New Blu's On the Block
Blu-ray and DVD Releases for Sept 21, 2010
I’m going to be honest, other than Criterion’s release of Stanley Donen’s 1963 classic Charade on Blu-ray I’m having trouble getting all that excited about this week’s releases. Yes, “Modern Family” won the Emmy for outstanding comedy series, and there will be plenty out there who will be doing back flips about the fact that Sam Mendes’ American Beauty has finally made its way to hi-def, but I really can’t say any of it is floating my boat all that buoyantly. Not even the Argentinean Oscar-winner The Secret in Their Eyes is getting me excited, and that was a movie I pretty much raved about when got the opportunity to finally see it earlier this year.
Nonetheless, here are this week’s most intriguing releases on Blu-ray and DVD, many of which I’m fairly positive a lot of you will be a heck of a lot more excited about than I am.
Modern Family: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
Modern Family: The Complete First Season (DVD)
This show won the Emmy for Best Comedy? Really? Okay, first a quick rundown: As you can see in the cover, it’s an ensemble comedy. Ed O’Neill plays Jay, who is in a multicultural relationship with Sofia Vergara, whose character Gloria is the most annoying person on TV; Vergara overplays her outgoing, passionate personality with a heavy accent to the extreme. Their son Manny is clever and wise beyond his years, actor Rico Rodriguez stealing the show from the entire cast. To the right is Jay’s son Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and his life partner Cameron (Eric Stonestreet), who have just adopted a baby, and below them is daughter Claire (Julie Bowen) with her husband Phil (Ty Burrell) and their three children.
What you can’t really see on the cover is the show is told in a mockumentary style, meaning that it’s essentially an Office clone in a large family setting; characters appear in on-camera interviews commenting on just-occurred and past events, and some sneak awkward looks at the camera on occasion. Now let’s return to that Emmy win – how was this possible? Excuse me, Emmy voters, but I hardly found myself laughing. Apparently this is what passes for comedy these days; it makes you think back on how funny and ahead of its time Arrested Development was. A fun surprise turned up in the eighth episode, a famous actor appearing in a cameo, that actually had me laughing. The Blu-ray and DVD feature the exact same lineup of bonus materials, a making-of, extended and deleted scenes, a gag reel, and several featurettes.
- Written by Dennis Crane
Director Stanley Donen’s 1963 classic Charade is so much bubbly effervescent fun there almost aren’t words in the English language to do it proper justice. Criterion’s Blu-ray release of the picture ports over all of the special features from the DVD release including the wonderful audio commentary/conversation with Donen and screenwriter Peter Stone, and I imagine the visual upgrade will border upon the perfect (at least, that’s what I’m hoping). Sadly, Criterion did not send this one to us for review. Even so, this is without a doubt one of my all-time favorite Cary Grant films (which is saying something as I LOVE me some Cary Grant) and sight unseen and reviews unread I already ordered this one from Amazon for my own personal library even thought I own the previously released DVD. Fans of Grant will adore this motion picture. So will devotees of Audrey Hepburn. Heck, I don’t know anyone who won’t think this marvelous mystery/thriller/love story/comedy hybrid is an absolute wonder, Donen’s champagne-fizzy concoction a delicious cocktail I could drink continuously without ever tiring of.
Robin Hood (2010)
Here’s some of what I said about Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood back in May (read my full review by clicking here): “I came out of this one wondering what in the heck the filmmakers were thinking. An origin story that has no clue as to the best way to focus its narrative, a historical epic that wouldn’t know excitement if it came up and bit it in the butt, Scott and company so thoroughly drop the ball this could quite possibly be the biggest misfire of the legendary Oscar-nominated director’s entire career.”
Normally even a statement like that wouldn’t dissuade me from checking out a Ridley Scott director’s cut. Kingdom of Heaven and Blade Runner speak for themselves, and as such I’m usually open to giving the Gladiator and Alien filmmaker the benefit of the doubt, ready to see if elements left on the cutting room floor could improve things to the point the picture becomes worthwhile. But in the case of Robin Hood I just don’t care. I’m fairly positive I’m never going to watch it again no matter what, and even if the reviews for this Blu-ray director’s cut are through the roof my interest in seeing this Russell Crowe/Cate Blanchett disaster for a second time is just about nil.
Sam Mendes’ 1999 Oscar-winning debut hits Blu-ray, and early word is somewhat mezzo-mezzo (check out the review by Martin Liebman on Blu-ray.com). While I was never as blown away by the film as so many others were, the picture is filled with strong performances (especially from Annette Benning and Chris Cooper) and sublime moments just screaming for a hi-def transfer. And so I’ll definitely be checking it out at some point, just don’t ask me when.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
Spartacus: Blood and Sand: The Complete First Season (DVD)
Shot largely against green screen with the actors performing on limited sets and everything else computer generated, no doubt inspired by the successful movie 300, this violent and sex-filled tale of betrayal is now out on Blu-ray featuring all 13 episodes – some being extended versions with scenes cut for time and too-hot-for-cable added back – and a variety of special features. The task of reviewing the set fell to Mitchell, who got a kick out of the show. His Spartacus: Blood and Sand Blu-ray review is fairly positive, in which he writes, “After [a] rocky start […] the show really begins to find its footing, both in terms of tone and the story it wants to tell.” As for how the 1080p picture quality holds up in the presentation, Mitchell has two words for you, “damned great.” A second season was ordered before the first even started airing.
- Written by Dennis Crane
The Secret in Their Eyes
This Argentinean thriller-slash-romance is undeniably one of the better motion pictures I’ve seen so far this year. It moves through space and time with subtle delicacy, creating undeniable tensions that germinate into emotions that are consistently extraordinary and unexpected. I’m still not quite sure how it beat out The White Ribbon and A Prophet for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award, but it is a solidly entertaining effort worthy of just about all the kudos it can get. Sadly, I didn’t get this one for a review, but rest assured I’m pretty much guaranteed to be adding it to my personal library at some point down the line. You can read my theatrical review by clicking here.
Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue
Part three of Disney’s continuing adventures of Peter Pan’s favorite pixie dust darling Tinker Bell finds the tiny fairy meeting her very first human and striking up a friendship that will take her places she’s never even dreamed of. I have to admit, these G-rated CG animated kid films have all been pretty darn decent, this one no exception (I think it's the best entry in the series yet, read my Blu-ray Review to find out more). Definitely for the small fries, but if push comes to shove parents aren’t going to feel too terrible about watching it along with their little ones, that’s for sure.
I missed this one during the Seattle International Film Festival, but thankfully I’m expecting a review copy of the Blu-ray to arrive any day. Director Neil Jordan’s (Interview with a Vampire, The Crying Game) latest follows a poor fisherman played by Colin Farrell as he struggles to take of his young daughter and how accidentally catches a supposedly drowning woman (Polish actress Alicja Bachleda) in his fishing nets. Things move in unusual ways from there, the young woman – who calls herself Ondine, or “water baby” – potentially a mythical creature known as a selkie, an Irish mermaid who can temporarily become human. Farrell’s recent work in film’s like In Bruges, Crazy Heart and Triage suggest he has matured into a leading man with tons of range, and I can’t wait to see the performance he delivers in this potentially magical slightly supernatural love story.
Human Target: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
Human Target: The Complete First Season (DVD)
Based on the DC Comics series, Human Target premiered on the Fox network during midseason earlier this year to fair numbers, and it’s slated to return for a second year on the Friday night death slot, where, ironically, it may find itself a target for cancellation. Having enjoyed reading the pilot script and the comics, I was looking forward to reviewing the set, but so far it hasn’t arrived. The premise of the show is pretty interesting. Mark Valley, you know him from Fringe and Boston Legal, plays Christopher Chance, a mysterious security agent for hire who assumes different identities, at times literally becoming a human target on behalf of his clients. As the clever tagline says, “If someone is threatened or a life is in danger… leave it to Chance,” the show promises action and adventure in every episode, all 12 of which are out on Blu-ray, the set featuring a gag reel, pilot commentary, and two making-of featurettes.
- Written by Dennis Crane
Solid if unspectacular 1997 action programmer with George Clooney and Nicole Kidman about a Special Forces Colonel and a U.S. government nuclear scientist tasked with trying to thwart a potential atomic attack on the United States. Not sure who was clamoring for this one to be on Blu-ray, but here it is, with very few bells and whistles and a near $20 price tag making it difficult to even slightly recommend the upgrade.
Adam Goldberg plays a brooding New York musician whose wild compositions are decidedly out of the box. Marley Shelton is a Chelsea art gallerist who falls for him. I saw this film earlier this year and basically hated it. But it didn’t work me up so much that I ever felt compelled to write a review, director Jonathan Parker’s (Bartleby) latest doing so little for me I came perilously close to sleeping through it.
The Experiment (2010)
A remake of director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 2001 stunner, The Experiment features a cast of heavyweights including Oscar-winning titans Adrien Brody and Forest Whitaker. The film follows 24 volunteers as they participate in a test that splits them into two groups, inmates and prisoners, and then sits back and watches to see what happens. Where the original is gripping, scary and emotionally devastating, this remake, directed by frequent “Prison Break” scribe Paul Scheuring, is annoying, facile and altogether uninteresting. In short, I kind of hated it, and if you’re interested in knowing more you can read my DVD review by clicking here.
Bored to Death: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
Bored to Death: The Complete First Season (DVD)
A delightfully amusing and odd comedy with likeable, quirky, neurotic characters, Bored to Death will keep you entertained and is a great antidote for when you’re bored. Eh, how clever is that! Jason Schwartzman plays Jonathan Ames, a writer working intently on his next project, but then his girlfriend suddenly dumps him and moves out. He looks to his best friend Ray (Zach Galifianakis) and his editor (Ted Danson) at a New York magazine for advice, and from an inspirational thought one night Jonathan posts an ad on Craigslist as a private detective (unlicensed, of course), leading to an unusual second career of cracking cases of missing persons, espionage and infidelity in the Big Apple. The Blu-ray finds all 8 episodes in high-def with special features like audio commentary and behind-the-scenes featurettes.
- Written by Dennis Crane
Being Human: Season Two (Blu-ray)
Being Human: Season Two (DVD)
Mitchell, George and Annie are roommates. They’re not like you or me. There’s something different about them, something supernatural. In the second season, vampire Mitchell (Aidan Turner), werewolf George (Russell Tovey), and ghost Annie (Lenora Chrichlow) encounter new enemies in the fight to lead something close to normal lives. How’s that for different, eh? While the BBC series hasn’t really been seen by many people in the States, except for a broadcast on BBC America, this release will hopefully change that, as it is an interesting show. Fans of Buffy and Supernatural might want to give this a shot. The Blu-ray comes with some special features on top of the 8 episodes.
- Written by Dennis Crane
The Third Man
Hot on the heel of the Criterion Collection’s superb now out-of-print Blu-ray edition of Carol Reed’s The Third Man, Lionsgate adds the title to their Studio Canal Collection and let’s just say early reviews have been less than glowing. Just check out what Gary W. Tooze has to say about it over at DVDBeaver.com and tell me anyone should be doing cartwheels over this re-issue. It’s one of my favorite films of all time. I have it on VHS, DVD and now Blu-ray. Based on everything I’ve read, and because it wasn’t sent to us for review, I guarantee you this is one release of one of my favorites I will NOT be picking up anytime soon.
OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES
NOTABLE DVD RELEASES
30 Rock: Season 4
Tina Fey leads a funny cast of characters working for an SNL-like show out of the Rockefeller building for boss Alec Baldwin. The laughs are plenty and the stories are fresh in the fourth season of 22 episodes, now out on DVD with special features like Deleted Scenes, Audio Commentaries, a couple of Behind the Scenes, and more. This is definitely worth picking up if you like your comedy witty with a side of LOL.
Castle: The Complete Second Season
Best-selling mystery novelist Rick Castle’s (Nathan Fillion) unique approach to crime solving may have won over Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic), but after crossing her, Castle is going to have to do his best work to get her back on his side. The second season’s 24 episodes arrive on DVD with extras like an On Location featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Bloopers and a featurette on how the production team stages murders on the show.
Community: The Complete First Season
Ah, who remembers the fond days of community college? Well, probably nobody, or very few people, but ex-laywer Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) has got a lot to learn, and he’s not the only misfit to enroll at Greendale community college, as people in need have an odd way of finding each other, in a fake study group, that becomes a real study group before they know it, and over the course of a strange year – from Mexican Halloween to the final 'Tranny Dance', including bad trips, great debates, drunk dials, food fights, epic paintball battles and sinister chicken finger conspiracies – they become friends. The DVD finds all 24 episodes complete with audio commentaries by the cast and crew, as well as outtakes and several behind the scenes featurettes. Community is a much funnier ensemble comedy than Modern Family, throwing around cultural references left and right, giving the viewer something actually funny to laugh about.
Desperate Housewives: The Complete Sixth Season
Oh, wow, it’s been six years since the world (well, part of it, anyway) was introduced to Wisteria Lane. I’ll let the back of the DVD tell you about Year 6, because, frankly, I stopped watching this soapy drama after the first year. “The neighborhood is jolted with the arrival of Angie Bolen (Drea de Matteo) and her family, and it soon becomes clear that they are hiding something. But what is their secret, and what are their true intentions? Meanwhile, a plane crash on Wisteria Lane causes everyone to reflect on their lives and the choices that have made them who they are.” That sounds just terrific … Fans will want to know that all 23 episodes are on DVD with special features like Deleted Scenes, behind the scenes footage, and a featurette.
The Hills: Season Six
Available exclusively through Amazon’s on-demand DVD-R production service, most fans panned the final season as there was no more a blurring of the lines between genuine drama and script drama. Lauren left the show, to her credit, and the addition of a new cast member made matters worse, according to a close friend who’s seen the entire run.
How I Met Your Mother: Season Five
For those unfamiliar, this is a modern-day love story told in reverse, where Ted tells his kids how he met their mother. Is it a genuine statement or a marketing ruse, but the synopsis on the DVD calls the fifth year the show’s “funniest season to date”? Fans will undoubtedly know the answer, and even casual viewers should be excited for this release, as every episode is collected in a four-disc set. Extras include a behind the scenes of the 100th episode, bloopers, a host of featurettes, a series recap and a music video.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit – Year 11
There’s not a lot I can say here, because the most Law & Order I’ve seen is about eight episodes of the other spin-off, Criminal Intent, which is actually pretty good. Based on what another friend said, he likes the show because of how “fucked up the stories are”. The crimes on Special Victims Unit must be especially heinous and vicious, as the title suggests.
The Mentalist: The Complete Second Season
A surprise hit in its first year for CBS, the second year again finds former “psychic” Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) working with the fictional California Bureau of Investigation, seeing the clues everyone else misses to solve (mostly) baffling crimes. Aside from the crime-solving, two characters reveal more about their troubled pasts, a new boss shifts the team balance, and an inter-office romance threatens to cool the careers of both involved. The DVD adds the extras “Art of a Mentalist” making-of featurette, 11 “Mentalism: A Subliminal Art” vignettes with cast and producer, and 10 deleted scenes.
Two and a Half Men: The Complete Seventh Season
The only sure thing I can say about this show is that it’s TV’s #1 comedy. I’ve never seen a single episode, but enough people have to bring it back every year. Fans might find the value-added material, a Charlie Harper Ex-Reunion featurette and gag reel, as just enough of an incentive to pick up this set.
- Written by Dennis Crane
The Actuality Dramas of Allan King (Warrendale / A Married Couple / Come on Children / Dying at Grace / Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company) (Eclipse Series 24) – Criterion Collection
I’m definitely intrigued by these films after reading the synopsis for this collection. Maybe you will be, too. “Over the course of fifty years, Canadian director Allan King shuttled between features and shorts, big-screen cinema and episodic television, comedy and drama, fiction and nonfiction. Within this remarkably varied career, it was with his cinema-verité-style documentaries—his ‘actuality dramas,’ as he called them—that he left his greatest mark on film history. These startlingly intimate studies of lives in flux—emotionally troubled children, warring spouses, and the terminally ill—are riveting, at times emotionally overwhelming, and always depicted without narration or interviews.”
- Written by Dennis Crane
Gamera Vs. Guiron / Gamera Vs. Jiger
Gamera Vs. Gyaos / Gamera Vs. Viras
Shout! Factory brings everyone’s gigantic super-turtle back to DVD with two more double-feature special edition DVDs sporting brand new anamorphic widescreen transfers of some of the Japanese icons most entertaining adventures. Well, entertaining if you’re partial to gigantic turtles battling space monsters and dinosaurs while laying havoc to large portions of Japan. Seriously, how many humongous creatures can one tiny island nation handle? While I’ve never been able to figure out the answer to that one, along with the many adventures of Godzilla, Mothra and the rest Gamera has had a special place in my heart reserved for guilty pleasures I don’t often talk about. For fans, these releases are pretty great. For everyone else, well, personally I think you just don’t know how much fun you’re missing out on by not giving these flicks a chance.