Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Transformers: Season Two, Volume One (25th Anniversary Edition) DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

After the success of the initial 16 episodes of The Transformers, the show was renewed for a whopping 49 episodes, 28 of which are collected on The Transformers: Season Two, Volume One. As the show’s main purpose was to sell toys, season two introduced a number of new characters, including Autobots: Omega Supreme, Beachcomber, and Cosmos, and Decepticons: Dirge, Ramjet, and Thrust. In addition, a number of combining robots were introduced (several robots that combined to form one large robot) including the Aerialbots, Protectobots, Stunticons and Combaticons. New human characters were introduced as well, including Carly, Spike’s girlfriend.

When the Dinobots are deemed too dangerous to keep at Autobot headquarters, they are sent to train at Dinobot Island, which was also the name for this two-part episode. The Autobots discover an energy field in the middle of the ocean coming from the island. When they investigate, they find the island to be inhabited by real dinosaurs, making it a perfect place to send the Dinobots. The island is also rich in energy, which Decepticon leader Megatron is keen to steal. In spite of Starscream’s warnings, Megatron steals the energy, which causes a time rift. Portals open and out come cavemen on wooly mammoths, pirates, and cowboys from the old west. The Autobots soon discover they need to release the energy to restore time to its normal state.

In “Enter the Nightbird,” the Decepticons capture a human-made ninja robot named Nightbird and reprogram her to fight the Autobots. She breaks into Autobot headquarters and steals the World Energy Source. Though Optimus Prime vowed to protect the robot, he has no choice but to attack her to foil the Decepticon's plans.

“Autobot Spike” finds Sparkplug creating Autobot X out of spare Autobot parts. When Megatron attacks Bumblebee and Spike though, Wheeljack transfers Spike’s mind into Autobot X so they can save Spike’s body. Spike is horrified by his new form and, after seeing Frankenstein on TV, believes he is no different from the monster. Megatron seeks to exploit Spike’s anger by trying to turn him against the Autobots.

Cliffjumper accuses Mirage of being a traitor to the Autobots for not reporting electro cells he found. In reality, he was trying to trick the Decepticons. His plan backfires though when Megatron, thinking the Insecticons have set him up by stealing his energon cubes, fires on them. The Insecticons decide to make Mirage their slave via a brain chip and it is up to the Autobots to save him. Every character — Autobot, Decepticon and Insecticon — is under suspicion in one of the highlight episodes of season two.

It’s disappointing that season two has been spit up into volumes (There’s a complete set of the show’s entire run available for those who can’t wait) and there are no bonus features on the discs. One can hope the bonus features will appear on Season Two, Volume Two. The enclosed episodes are treated with the same loving restoration as season one though and the extra episodes, as well as the fast-paced action make The Transformers: Season Two, Volume One a winner.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ace Frehley — Anomaly CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

After the release of his classic album, Trouble Walkin, Ace Frehley repeatedly promised fans its follow-up was imminent. Well, 20 years and one KISS reunion later, Anomaly is here, featuring all-new material, save for a rocking cover of Sweet’s “Fox on the Run” and “Sister,” a song that dates back to the mid 1990s that Frehley debuted on tour before reuniting with KISS.

The album starts strong with the driving “Foxy & Free,” referencing Hendrix, and “Outer Space,” which covers Frehley’s typical sci-fi themes. These are strong, heavy tunes that would be at home on Frehley’s 1978 solo album and both feature some excellent lead guitar work by Ace and drumming from Ace Frehley/ KISS/David Letterman show band alumni Anton Fig.

Ace channels his inner Zeppelin with the mostly instrumental “Genghis Khan,” whose bombastic drums and exotic tones recall “Kashmir,” while he reprises his “Fractured” series with the album-closing instrumental “Fractured Quantum.” The title of the instrumental, “Space Bear,” refers to the legendary The Tomorrow Show interview KISS did in 1979 where a very inebriated Frehley created a space bear by putting his KISS costume pieces on a teddy bear he found on the set, much to Gene Simmons’ chagrin.

That was the old Ace, however. In the last few years, Frehley has gotten sober and many of the lyrics reflect a more mature outlook on life. On the introspective “Change the World” he sings, “When I was young, I played. I had lots of fun, but now I can see it’s time for a change.” Frehley is more direct on the acoustic “A Little Below the Angels,” “Alcohol was a friend of mine. It almost got me dead. I crashed some cars, got into fights, some things I now regret.” The song features a somewhat cheesy spoken-word part, but this is a changed man baring his soul, and it’s obvious he is being sincere. Frehley celebrates his survival and sobriety on “It’s a Great Life,” a surprisingly groove-oriented song from the guitarist.

Anomaly does have a couple clunkers, most notably “Pain in the Neck” with its dissonant chorus and “Too Many Faces,” which seems disjointed. That’s disappointing news for fans waiting 20 years for this album, as it should be all killer, no filler. There’s plenty of killer though and Anomaly is definitely an album that gets better after repeated listens. Besides, it’s nice to hear Frehley taking chances, even if they don’t all work as well as he had hoped.

There are a few nods to Frehley’s 1978 solo album in the packaging — from the original artwork being used with new artwork on top of it to the back cover with its dedications. The inner packaging folds into a cool prism and harkens back to the days when KISS included fun extras in their releases. These touches, along with a number of rocking tracks, should please both Ace and KISS fans alike.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Two and a Half Men - Season 6 DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Season six of Two and a Half Men brings more of the usual antics from drunken womanizer Charlie (Charlie Sheen), his neurotic brother Alan (Jon Cryer), and Alan’s dimwitted son, Jake (Angus T. Jones) but offers some twists. Charlie finds a girlfriend named Chelsea (Jennifer Bini Taylor) who tried her best to reign in the eternal playboy, Alan considers patching things up with his ex-wife Judith (Marin Hinkle), and Jake ponders college and a cooking career of all things after his grandmother Evelyn (Holland Taylor) offers to pay for his college.

In the first episode, Charlie runs into an old flame who doesn’t want anything to do with him. Problem is, she has a son who looks and dresses just like Charlie and even plays the piano like him. Charlie is desperate to know if this is his son and ends up having a nightmare that he has hundreds of children running around. Finally, out of guilt, he offers financial support to the child’s mother, but is he really the father?

Alan decides that rather than start from scratch every time he breaks up with a woman, he’ll just date two at a time. He figures if Charlie can do it, so can he. He finds it’s not as easy as he thinks though. Meanwhile Jake, who is now 14, misunderstands the advice Charlie gives him about drinking and gets a man named Satellite Jack to buy him beer at a party store with $20 Alan had given him.

When Charlie’s friend and old partner-in-crime, Andy (Emilio Estevez), dies while visiting Charlie, it causes Charlie to rethink his own life, buying gifts for everyone except Alan and nearly proposing to Rose (Melanie Lynskey). He tells Alan that Andy was like the brother he never had, which is ironic, of course, as Estevez is his real-life brother. While at Andy’s funeral, he nods off and imagines his own funeral. Alan has inherited everything as Charlie left no will, James Earl Jones delivered the eulogy for $25,000 and a succession of Charlie’s ex-girlfriends line up to spit in his casket.

After Judith breaks up with Herb (Ryan Stiles), Alan visits Judith and ends up sleeping with her. Judith tries to act nice and patch things up with Alan until a disagreement about kissing brings out the old Judith. Turns out she wanted Alan to kiss more like Herb, who she welcomes back. Later, she drops a bombshell that she’s pregnant. Alan wonders whether the baby is his.

Chelsea makes her debut in the “Pinocchio’s Mouth” episode and remains a fixture for much of the second half of the season. This marks the fourth character Taylor has played on the show, but the first with any longevity. This episode finds her upset that Charlie never stays at her place. Reluctantly, he agrees, but complains about everything from sleeping on the wrong side of the bed to not having his personal pillow. Finally, he brings all of his belongings over for one night and Chelsea, not wanting to deal with him anymore, decides she will always stay at his place. Chelsea appears in 10 episodes, but can Charlie stay committed to one woman? To make matters worse, another ex-girlfriend, Mia, returns in the last episode leaving Charlie torn.

Extras on the DVD include “Two and a Half Men: Growing Up Harper” about the evolution of the Jake character, “The Women of Two and Half Men,” and a gag reel.

In spite of the love-hate relationship some viewers seem to have with the show due to its juvenile sense of humor, Two and a Half Men remains very popular and both Sheen and Cryer were nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards for this season. For those who enjoy the humor of Men, Season Six is another winner.