THIS WEEK IN DVD’S – NOV 1, 2007
The Films of Kenneth Anger, Vol. II (Fantoma)
Scorpio Rising is one of cinema’s great underground masterworks, and its creator, Kenneth Anger, remains one of the industry’s most important and virile essayists. With The Films of Kenneth Anger, Vol. II (Fantoma), not only do we get an extension of Vol. I’s exceptional collection of short films and bonus features, we get something that overpowers it (if one can imagine such a thing).
Not only is Scorpio Rising here, but we get the bizarrely sexual Invocation of My Demon Brother with Anger collaborator (and muse) Bobby Beausoleil, and Kustom Kar Kommandos, in which a handful of people like certain vehicles ‘more than a friend’. And the list goes on.
The long and the short of it is that Fantoma’s Kenneth Anger collections are veritable treasure chests for lovers of avant-garde cinema, fusing both preservation and sleek presentation with savvy and prowess. Mandatory.
Medium: The Third Season (Paramount)
Our last season of Medium featured a 3-D episode, and this newest edition does not, so it’s difficult not to be a little disappointed. But truth be told, even if there were red-and-blue eyeglasses included on the Medium: The Third Season (Paramount) box set, it would still come up short.
The good news for gore-seekers is that this third season is way grislier and bloodier than seasons past – the images that Allison DuBois (Patricia Arquette) sees are rarely less than PG-13 rated – but for those looking for a more holistic paranormal show, this set may not engage. This writer loves the idea of using ESP to solve crimes – talk about breaking through that third wall! – but Medium’s third go-round quickly turns into a ‘you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all’ redundancy.
And to add insult to injury, the commentaries and featurettes included on this Third Season box set don’t do much to add to the show’s creepy mystique. Stick with the second season box – at least it comes with 3-D glasses!
That 70s Show: Season Seven (Fox)
Roseanne: The Complete Ninth Season (Starz/Anchor Bay)
This writer never liked That 70s Show – something about its forced nostalgic and teenybopper retro chic rubbed me the wrong way – but even for those who stand by the show’s dumb-ass tomfoolery have to admit that That 70s Show: Season Seven (Fox) just ain’t up to snuff.
Ashton Kutcher and Topher Grace make their swan song appearances here as full-time cast members – they’d do a guest spot here and there in the show’s eighth (and final) season – and their shtick is so powerfully inane that it honestly makes you realize why the two were done with the show at that point. The subplot about Hyde’s (Danny Masterson’s) discovery of his biological parentage is interesting for a couple minutes, but for the most part, this seventh season set showcases a show that was not only not at its prime, but swirling around that inevitable vortex of cancellation.
Far more interesting in its oddity is Roseanne: The Complete Ninth Season (Starz/Anchor Bay), in which the lower-class Conner household wins the lottery and lives out the season as super-rich international travelers and spenders. With Dan (John Goodman) absent for much of the show’s first half, the rest of the series’ characters get put front and center (Laurie Metcalf’s Jackie was never given as much face time as she was given here), and the results are mixed.
Roseanne has always been a formally playful series – from old Halloween episodes to the weird-ass thwarted terrorist attempts and extensive dream sequences of this final season, the show has never shied away from a provocative way of telling a story. But subtext takes over context on this ninth season, and for every bona fide belly laugh, there are three or four plot developments that simply stun in their oddity (Jim Varney’s performance as a European prince trying to woo Jackie is up there with the zaniest of the zany).
But, unlike That 70 Show, Roseanne at its worst was still better than 75% of stuff on television, and even though this final season ends up being the kind of thing that only die-hard Roseanne-heads would respond to, it’s nevertheless a head-trip that confirms this fact: Even if the show wasn’t consistently funny, it was trying new things. And it’s hard not to respond positively to that.
CSI: NY: The Complete Third Season (Paramount)
Criminal Minds: The Complete Second Season (Paramount)
When it comes to crime on TV, CSI is a standout. The original CSI with William Petersen remains a solid hour of weekly forensic entertainment; CSI: Miami is a surprisingly volatile look at crime-solving in the midst of personal crisis (protagonist David Caruso always seems to be wrestling his demons throughout each episode); and CSI: NY is probably the best of the bunch: Fusing superlative writing, kick-ass acting from Gary Sinise and an excellent sense of ‘how much information do we give our audience to both sate them and keep them coming back for more?’, the show knocks it out of the park every time.
Yet where CSI: NY: The Complete Third Season (Paramount) is an exceptional television achievement, Criminal Minds: The Complete Second Season (Paramount) is a bit more hit-and-miss.
It’s dirtier and grimier – these FBI profilers who cover some of the nastiest and most chillingly intelligent serial killers our modern world has to offer definitely deal with some dark shit on a day-to-day basis – but this grittiness doesn’t always work. Keith Carradine has an exceptional guest star turn in this second season set – he’s friggin’ scary as a particularly ‘busy’ serial killer – but regulars Thomas Gibson and Mandy Patinkin (while both seminal actors in their own regards) don’t seem to really get their hands dirty with their characters: It’s as if they try to solve each week’s mystery while on autopilot.
Cast and crew members attempt to convince us otherwise on the commentary tracks included on this second season box set, but it’s of no use: While Criminal Minds has the kind of ingredients that usually gel together into ooey-gooey (and addictive) television mystery/drama, it pales in comparison to CSI: NY.
And you totally know that Gary Sinise would beat Mandy Patinkin in a fist fight any day of the week. Am I wrong?
The Sea Hunters: Set 1 (Acorn)
Monarchy With David Starkey, Set 2 (Acorn)
The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard (Acorn)
Acorn Media has some new releases on shelves, and for anybody with a public television fetish, they should prove endlessly engaging. The Sea Hunters: Set 1 (Acorn) is essential viewing for anyone who grew up reading Clive Cussler novels: While Dirk Pitt himself doesn’t figure into these episodes, his spirit is certainly served. As a documentary crew looks into some of the most notable and famous shipwrecks around, we get to see both the technical prowess that goes into such journeys as well as get a full backstory to the undersea vessels themselves.
Monarchy With David Starkey, Set 2 (Acorn) is a bit less intriguing of an affair – with relative straightforwardness, the acclaimed scholar Starkey takes us through the royal halls of Charles II, Victoria, Anne, and a slate of truly unique consorts and entourages that influenced the throne indelibly. But as informational as this set is, it’s not exactly the most riveting thing in the world: The English throne will be forever captivating in historical terms, but it’ll take series more energetic and emphatic than Monarchy to keep its heritage alive in the TV realm.
The best of the bunch, though, is The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard (Acorn), a surprisingly frank and cosmopolitan farce about giving the British Parliament the kick in the pants it needs to keep up with the current generation. Jane Horrocks (most notable for her turn in Absolutely Fabulous) plays the eponymous heroine, a normal lady who gets so fed up with the red tape and endless bureaucracy at the center of English politics that she decides to take matters into her own hands and go all Mr. Smith Goes to Washington on their British asses.
It’s not exactly brain-bending entertainment – her journey is simultaneously empowering and fairly inane – but Horrocks makes for a powerfully capable heroine, and even if The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard ends up being more goofy than insightful, it’s still a Hell of a lot of fun to watch.
Eyes Wide Shut (Warner)
The Shining (Warner)
2001: A Space Odyssey (Warner)
Last week I got a chance to swoon over the Stanley Kubrick Director Series set, but I have a whole new set of dumbfounded, euphoric drool for you this week: Kubrick on HD DVD.
Surprisingly, Eyes Wide Shut (Warner) is the least impressive of the bunch – there seems to be a ton of grain on the image that prevents it from being all that pristine – but it’s still a step up from the film’s DVD presentation (and the bonus features, including a three-part documentary on the making of the film, are imperative). The Shining (Warner) fares a bit better – while it’s definitely cleaner than Eyes Wide Shut, I found more than a few examples of light-strobing that I wasn’t expecting. Again, it’s notably and distinctly an improvement on the DVD edition, but it’s not night-and-day.
What is night-and-day, however, is 2001: A Space Odyssey (Warner). Believe me or not, this 2001 HD DVD presentation is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Detail is spot-on, color accuracy is shockingly strong, and black levels are deep and thick. The long and the short of it is that this writer has seen this damned Odyssey probably 100 times (it’s with no small emphasis that I call it my favorite film), and I’ve never seen it this gorgeous outside a movie theater. And the bonus section of the disc is both illuminating and cheeky (there’s an extensive interview with the woman who plays the space-stewardess toward the beginning of the film!).
To bank on cliché, 2001’s HD DVD disc is truly beyond the infinite.