DVD Reviews – May 15, 2009
There’s a pedigree to The Paper Chase that sets it apart from typical TV dramas of its age, but in the land of boob tubes, savvy intelligence only gets you so far: The Paper Chase: Season One (, Shout! Factory) is one of those DVD box sets that is as noble as it is stuffy, as admirable as it is compromised. The tentpole of the series is John Houseman, who brings his background as a founding member of the Mercury Theatre to his performance as a curmudgeonly college professor with a heart of gold, but even his scenery-chewing grandness isn’t enough to elevate the show from its mundane dramatic trappings. As discerning TV lovers know: Just because you put a heavy accent in a cheesy scene doesn’t mean you eliminate the cheese.
And speaking of cheese, Malcolm & Eddie: Season One (, Shout! Factory) is about as outlandish as it gets. Sure, it’s fascinating to watch Malcolm Jamal-Warner riff off his Theo Huxtable iconism, and to see Eddie Griffin at this early stage in his career is a fascinating exercise, but it would take the most devout and forgiving fan to make it through this first season box set without rolling one’s eyes. Luckily, Malcolm & Eddie knows its audience, and its selection of guest stars is second-to-none. Richard Pryor, Vanessa Williams, Ed McMahon, Tom Arnold: Say what you will about the cringe-worthy value of the show’s comedic aims, but with a guest roster like this, you could do worse.
Now onto more melodramatic worlds…
The concept of keeping up with Knots Landing on DVD sounds daunting – the show ran for fourteen seasons (!) between 1979 and 1994 – but even though it’s just a tile in the overall mosaic, there is a histrionic glee to Knots Landing: The Complete Second Season (, Warner) that cannot be ignored. This sophomore season starts with an insane hitchhiking episode and doesn’t slow down from there. We get drunken tirades and loud, public screaming matches, and even a robbery during a baby shower. KL may not have the pervasive addicive nature of Dynasty, but I’ll tell you what: I made it through about two of these episodes before I went from watching one a night to watching four a night. And the season-ending cliffhanger is a doozy. Where’s Season Three?
And then there’s Rhoda, the Valerie Harper Mary Tyler Moore spin-off that is both lovable and thin. If there’s anything that this Rhoda: Season One (, Shout! Factory) set proves, it’s that Harper’s charisma and charm is as irrefutable as the inanity of many of the show’s storylines. But Rhoda set a trend for many TV sitcoms of the 80s and 90s: It rarely matters if the show is well-written or not – all you need is a protagonist with some sass (check!), a handful of cheeky supporting cast members (Julie Kavner and Harold Gould as Rhoda’s sister and father, respectively – check!) and a few goofy plot points (check!). It may not be rocket science, but even though it’s often as good as it is bad, Rhoda casts a nostalgic, kitschy spell that is unavoidable.
Yes, Mickey Rourke is extraordinary as the title character in The Wrestler (, Fox), but what went sinfully overlooked (even with her Oscar nom) is Marisa Tomei’s presence in the award-winning film. As an aging stripper desperate to shed the shackles of her compromised life but scared of risking too much, Tomei infuses her part with equal parts nuance and bold daring. This Blu-ray Disc presentation of the film ain’t bad – it’s a step up from the film’s presence on DVD – but Darren Arnofsky’s picture is shot and edited to purposely look dated and old, so this isn’t exactly the kind of disc you play to impress your neighbors (though Marisa’s nude scenes in high-def aren’t too shabby). There are a handful of bonuses, too, that help shape the world of the picture, and the BD’s DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio sound mix is excellent.
New to DVD
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (, Warner/Criterion) is a movie that, like its protagonist, will have trouble aging. Upon first glance, this tale of an elderly infant (Brad Pitt) aging into a newborn octaginarian is a whimsical take on maturation and familial responsibility in the modern world, but once viewers look any deeper than that, flaws start flying out of the woodwork. But the film is lucky enough to have been offered the Criterion treatment, so there is gorgeous audio and video quality to mention, as well as a wonderful collection of bonus material that legitimizes the film as at least a major technical achievement, if not a distinctly successful aesthetic one.
Blu-ray Upgrade Decisions
Sin City (, Buena Vista)
Pros: This is definitely one of the more impressive Blu-ray Disc titles this reviewer has seen in many moons. Presented with a laser-sharp video quality and a DTS-HD sound mix that will leave your head rattling in its aftermath, Sin City on BD is a wonder to behold. Add to that the copious amounts of bonuses, goodies and other etceterae, and you have a collection that would be a must-have…
Cons: …if only the movie were a little bit better. Upon first viewing, Sin City is a wild tapestry of tits, blood and violence, but while its distinct look still sets it apart, I’d be lying if I said I thought the film was as good the second time around as it was the first.
The Verdict: If you’re a fan of the film, you really can’t go wrong here. Naysayers may nitpick, but the fact remains that this is the kind of BD title that makes the format seem alluring and, in many ways, essential.
Star Trek: Motion Picture Trilogy (, Paramount)
Pros: From an outsider’s standpoint, Star Treks II-IV are the original cast’s grandest moments. Whether it’s dealing with Khan (Ricardo Montalban) or saving whales from extinction, these three films are wonderfully beloved, both within and from outside the Trek fan universe. And boy do these Blu-ray transfers look and sound wonderful: With 1080p clarity and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 sound mixes, it’s unlikely that these movies could be more impressive on a home theatre.
Cons: Please. A trilogy? No. Yeah, this set may appeal to those who only care about the most user-friendly moments in the Star Trek universe, but anyone with more than a passing interest in these pictures will prefer the full six-film set (also available on 12 May)
The Verdict: These are stunning, to be sure, but go with the full set.