really clamoring for a prequel to the “Battlestar Galactica” story and outlined the obstacles that the series faced at the time:

“Caprica” has the same challenge that the “Star Wars” prequels had: Everyone knows how it turns out. The question is whether or not the history is compelling enough to outweigh the certainty of the story’s outcome.

The two-hour premiere was solid, but the plodding start (lots of death and mourning) and uneven storyline made it something of a tough watch for many “Battlestar Galactica” fans. In fact, our own Ross Ruediger gave the Season 1.0 DVD set just two stars out of five:

With “Galactica,” we rooted for the characters because they were fighting for survival. With “Caprica,” there is nobody to root for, mostly because the characters are nearly impossible to care about and their struggles are negligible. It was probably too soon to mount another lengthy chapter in the “Galactica” concept. I don’t think creators Ronald D. Moore and David Eick had enough distance from the original series to be able to see this one clearly. It was also too soon for viewers, who weren’t clamoring for this new story, having been exhausted by the ride that was “Galactica.” The series feels as though it was put together solely to capitalize on a brand name, and not because there was actually a compelling story to tell.

I was willing to forgive the slow start in the hopes that Moore and Eick would be able to pull it together for the long haul. As it turns out, the series was canceled before the final five episodes even aired, so we now have the Season 1.5 DVD set to review. It contains the final nine episodes, along with a plethora of special features, including deleted scenes, cast and crew commentaries, podcast commentaries and more.

Having finally watched the entire run, I’d only recommend the series to “Battlestar Galactica” (and easily pleased) fans who are interested in finding out how and why the Cylons were created and how they became sentient. Most of those fans have probably already watched the series, so I’m not sure what subsection of sci-fi fans this review really speaks to. There’s no doubt that “Caprica” is a disappointment when compared to its predecessor, but those expectations were probably impossible to meet from the get-go.

For those fans that lost track of the show after the first nine (or thirteen) episodes, it’s worth finishing, because Moore wisely ramped up the action and intensity in the final hours and provided a five-minute “Shape of Things to Come” epilogue that quickly shows what happened to the main characters in the “Caprica” story, answering a few of the lingering questions along the way and providing some closure for those that need it.

Despite excellent acting from its ensemble cast (especially Polly Walker, who is positively loathsome as Clarice Willow) and the trademark Moore production values, “Caprica” was done in by largely unlikable characters and a meandering storyline that took way too long to get moving. The conflict between the humans and Cylons in “BG” was clearly drawn, but over the course of 18 episodes, I never really understood why the two religious factions in “Caprica” (monotheists and polytheists) hated each other so vehemently. Seeing as this was the crux of the plot, it’s understandable why “Caprica” failed to capture an audience as devoted as its predecessor’s.

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Back from Hell: A Tribute to Sam Kinison

Originally broadcast on Comedy Central in February of this year, this one-hour show features over a dozen comics paying heartfelt tribute to one of the true comedy greats, with footage of Kinison routines both well-known and previously unreleased serving as the anchors to the topics that the comics discuss. There isn’t much here about Kinison’s life that hasn’t been covered before, but it’s still fun to watch guys like Denis Leary, Chris Rock and Ron White talk about Kinison’s influence while opening up about the differences between his on-stage persona and the off-stage teddy bear. The discuss his love of rock music (and even include the promo video and a live performance of “Wild Thing”), and how he brought the rock and comedy communities together, and even include a snippet of a religious sermon Kinison gave when he was still a preacher. The one thing they glossed over – and to be honest, we’re not at all surprised that they did this – was how much the quality of Kinison’s material dropped when the ’80s were over, when he stopped writing jokes and started screaming “Fuck You!” at the top of his lungs. It’s all right to acknowledge an artist’s decline and still love them; John Lennon was a shell of his former songwriting self when he died, but people still love him, and rightly so. It would have been nice to see these comics, and this special, do the same.

Click to buy “A Tribute to Sam Kinison”
Click to read Bullz-Eye’s induction of Kinison into their Comedy Hall of Fame
Click to read Bullz-Eye’s 2009 interview with Sam Kinison’s brother Bill Kinison

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Wolverine & the X-Men: The Complete Series

It’s hard to imagine another “X-Men” series ever eclipsing the popular cartoon from the 90s, but “Wolverine & the X-Men” comes pretty close thanks to some great storytelling and gorgeous character design. The season-long story arc is especially impressive considering it manages to connect several different subplots in a way that doesn’t feel too forced. The main story follows Wolverine as he takes control of the X-Men after a mysterious explosion leaves Professor Xavier in a coma, all while Xavier speaks to him telepathically from the future to help prevent the doomsday event that’s about to occur in the present. Meanwhile, a brooding Cyclops spends his days searching for Jean Grey after she suddenly goes missing during the attack on the X-Mansion, and Magneto forms an army of mutants on Genosha to fight against the impending threat of Senator Kelly’s Sentinel Project.

Some of the other X-Men get their time to shine as well – like Rogue’s early arc involving her defection to the Brotherhood of Mutants, and Nightcrawler’s romance with the Scarlet Witch – but this is still first and foremost Wolverine’s show. And though I understand why the creators would want to thrust him into the spotlight (he is, after all, one of Marvel’s most popular characters), it’s a bit much. There are even some episodes that include him when he’s not needed, and it’s one of the reasons why the series starts to drag towards the end of the season. Still, the writers have done a nice job of integrating classic stories from all eras of the X-Men comics into the show, and the Age of Apocalypse cliffhanger in the season finale would have made for a great sophomore year. Unfortunately, Season Two got scrapped due to some financier problems, which is why this set is being called The Complete Series. It’s a shame someone else didn’t swoop in to save it from cancellation, because while “Wolverine & the X-Men” certainly had its problems (namely, Wolverine’s overbearing presence), it’s a show that was clearly made with comic book fans in mind.

Click to buy “Wolverine & the X-Men: The Complete Series”

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Family Guy: Partial Terms of Endearment

Between the piecemeal volume sets and the “Star Wars” parody episodes, Fox has made a mint screwing over the fans of “Family Guy.” You know, the ones that helped bring it back from cancellation? And apparently, they’re not afraid to admit it, because it takes pretty big balls to release a 23-minute episode on DVD just because it never aired on TV. The episode in question, “Partial Terms of Endearment,” was supposedly deemed too controversial by Fox and pulled from their schedule. But after watching the episode – which finds Lois agreeing to be a surrogate mother for a couple, only to consider abortion after they’re killed in a car accident days after conception – it’s really not as bad as you’d think. In fact, I wouldn’t put it past Fox to have created the media frenzy themselves just so they could put out a DVD.

It’s hard to imagine anyone paying $10 for a single episode (especially when they could have easily included it in the next volume set as a bonus), which is too bad, because it’s one of the funnier episodes in years, with an awesome Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote gag and lines like “Wow, thanks a lot for 9/11, abortion enthusiasts!” The addition of extras like an audio commentary, a live table read, and “Seth & Alex’s Almost Live Comedy Show” is supposed to make you feel better about the high price tag, but it won’t. Rent it from Netflix or, if you absolutely must, find it online for free.

Click to buy “Family Guy: Partial Terms of Endearment”

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Wonders of the Solar System

Those who basked in the wonders of “Planet Earth” and its follow-up “Life” would do well to delve into this frequently mind-blowing five hour series from the Beeb, hosted by physicist (and ex-rock star) Professor Brian Cox. “Wonders of the Solar System” is a triumph of both education and entertainment. On solar eclipses, Cox explains: “The sun is 400 times the diameter of the moon. And by sheer coincidence, it’s 400 times further away from the Earth. There’s something like between 145 and 167 moons in the solar system, depending on how you’re counting, but none of them produces such perfect eclipses as the Earth’s moon.” He then goes to India to partake in a breathtaking total solar eclipse in the presence of a massive, fervent crowd. Cox marvels, “That’s the solar system comin’ down and grabbin’ you by the throat!”

The youthful professor trots all over the globe, using locations and incidents on Earth such as volcanoes, the Grand Canyon, tornadoes and the Northern Lights to practically explain what the rest of the planets in our solar system are actually like. The series also mixes satellite photography and gorgeous CGI that give plenty of insight into our neighboring worlds. When it really comes down to it, though, it’s Cox’s enthusiasm, intelligence, and unexpected bursts of humor that give “Wonders of the Solar System” an edge over other, similar documentary series. It’s a pleasure to have this man as a living, breathing guide as opposed to an unseen narrator. The only area where the series comes up a little short is in the aforementioned CGI department, as a fair amount of it manages to be recycled perhaps a few too many times. There are two extra programs (presented in SD) entitled “What on Earth is Wrong with Gravity?” and “Do You Know What Time It Is?,” which brings the total running time of the set up to almost seven hours. While watching this material, I kept thinking, “If I’d been able to see this kind of stuff in high school, I probably wouldn’t have fallen asleep in science class.”

Click to buy “Wonders of the Solar System”

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Titan Maximum: Season One

Very few shows cram as many laughs into as few minutes as “Robot Chicken” manages on a weekly basis, so when Adult Swim announced the latest stop-motion project from two of the show’s creators – Matt Senreich and Tom Root – it looked like the late-night network had another hit on its hands. But despite pooling the talent of several “Robot Chicken” all-stars (including Seth Green and Breckin Meyer), “Titan Maximum” falls flat on its embarrassingly unfunny face. Unlike the sketch comedy format of its predecessor, “Titan Maximum” features a contained narrative about a group of heroes called the Titan Force Five that pilot the titular robot in order to protect Earth from a never-ending onslaught of danger. It’s essentially a parody of every giant robot show ever made – although as a child of the 80s, it’s hard to compare it to anything other than “Voltron” due to the color-coded cast of characters.

But while the show shares the same comedic flavor of “Robot Chicken,” it’s just not as funny in an extended format. Unable to draw on decades of pop culture, the writers are forced to rely on the interactions between its characters, which are pretty one-dimensional. Heck, one of the newest recruits is a monkey who doesn’t even speak, and although it’s funny the first couple times they cut to him for a reaction shot, the gag get old really quick. Meyer and Green both have fun in their respective roles as the narcissistic team leader of Titan Force Five and his former right-hand man turned adversary, but the rest of the cast is more annoying than anything else. At least Warner Bros. was kind enough to load up the DVD release with lots of extras – including commentaries on all nine episodes, cast and crew interviews, production featurettes and more – because it would have been hard to even recommend to fans of the show if they hadn’t.

Click to buy “Titan Maximum: Season One”

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Saturday Night Live: The Best of Will Ferrell, Volume III

Considering that even the biggest stars “SNL” has ever produced only have one ‘Best of’ collection to their names, it’s a testament to Will Ferrell’s versatility that Universal is giving him his third compilation (well, that and the fact that Ferrell is bar none the biggest star “SNL” has produced in 20 years). From the looks of “The Best of Will Ferrell, Vol. III,” however, it’s starting to look like they may be coming close to the bottom of the well. The set is funny, mind you – it includes arguably the best cheerleader skit of all, at the chess match – and you can never go wrong with a “Celebrity Jeopardy” skit. They even include the oddball “Do You Like Luxury?” skit, which only Ferrell could make funny. However, the inclusion of a “Lawrence Welk” skit is a big minus (that should have been saved for a “Best of Kristen Wiig” DVD, God help us), and the “Inside the Actor’s Studio” skits are only as good as the honoree, and while Abby Elliott has her good points, her Drew Barrymore impression does not leave much of a…well, you know. The warm-up performance of Green Day singing “East Jesus Nowhere,” with Ferrell rocking the cowbell and even taunting Billie Joe (“Does this song ever end?”), is a great extra, though. Pity they couldn’t get him to do an audio commentary; those have always been as entertaining on the other best-of DVDs as the skits themselves.

Click to buy “The Best of Will Ferrell: Volume III”

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