DVD REVIEW – Aug 2, 2008

THIS WEEK IN DVD’S – Aug 2, 2008


Soul Food: The Final Season (Paramount)
Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Fourth Season (Fox)


You know what? Soul Food ain’t all that bad. It took this writer a while to warm up to the series – its first two DVD releases were short on uniqueness in the story and character departments – but this swan song of the show really clicks. Performances are solid across the board, and even though Soul Food resorts to blanket, on-the-nose point-making every once in a while (what show doesn’t?), this family-centered melodrama is nevertheless an easy one to marathon. Features are lacking on this set, though – just enjoy the show itself.

Yet while Soul Food was surprisingly appealing to your buddy Mike, even as a die-hard sci-fi-on-TV junkie, I must admit to still not quite getting Stargate: Atlantis. Like Star Trek: The Next Generation only without the rock-solid character interaction and sense of galactic mystery, the show really tries to get into ST territory with its cerebral themes and macho action scenes, but it never really gels. That being said, this DVD edition offers fantastic transfers, mixes and supplemental features – if you’re a Stargate: Atlantis-head, you’ll definitely be able to waste a few nights figuring out the nuts and bolts of the show.


Wargames (MGM)
The Tyrone Power Matinee Idol Collection (Fox)


WarGames, this one’s a keeper. Your buddy Mike was worried that this Matthew Broderick gamer-saves-America cold-war thriller from the 80s wasn’t going to hold up very well (I’m mortified to watch Cloak and Dagger with Henry Thomas for that reason), but even though the Joshua-computer interplay is painfully outdated, WarGames remains a perfect movie to watch on a lazy Saturday. There’s enough international intrigue to keep your interest levels up, but it’s user-friendly in that you can nap through half of it and still catch its bullet-points.

The Tyrone Power Matinee Idol Collection, though, is for Power fan-club members only. The star has charisma and dramatic heft to spare, that’s for certain, but the films included on this set – Café Metropole, Girls Dormitory, Johnny Apollo, Daytime Wife, Luck of the Irish, I’ll Never Forget You, That Wonderful Urge, Love is News, This Above All and Second Honeymoon – are nothing special. And seriously – Girls Dormitory should have been AWESOME – am I right?


The Hills: The Complete Third Season (Paramount)
Baldwin Hills: The First Season (Paramount)
Beverly Hills 90210: The Fifth Season (Paramount)


When the fifth installment of Beverly Hills 90210 blows you out of the water, you know you’re in trouble.

First of all, The Hills is just about as dumb as you can get. I’ll admit to speeding through episodes of Laguna Beach with my cousin when those DVDs first came out – I can’t deny their sugar-sweet appeal – but The Hills is a dog that just won’t hunt even at its cattiest. Like any gossip circle, if you stick around long enough, you’re bound to get caught up in the ins and outs of things, but these chicas can blah blah blah without me, thank you very much. And Baldwin Hills isn’t all that much better. It’s still the same song and dance with spoiled rich kids making out with folks they ain’t supposed to be making out with and ruining all the expensive things their trust funds provide for them. Booo-ring.

That being said, Beverly Hills 90210’s latest DVD release doesn’t exactly provide a shoulder to cry on. I miss Shannen Doherty a whole lot – without Brenda, the show is far less bitchy (and less fun) – and even when the show really gets a good soap-opera thing going, it never really catches fire. But hey: It’s a helluva lot better than The Hills – I’ll tell you that much.


Incredible Britain (Acorn Media)
TV Funhouse (Paramount)
Reno 911: The Complete Fifth Season (Fox)
Transformers: Cybertron: The Ultimate Collection (Hasbro)


Incredible Britain is irresistible: A trip with Robbie Coltrane from London to Glasgow? Sign me up! The show may be simple and relatively straight-forward, but for those of us who have yet to visit that lovely country across the pond, this travelogue is eclectic, funny, irreverent and gorgeously-filmed. And Coltrane – Hell, any excuse to see Hagrid is a good one.

TV Funhouse has moments of sheer brilliance – The Baby, The Immigrant and the Guy on Mushrooms is hilarious even in critical synopsis – but as with all zany comedy shows, sometimes it hits and sometimes it don’t. Even Reno 911’s fifth season underwhelms – while there’s definitely at least one solid, robust chuckle in each of the episodes on this box set, it doesn’t totally connect like it once did.

And Transformers:Cybertrton? I have no idea what’s going on with this one. I loved playing with my toys when I was a kid – truth be told, I was more of a Gobots guy, but I don’t see Michael Bay picking up that franchise any time soon – but this animated saga of Autobots, Decepticons and a whole bunch of metallic weirdos in between left your buddy Mike shrugging.


21: Blu-ray (Sony)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: Blu-ray (Warner)


21 is a sorta-kinda movie – for every great moment it has in telling the story of Kevin Spacey and his band of MIT blackjack card-counting task force, it gets mired in unbelievable romance and ho-hum antics from an overly controlling Laurence Fishburne. But if you’re gonna do the movie, do it right – 21 on Blu-ray looks positively STUNNING. Color accuracy is spot-on and fine detail quality is nothing short of right-on.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest remains one of the best films of the 1970s, to be sure, but this Blu-ray presentation, while crisp and clear, doesn’t exactly wow. It definitely looks great – maybe as great as it can without being threaded through a projector – but this isn’t an instant-upgrade. If you don’t have it, buy it Blu-ray. If you already have it on your shelf, rent before you pick this one up.


High and Low (Criterion)


The real reason to celebrate this week is Criterion’s re-do of Akira Kurosawa’s epic thriller High and Low. It’s easy to dismiss the filmmaker’s non-samurai pictures, but…no, don’t do that. High and Low stars slow – every Kurosawa picture does – but as soon as the hour-mark passes by, you’re absolutely engulfed in the film. Toshiro Mifune is in full-tilt star mode, the music is amazing, the suspense is jitteringly intense (even on repeat viewings) – it is a masterwork. And in addition to giving the film the anamorphic widescreen treatment it deserves, we get a second disc of goodies (as well as the commentary track that was on Criterion’s first DVD release of the film) that illuminate the experience. I can’t recommend it highly enough.