DVD REVIEW – Feb 21, 2008

THIS WEEK IN DVD’S – Feb 21, 2008


Tell Me You Love Me: The Complete First Season (HBO)
Blade: The Series (New Line)
Dallas: The Complete Eighth Season (Paramount)


Yes, you see wieners and beavers galore in Tell Me You Love Me: The Complete First Season (HBO), but what’s both unique and, honestly, quite leaden about this new series is that there’s little joy in ‘peeping the junk’ here. The show aims to address the fundamental, almost reptilian aspects of sex and what the act of intercourse (and its variations) represent in relationships, but all the coitus in the series is so clinical and painfully blocked-out that it’s neither illuminating nor titillating. And what good is sex if it can’t be either (or both) of those?

That being said, though, Tell Me You Love Me stands heads and shoulders above Blade: The Series (New Line). The Wesley Snipes film franchise wasn’t exactly Citizen Kane to begin with, but this spin-off TV show featuring stone-dead performances from Kirk “Sticky” Jones and Jill Wagner is the kind of thing that makes sci-fi TV fans ache for Highlander reruns. And that ain’t good. In fact, it makes fare like Dallas: The Complete Eighth Season (Paramount) look positively brilliant by comparison. And even though this 1980s primetime soap opera had exceptional moments in its run (‘Who Shot J.R.?’, anyone?), this eighth go-round showcases a series waaaay past its prime (an episode involving members of the Dallas clan on a manhunt in Hong Kong is particularly nutty).


Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Sixth Season (HBO)
The Girls Next Door: The Complete Third Season (Fox)
and The Simple Life: Goes to Camp (Fox)


And it has its fans, but this writer simply can’t wrap his brain around the possible appeal of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Sixth Season (HBO). Sure, this just-like-Seinfeld-only-nastier series has the occasional moment of disquieting humor to it (if anything, the series is willing to go to exceptional ends to make its viewers feel uncomfortable), but for my money, the show is nothing more than Larry David beating the same dead horse over the course of ten episodes. But I’d also argue that bad scripted television is better than great reality TV, and both The Girls Next Door: The Complete Third Season (Fox) and The Simple Life: Goes to Camp (Fox) confirm this. Girls Next Door is a slightly better endeavor – at least the jiggle factor is high there – but both of these shows are chock-full of the kind of brain-numbing idiocy that is enough to drive tried-and-true TV junkies (like myself) completely batty. And please – aren’t we done with Paris Hilton by now?


The Odd Couple: The Third Season (Paramount)
Family Ties: The Third Season (Paramount)
Newhart: The Complete First Season (Fox)


Luckily there are new releases of older shows to remind us how good TV can be. The Odd Couple: The Third Season (Paramount) may not be rocket science, but the chemistry between Tony Randall and Jack Klugman is the kind of thing that comes around all too rarely in the television universe. And Family Ties: The Third Season (Paramount) showcases the iconic 80s sitcom at its most confident and poised (Alex P. Keaton was never more offensive nor more endearing than he was here). And even though its inaugural season may not have been a slam-dunk, Newhart: The Complete First Season (Fox) is nevertheless a fantastic showcase not only for Bob Newhart’s insanely hilarious straight-man antics but for a fictional Vermont town filled with the kind of weirdos and idiots one could never fully imagine.


Becoming Jane (Buena Vista)
Me, Myself & Irene (Fox)
Crimson Tide (Buena Vista)
Wall Street (Fox)


On to the high-def front: Becoming Jane (Buena Vista) isn’t exactly pristine entertainment, but this Blu-ray release showcases not only a perfectly adequate performance from the somehow underrated Anne Hathaway (somebody give this girl an Oscar already!), but a drop-dead gorgeous video transfer. It’s not the kind of thing Jane Austen fans will want to watch more than once, but if you missed it in theatres, this Blu-ray release is a fantastic runner-up. The new Me, Myself & Irene (Fox), Crimson Tide (Buena Vista) and Wall Street (Fox) releases are a tad less exemplary, if simply because the films are much older than Becoming Jane. Me, Myself & Irene is an underappreciated gem in the Farrelly Brothers’ crown (yeah, it’s dumb as dirt, but who expects nuance and telling character narrative from those guys?), Crimson Tide may be a little unbelievable in its plot development, but it’s one of Tony Scott’s tautest thrillers, and Wall Street is one of Oliver Stone’s early masterworks (look past the  scenery-chewing from Michael Douglas and there’s a truly excellent turn from Charlie Sheen here). Neither look eye-poppingly wonderful on Blu-ray, but for those who don’t already have the DVD versions of the films might want to check these out.


Gone Baby Gone (Buena Vista)
Jane Austen Book Club (Sony)


Two other new releases also look fantastic on high-def: Gone Baby Gone (Buena Vista) is a shockingly impressive thriller (who knew Ben Affleck had it in him?) that sports a tremendous video transfer and a slate of truly fascinating bonus goodies (including a solid commentary track featuring Affleck’s off-the-cuff discussion of how nervous about the film he was); and while The Jane Austen Book Club (Sony) isn’t the best movie in the world, there’s enough charm to the film’s endearing premise (not to mention the always-reliable Maria Bello) to merit a viewing – and the film looks all but completely perfect on this transfer.


Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Unviersal)
American Gangster (Paramount)


And while the film itself is unfortunately quite the turkey, Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Unviersal) on HD DVD is stunning in its pristine visual representation. Don’t get me wrong – Cate Blanchett can literally do no wrong, as I’m concerned – but the clunky direction and leaden screenplay keep this film from being anything more than an excuse for lovely Cate to give a couple of speeches (and how do you waste a performance by Clive Owen? I don’t understand…). Far more appealing is American Gangster (Paramount). Ridley Scott hasn’t made a movie this good in decades, and even though the extended version (available on the DVD flipside of this HD DVD/standard DVD  combo disc) ends up robbing the film of its poppy intensity – stick with the theatrical version – Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe turn in exceptional performances that are enhanced by the kind of pitch-perfect video transfer and enveloping sound mix that every film deserves.