Blu Tuesday: Superheroes and Ghosts

It may not look like it based on the small selection of titles below, but this is a great week for Blu-ray fans. Not only does it mark the debut of Joss Whedon’s awesome Marvel superhero team-up movie, but Fox is releasing “Bond 50,” a box set containing all 22 James Bond films in celebration of the franchise’s 50th anniversary. And if that’s not enough to get you excited, there are a few other titles worth checking out as well.

“The Avengers”

Not many people would have been willing to wager before the start of the summer season that “The Avengers” would emerge as the year’s best superhero film, but Marvel’s big gamble proved everyone wrong. In addition to making beaucoup bucks at the box office (earning a spot as the third highest grossing movie of all-time), it was also better than “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Director Joss Whedon deserves a lot of credit for not only balancing the film’s many tones, but the large cast as well, and although some actors fare better than others (namely Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo), the ensemble works together so well that you’d think it was part of the plan all along. And in that respect, the movie’s real MVP is Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige, the brains behind the cinematic tapestry known as Phase One, which is comprised of everything leading up to and including “The Avengers.” But more than anything else, the film is just a really entertaining superhero flick that deserves a place in anyone’s collection.

Blu-ray Highlight: Disney didn’t provide me a review copy, but there’s plenty of bonus material that I’m looking forward to checking out, including the director commentary by the always amusing Joss Whedon and the newest Marvel short film, “Item 47,” which supposedly played like gangbusters for the crowd at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con.

“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Part One”

After the release of “Batman: Year One,” it was only inevitable that Warner Bros. would follow it up with an animated version of Frank Miller’s other popular Batman story, “The Dark Knight Returns,” even going so far as to split the four-issue miniseries into two movies. Though the forthcoming Part Two will no doubt be the better of the pair as it features the return of The Joker, Part One is still a really solid adaptation that sticks close to the source material while also laying the groundwork for the darker and more twisted second half of the story. The idea of revisiting Bruce Wayne/Batman decades after he’s passed his crime-fighting prime (as well as introducing yet another Robin, this time female) provides so many great character moments that it’s surprising Hollywood hasn’t tried adapting the series into a live-action film. Though bits from Millar’s comic have shown up in Christopher Nolan’s Bat trilogy, it’s cool that Warner Bros. found another way to showcase the fan favorite story, even if that meant doing it in animated form.

Blu-ray Highlight: The bonus material isn’t very good, but those that can’t wait for Part Two will at least want to check out the included sneak peek, which offers your first look at Michael Emerson in action as The Joker and Mark Valley as Clark Kent/Superman.

“American Horror Story: The Complete First Season”

Though I’ve never been a very big fan of the horror genre, there was so much positive buzz heading in to the first season of “American Horror Story” that it was simply too enticing to pass up. But despite a somewhat creepy pilot, there was never anything particularly scary about the show apart from its opening credit sequence, and believe it or not, that’s the least of its problems. Between the melodramatic, soap opera-like subplots, the nonsensical twists, and the habit of certain stories and characters falling by the wayside, “American Horror Story” is such a muddled mess of half-baked ideas that it’s never able to achieve the potential of its intriguing setup. Connie Britton at least makes some of those shortcomings worth suffering through, and if there’s anyone in the cast that deserves praise, it’s Britton and not Jessica Lange’s over-the-top performance as the duplicitous nosey neighbor. In the end, however, it’s probably best that creator Ryan Murphy decided to essentially reboot the show every season with a brand new story, because after 13 episodes of this much crazy, it’s hard to imagine many viewers sticking around for another helping.

Blu-ray Highlight: A review copy didn’t arrive in time, but the audio commentary by Ryan Murphy on the pilot episode should be worth listening to if you’re a fan of the series.

  

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Picture of the Day: Jamie in her tank top

This photo of Jamie in her cut-off white tank top is an all-time classic. Let’s just say it sparks the imagination!

  

Picture of the Day: Laura with her boxing gloves

Laura poses with some boxing gloves in the locker room in the gym.

  

Picture of the Day: Nicole in her thigh high lingerie

Here’s an awesome pic of Nicole Slevinski as she sports some lacy lingerie and super-hot thigh high stockings. We love the tight abs she’s showing off in this photo.

  

App of the Week: Apple Maps Replacement Edition

Developers:
Lumatic – Lumatic Inc.

Waze – Waze Inc

Compatible with:
iPhone
iPad
iPod Touch

Requires:
Lumatic – iOs 5.0 or later

Waze – iOs 4.0 or later

Price:
Free

Available here for Waze and here for Lumatic

I don’t like to use the words resounding, embarrassing failure to describe something unless I have to. For one thing, it’s just not that nice and, for another, I like to maintain the integrity of such a phrase, so when it is used you can really appreciate the effect. With that in mind I won’t use it for the new Apple Maps app, but I just wanted you to know that the thought did cross my mind, so you have an idea what we’re dealing with.

Instead I’ll describe the new “Google Map Killer” as a crushing disappointment. Mostly because some features show such promise (the Yelp integration and some of the layout is nice), while other aspects of the app are shamefully bad (just look at some of these screenshots, or this head to head with Google Maps). What’s worse is, Apple has effectively blackballed Google Maps from iO6, and therefore the new iPhone 5. While there are ways of getting around this problem, it is a joke that the superior Google Maps isn’t an easy option as it should be.

Until Apple Maps gets its act together then, you are going to need some replacement apps for map and navigation needs. In fact, to replace the functions and features of Google Maps, without paying a service fee for some of the full fledged navigation apps, you’ll actually need a couple of apps to make up the difference.

The first App I recommend then would be the free Lumatic City Maps. While somewhat limited in scope (it only covers 24 major cities and is mainly for public transportation, not driving) if you do live in an area that support it, it’s a must have. Lumatic handily keeps track of all public transportation options with nice, real world photos, and both transport time estimates and schedules of bus and subway arrival times. The best feature of this app is actually a tie. I can’t decide between the way that selecting a business will automatically provide Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook, and Wikipedia information, or how when providing directions, the app will actually reference locations in the area. For instance, it may say make a left turn passing the Starbucks on your right. It feels like a very organic way of providing directions and nicely highlights why this is such a fun and practical app if you live in an area that supports it.

If you don’t, or if you need driving directions, you are going to have to look elsewhere. Luckily there is another free app called Waze that admirably handles those duties. A popular app for a while now, Waze has honed itself into a fine tuned navigation assistant that also features some fantastic layouts and graphics. It’s turn by turn directions are competitive with any app out there, and its location search feature is not only comprehensive, but actually outshines some of the other major apps, especially Apple Maps, in terms of results and information. The integrated social features also allow drivers to communicate updates with each other, and the latest version even shows the price of the gas stations around you so you can choose the cheapest option. Even better, Waze provides gas discounts to certain stations along the way.

I was really hoping that Apple Maps would be as great as Apple was hyping it up to be, so I would have an easy selection this week. While I haven’t given up hope it may one day be worthy, in the meantime I wouldn’t recommend relying on it for any practical purposes. Luckily, you won’t have to navigate your world, or the app market, blindly, thanks to the combined efforts of Waze and Lumatic Maps, my apps of the week.

  

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