THIS WEEK IN DVD’S – Feb 7, 2009
Days of Thunder BD (Paramount)
Event Horizon BD (Paramount)
Ghost BD (Paramount)
Last Holiday (Paramount)
The Truman Show BD (Paramount)
This round of catalog Blu-ray Disc releases from Paramount are fairly disappointing, and not just because this writer doesn’t necessarily think any of them are decidedly grand films. In fact, I have no problem saying that the worst flicks in this bunch (the odious and so-dumb-it-hurts Event Horizon and the sweet but misguided Last Holiday) looks and sounds the best. Sure, I like Days of Thunder as much as any Top Gun fan does, but the video and audio presence of the film on high-definition is nowhere near as impressive as fans might hope for. Ghost and The Truman Show look fine on their Blu-ray debuts, but again, it’s not an eye-popping upgrade, and in the land of DVD vs. Blu-ray, if it ain’t a distinct difference between the two, why bother going fancy?
Beverly Hills 90210: The Sixth Season (Paramount)
Bones: The Third Season (Fox)
Nip/Tuck: The Complete Fifth Season (Warner)
Swingtown: The Complete First Season (Paramount)
The Tudors: The Complete Second Season (Paramount)
My sister has discovered a newfound infatuation with Beverly Hills 90210 – she found some website that has almost every episode available to watch online, and she has found herself voraciously devouring as much 90210 as possible as often as she can. I don’t have the heart to tell her, though, that for chumps like me who weren’t part of the Luke Perry/Shannen Doherty revolution in the early 1990s, Beverly Hills 90210 plays like a painfully overwrought soap opera, only with sillier haircuts and Who’s the Boss? outfits. Yes, this season has an exceptionally silly drug subplot, in which poor Kelly (Jennie Garth) finds herself addicted to nose candy, but aside from the camp value of these Valley of the Dolls moments, this one is for hardcore Dylan McKay fans only.
Far more intriguing are some newer series that have had recent TV-on-DVD releases. Nip/Tuck is the kind of series that gets old for this writer after an episode or two, but for a while in this fifth season, there is some really interesting stuff going on. And it is worth mentioning that Warner continues to present the show excellently on DVD (video and audio transfers here are both top-notch). Also looking and sounding great is the third season of Bones from Fox. It’s a drag that this box set houses so few episodes (this was the season of the series that was affected by the 2007/2008 writer’s strike), but the chemistry between David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel is addictive and even if the show lacks a must-watch tractor beam, for contemporary crime dramas, this one’s right up there.
These last two sexy series don’t fare quite as well. The Tudors gets a fittingly majestic treatment on DVD (one can only imagine what this second season would look like on Blu-ray), but aside from a handful of buttcheeks and boobies, this Jonathan Rhys-Myers series continues to proceed full on idle. I get the impression that it aims to eroticize what from most modern historical points of view is a bland-o period in English history, but aside from some cheap thrills and lush set design, the show is merely full of hot air. And Swingtown lost me from the get-go. How the show’s creators were able to make a show about swinging boudoir lifestyles is beyond me – in an attempt to be as Ice Storm as Boogie Nights, Swingtown, in essence, is simply dull. There are some good performances to mention and the show’s visual identity is rock-solid (it looks fantastic), but there’s a reason Swingtown isn’t catching on like wildfire: It just ain’t that good.
The Duchess (Fox)
Eagle Eye (Paramount)
Ghost Town (Paramount)
Keira Knightley has definitely proven herself to be a standout actress – the world didn’t need another Pride and Prejudice movie, but I’ll be damned if her version wasn’t excellent – but she can still pick uninteresting parts to play, and while The Duchess looks scintillating on DVD, aside from opulent backgrounds and beautiful costumes, the film’s story is all but completely DOA. Such is the case with the brain-dead Shia LeBeouf thriller Eagle Eye – if you whinny with glee every time dreamboat Shia comes on screen, you’ll be able to make it through this contrived actioner without groaning out loud, but for anyone with even a marginal eye toward detail (or in Eagle Eye’s case, sheer logic), this one is a turkey among turkeys.
It was nice to follow the disastrous Eagle Eye with Lars von Trier’s cerebral Europa (originally titled Zentropa during its first U.S. release). The film doesn’t hold up exceptionally well – it’s more admirable in scope and construction than it is exciting to behold – but Criterion has remastered the film with a lovely visual presence and has offered it a nice array of bonus features that do what every film wishes a DVD would do: It makes the film seem better. This doesn’t apply to Ghost Town, unfortunately – while the teaming of Ricky Gervais and Greg Kinnear works fluidly on paper, this high-concept comedy about a guy (Gervais) who starts to see ghosts after dying during surgery for a few minutes is heavy on contrivances and light on simple humor. This writer found himself trying to like the film, but as whole (even with a killer performance from Tea Leoni), this David Koepp labor of love falls flat.
Get Smart: The Complete Series (HBO)
Deadwood: The Complete Series (HBO)
There’s a charm to Complete Series releases, and these two late-holiday HBO sets have presentations on DVD that far outweigh any inconsistencies that their shows may contain. Get Smart, for example, is never a dull affair, but on the other hand, it’s not exactly Shakespeare, either. These manic, adorably dated episodes are sweet and chuckle-inducing, but while Don Adams’ performance as the bumbling Maxwell Smart is spot-on, there’s nothing here of exceptional note. Fans will adore the special-edition treatment afforded the show (the physical box set here is one of the best-looking titles released last year), but I doubt Get Smart will find many new devotees.
Deadwood, on the other hand, comes out of the gate as an exceptional achievement, a show that absolutely kicks ass from the get-go. These foul-mouthed old west curmudgeons concocted by creator David Milch are completely formed and unpredictable, which makes the act of watching the show’s first two seasons a total blast. The trouble is that the show’s final go-round is a damned let-down. This Complete Series set may have everything Deadwood-related that you might desire (it looks and sounds brilliant), but however you try to analyze it, it’s hard to get around the show’s final moments. It doesn’t ruin everything, but boy oh boy does one think of what might have been…
The Great Work (Lon Milo Duquette Productions)
While titles like The Secret and What the Bleep Do We Know? seem to be encountering a notable popularity in modern public culture, they don’t probe their issues and ideas as profoundly and exhaustively as The Great Work: Initiation into the Mysteries. This 5-DVD set featuring noted philosophers, wisdom teachers and scholars as they discuss the intricacies of wisdom both in theory and its translation into personal development.
This writer is not exactly the prime demographic for a series like this – while I’m enamored, intrigued and mystified by mankind’s grand questions, I’ve always found things like The Secret to be almost patronizing in their self-help presentation – but the ace in the hold in The Great Work is that while a viewer can definitely soak it all in as a potential-realizing seminar of sorts, even hard nuts to crack like myself have no choice but to respond to the ideas presented here.
I’ve been a fan of Pamela Jaye Smith for years, and her ability to fuse recognizable aspects of ancient mythology with a profoundly modern sensibility are as strong as they’ve ever been on this set, and other contributors to The Great Work – among them John Michael Greer, Georgia Lambert, and John Anthony West – also discuss their various themes and concepts with an open-minded savvy that is both inspiring and multi-faceted.
It’s not the kind of thing that will engage everyone, but for viewers with even a marginal intrigue in mankind’s inner connections with the mysteries of the ancient (and not-so-ancient ) world, The Great Work offers an almost irresistible discussion of elusive ideas both old and new.
Gunsmoke: The Third Season, Volume One (Paramount)
Rawhide: The Third Season, Volume Two (Paramount)
Happy Days: The Fourth Season (Paramount)
My Three Sons: Season One, Volume Two (Paramount)
Matlock: The Second Season (Paramount)
Walker, Texas Ranger: The Sixth Season (Paramount)
I don’t know why I find myself drawn to old-school television with such fervency. Don’t get me wrong, modern TV is a major part of my cinephilic life, but when older titles such as these come my way, I find myself watching them with a curious, fascinated eye. Gunsmoke and Rawhide are intriguing to me simply because your pal Mike is of the mind that there aren’t enough westerns on television these days. Yeah, they’re not exactly air-tight affairs – I’ll watch Clint Eastwood do anything, but that being said, Rawhide may be more fun than it is good – but I find a singular solace in hitting the range with these oaters (now, if only Paramount would rescind its season-splitting policy for these old shows!).
Happy Days: The Fourth Season was less impressive to me. I did love the addition of Pinky Tuscadero to the mix – any woman attractive enough to snare the heart of The Fonz is worth paying attention to, no? – but by this fourth go-round, the show had resorted to very pedestrian storytelling models. Yes, yes, that could be argued to be the case with Rawhide and Gunsmoke, as well, but in those instances, I found the repetitive narrative style to be charming and endearing, where in Happy Days’ case, it simply didn’t fly with me. My Three Sons also doesn’t hold up on DVD. I remember watching Nickelodeon reruns of the show as a kid, but my recollections of it are foggy. Even though Fred MacMurray makes a grand father figure here, though, Paramount has decided to do something with this release that pisses off fans. Not only have they split the show’s inaugural season in half (which is a drag), but the music from the show’s original broadcast has been changed, and the results are awful. Again, I don’t remember exactly how the show originally sounded, but there’s a cheesiness to the soundtrack on this DVD set that is simply bad. Fans, consider yourself warned.
Where Happy Days and My Three Sons disappoint, though, Matlock and Walker, Texas Ranger deliver. Matlock is a by-the-book affair in all ways, shapes and forms, but Andy Griffith’s presence as the grumpy yet somehow completely altruistic eponymous southern lawyer is a force to be reckoned with. Is it wildly exciting? No. But I watched every minute of it with sleepy, invested pleasure. Walker, Texas Ranger is a hoot, too. Chuck Norris is the Steven Seagal of TV heroes, and with that iconic triangulation in mind, his show works like gangbusters. Some of the episodes here are beyond silly – I bet you didn’t see the genetic engineering storyline coming! – but I guarantee at least a hint of campy glee with this sixth season release. Chuck wouldn’t have it any other way.