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LUCIFER: SEASON 1 (DVD)

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Lucifer1coverGrade: B
Entire family: No
2015-16, 566 min. (13 episodes), Color
Warner Bros.
Not rated (would be TV-14 for violence, adult situations, sexual innuendo, and language)
Aspect ratio: Letterboxed widescreen “enhanced” for 16×9 monitors
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: C-
Trailer
Amazon link

In the ‘60s, novelty sitcoms like I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched proved that shows with positively ridiculous supernatural premises could still be popular if the situations were interesting enough, the cast likeable enough, and the writing clever enough.

That lesson was not lost on the creators of Lucifer: Season 1, a series that’s based on a character from the DC Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman and Sam Kieth. Could there be a crazier premise for a male-female police procedural than to pair the real Lucifer (aka Satan, who’s taking a vacation from hell by running a nightclub in L.A.) with a detective who was a former actress known primarily for posing topless in Hot Tub High School?

Tom Ellis stars as the suave ladies man Lucifer Morningstar, who runs a trendy nightclub called Lux. He had grown bored and restless in hell and often did a deliberately poor job of punishing the people who were sent there because his Father assigned him to that as a punishment for his rebellion. All these Lucifer1screen1millennia later he wanted out, so much so that his L.A. vacation turns into a permanent abdication. When he witnesses a murder outside his club, he finds himself becoming curiously involved and decides to help Det. Chloe Decker (Lauren German) by using some of his powers. In Touched by an Angel Michael Landon gave people warm fuzzies; Lucifer has the power to get people to speak the truth about their deepest, most secret desires, and to admit their sinful urges—including, in an opening scene, a cop who decides to take the bribe after Lucifer exposes his loose relationship with the law. He’s like truth serum, and in extreme situations he shows his real satanic form to those he wants to shock.

Now, why would a good, dedicated cop pair up with Satan? Good question, since one would guess the LAPD would have certain rules about a non-force partnership. Though Lucifer Morningstar comes right out and tells her who he is, she thinks he’s speaking metaphorically, until his character and his immortality is gradually revealed to her. His fascination with her is more believable: she’s the only human who is impervious to his powers—which, by mid-season, like Samantha’s nose-twitch and Jeannie’s head-blink, start to get a little old. But the situations and clever writing are enough to compensate.

This first season Chloe and Lucifer investigate the slaying of a movie star’s son, a girl that turns up dead in a football star’s pool, a woman who’s killed at a fashion show, a biker gang that’s into nasty stuff, a murdered therapist, an underground drug ring, the murder of a prominent restauranteur, a philanthropist that was found dead, and a girl who may have been murdered by a group of Satanists.

Rounding out the cast are Scarlett Estevez as Chloe’s precocious daughter, Trixie (“You do know that’s a hooker’s name, don’t you?” Lucifer says upon first meeting her); Lesley-Ann Brandt as Mazikeen (aka Maze), an assistant of sorts who accompanied Lucifer to L.A.; DB Woodside as Amenadiel, Lucifer’s “brother” who is intent on getting him to return to hell; and Rachael Harris as Dr. Linda Martin, whose sessions and relationship with Lucifer will remind viewers of Tony Soprano and his therapist, especially since both men run clubs that are highly sexualized.

Lucifer1screen2Fans of forensic shows won’t be impressed that no attention is paid to that aspect of criminal investigations. Even when we see a body with bruises we just get a coroner’s pronouncement of  “strangulation,” and it’s left to Chloe and Lucifer to find out whether the attacker was male or female, how tall or heavy, etc. And though the writers try to make sense of why and how Chloe is working on her own, it’s not totally clear why, after she clashed with the LAPD over a cop shooting, she’s still able to work on her own while ostracized by her homicide detective ex-husband Dan Espinoza (Kevin Alejandro) and the rest of the detectives. But the show’s writing is clever enough, with laugh-out-loud moments, where you tend to shrug and overlook such things.

Any positive messages that the show might offer (Lucifer’s gradual enlightenment, for example, or anti-bullying, or the always available possibility of reinventing oneself) get lost among the Satanic elements that the writers clearly favored. It’s like a Satanic version of Touched by an Angel meets Remington Steele, with a little Dexter and The Sopranos thrown in for good measure. No wonder the website One Million Moms launched a petition drive to keep the show from airing—though far short of a million signed it by the time the show first aired (165,643). The irony? The show airs on Fox, the network most identified with the GOP and their emphasis on “family values.” Lucifer is a stylish and entertaining show, but it won’t be for many church-going families. It’s also every bit a TV-14 series. Given the soundtrack and special effects, you might want to pick this up on Blu-ray instead. The 5.1 Surround and standard definition, while strong, do have their limitations—especially, with the visuals, in low-light situations.

Language: A bunch of it, mostly male-female slurs like “bitch” or “dick”
Sex: Lots of innuendo, some scantily clad females, implied sexual coupling
Violence: Jerry Bruckheimer produced this, so you’ll see a bunch of crashes and explosions and high-concept stylized violence, some of it bloody
Adult situations: Drug-use, smoking, drinking
Takeaway: Despite the ridiculous premise, Lucifer is surprisingly entertaining

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THE BAT (Blu-ray)

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BatcoverGrade: B
Entire family: No
1959, 80 min., Black-and-white
Not rated (would be PG for some violence)
The Film Detective
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features: n/a
Trailer
Amazon link

The Bat (1959) is billed as horror-thriller-mystery, but the way those genres have evolved over time it’s now mostly a straight-up mystery, noir style.

Vincent Price stars as a doctor doing bat research and Agnes Moorehead (Bewitched) as a mystery writer looking for new material. She finds plenty at an old country estate she’s rented—a quintessential dark-and-stormy-night Victorian mansion that comes with servants . . . at least until they’ve abandoned her because they’re convinced a murderer called The Bat might be returning to the scene of his crimes. A local detective (Gavin Gordon) plods around and a complicating factor is that bank securities were recently stolen and may be stashed somewhere inside that same creepy old house. A lot happens, but the spotlight is on Price and Moorehead, two iconic actors.

The Bat won’t be for everyone, but if your children aren’t averse to old black-and-white movies, this one is family-friendly. The violence is mostly bloodless or mostly off-screen, and the focus is on the mystery.

BatscreenMy son is a teen who appreciates good plotting, and he and I both marveled how a relatively simple concept could be complicated by believable twists and enhanced by cinematography that showcases all the shadows and angles we’ve come to associate with film noir. There are only a few melodramatic moments, with otherwise straight dramatic acting—decent acting, too. Director Crane Wilbur had written the script for the Price horror classic House of Wax, so it’s not surprising that with Price in the starring role he’d slip in a few Gothic elements here too.

Old films like this are often campy, but while The Bat has its unintentionally funny or tongue-in-cheek moments, it really is a mystery that unapologetically goes about it’s business of planting clues and red herrings. There are a few slasher moments, and The Bat’s hat and distorted face and claws will suggest to horror-slasher fans that this film may have had a direct influence on the Freddy Krueger character design from the popular A Nightmare on Elm Street series. That’s kind of cool for film buffs, who might also find it fun that Darla from the original Our Gang/Little Rascals short films turns up as one of the adult female characters. And it’s certainly enjoyable seeing Moorehead in a serious role before she turned into one of TV’s most famous witches.

The Bat is now in the public domain, and while The Film Detective’s restored version looks good, for the most part, there are vertical white lines in spots and other flaws that are obviously a part of whatever print was used for the master. I haven’t seen the DVD version so I can’t offer a comparison, but I have no complaints other than what I just mentioned.

I asked my son what grade he’d give this, and he said a B+ or A-, since he really liked it. That’s almost ironic, because Price went on record as saying he thought the script wasn’t very good. I lean toward a B for this B-movie because mystery fans will recognize a formula and certain other conventions. That’s part of the genre, but the bottom line is always how well were those conventions and plot points integrated and developed? With The Bat, I’d have to say it does a fairly decent job on both counts, and still holds up today. If you grab a copy for a family home movie night, you might as well go all out and for the warm-up also show a “Thriller” video featuring iconic horror actor Price—maybe even dance a bit. Those are the kind of things your kids will remember years from now!

Language: Not much
Sex: n/a
Violence: Several murders, not very bloody or graphic (see trailer)
Adult situations: Nothing besides the murders
Takeaway: Vincent Price was always fun to watch onscreen

WITHOUT A CLUE (Blu-ray)

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WithoutaCluecoverGrade: B
Entire family: Yes . . . but
1988, 107 min., Color
Rated PG for some violence, smoking, and drinking
Olive Films
Aspect ratio: 1.66:1 (says the box, but it looks more like 1.85:1)
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Bonus features: D (trailer only)
Trailer/Amazon link

From 1982-1987 Stephanie Zimbalist starred as the assistant to private detective Remington Steele, whom she had invented because no client would trust a female detective. He got the credit, but she was the sleuth. TV writers Gary Murphy and Larry Strawther took that concept and applied it to the world’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. And TV veteran Thom Eberhardt made the leap with them to direct the 1988 PG-rated crime comedy-mystery Without a Clue.

It’s a PG-rated light comedy that tries for slapstick at times and satire other times and often gets caught in-between. The result is a kind of tongue in cheek (or maybe bubble-pipe in mouth) parody that has a warm, tea cozy feel to it.

Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine make a good pair as Dr. Watson and the third-rate actor he hired to play the part of Sherlock Holmes so that he could be free to practice medicine and deduce all he wanted, without criticism or scrutiny. Of course, when you hire a bad actor it should come as no surprise that he turns out to be a ham who hogs the spotlight and has any number of habits that annoy the real detective—including drinking too much and clumsy attempts at womanizing.

By film’s end, of course, they’ll end up becoming a real team, but the fun comes from watching them get there. Without a Clue is a light mystery that features famed Holmes nemesis Professor Moriarty (Paul Freeman, who played Indiana Jones’ nemesis René Belloq) masterminding a plot to flood the market with counterfeit British money and cause the collapse of the British economy. The £5 printing plates have disappeared, and so has the printing supervisor. Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lestrade (Jeffrey Jones, who was the principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) is jealous of Holmes and competes with him to solve the case, standing in the wings every time adoring reporters surround Holmes.

WithoutaCluescreenThere’s a kidnapping and several skirmishes, all of which are handled with the same light touch as elsewhere in the film. Any potential trauma from the kidnapping, for example, is muted by a comic sequence that has Holmes pinned behind the door so that all we can see is his scrunched face as he threatens to pounce on the ruffians and urges a woman to keep a stiff upper lip. A few gunfights and an explosion are the only exceptions. Otherwise, moments of tension are defused by similar humorous devices, so that there’s never much in the way of serious peril—only comic danger. There’s no language, and the only sexuality comes from the unmasking of a transvestite and a little keyhole peeping in which a woman is seen taking off stockings. Overall, it’s a relatively wholesome film that relies on some familiar, but softened elements from private detective mysteries—including a woman in distress (Lysette Anthony) and a housekeeper (Pat Keen) who sees more than anyone thinks.   More