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DVD LOUNGE – The Tuesday Thirty

That’s right, thirty reviews to fill up your queues and get you through the weekend.

See what I’ve been watching and what you should check out and avoid.

And be sure to recommend what you’ve enjoyed lately in the comments.

The Perfect Host
Magnolia Home Entertainment / Released August 30, 2011

The Pitch
Warwick Wilson is the consummate host.  The table is set and the duck is perfectly timed for 8:30 p.m.  John Taylor is a career criminal.  He’s just robbed a bank and needs to get off the streets. He finds himself on Warwick’s doorstep posing as a friend of a friend, new to Los Angeles, who’s been mugged and lost his luggage.  As the wine flows and the evening progresses, it becomes clear that appearances can be deceiving.

The Review
A psychological thriller, which reminded me of classic cat & mouse films like Deathtrap and Sleuth, The Perfect Host is filled with twists and turns and unexpected revelations that will have you engaged from beginning to end.

When John, an injured bank robber, cons his way into the home of Warwick Wilson (David Hyde Pierce), claiming to be an out of town friend of a friend, he quickly finds himself in over his head. Warwick is in the midst of preparing an elaborate dinner party and extends John an invitation to stay. When a news flash reveals his identity, John quickly realizes that Warwick is far more dangerous than he ever imagined. Extras include featurettes and trailer. The Perfect Host is an intricately plotted and meticulously executed film and is highly recommended.

Horrible Bosses
Warner Bros. / Buy It 10/11 on Blu-ray™ Combo Pack with UltraViolet Digital Copy or Download to Own

The Pitch
For Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale Charlie Day), the only thing that would make the daily grind more tolerable would be to grind their intolerable bosses into dust. Quitting is not an option, so, with the benefit of a few too many drinks and some dubious advice from a hustling ex-con, the three friends devise a convoluted and seemingly foolproof plan to rid themselves of their respective employers…permanently. There’s only one problem: even the best-laid plans are only as foolproof as the brains behind them.

The Review
More than once I felt embarrassed laughing during Horrible Bosses.

Why? Simply because it offered no surprises. Comedy often works best when you’re reacting to something that you never expected.

In Horrible Bosses everything happens exactly the way you’d expect it to.

Except it’s damned funny.

Jason Bateman is the backbone of Horrible Bosses. With Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day, the trio exhibit not only a seemingly genuine friendship, but also fully fleshed out characters.

The trio are tortured in one way or another by their individual bosses; Spacey is a callow evil manipulator to Bateman, Sudeikis has to deal with Farrell, the cocaine addicted son of his recently deceased employer and Day is being sexually harassed by his horny (and somewhat crazy) dentist boss, Aniston.

What begins as a random comment becomes a plan as the friends cook up a scheme to kill their bosses. Consulting with Foxx as a “murder consultant”, they switch victims and from there the film kicks into even higher gear. Extras include

While Horrible Bosses isn’t the best film of the year so far, it is the funniest.

Bad Teacher
Columbia Pictures / Released October 18th, 2011

The Pitch
Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is a foulmouthed, ruthless, and inappropriate teacher. She drinks, gets high, and can’t wait to marry a meal ticket to get out of her bogus day job. When she’s dumped by her fiancé, she sets her sights on a rich, handsome substitute (Justin Timberlake) while shrugging off the advances of the school gym teacher (Jason Segel). The consequences of her wild and outrageous schemes give her students, coworkers, and even herself an education like no other! 

The Review
I can imagine that the pitch was “Bad Santa in Middle School,” which might have been enough to sell a studio exec, but unfortunately not enough to sell an audience. Director Jake Kasdan spends the film trying to shock without offending anyone is the first misstep in this flat comedy that tries real hard, but never really succeeds.

Cameron Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey, a greedy, lazy manipulative middle school teacher who’s dumped by her rich fiancé and forced to return to the seventh day classroom. She’s crude, opportunistic, selfish; doesn’t get along with the administration, staff or the students and wants fake tits to land a wealthy husband.

Writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg who wrote the abysmal Year One, continue their streak with characters rather than caricatures with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, uninspired jokes and a poorly structured plot that feels intent on making Diaz’s character go through a story arc that redeems her superficial and callow personality.

The fantastic supporting cast delivers uneven work; Punch is far too animated, Segal looks bored and Timberlake shows none of the promise that he’s delivered in films like Alpha Dog and The Social Network.

Bad Teacher isn’t particularly bad. It’s just not particularly good.

The Looney Tunes Show: Season 1 Volume 1
Warner Home Video / Released September 27, 2011

The Pitch
In The Looney Tunes Show, screen icons Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck return in this all-new modern comedy series, joined by fan-favorite Looney Tunes characters. Bugs and Daffy haven’t changed — but their living situation has. Bugs is as brazen, sarcastic and ahead-of-the-game as ever, and Daffy, despite his narcissistic, sociopathic and paranoid tendencies, is Bugs’ best friend and seemingly permanent houseguest. No longer confined to seven-minute shorts, their larger-than-life personalities (and egos) offer an irreverent, comical take on our modern world and introduce a whole new realm of possibilities. Now Bugs and Daffy can wreak as much havoc at the grocery store or the DMV as they once did in the forest.

Rounding out the cast are Porky Pig, Lola, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, the Tasmanian Devil, Marvin the Martian, Tweety, Sylvester, Granny, Gossamer and the newest character of the bunch, Daffy’s no-nonsense girlfriend, Tina. The series also features Merrie Melodies — animated music videos of original songs spotlighting everyone from Elmer Fudd to Pepe Le Pew — plus all new adventures with the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote in stunning CG.

The Review
There was some controversy when this show was first announced, basically condemning the redesign of these characters by artist, Jessica Borutski. After seeing the episodes on this disc, it became apparent that the character designs were the least of its problems. Characterization and voices have been completely reimagined and the premise finds these characters sharing living quarters, resulting something more akin to The Real World: Termite Terrace. Completely missing from this series is the charm and personality that made these characters iconic, resulting in something that’s a charmless, joyless vision that would only appeal to young viewers completely ignorant to the original work. Skip it.

Green Lantern: Extended Cut
Warner Bros. / Buy It 10/14 on Blu-ray™ Combo Pack with UltraViolet Digital Copy or Download to Own

The Pitch
In a universe as vast as it is mysterious, an elite force of protectors for peace and justice has existed for centuries. They are the Green Lantern Corps. When a new enemy called Parallax threatens to destroy the Universe, their fate and the fate of Earth lie in the hands of the Corps’ newest recruit, the first human ever selected: Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds). Bringing the popular superhero to the big screen for the first time, Green Lantern also stars Blake Lively (Gossip Girl), Peter Sarsgaard (Orphan), Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes), Academy Award® nominee Angela Bassett and Academy Award® winner Tim Robbins.

The Review
Green Lantern is deserving of every negative review that it receives.

This (reported) $300 million abomination represents every misstep that Hollywood tends to make when launching a franchise.

Based on the comic book series, this film shows little of the talent of director Martin Campbell and instead, feels like it was directed by the studio.

The film opens with several minutes of exposition which explains that the Green Lantern Corps are essentially intergalactic space cops.

They use green energy infused rings, powered by willpower. Green represents the ability to overcome fear, while yellow rings are fueled by fear as opposed to willpower.

The story is essentially a poor retelling of Joseph Campbell’s The Heroes Journey, with lots of CGI aliens (who are onscreen as long as the budget allows) and a bad guy named Parallax, which is essentially a giant yellow turd with a face which sucks out the skeletons of people making itself more powerful.

One of my pet peeves in comic book movies is when the introduction of the fantastic in an ordinary world doesn’t receive an appropriate or adequate response. The arrival of both Green Lantern and Parallax doesn’t seem to offer much of a reaction (except when Parallax sucks out people’s skeletons. Then, they scream).

Characterization is inconsistent and it’s often pretty hard to buy into an intergalactic world that looks like a screensaver.

Ryan Reynolds tries his best to be a movie star and unfortunately, his too close eyes are the focus as his digital mask draws attention to it. Blake Lively appears to have trained under X-Men: First Class‘ January Jones, delivering a performance that’s as exciting as stereo instructions. Appearances by Angela Bassett, Taika Waititi and Tim Robbins are all wasted by a lack of material. Peter Sarsgaard having adopted the look of Dennis Franz, plays a socially misfit scientist and the awkwardly cast son of Tim Robbins’ character who is mutated as the result of Parallax. The character, who is one of Green Lantern’s rogues in the comics, just mugs creepily for the camera without servicing the plot in any capacity. Mark Strong gives a solid, albeit too brief performance as Green Lantern Sinestro and his actions during the credits establish him in a larger role in the most likely upcoming Green Lantern 2, despite no reasons for his actions except that’s what they did in the comics.

Extras include the Extended Cut, Theatrical Film Maximum Movie Mode with Picture in Picture Pods, featurettes, Justice League #1 Digital Comic, deleted scenes and a preview of Green Lantern: The Animated Series.

Green Lantern represents the first film in an attempt to develop the DC canon of characters (as replacements for the soon-to-end Harry Potter franchise) and is an uninspired, exposition heavy, soulless and frankly, dull film (in post process 3D!) that plays like a rehash of every comic book movie that’s come before.

Especially the bad ones.
 
Batman: Year One
Warner Bros. / Released October 18, 2011

The Pitch
The film is based on the 1987 DC Comics story written by Frank Miller and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli. It takes us back to the beginning, showing us how Bruce Wayne became Batman and the alliances he forged early on in his career, including his friendship with a certain Lt. James Gordon. The young vigilante also inadvertently plays a role in the birth of Catwoman, and helps to bring down a crooked political system that infests Gotham.

The Review
Based on my favorite comic book of all time, Batman: Year One had a lot to live up to, and for the most part it did. Chronicling Bruce Wayne’s return and James Gordon’s arrival to the morally decaying Gotham City, the film portrays the actions that both men have to take in order to not only trust one another but also save the city from the criminal cancers destroying it. The only misstep was an extraneous subplot (although interpreted accurately, felt more cumbersome seeing it included), which added the origin of Catwoman to the story. Voice work is good overall, but Bryan Cranston as Gordon delivers a truly amazing performance. The other disappointment (which in no way is a criticism of the film) is in the departure of David Mazzucchelli’s simpler style of the source material in exchange for a more modern, anime influenced one.

Extras include a sneak peak at Justice League: Doom, DC Showcase Animated Original Short – Catwoman, featurettes, commentary, two episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, a digital comic and a digital download.

Fans of the original book will be relieved and new viewers will truly be in for a pleasant surprise. Recommended.

Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated Season One Volume 3
Warner Bros. / Released September 27, 2011

The Pitch
The adventures of a talking dog and his four human pals as they try to unravel the strange and haunted history of their hometown. The tone is comedic, but it will never lose the edge that our heroes are in some frightening situations. The stakes are real! Voices: Dee Bradley Baker, Jeff Bennett, Lewis Black, Mindy Cohn, Gary Cole, Grey Delisle, Kevin Dunn, Vivica A. Fox, Casey Kasem, Matthew Lillard, Kath Soucie, Patrick Warburton, Frank Welker.

The Review
Growing up in the Seventies, Scooby-Doo was a beloved icon of television animation. Unfortunately, it aged like fish, with formulaic plots and an overall uninspired execution. But, Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated has changed all that. Referencing it’s own history, this series is smart, clever and self-aware of the parody that it had become. Sharp writing and truly funny performances and situations have made me a Mystery Inc. lover for the first time since the Bicentennial.

My only criticism is the inclusion of only four episodes (which Warner has corrected for it’s next release which will include the entire second half of the first season). Like, Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, is like a must see. Highly recommended.


Thor
Paramount Pictures / Released September 13, 2011

The Pitch
The epic adventure Thor spans the Marvel universe from present-day Earth to the cosmic realm of Asgard. At the center of the story is The Mighty Thor, a powerful but arrogant warrior whose reckless actions reignite an ancient war. As a result, Thor is banished to Earth where he is forced to live among humans. When the most dangerous villain of his world sends its darkest forces to invade Earth, Thor learns what it takes to be a true hero.

The Review
Under the direction of Kenneth Branaugh, Thor tries to be too many things at once and as a result doesn’t do them all nearly as well as they could.

Based on the Marvel comic, Thor often feels like a prequel to the upcoming Avengers rather than it’s own film. Cast out of Asgard by his father, Odin to Earth due to the machinations of his half brother Loki, Thor much prove his heroism and nobility in order to regain his powers as the God of Thunder. Liam Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston both deliver solid performances as Thor and Loki, respectively and the rest of the ensemble is good with the exception of a hammy Anthony Hopkins as Odin. Jeremy Renner appears in a blink and you’ll miss it cameo as future Avenger Hawkeye.

Asgard’s shining CG production design is distracting and the when the Asgardians show up on Earth, the costume designs would be better served at a Xena fan convention. Ultimately, Thor’s biggest misstep is that there’s no real villain as trickster Loki is more of an annoyance than a true nemesis.

Extras include (in this edition: a DVD, Blu-ray, 3d Blu-ray and digital copy), commentary, deleted and extended scenes, featurettes, the short film, Marvel One-Shot: The ConsultantRoad to the Avengers teaser, and trailers.

Thor is fun, but ultimately forgettable with the exception of the scenes featuring Marvel Studios MVP, Clark Gregg as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulsen.


SModimations: Season One
Shout! Factory / Released October 18th, 2011

The Pitch
SModcast is the long-running (since 2007) podcast of famed director and pop-culture maven Kevin Smith and his long-time associate Scott Mosier. Beginning in 2010, Smith began animating the best of these podcasts and publishing them online under the name SModimations. Now, Season 1 of SModimations has been edited together with new material to create a seamless animated featured film experience tailored for both Smith obsessives who must own everything Smith has done, as well as more casual fans who prefer to experience Smith and Mosier’s skewed comedic brilliance in the more traditional format of DVD.

The Review
I used to love Kevin Smith’s work.

I saw Clerks in the theater and after seeing (and loving) Mallrats, I truly believed that he was the voice of my generation. The thing is, over time, I grew up and Smith has managed (at least in terms of his work) stay pretty stagnant.

Seeing his current films has become less of checking in on an old friend and more like awkwardly running into someone you no longer have anything in common with. On the other hand, Smith is a gifted storyteller as his stage shows and podcasts demonstrate.

SModimations has taken episodes of Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier’s successful Smodcast and, like HBO’s Ricky Gervais Show, have used the audio to anchor an animated version of the podcast. Unlike the Gervais show, the animation is piss poor without any interesting design or clever site gags. They’ve also broken them into small soundbites, which they’ve re-edited into this “feature”. Ultimately, having the broad material be edited together into just gags removes much of the intimate and subtle content.

I’d imagine die hard fanboys of Smith (and there are plenty of them) will add this to their collection immediately, but casual fans might plan a rental or just the podcasts themselves, instead. Extras include additional podcasts. Snoogans.

Fringe: The Complete Third Season
Warner Home Video / Released September 6, 2011

The Pitch
Immersive. Compelling. Hypnotic. Brilliantly imaginative. Endlessly thrilling. Pick your term. The mystery of the universes deepens in the critically acclaimed 22-episode third season of television’s most exciting sci-fi. The Fringe team escapes from the parallel universe – except for Olivia, trapped in the other world and replaced in ours by her double, who turns Peter and Olivia’s tentative relationship into a love affair. Then Olivia returns, bonds of trust fray, ever more bizarre and terrifying phenomena occur and secrets that stretch back to 1985 threaten to destroy our universe. Or theirs.

The Review
Fringe might be television’s smartest television show.

The third season has us in the middle of a war between two very different parallel Earths, with Joshua Jackson’s Peter Bishop in the center of the action. The season revolves around the construction of a machine that can be used to save one universe and destroy the other. And only Peter Bishop can operate it.

The season spends ample time on both sides and we get to spend time with the alternate and quite different doppelgängers. In addition, the series never abandons its various “fringe” science procedurals and mysteries. The cast of Jackson, Anna Torv, Lance Reddick, Blair Brown, Jasika Nicole and the inimitable John Noble are all giving some of television’s best performances. The writing and humor is tremendously sharp. Fringe: The Complete Third Season is it’s best yet and a must have for any fan of the show. If you haven’t seen it yet, add all three to your holiday wish list. Highly recommended.


The Monkees: Season One
The Monkees: Season Two
Eagle Rock Entertainment / Released September 27th, 2011

The Pitch
Assembled in Los Angeles in 1966, The Monkees Emmy Award-winning television show spotlighted the group (featuring Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork & Micky Dolenz) as they tried to make it big in the music world. The show helped promote the band’s albums and singles, helping bring songs such as “I’m A Believer”, “Last Train To Clarksville”, “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” & others to the upper reaches of the chart.

Season 1 features the first 32 episodes on 6 discs.  Season 2 features the final 25 episodes on 5 discs.

The Review
One of the best DVD releases of the year, The Monkees finally returns from Eagle Rock Entertainment after being out of print for the past several years. The two sets comprise both seasons of the beloved television series. Inspired by the success of the Beatles (and in particular the film, A Hard Day’s Night), The Monkees were a manufactured pop group (featuring Davy Jones, Peter Tork, Mickey Dolenz and Michael Nesmith) and each episode plays like a pop music version of the Marx Brothers with plenty of slapstick, antics and hijinks.

And music.

Each episode features two or more songs, with their hits showing up several times over the run of the show. Guest stars included such television staples as Julie Newmar, Rip Taylor ,Al Lewis, Rose Marie, Charlie Callas, Bobby Sherman, Vic Tayback, Vincent Gardenia, Richard Kiel, Lon Chaney Jr., Ruth Buzzi, Butch Patrick, Pat Paulsen, Dub Taylor, Hans Conried and Stubby Kaye.

It’s also fascinating to watch the series evolve as the second season became much more subversive as the band had become a phenomenon and the opportunity to depart from their prepared personas and become a bit more psychedelic and absurd. Extras include commentaries, interviews, “romp only” viewing mode and the series pilot in season 1 and the television special 33 and 1/3 Revolutions per Monkee on season 2.

Although visually inspired by the psychedelic era, The Monkees in actuality is a timeless and tremendously entertaining television series that belongs in every geeks dvd collection. A must have and highly recommended.

Planet Earth: The Complete Series Special Edition
BBC Home Video / Released October 4th 2011

The Pitch
The best-selling factual series of all time is now even better! Planet Earth took the world by storm when it originally aired. It garnered uniformly glowing reviews, won four Emmy Awards, including Best Nonfiction Series and Best Cinematography, and its longevity on the best-seller list is legend. Now, with the addition of all new commentary and new bonus programs, you can relive this incredible experience all over again! From the highest mountains to the deepest oceans, Planet Earth illuminates the wonders of our astonishing world like never before. It’s a celebration of the spectacular diversity of our planet, revealing the vast as well as the intimate as only high definition cinematography can. In this truly special edition, prepare to be overwhelmed again by the beauty and majesty of Planet Earth.

The Review
There are very few DVDs that cross all tastes, ages and interests and belong in everyone’s personal collection. Planet Earth is one of them. Originally released in 2007 and now in this Special Edition with new content, Planet Earth is a compelling, magnificently shot documentary profiling the planet that we share. Taking over half a decade to film over 200 locations, Planet Earth is an amazing, overwhelmingly beautiful portrait of Earth. With rich narration by David Attenborough, the series focuses on both wildlife and environments and there’s enough fascinating material to overwhelm and win over the most cynical of viewers.

More than anything else, it’s easy to walk away from Planet Earth a bit humbled, reminded that our presence of this planet is fairly insignificant (except negatively through our industrialization, pollution and ignorance). Extras are plentiful and include a sneak at the upcoming Frozen Planet, commentaries, featurettes, documentaries (including four new chapters), music only track, behind the scenes footage, and the three part series, Planet Earth- The Future.

Planet Earth is a must have for any collection and if you don’t have it yet, this special edition’s release makes it even more necessary. Highest recommendation.

Nikita: The Complete First Season
Warner Bros. / Released August 30, 2011

The Pitch
In this sexy and suspenseful series, Nikita has gone rogue. Division is an ultra-secret government agency whose operatives are recruited young people with severed ties to family, friends and society. Trained to be invisible assassins, no one ever leaves Division — except the charming and deadly Nikita, who has managed to escape, making it her mission to undermine the now-corrupt organization. A force to be reckoned with, the rogue Nikita taunts Division, staying on their radar, but always one step ahead. Yet as determined as Nikita is to bring down her former agency, there are those just as determined to stop her, including Division’s newest recruit Alex, a beautiful young woman who seems destined to replace Nikita as their next top operative.

The Review
If you’re keeping count this is the fourth time (La Femme Nikita film and cable television series and the U.S. remake Point of No Return) this premise has been produced, and in many ways the most faithful to Luc Besson’s original film. In this incarnation, Maggie Q plays Nikita, three years after leaving the Division after they killed the man she was in love with. Now, she has plans to take Division down, all while dealing with her former mentor (Shane West) and his latest protege and Nikita’s ally on the inside (Lyndsy Fonesca).

DVD extras include a documentary, deleted scenes and commentaries. Nikita is far from innovative television, but it is solidly entertaining with just enough mythology and intrigue to keep you hooked. Recommended.

Two and a Half Men: The Complete Eighth Season
Warner Home Video / Released September 6th, 2011

The Pitch
This season, Charlie has a thorny problem: Rose. Before, she was on the make for Charlie. Now she’s married and supposedly off-limits – and that’s irresistible for lust-struck Charlie. He pursues her. That and other situations are all part of the hilarious antics of Charlie, his sad-sack bro Alan and his underachieving nephew Jake as they return to make Two and a Half Men #1 among TV comedies. Don’t miss Charlie keeping his mojo in motion with Michelle (elegant, older), Courtney (cheap, sexy) and, of course, Rose (crazy, crazy). Alan burning down his girlfriend’s house and hatching a chiropractic Ponzi scheme. And Jake risking his body and (few) brain cells to film a Jackass ripoff. Bad boys. Funny Men.

The Review
It’s pretty hard to discuss Two and a Half Men: The Complete Eighth Season without mentioning the elephant in the room, in this case, Charlie Sheen, who spent the better part of 2011 having a meltdown and “winning”, which resulted in both a shortened season and Sheen’s subsequent firing.

What’s interesting is that prior to Sheen’s departure, his character on the show whohad been previously established as a womanizing, drug using, high functioning alcoholic, had also become the punch line of many jokes indicating producer Chuck Lorre’s ongoing frustrations with the actor.  This resulted in more opportunities for co-star Jon Cryer, as his character’s role expanded.

Eight seasons in, the plotlines become more and more ridiculous with stalking, Ponzi schemes, cougars, accidental fires, Jackass-style stunts, and the return of Rose (Melanie Lynskey). With Sheen’s noticeable descent (which was played out in the press), more screen time is spent on the supporting cast, most prominently Angus T. Jones’ Jake, Conchata Ferrell’s Berta and Holland Taylor’s Evelyn Harper.

Despite a lack of extras and a limited number of episodes, Two and a Half Men: The Complete Eighth Season is the grand and far too abrupt finale to the Sheen years. Highly recommended.


Hickey and Boggs
MGM MOD / Released October 6th, 2011

The Pitch
Bill Cosby and Robert Culp (“I Spy”) are united again as private eyes in this Walter Hill-scripted “film noir.” Searching for a missing girl, they find themselves involved with vicious criminals and precipitating a string of deaths. Stars Robert Culp; Bill Cosby. Directed by Robert Culp.

The Review
Hickey and Boggs are burnt out, down on their luck Los Angeles private detectives, scraping by when a missing persons case falls into their lap and immediately puts them in over their heads in a world of violence. Like many films of the early Seventies, this is a dark, cynical film that pays close attention to small details and at times, moves very slow, giving it a naturalistic quality missing from many films produced today.

Cosby in particular gives a solid, dramatic performance that’s a significant departure from the sitcom mugging for the camera that most audiences associate with him. The supporting cast is also effective and it includes such recognizable faces as Michael Moriarty, Vincent Gardenia, James Woods, and Isabel Sanford, and Roger E. Mosley.

Reminiscent of Night Moves, The Long Goodbye and Freebie & the Bean, Hickey and Boggs is a must see for fans of Seventies films or post modern-noir.

Last Exit To Brooklyn
Summit Entertainment / Released October 10, 2011

The Pitch
Hailed as an uncompromising look at life on the dark side, Last Exit to Brooklyn follows a gang of young hoodlums, a down-and-out prostitute, an alcoholic father, and a low-level union official as they attempt to survive in the harsh underbelly of lower class 1950s Brooklyn. Adapted from the cult classic best-selling novel by Hubert Selby Jr., The New York Times calls Last Exit to Brooklyn “harrowing” yet “savagely beautiful.”

The Review
Set in 1952 during the tail end of a long labor strike, the film follows a series of parallel stories; a prostitute, Tralala (Jennifer Jason Leigh), spends her time seducing sailors and luring them to the docks where her friends (Stephen Bladwin, Sam Rockwell) assault and rob them; Harry Black (Stephen Lang) heads the strike office and steals union funds and has become enchanted by transvestite Georgette (Alexis Arquette); Big Joe (Burt Young) is a factory worker struggling to make ends meet during the strike and is dealing with his unwed, pregnant daughter (Ricki Lake).

It’s also one of the bleakest, most depressing films I’ve ever seen, filled with sad, tragic characters, flawed structure, unfocused direction and solid performances. Extras include commentary and a 45 minute documentary. Mildly recommended.

Master of the World
MGM MOD / Released August 23, 2011

The Pitch
In 1848, a fanatical inventor seeks to fly around the world and stop war from his flying airship (the “Albatross”)…a cross between a zeppelin and a helicopter.  Adapted from two Jules Verne novels– “Master of the World” and “The Conqueror.” Stars Vincent Price; Charles Bronson; Henry Hull; Mary Webster; David Frankham. Written by Richard Matheson. Directed by William Witney.

The Review
Written by Richard Matheson and based on the work of Jules Verne, Master of the World tells the story of a 19th century government agent John Strock (Charles Bronson) who investigates an explosion with millionaire munitions manufacturer Prudent (Henry Hull) , his daughter and her fiancé. They soon find themselves captured by the crazed Captain Robur (Vincent Price) in his flying war ship, The Albatross, and plans to disarm the entire world in the name of peace. By any means necessary.

Master of the World is a fun, over the top science-fiction film that in many ways follows the structure of Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. The cast is fairly dull (with the exception of the over the top Hull) and it only really comes alive when Price shows up on screen. Perfect for kids, or for  a weekend afternoon on the couch, Master of the World is a fun, epic adventure. Recommended.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Paramount Pictures / Released September 300, 2011

The Pitch
A mysterious event from Earth’s past threatens to ignite a war so big that the Transformers alone will not be able to save the planet. Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and the Autoboy must fight against the darkness to defend our world from the Decepticons’ all-consuming evil in the smash hit from director Michael Bay and executive producer Steven Spielberg.

The Review
Certainly better than the previous installment, Revenge of The Fallen, watching Michael Bay’s third Transformers film feels like all of your senses are being raped. Filled with better actors than the film deserves (John Turturro, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Alan Tudyk), Transformers: The Dark of the Moon once again finds Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) dating a girl far too hot for him (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) and finding himself as the key component to assisting the Autobots in saving the Earth from the evil Decepticons.

All in all, a fairly entertaining, albeit overlong (157 minutes) exercise that surprisingly features a pre-9/11 styled non-stop destruction of an American city (in this case, Chicago) sequence, for little reason than to show that humans will prevail. Personally, I found the excess (the sequence lasts for a solid half hour) in poor taste, but excess is what Bay’s all about.

Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Dunn and Julie White all return and Ken Jeong appears as a conspiracy nut and Patrick Dempsey as the moustache twirling villain. It might not be for everyone, but if you like stuff blowing up real good with beautiful cinematography, you’ve likely seen it in the theater. Mildly recommended.

The Hour
BBC Home Video / Released September 27th, 2011

The Pitch
Romola Garai, Dominic West and Ben Whishaw star in The Hour, a thrilling six-part drama set in 1950s London when the BBC is about to launch an entirely new way of presenting the news. The dynamic Bel (Garai) is chosen to produce the new program, to be called “The Hour,” with handsome and well connected Hector (West) set to become the anchor, much to the annoyance of Freddie (Whishaw), a brilliant and outspoken journalist, whose passion continually lands him in trouble. Over the six episodes, the interplay of intense ambitions between our rising news team play out against the backdrop of a mysterious murder and Freddie’s controversial and dangerous investigation.

The Review
The Hour is a period political drama is a perfect example why British television continues to elevate the medium.

Set in 1956, the series looks at the formation of the first weekly television news magazine for the BBC, entitled “The Hour”. The series begins by examining office politics and love triangles before a mysterious murder begins to reveal cover-ups and a deeper conspiracy. Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) is a young reporter frustrated with the BBC’s soft approach to news and Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) is his colleague and friend, and soon, boss.

Expecting to have the anchor position at “The Hour”, Lyon is disappointed to be passed over for Hector Madden (Dominic West), the smooth and handsome newsman who isn’t particularly the right man for the job. This set up, is an obvious homage to Broadcast News.  After tipping him off on the murder of an academic on a subway platform a socialite childhood friend of Lyons is murdered, setting him deeper and deeper into an investigation trying to uncover who killed his childhood friend. As the series progresses and the conspiracies deepen, The Hour becomes an incredibly engrossing thriller. Extras include two documentaries. Recommended.


The Smurfs: Holiday Celebration
Warner Home Video / Released October 4th 2011

The Pitch
In these two delightful tales, our little blue friends touch the lives of those in need and spread Christmas cheer to everyone around them, as they impart valuable lessons about the spirit of giving and sharing.

The Review
I spent many Saturday mornings watching The Smurfs and despite losing my affinity for the characters, I jumped at the chance to revisit them with this DVD, The Smurfs: Holiday Celebration, which contains two fairly average holiday specials, The Smurfs’ Christmas Special and Tis The Season To Be Smurfy. My problem with both of the specials is the presence of human beings. I’ve always thought The Smurfs worked best in their own environment, but to younger fans who enjoyed the movie, this release is full of good lessons and morals, and will likely be a perennial holiday favorite.


The Mentalist: The Complete Third Season
Warner Home Video / Released September 20th, 2011

The Pitch
This season, Red John strikes into the heart of the CBI. Ever since the serial killer murdered Patrick Jane’s family, the California Bureau of Investigation consultant and former faux-psychic has become obsessed with finding the man who destroyed his life. But after a homicide suspect is set ablaze in his jail cell and a CBI agent is later framed as Red John, Patrick realizes his adversary is closer than he imagined. The 5-disc 24-Episode Season 3 of this hit procedural combines crime-solving twists with wry humor that celebrate mind over matter. In settings from gold country to the racetrack to a martial-arts cage brawl, unconventional Patrick uses his unique skills of observation and manipulation to buck the system. And crack the toughest cases.

The Review
Simon Baker plays Patrick Jane, a consultant to California Bureau of Investigation who borders on obsessed as he tracks Red John, the serial killer that murdered his family. Jane’s not looking to catch Red John, he’s looking to kill him. Fortunately, Baker’s obsession doesn’t make the series dour, as each week brings a new case. The cat and mouse that he plays with Red John is just always under the surface. Baker’s Jane is charming, engaging and funny (and not really a psychic, just hyper-aware) and works well with the ensemble cast of characters.

Guest stars this season include M.C. Gainey, William Ragsdale, Zeljko Ivanek, Steve Railsback, John Billingsley, Gregory Itzin, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Robert Pine, Josh Randall, Bradley Whitford, J. August Richards, Richard Roundtree, Alanna Ubach, Frances Conroy, Morena Baccarin, and William Forsythe.

And guess what? One of them is Red John.

Extras include deleted/extended scenes and featurettes. The Mentalist: The Complete Third Season is entertaining television (and a dramatic take on the USA Network series, Psych), that despite the cast, is only truly set apart by Baker’s solid performance.

Hawaii Five-0 (2010): The First Season
Paramount / Released September 20, 2011

The Pitch
The new Hawaii Five-0 is a contemporary take on the classic series about a new elite federalized task force whose mission is to wipe out the crime that washes up on the Islands’ sun-drenched beaches.

The Review
Solid direction, well choreographed action, beautiful cinematography and locations, a talented cast and good humor are the cornerstone to Hawaii Five-0: The First Season, a reimagining of the television classic that ran from 1968-1980.

This time out Ex-Navy Lieutenant Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) is investigating the murder of his father who is killed in the opening moments of the pilot. Under the direction of the Governor (Jean Smart), McGarrett and his team; by the book Jersey cop Danny “Danno” Williams (Scott Caan), Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim) a disgraced ex-cop accused of stealing and a protégé of Steve’s father and Kelly’s cousin Kono Kalakua (Grace Park), a new police academy graduate, form the Five-0 task force. Granted immunity and given carte blanche to get the job done, Five-0 is established to deal with Hawaii’s unusual and potentially dangerous crimes. In other words, fighting terrorists, drug lords, kidnappers and the mysterious crime lord,Wo Fat (Mark Dacascos).

Hawaii-Five 0 also features some of the best guest stars on television. This season included Norman Reedus, James Marsters, William Sadler,Peter Stormare, Martin Starr,Taryn Manning, Balthazar Getty, D.L. Hughley, Kyle Secor , Masi Oka, Kevin Sorbo, Robert Loggia, Kelly Hu, Adam Beach, Jason Scott Lee, Bronson Pinchot, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Bijou Phillips, Nas, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Greg Germann, Reiko Aylesworth, Ray Wise, Dane Cook, Troy Garity, D.B. Sweeney, Perrey Reeves, James Kyson-Lee, Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs, Keith David, Angela Lindvall, Rick Springfield, and James Remar.

Extras include deleted scenes, network promos, featurettes, and commentary. Hawaii Five-0: The First Season is action packed with tremendous chemistry among the principal cast (in particular the bromance between O’Loughlin and Caan) and the action and locations look more impressive than most feature films. Oh, yeah, it’s awesome. Highly recommended.

The Middle: Season Two
Warner Bros. Home Video / Released September 27th, 2011

The Pitch
Work. Kids. Bills. Comedy. It’s how the middle half lives. The Heck family returns for Season Two, bringing with them 24 episodes of offbeat fun with one foot in reality and the other on a greasy wrapper from Burgerworld. Patricia Heaton and Neil Flynn star as Frankie and Mike Heck, frazzled parents trying to stretch their patience and paychecks around three brilliantly true-to-life kids: Axl, whose latest dream girl has tattoos, body piercings and pink hair; Sue, who’s thrilled to come in eighth (out of eight) in Square Dancing with the Stars; and Brick, the only kid who has his birthday party at the public library.

The Review
The second season of this underrated series drops much of the extraneous locations from the first season (for instance, Frankie’s job) and instead focuses primarily on the family.

Keep in mind, The Middle doesn’t break any sitcom ground, but it is consistently good and in particular, the three actors that play the Heck children (Charlie McDermott, Eden Sher, and Atticus Shaffer) do so with an uncanny level of honestly. Neil Flynn and Patricia Heaton anchor the very watchable show. Like Roseanne, The Middle portrays a very blue collar family that supports one another despite their differences. Extras include deleted scenes and a gag reel.  

The Middle: Season Two might be formulaic, but it’s also universal and very entertaining. Recommended.

Bridesmaids
Universal Pictures / Released September 20th, 2011

The Pitch
Thirty-something Annie (Kristen Wiig) has hit a rough patch but finds her life turned completely upside down when she takes on the Maid of Honor role in her best friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) wedding. In way over her head but determined to succeed, Annie leads a hilarious hodgepodge of bridesmaids (Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper) on a wild ride down the road to the big event.

The Review
If boys can make gross out comedies, why can’t the girls? Well, it turns out that they can. Bridesmaids is one of this years too few laugh out loud comedies. Kristen Wiig (who co-wrote with Annie Mumolo) plays Annie, a cynical, beaten woman who is trying to move forward after the closing of her bakery. She’s being used for sex (a very funny Jon Hamm), has strange sibling-British roommates and is plugging away working retail at a jewelry store. Unfortunately, she also finds out that best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is getting married, which sets off a wave of depression and a harsh reminder of her own status quo.

Asked to be the Maid of Honor presents an entire series of challenges, especially once Annie meets the other members of the wedding party including smiling newlywed Ellie Kemper, sex-starved acidic mom Wendi McLendon, the groom’s sister, pugilistic bullish government employee Melissa McCarthy and wealthy Rose Byrne, who has her sights set on being the Maid of Honor herself.

From there the antics and hijinks begin from dress fittings, bachelorette party, fights, jealousies, arrests and a new romance for Annie.

Plus, plenty of bodily fluids.

Extras include both the theatrical and unrated cuts of the film, commentary, gag reel, featurettes, deleted/alternate/extended scenes, and a parody commercial. Bridesmaids is a laugh out loud, charming must-see film that belongs in everyone’s DVD collection. Highly recommended.

Chuck: The Complete Fourth Season
Warner Bros. Home Video / Released October 11, 2011

The Pitch
Operation Wedded Bliss: will Chuck and Sarah finally become Mr. and Mrs. Superspy? Season Four’s 24 laugh- and action-filled episodes include the duo’s romance from proposal to planning to the big day. Yes, Chuck’s in love, but he has more than romance (and the Intersect) on his mind. His mom comes in from the cold, escaping the evil control of an international arms dealer to become part of the Nerd Herder-turned-spy’s life – and making it even tougher for Chuck to keep his professional and personal worlds separate. On some days, Chuck outwits assassins and out-martial-arts hordes of black-clad bad guys. On others, he pursues Sarah and prepares to become a doting uncle. On most days, he does it all!

The Review
Four seasons in and Team Bartowski is starting to show it’s age. At least twice, the series was as good as cancelled until fan support granted the series a renewal. Chuck is now a full-fledged spy and the Buy More has become the team’s base. The series has always shined with its characters and their relationships, but extended story arcs with Chuck’s mother (Linda Hamilton) and bad guy Nickolai Volkov (Timothy Dalton) dragged for far too long.

The series continued it’s geek icon stunt casting, enlisting Olivia Munn, Dolph Lundgren, Harry Dean Stanton, Isaiah Mustafa, Bronson Pinchot, Lou Ferrigno, Nicole Richie, Stacy Keibler, Steve Austin, Armand Assante, Eric Roberts, Morgan Fairchild, Robert Englund, Rob Riggle, Summer Glau, Richard Chamberlain, John Larroquette, Lou Diamond Phillips, Robin Givens, Ray Wise and Gary Cole aboard.

Chuck: The Complete Fourth Season shines because it knows it’s audience and gives them what they want; a power fantasy of a geek who’s gifted with the opportunity and skills to save the world. And he gets the girl. Extras include featurettes, deleted scenes and a gag reel. Recommended.

The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Fourth Season
Warner Bros. Home Video / Released September 13, 2011

 The Pitch
This season the Big Bang gang’s romantic universe expands. On the rebound from Penny, Leonard falls into the arms of Raj’s sister Priya. Sheldon gets a girlfriend, or rather a friend who is a girl: Amy, a dour neurobiologist who declares herself besties with Penny. Howard and Bernadette heat up. And so do Raj and Bernadette (at least in Raj’s Bollywood daydream). All in the furtherance of award-winning genius comedy.

The Review
In their fourth season, the quartet have almost doubled in size, as their social group now including neighbor Penny (Kaley Cuoco), Howard’s girlfriend Bernadette (Melissa Rauch), and Sheldon’s female doppelganger, Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik). The girls have also formed an awkward but genuine friendship and provide an excellent contrast in the series. Unfortunately, at times, the series feels this expansion, as its strength is the interaction of the four primary characters. Nevertheless, The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Fourth Season accomplishes the three things that it’s supposed to do: it’s funny, it’s well written and it’s smart.

MVP Dr. Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) continues to make this breakout character genuine and real, using Sheldon’s social ignorance and awkwardness as a character trait rather than a punch line. Extras include featurettes and a gag reel. The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Fourth Season might be the season when the characters grew up, but, most likely isn’t. Highly recommended.

Castle: The Complete Third Season
Walt Disney Home Video / Released September 20, 2011

The Pitch
Famous mystery novelist Richard Castle and NYPD Detective Kate Beckett return for the suspenseful Third Season of ABC’s brilliantly funny series, Castle. Enjoy every inspired idea and flirtatious moment as this fiery duo solve the strangest homicides New York has to offer. It’s the most entertaining season yet as Castle’s wildly funny storytelling skills work their way into every case. Between his mixed-up partnership with Beckett and his relationships with his diva mother and his clever daughter, Alexis, Castle is always on his toes. Crime fighting has never been this much fun! Get on the beat and relive every wild and witty moment in this 5-disc DVD set.

The Review
Whoever thought that a series focused on solving murders couldn’t be ridiculously entertaining obviously has never seen Castle.  

Castle is a rare show in the sense that it offers a bit of everything; suspense, romance, humor, and family drama. Nathan Fillion plays Richard Castle, popular mystery novelist who frequently teams with the police (and in particular NYPD homicide detective Kate Beckett) to solve crimes. Romantic tension is the status quo for Castle and Beckett and their mutual unspoken love contributes significantly to the entertainment value of the series.

Castle: The Complete Third Season is a perfect example of what I call comfort television; it’s engaging, entertaining, but doesn’t become too overwhelmed with it’s own mythology. Despite it being a procedural, it’s all about character. This season also had a number of great guest stars including Lee Tergesen, Ever Carradine, Lyle Lovett, Lance Henriksen, Laura Prepon, Adrian Pasdar, Corbin Bernsen, Jane Seymour, Bruce Davison, D.B. Sweeney, Michael McKean and Teri Polo. Extras include featurettes, bloopers, deleted scenes and a music video.

If you haven’t seen the series yet, you certainly should start from the beginning, but Castle: The Complete Third Season can be enjoyed on it’s own. Highly recommended.

Supernatural: The Complete Sixth Season
Warner Bros. Home Video / Released September 13, 2011

The Pitch
The prize: ending the Apocalypse. The price: Sam’s life. Season 5’s horrific finale left Dean alone, as Sam descended into Hell. Now a different man, Dean vows to stop hunting and devote himself to building a family with Lisa and her son Ben. Then, mysteriously, Sam reappears, drawing Dean back into the old life. But Sam’s a different man too. He’s returned without his soul. How the Winchesters confront this greatest challenge yet to their powerful bond is the troubled heart – and soul – of the profound and thrilling 5-Disc, 22-Episode Season 6. As the brothers struggle to reunite, they must also battle deadly supernatural forces. Demons. Angels. Vampires. Shapeshifters. And a terrifying new foe called the Mother of All.

The Review
And we’re back. From the opening episode of Supernatural: The Complete Sixth Season we learn that a year has passed from the previous season, which left Sam stuck in Hell. Dean is now punching a time clock working a menial job and living a woman and her son until Sam shows up. Turns out he’s been back for nearly a year and pulls Dean back into the world of battling the supernatural and angels when Dean notices that there’s something not quite right about Dean.

Plotwise, Supernatural is one of television’s most inventive series with a rich mythology and inventive storylines that even six seasons in continue to entertain, surprise and scare. Extras include featurettes, a gag reel, two episodes from Supernatural: The Anime series and deleted/alternate scenes.

Supernatural is often overlooked when discussing great television. Check this out and see what you’re missing. Recommended.

Blue Bloods: The First Season
Paramount Home Video /  Released September 13, 2011

The Pitch
Blue Bloods stars Tom Selleck as Frank Reagan, the New York Police Commissioner who heads both the police force and the Reagan brood.  He runs his department as diplomatically as he runs his family, even when dealing with the politics that plagued his unapologetically bold father, Henry (Len Cariou), during his stint as commissioner.  A source of pride and concern for Frank is his eldest son Danny (Donnie Wahlberg), a seasoned detective, family man, and Iraqi War vet who along with his partner Jackie Curatola (Jennifer Esposito) will exhaust all efforts and on occasion uses dubious tactics to solve cases.  The sole Reagan woman in the family, Erin (Bridget Moynahan), is a N.Y. Assistant D.A. and newly single parent, who also serves as the legal compass for her siblings and father.  Jamie (Will Estes) is the youngest Reagan, fresh out of Harvard Law and a newly minted cop.

The Review
Tom Selleck is a television icon.

Audiences love him, and like many other television icons before him such as James Garner and Robert Urich, people will follow him to whatever he’s working on simply because they like him.

Well, Selleck fans are in a treat as his latest series, Blue Bloods gives him a chance to play Tom Selleck, this time a patriarchal police commissioner who comes from a long family of cops and his own family have become cops (or at least operate in the cop business).

There’s a subplot regarding a group of corrupt cops, The Blue Templar, that serves as material for one of the season’s only recurring storylines. This is old school. Storylines are concluded or forgotten about on an episode-to-episode basis, and in many ways resembles Law & Order more than continuity rich procedurals like The Chicago Code or Southland. Extras include deleted scenes, featurettes, a gag reel and series promos. Blue Bloods: The First Season is solidly entertaining television and worth a watch. Recommended.

Troll Hunter
Magnolia Home Entertainment / Released August 23, 2011

The Pitch
The government says there’s nothing to worry about it’s just a problem with bears making trouble in the mountains and forests of Norway. But local hunters don’t believe it and neither do a trio of college students who want to find out the truth. Armed with a video camera, they trail a mysterious poacher, who wants nothing to do with them. However, their persistence lands them straight in the path of the objects of his pursuits: trolls. They soon find themselves documenting every move of this grizzled, unlikely hero the trollhunter risking their lives to uncover the secrets of creatures only thought to exist in fairy tales.

The Review
The faux-documentary trend rolls out another winner with this entertaining and suspenseful examination of Norwegian troll hunters. Despite the fact that the film isn’t as scary as one would hope, it’s so committed to it’s own mythology that it’s hard not to become enchanted. Heavily improvised in beautiful locations, the real star of the film are its phenomenal special effects. Recommended.

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