THIS WEEK IN DVD’S – Nov 10, 2008
Friday the 13th – The Series: The First Season (Paramount)
Duckman: Seasons 1 and 2 (Paramount)
Sports Night: The Complete Series (Shout Factory)
Friday the 13th as a series is best left appropriated as a long-lost curio than an actual entity. This syndicated series from the late 1980s tries to establish that the evil that brought good ol’ Jason Voorhees to life could also be the lightning bolt that could start up multiple different tales of suffering and darkness – call it The Crystal Lake Twilight Zone. But – as should come as little surprise to most anyone who investigates it – Friday the 13th is little more than an appendix to an already unstable F13 franchise. If you bought Peter Bracke’s essential Crystal Lake Memories book about the history of all things Friday the 13th, you’ll no doubt want to add this disc to your collection. All others should let this one pass.
There’s a bit more fun to be had with Duckman, but its debut DVD set (encapsulating its first two seasons) falls into a similar category as F13: Only fans need apply. Jason Alexander’s voice talents as the flawed hero/failure title character are irrefutable, but something about these episodes seem painfully antiquated – as though they’re rooted in a decidedly Seinfeld-ian past and can’t escape. There is good news, though – the episodes look and sound fine and this set has a couple commentaries with Everett Peck and Alexander that are far more appealing and intriguing than the episodes they discuss.
One to really add to the archives, though, is this complete Sports Night collection. This Aaron Sorkin isn’t excellent across the board – it has rough patches – and it never quite amplifies to the rat-a-tat euphoria of his later series The West Wing, but what demands to be noticed here is that the show exudes intelligence. In the land of late-90s TV, when things were getting less Twin Peaks and more Survivor, Sports Night stood out like a giant sequoia in a wheat field. It may not have been the grandest show in the history of the medium, but because it strived to be more than just another sitcom, it deserves at least a little of our attention – even ten years later.
Wings: The Seventh Season (Paramount)
The Beverly Hillbillies: The Complete Second Season (Paramount)
Mission: Impossible: The Fifth TV Season (Paramount)
Martin: The Complete Fifth Season (HBO)
Reviewing the seventh season of any series that was just pretty good is kind of a waste of space – if you loved Wings and have all seasons of the show on your DVD shelf, it should be a no-brainer that this Wings: The Seventh Season DVD set is just for you. Audio and video quality are as standard as ever, and the plot lines on this season are the weakest yet – from the burning-house that waits for Joe (Tim Daly) and Helen (Crystal Bernard) upon return from their honeymoon at this season’s onset to the endearing yet way-too-late dance lesson with Antonio (Tony Shalhoub) toward this box set’s end, things here are so-so at best – but if you’re finishing up your collection, keep on going. Just remember to be on the lookout for a Wings: The Complete Series set sometime next year.
Even if you’ve never seen an episode, I’d bet that you know a little about The Beverly Hillbillies. This writer could recognize the theme song and knew there was a character named Jed before popping this DVD set, but that was pretty much it. Turns out, though, that this kind of minimal information is really all you need to know about The Beverly Hillbillies. Every episodes involve some backwoods gibberish, insanely over-the-top music cues and some screeching from Granny, and plot lines are just about as inane as you can imagine (I’ll give you three guesses as to what Granny Learns to Drive is about). Long story short: If you rent one disc of this edition and watch half of one episode, you’ll probably then know everything you need to know about The Beverly Hillbillies.
This isn’t the case with Mission: Impossible. This fifth season may not be as chock-full of adventure as seasons past, but as someone who has just recently entered the M:I universe, I must admit to absolutely devouring these episodes. They’re easy to watch, they follow a familiar (and well-oiled) rhetoric, and – more importantly – even when it’s dull, it’s fun. The same cannot be said for poor Martin, which stumbles to a series finale in its fifth season collection. Early in the series’ run, Martin Lawrence and Tisha Campbell were able to conjure up a wonderful chemistry – even when the show’s writing bogged them down, they were able to come up with something fun to showcase. Such is not the case here. After about four episodes, they hardly share the screen at all – behind-the-scenes drama…? – and the show absolutely dissipates as a result.
Two and a Half Men: The Complete Fourth Season (Paramount)
How I Met Your Mother: The Complete Third Season (Fox)
My Three Sons: Season One, Volume One (Paramount)
Dynasty: The Third Season, Volume Two (Paramount)
It could be argued that Two and a Half Men and How I Met Your Mother are the last true ‘sitcoms’ still drawing audiences on TV. With newbies like 30 Rock and The Office abandoning the laugh-track sensibility that influenced sitcoms for so many years, the old-fashioned nature of these two shows are nothing less than the last of the canned laughter last Mohicans. As far as quality goes, though, there’s a big discrepancy between the two. Two and a Half Men has charm, to be sure (hate Charlie Sheen as much as you want, but he is a big source of energy for this show), but if you’ve seen one episode, you’ve seen ‘em all. How I Met Your Mother is far more engaging, if only because this third season houses the show’s infamous Britney Spears episodes. Who knew that Brit would end up being a saving grace of sitcom television?
Speaking of old-fashioned television, you don’t really hit the nail on the head any harder than My Three Sons. This Fred MacMurray sitcom is pretty much classic-TV 101 – it may be difficult to enjoy the series from today’s point of view (it’s kind of a moldy oldie), but along with The Dick Van Dyke Show and I Love Lucy, My Three Sons was a major influence on the TV that followed it. You can trace a line right back to the character interactions and plot points here – call it the epicenter of classic comedy TV.
And then there’s Dynasty. Ah, Dynasty. I know it’s terrible; I know it’s clichéd; I know it’s a complete brain-emptier of a series. Can I resist it, though? Absolutely not. Whenever Joan Collins or Linda Evans take center stage, the wonder in watching the bitchy sparks fly is pure soap opera melodrama bliss. This writer is still cranky that Paramount insists upon splitting their season releases (into two volumes), but that’s the worst thing I can say about this Third Season Volume Two set. I ate it up. MORE! MORE!
An Autumn Afternoon (Criterion)
Les doulos (Criterion)
Yasujiro Ozu’s last film, An Autumn Afternoon, might be one of the more depressing movies the master ever made, but there’s no doubt that it’s one of the best. This saga of an aging veteran (Chishu Ryu) trying to figure out whether to marry his daughter off (leaving him all alone) or maintaining her as his keeper (sacrificing her potential for love and happiness) has all the elements of classic Ozu – booze, repressed emotion, a decidedly dangerous sense of familial responsibility – and it succeeds on all fronts.
Succeeding in a different vein is Les doulos, Jean-Pierre Melville’s epic suspense thriller. Criterion has released a handful of absolutely exceptional Melville titles over the last few years, and while this Jean-Paul Belmondo ass-kicker doesn’t have the piquant sheen of, say, Army of Shadows, it is nevertheless an exceptional film given a regal treatment on DVD. The select-scene commentary with Melville expert Ginette Vincendeau is a real asset to this disc, to boot: Chock-full of information but not overlong, it’s a fascinating appendix to a fascinating film.
Affairs of the Heart (Acorn Media)
The Agatha Christie Mystery Lover’s Collection (Acorn Media)
Acorn Media addresses both mystery lovers and just-plain-Anglophiles with these two recently-released titles of theirs, and the results are really quite something. Affairs of the Heart is a collection of British telefilms based on some of the author’s most lasting works – Washington Square, The Aspern Papers, The Wings of the Dove – and they engage simply because of their exceptional casts. Who can resist Diana Rigg or Hetty Wainthropp Investigates’ Patirica Routledge when they’re coupled with the pride-filled worlds of James’ narratives?
And don’t even get me started on this Agatha Christie Mystery Lover’s Collection. A good Agatha mystery can keep a mystery-lover occupied for quite some time – this writer has only recently begun reading the master’s work (I grew up with movies based on her novels, but never cracked a book of hers – I recommend it highly), and these five tales – The Secret Adversary, The Affair of the Pink Pearl, The Body in the Library, The Mysterious Affair at Styles and The Pale Horse – are all excellent tales, and they’re given marvelous treatment here. Francesca Annis stuns in The Secret Adversary, and David Suchet is a marvel in his performance as Christie mainstay Hercule Poirot in Styles. The long and the short of it is that if you have even a minor sweet tooth for solidly-constructed murder mysteries, this box set will definitely keep you occupied for hours and hours. Solid.