Leave a comment

icegirlscoverGrade: C+
Entire family: Almost
2016, 90 min., Color
20th Century Fox
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and brief language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: n/a
Amazon link

Here’s what the back of the DVD box has to say about this one: “Fifteen-year-old aspiring figure skating champion Mattie Dane is forced to put her dreams on ice after a bad fall—and her mother’s decision to relocate the family to a new town. But a chance encounter with the owner of a local skating rink rekindles Mattie’s passion to compete and sets up an intense rivalry with a talented classmate who’ll stop at nothing to win. Featuring legendary skating stars Elvis Stojko and Tessa Virtue, Ice Girls is an uplifting underdog tale that will leave you cheering.”

Here’s the problem I have with that description: There is no “intense rivalry” between girls (they get along, actually), and the “underdog tale” never has a chance to wag because the girl’s injury seems so slight and such icegirlsscreen2a non-factor. Plus, one thing the copywriter neglects to mention is that this made-for-TV movie is clearly aimed at a younger audience. It’s the kind of film my daughter would have absolutely loved when she was in elementary school—now, not so much. As a high schooler she’s picking up on such shortcomings as the film’s shifting tone. Ice Girls starts out as the kind of serious go-for-the-heartstrings comeback story you’d see on Lifetime or Hallmark, but then seems to fast-forward past any rehabilitation. The musical score changes to something very Danny Elfman-like to accompany a lighter tone and what feels suddenly like a Disney Channel offering, complete with exaggerated quasi-villain.

But the fact of the matter is that there’s no real competition and no real road-to-recovery narrative, which means there also isn’t a lot of tension or suspense. Side plots seem token at best. What there is, at least, is some decent skating, so young Olympic hopefuls can watch and dream. Newcomer Michaela du Toit is also extremely likable as young Mattie, and down-to-earth too—the kind of non-threatening girl that wouldn’t intimidate others, the kind of girl you’d like for a friend. In other words, she’s the perfect star for a film aimed at young girls who aren’t yet ready to accept the sad truth that the world can be full of complicated people and downright mean girls. Despite a roster of one-dimensional characters and an uncomplicated plot, Ice Girls has a likability factor that will make it a hit with elementary and possibly junior high-age girls. And yes, I said “girls” because there isn’t much in the way of male characters to interest boys, unless they’re junior high age on the brink of discovering girls.

icegirlsscreen1One of the best performances in Ice Girls comes from a non-actor. Surprisingly believable as a coach who works with Maddie is three-time figure skating World champion and two-time Olympic silver medalist Elvis Stojko, in his first feature since the 2000 made-for-TV movie Ice Angel.

Ultimately Ice Girls is pleasant enough even for those outside the age range, though it still hovers in the slightly above average range. . . . unless the judges are young girls. As for the PG rating, I’m not sure what the qualifying thematic elements or language could possibly be, it’s so squeaky clean. If Ice Girls is uplifting, it’s not because of an underdog succeeding or an injured athlete working toward a triumphant return . . . it’s because the film emphasizes friendship over everything else. These days, that might be even more important.


Leave a comment

centralintelligencecoverGrade: B-
Entire family: No
2016, 107 min., Color
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for crude and suggestive humor, some nudity, action violence, and brief strong language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B-
Amazon link

Teamed with Ice Cube, Kevin Hart was funnily clueless in Ride Along, and he’s along for the ride again in another buddy cop variation—this time with Dwayne Johnson. Essentially, Central Intelligence is another Knight and Day, with Johnson replacing Tom Cruise as the slightly crazy spy-gone-rogue whose own agency is out to get him, and Hart taking the place of Cameron Diaz as the swept-along civilian. The one new wrinkle is that instead of a chance meeting throwing the two together, the agent (Johnson) seeks out the only person who showed him any kindness in high school.

The drama and poignancy in this lightweight comedy comes from the characters’ reversal of fortunes and high-school flashbacks. Now Calvin Joyner centralintelligencescreen1(Hart) is an ordinary schmuck who’s not getting the promotion he’s worked hard for and who feels like a failure compared to the promise he flashed as a teenager. In high school he had everything. A multiple-sport star athlete who was dating the prettiest girl in school (Danielle Nicolet as Maggie), “The Golden Jet,” as he was called—sorry for the appropriation, NHL legend Bobby Hull—even had a signature backflip move that drove the crowd nuts. Meanwhile, overweight and nerdy Robbie Weirdict was constantly made fun of and ultimately humiliated when a bunch of guys tossed him butt naked onto the center of the basketball court with a packed house laughing at him.

Kids who have been bullied or are sensitive to bullying will find such sad moments made even sadder seeing how the now-buff agent who changed his name to Bob Stone—a name that seems a nod to novelist Robert Stone, author of such politically charged action adventures as Dog Soldiers and A Flag for Sunrise—thinks of Calvin as his best friend. And of course Calvin doesn’t feel the same way. In this respect, the broad comedy and comic violence is balanced with an underlying tone that’s often sad but, typical of Hollywood, blossoms into something more positive by film’s end.

centralintelligencescreen2It really doesn’t matter why a “rogue” agent is being hunted, does it? I mean, it’s always a save-the-world situation to some degree, and in this case its satellite codes that simply can’t fall into the wrong hands—especially if those hands belong to the Black Badger, a dangerous international criminal who clearly dabbles in terrorism. The minor characters really are minor in Central Intelligence, though Amy Ryan (Birdman, Gone Baby Gone) is superb as C.I.A. honcho Pam Harris, the agent leading the effort to capture Bob Stone and recover the codes, and Jason Bateman clearly enjoys his small role as Trevor, the guy who masterminded the worst night of Bob’s life —a point humorously made when Bob revives after reliving that high-school nightmare and feels relieved that he’s being tortured instead.

Hart and Johnson actually pair up nicely, and Central Intelligence is a fun action-comedy largely because of their antics and the chemistry that they manage. Will there be a sequel? Of course—especially when you consider that the pair is already filming Jumanji, in which Johnson plays Dr. Smolder Bravestone, Hart plays Moose Finbar, and Jack Black is Professor Shelly Oberon. That’s the thing about formulaic films: if anything in them clicks, as Hart and Johnson do, the formula actually works, no matter how familiar it all seems.

This Blu-ray release comes with both the theatrical version and a 116-minute unrated version that pushes the film closer to “R” territory.

Language: One “f-word” and multiple other swearwords, including “shit”
Sex: No sex, but a long butt-view of the Rock’s rotund high-school character is shown in the shower and kids make genitalia jokes about Robbie’s last name
Violence: Besides the torture scene (which turns out okay and is partly played for laughs) there are multiple shootings, fistfights, and explosions, with some blood shown
Adult situations: Nothing more than what I’ve already talked about
Takeaway: Since Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines starred in what’s probably the first buddy cop action-comedy (Running Scared, 1986), the genre has really taken off. Now it’s just a matter of pairings, and Johnson and Hart go well together.


Leave a comment

johnnyguitarcoverGrade: B+
Entire family: No
1954, 110 min., Color
Olive Films
Unrated (would be PG for adult themes and some violence)
Aspect ratio: 1.66:1 (full widescreen)
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Bonus features: A-
Amazon link

In 1947 the House Un-American Activities Committee interrogated members of Hollywood about alleged Communists in the film industry, and the “Hollywood Ten” refused to cooperate—which resulted in their being blacklisted and unable to work again in their profession. Even into the early 1950s, those “Red Menace” flames were fanned by Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose unsubstantiated claims that there were huge numbers of Soviet spies and sympathizers living among us sparked additional modern-day witchhunts.

Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible—his dramatization of the Salem witch trials—as an allegory criticizing McCarthyism, and anyone who knows history and watches the 1954 Western Johnny Guitar will recognize it as another allegory, one that references not only the idea of the McCarthy-style witch hunt but also Miller’s play. It’s hard not see in the “funeral attire” of a posse and the firebrand reformer of a woman who leads them a pretty exact match with the stark black-and-white dress of the Puritans who tried women as witches simply because another woman—jealous, perhaps—“accused” her of witchcraft. Accusation was enough to justify burning at the stake, and that same lack of tolerance and lack of due process drives this intelligent Western, which also features a “burning.”

johnnyguitarscreen2So what does that mean for family TV night? Well, Johnny Guitar isn’t a guilty pleasure, that’s for sure. It’s not the kind of movie you pop in for mindless entertainment. It’s not a typical formulaic Western with a strong male hero rescuing a damsel in distress. This revisionist Western features a strong female protagonist and big fight at the end that pits one strong woman against another. There’s gunplay, certainly, but as in High Noon—another intellectual Western—it’s measured, and a direct result of character. Compared to other Westerns, Johnny Guitar is high art—richly atmospheric and with noir elements that will remind viewers of such dramatic films as Key Largo. It’s directed by is directed by Nicholas Ray, who also gave us Rebel without a Cause, and fans of James Dean will see similarities here as well. All of which make this Western—which French critics collectively pronounced one of the best of all time—family viewing only if you have teenagers who can appreciate thoughtful and well-constructed films that aren’t made for the masses.

johnnyguitarscreen1Joan Crawford plays Vienna, a former saloon “girl”—a woman who survived by giving pleasure to men, though nothing so blunt is ever specifically stated. Through a series of events that also are left to our imaginations, Vienna has raised herself up. She once worked in a saloon, but now she owns a saloon isolated in the foothills apart from a small cattle town. She’s at odds with the townspeople, not only because of morality—Emma Small (as in small-minded?) wants to drive her away—but because she’s working with the railroad to run tracks through her property and build a depot right there by her saloon.

In a nod to TV Westerns and B movies, a stagecoach is held up by a gang, and the town accuses Vienna of being in cahoots with The Dancin’ Kid and his boys, which memorably include young Turkey (Ben Cooper) and crusty Bart (Ernest Borgnine). But this is an “iceberg” Western, with most of it lurking beneath the surface. Every character has a back story that viewers are invited to figure out, and to speculate about the relationship between Vienna and Emma, between The Dancin’ Kid (Scott Brady) and both women, among the “gang” members, and between Vienna and the unarmed stranger (Sterling Hayden) who rides into town with a guitar slung on his back. For that matter, Johnny Guitar invites you to speculate on the notion of power and who has it in this town—the head of the cattlemen (Ward Bond), the marshal (Frank Ferguson), or Emma as the voice of all things “proper.” And why does Vienna really want that railroad to go right past her saloon?

Johnny Guitar was added to the National Film Registry in 2008, and it truly is “culturally, historically” and “aesthetically” significant. Aside from the allegorical elements there’s much to appreciate and discuss about the film’s structure and the ways in which it plays with Western clichés, or the way it offers a feminist, revisionist take on the West. It’s the kind of movie that you discuss with your kids, rather than crack jokes during the film—though it might be hard not to joke briefly about Mercedes McCambridge’s performance as Emma, a fanatic who acts wild-eyed crazy, or even the harsh-featured Crawford, who plays her character like a strong-and-silent male Western hero. Yet, while the style of acting borders on the melodramatic, as was common at the time, the heady elements keep it from being unintentionally funny. Director Ray uses atmosphere and sparse dialogue to create and sustain a tension that holds you until the end credits. And for a 1954 film aimed at making a statement about politics run amuck, that’s a pretty good feat.

Olive Films has been quietly building a catalog of old films, but with this release they launch Olive Signature—“the next generation of fan-centered entertainment.” It’s their version of the Criterion Collection, with a handsome slipcase and a barrel of bonus features that draws upon the knowledge of film historians and admirers like Martin Scorsese. A full-color booklet includes a terrific essay on “Johnny Guitar: The First Existentialist Western,” and the print itself looks and sounds great in HD. It’s a wonderful release that’s aimed at intelligent people who can appreciate intelligent films. Especially if your teens are reading The Crucible in high school they might appreciate watching this one.

Language: Nothing much; “tramp” is as bad as it gets
Sex: None, though everything simmers below the surface and is so subtle that children won’t get it
Violence: Several people are shot and killed, but old-school style, no blood; there’s also one lynching with the camera turning away during the crucial moment
Adult situations: Pretty much the entire film; it takes place in a saloon, so there you go
Takeaway: The more you watch this Western, the more you see, and its allegoric message is still sadly appropriate today


Leave a comment

barbariansrisingcoverGrade: C/C+
Entire family: No
2016, 336 min. (4 episodes), Color
HISTORY / Lionsgate
Not rated (would be PG-13 for some violence)
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features: n/a
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital HD
Amazon link

HISTORY (formerly The History Channel) has been criticized for focusing too much on American history, and so you’d think that their docudrama Barbarians Rising would be just the thing to silence those critics. But while the subject matter may be international, the production itself is all too familiar. The four-part series tracks the rise of “barbarians” against the Roman Empire, blending voiceover narration, interviews with scholars and (curiously) Civil Rights leaders, and dramatic reenactments. That mixture feels as unbalanced as some of the historical figures we encounter along the way, and the series’ undoing is ultimately those reenactments . . . some of which go on way too long, and feature little in the way of dramatic tension.

barbariansrisingscreen1The first episode, “Resistance,” focuses on Hannibal from the time he is a boy sworn to try to defeat Rome through his famed crossing of the Alps. Nicholas Pinnock (a Shakespearian actor who appeared in a minor role in Captain America: The First Avenger) is fine as Hannibal. The problem is with the scenic construction. There’s no built-in drama to the scenes, which often go on way too long and therefore prevent viewers from finding a comfortable rhythm as the series jumps from reenactments to talking heads and various maps and illustrations that feel more like lectures than integrated enhancements. With shorter reenactments or more dramatic ones, the balance of narrative components might have seemed more fluid and natural.

That’s the series’ chief weakness—other than the fact that Caesar’s Gallic Wars seems to have been ignored. Aside from that apparent oversight, its strength is overwhelmingly the barbariansrisingscreen2subject matter itself, and the fact that it educates audiences about not just well-known figures like Hannibal, Attila the Hun (Emil Hostina), and Spartacus (Ben Batt), whose gladiator-slave rebellion also qualifies as “barbarian,” but also lesser-knowns like Viriathus (Jefferson Hall), a shepherd from western Hispania/Iberia who reached out to other groups in order to build an alliance that could stand up to Roman expansion. His story is fascinating because he survived a massacre and used his knowledge of the Romans to help his people wage what now would be called a guerilla war against the more formal and militaristic Roman army.

Narrated by Michael Ealy, Barbarians Rising might be tonally consistent, but the episodes themselves vary in quality. The series manges to find a foothold with the opening episode, which features the stories of Hannibal and Viriathus, then peaks with the Spartacus and Arminius episode titled “Rebellion,” but then tapers off with “Revenge”—the stories of Arminius (Tom Hopper), Queen Boudica (Kirsty Mitchell), and Fritigern (Steven Waddington)—and fizzles when it should sizzle with the final episode, “Ruin,” which details Alaric’s (Gavin Drea) sack of Rome, Attila the Hun’s sweeping destruction, and, finally, the Vandal king—Geiseric (Richard Brake)—who brought about the end of the Roman Empire.

If it sounds fascinating, the subject matter certainly is. It’s the execution that’s disappointing. These stories could have been told in livelier fashion and with considerably more drama. As is, I found myself leaving the room to get a snack whenever the reenactments droned on too long and returning for the history lessons. Too often those reenactments were just plain dull. I kept wondering what the point was, and that was part of the problem. The reenactments didn’t feel well integrated.

I’m sure history nuts will still gravitate toward shows like this, but for families looking for an educational program that’s also entertaining, well, there are better options out there—though the transfers are top-notch, with two episodes per disc in this two-disc set.


Leave a comment

commandocodycoverGrade: B-
Entire family: Yes
1953, 361 min. (12 episodes), Black-and-white
Olive Films
Not rated (would be G)
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Featured audio: DTS 2.0 Mono
Bonus features: n/a
Amazon link

Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe probably owes his existence to Flash Gordon.

In the early ‘50s, baby boomers woke on Saturday and Sunday mornings to discover not just cartoons and new programs, but syndicated, recycled black-and-white shorts and serials that were made decades earlier to be shown in theaters—features like The Three Stooges, The Little Rascals, and yes, Flash Gordon.

When Republic Pictures noticed that youngsters were hungry for more of the old Flash Gordon serials, they decided to create a TV series that would look like one of those early Flash adventures or several of their own, like King of the Rocket Men (1949) or Radar Men from the Moon (1952). The interesting thing about Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe is that while it commandocodyscreen1looks like an old movie serial, it was made for television, and as such, it lacks the cliffhangers that end every serial. These episodes are more self-contained, despite a narrative arc that also stretches across all 12 included here: Enemies of the Universe, Atomic Peril, Cosmic Vengeance, Nightmare Typhoon, War of the Space Giants, Destroyers of the Sun, Robot Monster from Mars, The Hydrogen Hurricane, Solar Sky Raiders, S.O.S. Ice Age, Lost in Outer Space, and Captives of the Zero Hour.

Though it was made in 1953, Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe has the look and feel of the old Flash Gordon serials. Even now, without knowing anything about the production, you’d swear that it was made in the ‘30s. That in itself is an achievement—though Commando Cody doesn’t have the same range or production values. The cast is smaller, the budget isn’t as big, there aren’t as many villains or costumed aliens of different kinds, and the sets aren’t as elaborate.

commandocodyscreen2But Commando Cody is just as campy and still fun. Though it was made for children, many families might enjoy it now because, well, what’s not to like about a man with a bulky metal mask and jet-pack who can fly through the air like Superman? Or hydrogen hurricanes, magno-force rays that can tilt the Earth on its axis, freeze rays that will remind you of playing freeze tag, and a thought-control chair that looks like a cross between a barber chair and an old Victorian parlor chair? Or robots from Mars? Or any number of gizmos and gadgets that might inspire your kids to head for the craft table and make a few of their own. Some of the fun comes from seeing how low-budget and low-tech some of the props are.

It’s hard not to laugh at Commando Cody’s atomic-powered rocket ship, which he unclogs at one point using a plunger-like device, and which has standard-issue office chairs with seat belts. When the camera tilts and the men lean back on their seats to give the appearance of “lift-off,” your family will probably crack up, if yours is anything like mine. And the top-secret headquarters for Commando Cody? You don’t have to look too carefully to see that they filmed it in front of a southern California apartment building complex and just propped a phone and two guards in front of one entrance. It’s funny too to watch Commando Cody leave his “decompression chamber” and walk on top of his stratosphere-bound rocket ship, leaning over an exhaust that looks more like it came from a giant firework pinwheel than a jet-propelled aircraft.

In Flash Gordon, the planet Mongo’s emperor, Ming the Merciless, caused natural disasters all over Earth as a first step toward conquering the planet, and Flash took off in a rocket ship with two others to thwart him. In Commando Cody the plot is similar. Commando Cody (Judd Holdren) is somehow appointed Intergalactic Sky Martial (though it’s unclear who actually appointed him) and his activities are so top secret that even viewers can’t be told. But we do know this: a cosmic ruler from another planet known simply as The Ruler (Gregory Gaye) has spies on Earth who are transmitting information to him and helping him carry out his own plan to conquer Earth. But not if Commando Cody can help it . . . with the help of his assistants Ted Richards (William Schallert) and Joan Gilbert (Aline Towne), with Richard Crane replacing Schallert midway.

The acting, as in most serials and B-movies, is no great shakes, but there’s just enough science fiction in here to make it interesting, and plenty of low-budget props and scenes to make it unintentionally funny. Commando Cody could easily serve as a warm-up for family movie night, with the installments spread out over a dozen weeks as originally intended. Yes, you can watch the episodes on YouTube, which is where the screen grabs come from, but the audio-visual quality on this two-disc set from Olive Films is far, far superior.

YOURS, MINE AND OURS (1968) (Blu-ray)

Leave a comment

yoursmineandourscoverGrade: B-
Entire family: Yes
1968, 111 min., Color
Olive Films
Not rated (would be PG for mild language and innuendo)
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS 2.0 Mono
Bonus features: n/a
Amazon link

In 1968, a year before The Brady Bunch charmed television audiences, two blended family movies played in theaters: With Six You Get Eggroll, starring Doris Day and Brian Keith, and Yours, Mine and Ours, with Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda as the parents. The latter was popular enough to spark a less successful 2005 remake (with Rene Russo and Dennis Quaid). Of them all, the original Yours, Mine and Ours is the best—partly because of a decent script by committee, partly because of the stars’ steady performances, and partly because it’s based on a real story.

yoursmineandoursHelen North was a Navy wife whose husband was killed in an air crash when she was 30 and pregnant with their eighth child. When she married Navy Warrant Officer Frank Beardsley in 1961, her eight children were blended with his 10. And a year later, when each of them legally adopted the others’ brood, they made headlines for the largest group adoption in California history and ended up as guests of Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. Yours, Mine and Ours is based on her memoir, Who Gets the Drumstick.

Only a fraction of her story is recounted in the film, which focuses on the courtship between Helen and Frank, their marriage, and their attempts to raise 18 children together in the months leading up to that adoption. Though dated (what sixties’ movie isn’t?) Yours, Mine and Ours is still cute —and “cute” is the word that came to my wife and myself as we watched and sometimes laughed out loud.

It’s a little bit of a stretch to accept 57-year-old Ball and 63-year-old Fonda as fertile parents of these combined families, but the casting makes sense when you realize that Ball’s Desilu Productions bought the movie rights. Though the two of them are old enough to be the children’s grandparents, they still make for believable parents once you get over the initial shock. Fans of the old I Love Lucy series will find it interesting to watch Ball in a mostly seriocomic role, with only two scenes that feature slapstick/physical comedy—things that Ball did best. There’s a funny scene at a crowded bar, and later, when Frank brings Helen home to meet his children, the teenage boys (among them Tim Matheson of Animal House fame) put a little extra booze—make that a lot extra—in her drink. Ball, in that scene, evokes a few memories of her Season 2 episode “Lucy Does a TV Commercial,” in which Lucy takes a little too much of the alcohol-based elixer Vitameatavegimin.

yoursmineandoursscreen2Fans of vintage TV will also smile seeing another TV dad, Tom Bosley (Happy Days) playing a doctor. If you’re a Brady Bunch fan, you’ll realize how many of the blended family situations came from this movie. The level of realism and believability is enough to offset anything corny or quaint comes from Yours, Mine and Ours being so wholesome and nearly 50 years old. It’s still enjoyable family fare, and because it is so dated looking it’s going to provide a nice touchstone for children to see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same when it comes to family dynamics.

Aside from Matheson, the actors who play the children are believable but unremarkable, while the same could be said of the film’s minor characters—except for Van Johnson, a leading man who gets to play the sidekick this outing. Directed by Melville Shavelson—who got his experience shepherding stepparents and stepchildren in the Oscar-nominated romantic comedy Houseboat, starring Cary Grant and Sophia Loren—Yours, Mine and Ours is a wholesome, cute family movie. And age hasn’t diminished its cuteness one bit.

Age has, however, affected the print, which is a little rough in the opening. But the graininess gradually becomes less after the title sequence. Like the stars’ ages, once the film gets rolling you it all smoothes out, and the colors especially look rich in this HD presentation.

Language: Nothing here except literally a handful of “damns” and “hells”
Sex: Nothing here either, apart from a few phrases (“sex maniac”), a boy reading a Playboy, mild innuendo, and references to a boy who expects a teenage girl to “prove her love”
Violence: Just one scuffle and an implied schoolyard fight with a black eye to prove it
Adult situations: Aside from the innuendo, a few fertility jokes, and the drinking/drunkenness, nothing offensive
Takeaway: As old as Ball and Fonda seem at the beginning of the film, you quickly forget their ages and appreciate two professionals—two Hollywood legends—at work


Leave a comment

flash2coverGrade: B/B+
Entire family: No
2015-16, 1020 min. (23 episodes), Color
Not rated (would be TV-PG for violence)
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B+/A- (four hours worth!)
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital HD
Amazon link

Though The Flash is a spin-off from Arrow (another DC Comics television series), the two shows could be from alternate universes—which, coincidentally, is a main plot thread in The Flash: Season 2.

Arrow is dark and TV-14 ultra-violent, but The Flash is tongue-in-cheek and light enough to have some fun with the whole idea of superheroes saving the planet on a daily basis, as if they were lunch bucket-carrying blue-collar workers. Tonally, this TV-PG series comes closer to Supergirl, and together the shows are closer in spirit to the old comic books. The Flash may not be as addictive, but it’s more wholesome fun, and therefore a better choice for families with children ages 9-12 who adore superhero movies and TV shows but aren’t old enough for the raw violence of Arrow.

flash2screen1Though my teenage daughter thinks he’s too nerdy, Grant Gustin seems well cast as Barry Allen, a forensic investigator for Central City police who comes out of a nine-month coma—the result of a particle accelerator explosion—only to realize that he has superhuman speed. Like, if you have a taste for a burrito, he can run to Mexico and back in time to put one in your outstretched hand!

As with most superheroes, Barry doesn’t have a traditional family. When he was younger, he witnessed his mother’s murder by a supernatural power, and was essentially orphaned when his father was convicted of killing her and sent to prison. But Barry knows what he saw, and he’s determined to clear his father’s name and avenge his mother’s death.

Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), the designer of the failed particle accelerator, takes Barry under his wing and gives his condition a name: “Metahuman.” It turns out that there are more metahumans—especially in Season 2, when Barry, aka “The Flash,” meets Jay Garrick, who claims to be The Flash in a parallel world. He got there through a breach, and warns that other metahumans—bad ones like Zoom and Dr. Light—might follow. But there’s no shortage of evil, and this season The Flash also has to face a giant-sized metahuman, Weather Wizard, Captain Cold, Trickster, Killer Frost, the time-traveling immortal Vandal Savage, Reverse-Flash, Tar Pit, Geomancer, and King Shark.

flash2screen2This season characters bounce back and forth between Earth-1 and Earth-2, The Flash investigates the phenomenon of speedsters and, typical of superheroes, at one point he loses his power. Like his female superhero counterpart on the CW he also has a secret crush—Iris (Candice Patton), his best friend and the daughter of Det. Joe West (Jesse L. Martin)—as well as another possible romantic interest (Danielle Panabaker as Dr. Caitlin Snow).

Opinions will vary, but of the CW series our family still considers Arrow to be tops, followed by Supergirl, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow. Though The Flash is loaded with villains and villainy, it doesn’t have the same compelling sequence of events as Arrow. And though the characters are engaging enough, they too fall slightly short of the charisma that we get from Arrow and Supergirl. That is, our family got hooked on Arrow and Supergirl and wanted to binge-watch, but were perfectly happy to watch The Flash like every other TV show.

Language: Squeaky clean
Sex: Nothing at all
Violence: Mostly bloodless, sci-fi battles that aren’t as frequent as on other CW superhero series
Adult situations: Occasional drinking and the death of a parent
Takeaway: It’s hard to pinpoint what makes some shows addictive and others, like The Flash, just pleasant entertainment, but that’s how it played out for our family

Older Entries