THIS WEEK IN DVD’S – Jan 22, 2009
These initial releases in Paramount’s Centennial Collection series have the kind of name recognition that make cinephiles drool with excitement, but as an avowed DVD-head, I found myself asking: Why? The transfer afforded the first DVD release of Sunset Boulevard was not fantastic, but why not a Blu-ray release or a big box set (especially with Billy Wilder’s own Sabrina being one of the releases here)? Well, the long and the short of it is that those of us out there who don’t already have these pictures on our shelves need to get them (they’re all classics, really), but while there are definitely goodies galore on each release, each one has been previously available in a different edition and the upgrade value of these new incarnations aren’t staggering.
Far more fascinating and illuminating is Paramount’s new release of The Boys in the Band. This hard-to-find controversial drama from William Friedkin (based on Mart Crowley’s play) definitely feels very 1970-ish – as prescient as the film may be, it’s almost defiantly land-locked culturally to its release date – and remains as punchy and mesmerizing as ever. Featuring grand, emotionally tiered performances and Friedkin’s fluid, enveloping cameras, The Boys in the Band is both time capsule piece and vital, modern commentary. It may be dated in many regards, but the film still seems alive and well. And the bonuses afforded this special edition release not only confirm but investigate the film’s place in gay culture in the 20th century. A truly fascinating watch.
Tropic Thunder was such a nice tonic this past summer with its bold, brazen comic sentiments that it pleases me to say this director’s cut of the film doesn’t seem that much bawdier than what was allowed in multiplexes – and I mean that as a compliment. Ben Stiller’s subversive, biting comedy was insane and just-barely R-rated to begin with (thankfully), and the film’s gonzo spirit lives on well on this DVD release. Most impressive: The commentary track. Not only does Robert Downey, Jr. appear on it (a coup in its own regard), but he appears in character. Stellar.
Speaking of stellar, Wall-E is the sort of movie that can make a believer out of those not hip to the high definition nerd revolution. Critically, I’m not as embracing of the film as my comrade film reviewers who found the film just short of being the second coming (I wouldn’t hesitate to call Wall-E a great movie, but I am unsure of any ‘classic’ status it may have), but this Blu-ray presentation of the movie is second-to-none. The 1080p transfer is reference-quality, the movie’s sensational sound mix uses all the bells and whistles available in a home theater setup to pitch-perfect ends, and there are more bonus features here than you could wave a futuristic stick at. Prepare to be wowed.
George Gently (Acorn Media)
The Commander: Set One (Acorn Media)
NewsRadio: The Complete Series (Sony)
MXC: Seasons Four and Five (Magnolia)
Hannah Montana: The Complete First Season (Buena Vista)
7th Heaven: The Seventh Season (Paramount)
Star Trek: The Third Season Remastered (Paramount)
Ah, TV mania – it’s probably the best part of your buddy Mike’s job. Because as any TV freak can tell you, it’s easy to fall victim to a movie’s charms, but that’s only an hour and a half of entertainment: When a TV show grabs hold of you, you’re glued to the tube for at least half a night every night until a season-long box set gets under your belt – and I got to do that a number of times over the holiday season.
NewsRadio has been available in its entirety for a while now, but on this Complete Series set, it’s nevertheless as good as ever. Yeah, the Lovitz episodes don’t have the knock-down glee of the halcyon Phil Hartman years, but they’re still better than most. For a reduced price (the entire series is available for less than $60 retail), this one’s a slam-dunk. A bit stickier is the new Seasons Four and Five DVD release of MXC. This writer will admit to laughing out loud during the first three or four episodes of this box set, but I also have to confess that while I love to watch idiots bite ass on ridiculous human mousetraps just as much as the next guy, MXC loses its charm pretty darned quickly. For a few fleeting moments, though, it’s fantastic – rent one of the discs from this season and revel in the delight of watching dumbasses fall down go boom.
And when it comes to TV for ‘the whole family’ (read: kids and parents who don’t mind kiddie stuff), give me 7th Heaven over Hannah Montana every day of the damned week. Miley Cyrus and daddy Billy Ray are adorable and goofy and all that, but after one episode of Hannah Montana: The Complete First Season, I was ready to cry ‘uncle’. 7th Heaven, though, totally shines in this seventh season box set. The dad (Stephen Collins) quits the priesthood, driven daughter Jessica Biel continues following her away-from-home dream of being a flight attendant: This kind of heavy-on-the-melodrama nighttime television had me from hello. Thank GOD season eight is coming out soon.
Then there are these new Star Trek season-by-season box sets. The concept of replacing original special effects on the series with newfangled CGI is intriguing in the fact that this revisionist perspective seems somehow aligned with Gene Roddenberry’s original tack with the show, but somehow the magic seems gone when I actually sit down and watch the things. Sure, this third season’s episodes aren’t as consistently engaging as those on seasons past (perhaps that has a lot to do with it), but even so, even with solid new bonus features and space-age packaging, give me the old school stuff. Kirk out.
The Streets of San Francisco: Season Two, Volume Two (Paramount)
Hawaii Five-O: The Fifth Season (Paramount)
The Odd Couple: The Final Season (Paramount)
Perry Mason: The Third Season, Volume One (Paramount)
Cannon: Season One, Volume Two (Paramount)
Jake and the Fatman: Season One, Volume Two (Paramount)
In the grand scheme of things, one could probably call The Streets of San Francisco the better show, but, alas, I left my heart in Honolulu: Give me Hawaii Five-O any day of the week. Karl Malden and Michael Douglas have their good cop/bad cop routine down pat in this season two volume of the show, but Jack Lord is so in command of looking mean as a junkyard dog that it’s hard to resist his ornery charms. Neither of these releases have anything in terms of real bonus features, which is a drag, but they look and sound fine (alas, we can’t hear “Book ‘em, Dano!” in Dolby Digital 5.1 quite yet).
And I’ll say this about The Odd Couple: It got better as it went along. Early episodes of the series played as being a bit flat and one-note to this newcomer to the show, but by the time Jack Klugman and Tony Randall got to this fifth season, their timing simply couldn’t be more fine-tuned and easily enjoyable. Even Perry Mason hits a stride with its new DVD release. One can’t help but be amazed by Raymond Burr’s neutron-bomb-blast of a performance – even in Mason’s more subdued moments, Burr has the ferocity of a freight train behind his eyes – but in this Third Season, Volume One set, the show’s writing and narrative prowess is more up to Burr’s level of quality. Not too shabby.
But poor William Conrad – not only does this second half of Cannon’s first season disappoint, but Jake and the Fatman just doesn’t fly. Conrad has the kind of sneer that would make Jack Lord proud, but neither of these shows give him the right kind of dramatic meat to appropriately chew on. I’ll give the edge to Cannon, I guess: At least in that show, his character has more to do than in the comparatively inert Jake and the Fatman. And come on, Paramount – not only does this season-split junk stink, but nothing more than episode promos as bonus features here? Throw us a bone!