DVD Reviews – June 13, 2009
When Peyton Place was first on the air, it was broadcast twice a week with no repeats (!), so it goes without saying that there’s a whole lotta Peyton Place for those who are interested. That being said, though, Peyton Place: Part One (, Shout! Factory) is way more valuable as a cultural curio than it is as contemporary entertainment. It’s wild to see Ryan O’Neal and Mia Farrow in such nascent points in their careers, and the addition of Dorothy Malone (Written on the Wind) is never a mistake, yet while once you’re knee-deep in this DVD box set, you’ll want to see how everything turns out (damn you, soap operas!), as standalone television, it’s just okay. And don’t forget that if you start Peyton Place and want to finish it, you’ll have about twenty more box sets to go through, so Shout! Factory had better get to work!
While their DVD releases aren’t really anything outrageous – neither has offered any notable bonuses or extensive audio/video sheen – the newest releases of Perry Mason and Cannon should no doubt appease their fan bases. Perry Masion: Season 4, Vol. 1 (, Paramount) doesn’t venture too far from the norm of its established style, and that fits the show just fine. Raymond Burr continues to really inhabit his role as Mason with gravitas and purpose, and while none of these episodes are classic standouts, there’s more than enough well-written crime drama here to go around. But between Perry and Cannon: Season 2, Vol. 2 (, Paramount), it’s all but inevitable for grumpiness to abound: This split-volume season release paradigm Paramount has is full-tilt horsecrap. I’m sure they’re just nervous that the audiences for these shows wouldn’t shell out $60 instead of $40 for a season-long box set, but this unnatural split does no justice to either show. Every TV series relies on cliffhangers to keep rejuvenating itself, and if that isn’t allowed to play out as planned, the end results suffer. I think most Perry Mason and Cannon fans would agree with me.
The bad news is that Everwood fans have been forced to wait for more than a year for the second season of the now-cancelled series to arrive on DVD. The good news is that Everwood: The Complete Second Season (, Warner) is almost as addictive and involving as 7th Heaven (another series that joins Everwood in getting a lot of syndication play on ABC Family). This Treat Williams drama doesn’t necessarily accomplish anything new and exciting, but this learning-to-live-again show is emotionally direct and intriguing from the get-go, and if you make it through the first disc of this set, you’ll eat the whole thing up in a jiffy.
Far more difficult to get through is The Jetsons: Season Two, Vol. 1 (, Warner). There’s a degree of appreciation that is easily attainable toward Hanna-Barbera’s style and popularity, yet while the first episodes of this set made me quite nostalgic for afternoon cartoons of my youth, by the time I popped the second disc into my player, I was ready to be done. On the other side of this spectrum, though, is True Blood: The Complete First Season (, HBO). I never thought I’d have the gumption to say anything nice about the screenwriter Alan Ball (responsible for the heresy that is American Beauty), but where this vampire drama should be dumb and dull, it is sexy and often downright weird. It’s not the kind of thing this writer could imagine watching a second time, but the first go-round ended up being legitimately more entertaining than I ever thought it would be.
Even Benjamin Bratt’s new series, The Cleaner, ended up trumping whatever predisposition I may have had against it. On the surface, The Cleaner: The First Season (, Paramount) seems like just another show about a down-and-out loser trying to repay his debt to humanity by helping others (it kinda looked like a drugged-out My Name is Earl to me), but between Bratt’s surprisingly multi-faceted performance and the prickly interdramatic tension in and among other characters on the show, The Cleaner ends up being a pretty damned successful series. It’s no Californication, but it ain’t too bad.
The three A&E titles that were sent our way this month ended up gobbling up a giant chunk of my time, simply because once you break the seal on any of them, you’re bound to spend hours upon hours clicking through the boxes’ volume of material. America at War (, A&E) is relatively thorough, to be sure, and even though quite a bit of it drags on in parts – it definitely doesn’t have the narrative scope of, say, a Ken Burns doc – it collects an astonishing collection of material together in an effortlessly engaging fashion. Military Combat (, A&E) is ever so slightly less appealing, simply because it errs on the side of containing CGI descriptions and illustrations rather than simply relying on stock footage. Don’t get me wrong – the three sets included on this megaset (Battle 360: The Complete Season One, Dogfights: The Complete Seasons One and Two, and Dogfights of the Future) are truly well-constructed affairs, but after sitting through America at War, it didn’t capture me with the same intensity.
The best of the bunch, though, is American Originals (, A&E), a compilation of five box sets (Ice Road Truckers: The Complete Season One, Ice Road Truckers: On and Off the Ice, Dangerous Missions, Ax Men: The Complete Season One, and Tougher in Alaska: The Complete Season One) that showcase some insane man vs. nature exhibitions. This writer has been a fan of Ax Men for a while, but the icy freeze of the other sets here are just as exciting: They mine entertainment in showing how their protagonists don’t survive in nature by defeating it, but by adapting to it. Totally mesmerizing (and often scary as Hell!).
New to DVD
Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road (, Paramount) is another humdrum Oscar-bait sob fest that wastes the talents of both Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, but it does have one standout: Michael Shannon. This actor’s Oscar-nominated performance as a man driven insane by the world around him is a tour-de-force of earnest and deserved invention. He nearly saves the movie from its own leaden pretense.
Entertainment Today didn’t get its name drawn when it came time to request copies of the new edition of Woodstock on Blu-ray (it looks AMAZING), but we still got a 2-DVD edition of the movie to review, and it’s pretty groovy. Woodstock (, Warner) as a movie is a wonderful time-capsule of an entity – not all the performances are as legendary as the venue in which they take place, but the revolving door of musicians playing rock and folk in their prime nevertheless makes for a diverting film-watching experience. The reason we’re only giving this edition two and a half stars is that we can just smell that the special edition DVD (not to mention the Blu-ray Disc set) is the real deal. This one’s for those who want to rent the movie to see what it’s all about. Any true Woodstock fan better dig into those Baby Boomer pockets and opt for the grander edition.
The disappointment of the week is The Jack Lemmon Collection (, Sony). Don’t get me wrong – Jack Lemmon is one of the more indelible actors in the history of cinema – but this set of films (Phffft!, Operation Mad Ball, The Notorious Landlady, Under the Yum Yum Tree, and Good Neighbor Sam) is devoid of any movie that could be deemed a ‘classic’. Lemmon shines in all five pictures, to be sure, so the fact that they’ve been liberated from the vaults at all is worth at least a mild round of applause, but this set constitutes little more than a speed bump for an actor whose oeuvre continues to shine.
Blu-ray Upgrade Decisions
Star Trek: The Original Motion Picture Collection (, Paramount)
Pros: Last time we moaned and bitched about how Star Trek: The Motion Picture Trilogy presented Star Treks II-IV with clarity, but left the rest of the good stuff out of the loop. Turns out Paramount sent us one of these Original Motion Picture Collection box sets, as well, and it does everything that other edition did not. These films look glorious, their Dolby TrueHD 7.1 sound mix absolutely explode, and there is so much bonus footage that it might even stir a Klingon to shed a tear.
Cons: Well, this writer has been defending Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek V for years, so if those movies still bore the snot out of you, there’s little I can do to persuade you otherwise. But for anyone with any kind of penchant for these first six Trek flicks, there’s little to deter you from ordering them directly.
The Verdict: Any self-respecting Trekker will eat this collection up. The box set is sleek and well-packaged, and the audio/video quality is a significant step up from those DVD editions you already have on your shelf. Set your phasers to stun and head to the store, earthlings…