Once again TV shows dominate this week’s home entertainment releases with lots of quirky genre offerings that are sure to please fans of a number of different genres. Other releases of note include Safe
, a solid, martial arts filled action film, the Blu-ray debut of one of Buster Keaton’s best films, and a thriller-on-a-train written by the same scribe who penned The Lady Vanishes
TV on DVD
This really is the season for "TV" releases as the networks gear up for the fall debuts of new shows. Once again this week there is plenty to interest the geek viewers including the spacey, conspiracy-tinged Fringe: The Complete Fourth Season (Warner Bros., 800 min., $59.97, BD $69.97), which contains all 22 episodes of the cult-hit series co-created by J.J. Abrams. (Lost, Star Trek).
Equally quirky, but with detective stories instead of science fiction sagas, is Bored to Death: The Complete Third Season
(HBO, 246 min., $39.99, BD $49.99). This bizarre comedy mystery series, which was created by Jonathan Ames, stars Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis, and Ted Danson. Schwartzman is a refugee from the Wes Anderson universe, and his bumbling private eye reflects a definite Anderson influence, but Zach Galifianakis’ comic book artist may be of even more interest to geek viewers. This series may not be for everybody, but stick with, it does tend to grow on you--and get the Blu-ray--the Brooklyn settings are definitely worth it.
Also of major interest is Haven, the supernatural SyFy series that is based on Stephen King’s novel The Colorado Kid. Haven: The Complete Second Season (eOne, 572 min, $39.98, BD $49.98) includes all 13 episodes from Season 2 (Season 3 kicks off on September 21st).
How to Make It In America
is a fascinating HBO series about two young hustlers determined to make it on the cutting edge fringes of the high pressure fashion world in New York City. How to Make It In America: Season 2
(HBO, 260 min., $39.99, BD $49.99) finds Ben and Cam back in the Big Apple after a trip to Japan. Their line of "Crisp" sportswear is still mostly t-shirts and hoodies, but they are determined to get their wares noticed. There is a real nice gritty vibe to this cable series, which contains plenty of drug references and, as is typical for cable, lots more sex than Network TV.
Among the other popular series coming out this week are The Office: Season 8 (Universal, $49.98, BD $59.98), the penultimate season of the American version of the English sitcom, the DVD debut of the popular sitcom, 2 Broke Girls: The Complete First Season (Warner Bros. $49.98, BD $54.97), The Good Wife: The 3rd Season (Paramount, $64.97), Criminal Minds: The Seventh Season (Paramount, $64.99), Grey’s Anatomy: The Complete 8th Season (Disney, $45.99), the innovative sitcom Parks and Recreation (Universal, $39.98), and the innovative action drama Person of Interest: The Complete 1st Season (Warner Bros. $59.97, BD $69.97), in which the inventor of spy software for the government hires an operative to interfere with crimes discovered by the system that don’t involve terrorism and are therefore off limits to government agencies.
Cable does have a major advantage over Network TV in the way it can deal with what Preston Sturges used to call "Topic A," or what is commonly referred to now as "sex." Nowhere is that more obvious than in HBO’S Hung,
which is a sort of high-concept spin-off of Breaking Bad
, a series that humanized a high school chemistry teacher who manufactured methamphetamines by showing how his impending mortality and need to provide for his family led him to parlay his knowledge of chemistry into wealth via a deal with the devil. In Hung,
Thomas Jane (The Punisher
) plays, Ray Drecker, a downsized high school teacher who has to make ends meet as a male prostitute. Hung: The Complete 3rd Season
(HBO, 315 min., $39.98, BD $49.99) features plenty of "Topic A" as Ray and his business "associate," Tanya open a "Wellness Center for Women" that the orgasm-touting psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich would certainly approve of, and Ray gets busy on a regularly scheduled basis. Hung’s
Ray Drecker may up in this third and final seaon as a tragic a figure in his own way as fellow school teacher Walter White from Breaking Bad
, but Hung
manages to squeeze in a lot more humor (and admittedly quiet a bit less drama) than Breaking Bad
along with a whole lot more of "Topic A." The gritty Detroit settings certainly help establish an air of authenticity to well-photographed and mounted Hung,
and the backgrounds are much sharper and more detailed in the Blu-ray version.
There are no big animated releases this week, but there is a show that is closely-related to animation, Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation: Vol. 1
(Shout Factory, 240 min., $19.93), which collects the first half of a short-lived live-action TV series produced by Saban that aired on Fox Kids from 1997-1998. This series loosely follows the continuity of the live-action TMNT
movies (the guys live in the same abandoned train station used in the 2nd and 3rd movies). As might be expected there are plenty of departures from the standard TMNT
continuity, but perhaps the biggest is the addition of a female mutant ninja turtle named Venus de Milo. The bottom line is that this is a set for TMNT
completists, but not necessarily one for every Turtles
There are a number of single-disc animated releases including the Alvin & the Chipmunks: Halloween Collection (Bagdassarian, 77 min., $14.99), the Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids: Hey, Hey, Hey Holiday Collection (Classic Media, 68 min. $7.77), and the best of this lot, the Halloween-themed Tom & Jerry: Tricks & Treats (Warner Bros., $19.97), which includes 22 classic shorts.
Vintage TV series due this week include Thriller: Fan Favorites (Image, 500 min., $19.98), a highly-recommended two-disc set, which includes ten classic episodes from the great horror anthology series hosted by Boris Karloff, plus Roseanne: Season 5 (Mill Creek, 621 min., $14.98), Roseanne: Season 6 (Mill Creek, 615 min., $14.98), That 70’s Show: Season 5 (Mill Creek, 550 min., $14.98), and That 70’s Show: Season 6 (Mill Creek, 550 min., $14.98).
This week’s anime releases include Psychic Squad: Collection 3 (Sentai Filmworks, "14+," 325 min., $49.95), which collects 13 of the 51-episode anime series from Synergy SP that began airing in Japan in 2008, and was based on the action-packed harem comedy shonen manga series by Takashi Shiina.
Even more interesting is Intrigue in the Bakumatsu: Irohanihoheto Collection 1
(Sentai Filmworks, "14+," 325 min., $59.98), a classy historical martial arts epic set in the final years of the Bakumatsu era when the Shogunate was in its twilight years. This set includes the first half of the Ryosucke Takahashi-directed 26-episode anime series that was produced by anime powerhouse Sunrise and aired in Japan in 2006 and 2007.
The subtle yuri anime series from Studio Deen based on Oyuki Konno’s light novel series Maria Watches Over Us is out in a new edition from Right Stuf. Maria Watches Over Us: Season 1 (Right Stuf, "13+," 325 min., $39.99) collects the 13 episodes of the first season that aired in Japan in 2004.
Also due this week is Pokemon Diamond and Pearl: Sinnoh League Victors Set 3 (Viz Media, "All Ages," 300 min., $19.97), which includes episodes 23-34 of the Diamond and Pearl: Sinnoh League Victors series.
There’s not a lot of interesting films out this week but action movie fans may well want to check out Safe (Lionsgate, "R," $29.95, BD $39.99), a modern take on the old "“boxer refuses to take a dive, and then has to fight the mob" storyline, though this time streamlined action star Jason Statham plays a mixed-martial artist and it’s the Russian mob that he crosses. Then in a perfect example of the contemporary cinema’s penchant for multiple parallel plots, Statham earns the enmity of the Chinese Triads when he wrests a 10-year-old math whiz from their control.
Director Nicholas (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) Stoller’s The Five-Year Engagement (Universal, "R," $29.98, BD $34.98) begins where most romantic comedies end. Although this film (at 124 minutes) drags a bit, strong performances from Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Emily Blunt make it one of the better romcoms of 2012 so far. Critics, who gave the film a 63% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, liked the film more than audiences, who failed to make the movie a hit (it earned just $28.6 million at the box office).
Horror film fans will be disappointed by Piranha 3DD (Weinstein, "R," $24.99, BD $29.99), a hapless sequel to 2010’s Piranha 3D that earned a pitiful 14% positive rating from the critics on Rotten Tomatoes. While the film’s plot involving a school of piranha loose in a water park should warm the hearts of all those who are forced to attend these aquatic torture chambers, the execution is so lame that even a surfeit of "R" rated nudity can’t save this turkey.
Classics on Blu-ray
Buster Keaton’s The Navigator
(Kino, Not Rated, BD $34.95) may not be his best film, but it is one of his best and a supreme example of brilliant and sustained gag comedy as Buster and his would-be (if he had his way) girlfriend are marooned on a drifting ocean liner. Keaton obviously relished the comedic possibilities of the ocean liner (an actual ship that was going to be scrapped that Keaton purchased for the film). Like Kino’s other Keaton Blu-ray releases, the picture quality on The Navigator
is first-rate, and Robert Israel’s score is appropriate. The disc even comes with some cool extras, a relative rarity for silent movie BD reissues.
Classics on DVD
Little known in the U.S., Rome Express
(VCI, Not Rated, $14.95) is a 1933 British film directed by Walter Forde and written by Sidney Gilliat. Rome Express
was heavily influenced by Josef von Sternberg’s 1932 film Shanghai Express
(compare the opening sequences of both films) and features former von Sternberg heroine Esther Ralston who starred in Sternberg’s The Case of Lena Smith
in 1929). Note how Ralston portrays a glamorous Dietrich-like Hollywood star in the film, which also features an excellent performance from Conrad Veidt (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Casablanca
). Director Forde does a great job of simulating train travel--the on board train scenes are much more realistic than those in Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes
that was shot three years later. Speaking of The Lady Vanishes
, screenwriter Sidney Gilliat wrote that film too, along with another great train movie, Night Train to Munich
, and both of those films show the influence of Rome Express
. While neither the comedy nor the drama in Rome Express
can quite match similar elements in The Lady Vanishes
and Night Train to Munich
, Rome Express
is a movie that those who enjoy train pictures will definitely want to have in their collections, especially in this well-restored version from VCI that looks great even on the biggest TV screen.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of the editorial staff of ICv2.