THIS WEEK IN DVD’S – April 3, 2008
Coach: The Third Season (Universal)
The Smurfs: Season 1, Volume 1 (Turner)
Magnum P.I.: The Complete Eighth Season (Warner)
Battlestar Galactica: Season Three (Universal)
SNL: Lost and Found in the 80s (Universal)
Craig T. Nelson has been able to be a chameleon of sorts in the character-actor parts he takes, and this writer believes he’s underestimated because of it. Whether he’s the high-and-freaked-out dad in Poltergeist, the sensitive father in The Family Stone or as the eponymous star of Coach: The Third Season, Nelson has proven time and time again that he’s able to ricochet from role to role with the stoic, noble grace of a real star. The only problem with Coach, though, is that it hasn’t aged well at all, and while Nelson and Shelley Fabares have undeniable chemistry between them and Jerry Van Dyke’s appeal is irrefutable, this is the kind of TV-on-DVD set that will appeal only to the nostalgic.
Speaking of nostalgia clouding the critical process, I must say that sitting through The Smurfs: Season 1, Volume 1 was a trip of relatively epic proportions. I was never super into the show as a kid – give me The Snorks any day (yeah, I know it’s a rip-off, but who cares?) – and watching this first Smurfs DVD set made me remember why: They’re kinda dull. I understand they started in Europe years before they became inhaled by a collective TV-addict youth culture and may be more narratively esteemed because of it, but I’ll be honest – while there’s definitely a soft spot in my heart for Smurfette, I’ll leave this one behind.
More interesting – if only for its atypical flatness – is the final season of Magnum P.I. This writer was just young enough to miss the childhood Magnum train, and I’ve truly been digging catching up with Tom Selleck and his moustache on DVD releases of the show. But this last go-round of the series is limp at best: With the exception of a funhouse-weird episode where Magnum and Higgins ‘switch places’, even with a somewhat punchy final two-part episode, this set is a distinct step back from other Magnum boxes.
Better than its predecessors, though, is the third incarnation of Battlestar Galactica. Man – the first few episodes of this season are doozies: As our protagonists are trapped on a hostile planet with mounting odds against them as far as their escape chances go, BSG really gets off to a bang here. Sure, the episodes on the last few discs aren’t nearly as good as the ones on the first few, but that doesn’t mean this show isn’t TV-sci-fi crack for nerds like myself.
And on the topic of letting one’s nerd-flag fly, while SNL: Lost and Found in the 80s isn’t as good as a full-length SNL release – there are snippets of classic scenarios from the show here, but they’re not presented in their entireties – it’s a fantastic behind-the-scenes look at the television show that influenced most of our adolescent senses of humor. And the drastic and often sticky situations that arose with producer Lorne Michaels’ willingness to fire and hire cast members at will make this one not just a great overview of the show in the me-decade, but a stone-cold look at what the sometimes-devastating tactics that have to be employed to keep a comedy machine like SNL alive and kicking.
12 Angry Men: Special Edition (MGM)
Forbidden Hollywood Collection: Volume 2 (Warner)
Fox Film Noir: Dangerous Crossing, Daisy Kenyon, Black Widow (Fox)
The Bette Davis Centenary Celebration Collection (Fox)
Lions For Lambs (MGM)
This slate of old-fashioned films vary in implicit quality, but they all share one vital element: They have the ability to really throw a viewer a curveball.
For anyone who hasn’t seen 12 Angry Men, this latest special edition is definitely the place to start – while its bonus slate isn’t exactly air-tight (it has the kind of extras that repeat the same information again and again), the film looks great and still crackles with a you-are-there immediacy. Those who have the original DVD release shouldn’t exactly rush out and upgrade to this one, though – I’d rent it first to see if the new stuff is to your liking.
And though none of the films on the latest Forbidden Hollywood Collection are all-out classics, it’s always fun to see what Tinseltown looked like when it was being too naughty for its own good. The Divorcee, A Free Soul, Night Nurse, Three on a Match and Female all manifest some morally shaky characters and some smoldering scenarios that encompass them. Classic film-lovers will eat this one up – I’d recommend starting with the sexy comedy Night Nurse, starring Barbara Stanwyck as a slutty caregiver with shall we say…’misguided motives’…?
The Fox Film Noir has been a solid bastion of excellent genre pictures since its inception a few years ago, and while the three newest titles in its pantheon aren’t exactly prime, they present a fantastic way to waste an evening. This writer gives Daisy Kenyon the MVP award – though Dangerous Crossing and Black Widow are both good fun – if just for Joan Crawford’s outrageously powerful performance as the ass-kicking matron at the center of the film who in all ways adheres to the film’s pronounced tag line: ‘I don’t belong to any man!’ There’s trouble here, folks – and it’s gooooood.
And if you can resist Bette Davis in All About Eve, you’re a greater man than I, and while the other pictures on the Bette Davis Centenary Celebration Collection don’t stand up to that classic (which is included here, along with Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, The Virgin Queen, Phone Call From a Stranger and The Nanny), it’s always nice to watch Bette get her fangs into a good part.
So you ask why I’ve included Robert Redford’s latest, Lions for Lambs, in this category – well, it plays old-fashioned, and this retro syntax really gives the film a rare spike of punchy intrigue. This meditation on the war in Iraq proved to be too think-y for audiences in theatres last fall – even with names like Redford, Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise, folks avoided it like the plague – but on video, the film seems to fit its urgency well. For cinephiles with a desire for a movie that keeps you thinking, it’s an easy one to recommend.
The Rookie Blu-ray (Buena Vista)
Unbreakable Blu-ray (Buena Vista)
Hidalgo Blu-ray (Buena Vista)
Coyote Ugly Blu-ray (Buena Vista)
Well, let’s break this down:
As far as video quality goes, The Rookie gets the award for best-looking high-def release here. The Dennis Quaid baseball flick may not have the narrative sheen of a classic, but this Blu-ray disc showcases a catalog transfer that is truly top-of-the-line. Unbreakable, though, doesn’t get the same kind of treatment. It has the best sound mix of this bunch, to be sure – it absolutely CRACKLES with aural prowess – but this writer found the film to look little better than what would expect from a typical DVD transfer.
Hidalgo also sounds fantastic (and looks pretty damned good), even though the film itself is a corny little nugget of a tale that does little but showcase Viggo Mortensen riding around a dusty desert and yelling. This leads me to the real gem of this set: Coyote Ugly. Not only is the film one of the greatest guilty pleasures of all time (if not the one), but this high-def incarnation of the film includes both the theatrical and unrated versions of the film (the only thing added to the film’s uncut incarnation is a couple of stunt-boobs and some lingering shots of boy-toy Adam Garcia in his birthday suit), as well as all the bonuses that have already been attached to the film’s earlier DVD releases. I can’t urge this point enough: You must own this disc.
The Untouchables: Season 2, Volume 1 (Paramount)
The Wild Wild West: The Fourth Season (Paramount)
That 70s Show: Season Eight (Fox)
Midsomer Murders: Set 10 (Acorn Media)
Midsomer Murders: The Early Cases Collection (Acorn Media)
I’ve complained before about Paramount’s decisions to split season-long sets of some of their hour-long programming of days passed, and while it remains enjoyable to watch Robert Stack kick ass in The Untouchables, it remains a shame that fans of the show don’t get a chance to digest the series season-by-season upon initial release. Thankfully the studio does it right with the fourth season of The Wild Wild West, which, in addition to looking absolutely fantastic (the video transfers for each season of the western series get high marks), the show in its senior year is as ludicrously fun and engaging as it ever was.
On the other side of the coin is That 70s Show. This writer never had much of a bent toward the series – give me Ashton Kutcher in Punk’d over Ashton Kutcher in That 70s Show any day of the week – but even compared to earlier seasons of the show on DVD, this eighth go-round is truly sub-standard. At least there are no more after this one…
Let’s jump the pond real quick to take a peek at Midsomer Murders, a mystery series that has two recent big box set releases. Set 10 succeeds in just being another installment in the wondrous John Nettles/John Hopkins series, but the real find here is The Early Cases. While perhaps not as consistently entertaining as the show’s later output, these first eighteen stabs at crime solving showcase a well-oiled, involving series really getting its sea-legs. And I’ll be honest – it’s weird to see Orlando Bloom in anything where he’s not an elf or a swashbuckler…