This week brings us spiffy Blu-ray editions of action movie classics, the Mad Max Trilogy and Enter the Dragon, plus the first release of two very different (and yet fascinating) politically-themed TV series, plus more vintage Doctor Who, and a full slate of anime releases including a series about a teenage boy who is addicted to the drool of a teenage girl who transfers to his high school.
Classics on Blu-ray
The advent of Father’s Day typically means that the studios have taken a long look in their vaults to see what goodies they can bring out that might please papa, and this year they came up with a bumper crop led by the Mad Max Trilogy (Warner Bros. “R,” BD $49.99). While the first two films in the set have previously been released on Blu-ray, Beyond Thunderdome makes its Blu-ray debut here. Those who have already purchased the first two films on Blu-ray, may want to purchase Beyond Thunderdome by itself, but for everyone else this set is an excellent value. While the visual quality of these 30-year-old films is not the equal of today’s movies shot in high def, these BD versions mark a real improvement in both picture quality and sound over the previously released DVD versions.
As for the films themselves, with the current vogue for post-apocalyptic dystopian science fiction, it is good to go back to one of the genre’s original sources. Inspired by the effects of the first oil embargos, the Mad Max films still have the ability to hold our interest. In fact viewing these films makes most of today’s post-apocalyptic films look hopelessly derivative. The original Mad Max film marked the debut of director George Miller and was the first Australian film ever shot in widescreen. It was shown in the U.S. with a really bad American dub, but is presented here with a much better Australian track (you can still access the “American” dub if you get really nostalgic). Max Max 2: The Road Warrior, a sort of post-apocalyptic Seven Samurai, is an even better film, and the third film, Beyond Thunderdome is visually flamboyant and its eponymous gladiatorial arena has one archetypal rule, “Two men enter, one man leaves,” that echoes through the fight-to-the-death struggles depicted in dozens of subsequent dystopian sagas.
Although it wasn’t considered much of a success by the standards of its star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Snitch (Summit, “PG-13,” $29.95, BD $39.99) is a tough little genre movie about an ordinary citizen who is forced to work as a police undercover informant in order to save his son from a lengthy prison sentence. Along with plenty of gritty action, this film delivers a strong message about the injustice of the long sentences handed out for drug crimes in this country compared with far lesser penalties for serious violent offenses like manslaughter and rape.
Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters (Paramount, “not rated” BD/Combo $39.99) is a by-the-numbers dark fantasy featuring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Atherton dressed in black leather and armed to the teeth. The duo take on some classic Brothers Grimm witches in what was a surprisingly successful ($225 million worldwide gross) movie in spite of its mind-numbing dumbness. With all the classic fantasy and science fiction texts out there, they had to make this 3-D “dog’s breakfast” of a film?
Also due this week is Killing Lincoln (Fox, 120 min., BD $29.98), a docu-drama about the assassination of the President narrated by Tom Hanks. While this film is better than the average History Channel production, it still has the “lifeless look” that characterizes so many historical reenactments.
Those who like indie movies might want to check out Quentin Dupieux’s Wrong (Image Entertainment, “Not Rated,” 93 min., $27.95, BD $29.95), a wryly absurd comedy about a man who is trying to recover the love of his life—his dog. Dupieux is a composer who fills his movies with music that many will find fascinating, but those who are expecting linear narratives should take a pass on this film.
TV on DVD
Sorkin gets the hustle and bustle of the newsroom just right and anchors the show firmly in the world of real political events of 2010 and 2011 (the BP oil spill, the anti-union campaign of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the Koch brothers, and Citizens United etc.). Fans of The West Wing will find plenty of Sorkin’s idealistic speechifying and more than a few of the writer’s trademark scenes in which the constantly moving camera follows characters sashaying through the corridors of the cable channel with the same rapid fire speed with which they are delivering Sorkin’s trademark dialogue. Each episode begins with shots of the news icons of the past, Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, a strong indication that is a series that does look back to a less purely partisan past where the news was filtered through a controlling intelligence that was more worried about getting things right than making sure each side’s view of every dispute was given equal air time. This is not a show for everyone. Some will be put off by all the speechifying, and contemporary conservatives should probably stay with Fox News, but for those who liked The West Wing, the first season of The Newsroom delivers a similar mixture of intellectual engagement with the serious issues of the day, idealism, and good old-fashioned soap opera.
Also due this week is another political drama, House of Cards: The Complete First Season (Sony, 674 min., $55.99, BD $64.99), but this series produced by NetFlix takes a much different tack. Rather than the idealism of The Newsroom, this series, which is based on a British original, is totally cynical in its portrayal of government. Kevin Spacey plays a prominent U.S. Congressman, a Machiavellian manipulator who cynically pulls all the strings of power in Washington D.C. in a grand scheme to reach the presidency. This series isn’t tied to actual political events, but it does tap into the public’s natural disdain for politicians and their outsized ambitions. David Fincher directed the first two episodes of the show and they have that blue-green neo-noir tonality that typifies the director’s work (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). Well-acted and well-produced House of Cards nevertheless lacks some of the relevance of its British progenitor—and may move too slowly for some.
Among current shows with new releases is Burn Notice: Season 6 (Fox, $49.98). The 7th and final season of this espionage series debuted last week on the USA cable network. Let’s hope the plight of “burned” spy Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) is finally resolved, but through six seasons Weston and his posse that includes Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell) and Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) have provided solid entertainment set against a colorful South Florida background. This is a great show for summer viewing when network TV is dominated by increasingly idiotic “reality” TV.
A similar argument could be made for the TNT series Rizzoli & Isles: The Complete Third Season (Warner Bros., 645 min., $39.98), an “odd couple” police procedural featuring Angie Harmon as police detective Jane Rizzoli and Sasha Alexander as medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles in a series based on the novels of Tess Gerritsen.
Comedy series due on Tuesday include the Comedy Central series Tosh.0 Vol.3: Cardigans Plus Casual Jackets (Comedy Central, 330 min., $16.99), a sampler of 15 of the show’s best episodes, and the short-lived TNT show Wedding Band: The Complete Series (Fox, 425 min., $39.98).
Other contemporary series include Fairly Legal: Season 2 (Universal, 557 min., $34.98), the final season of the USA legal drama, and the behind-the-scenes pro football drama Necessary Roughness: Season 2 (Universal, 688 min., $34.98).
Vintage TV releases include the classic legal drama Perry Mason: The 9th and Final Season, Pt.1 (Paramount, 776 min., $45.98), the Blu-ray debut of The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Complete Third Season (Image Entertainment, 811 min., BD $59.98), the classic western Wagon Train: The 8th and Final Season (Shout Factory, 1300 min., $59.97), and the sitcom Becker: The 5th Season (Paramount, 480 min., $34.95).
A real value in terms of “kids” entertainment on DVD are the live action shows based on the Japanese super sentai franchise Zyuranger. The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Season 2, Vol. 2 (Shout Factory, 510 min., $19.95) contains 30 episodes of action-filled fun that, while not anywhere near the height of its popularity in the 1990s, still has the ability to keep kids (especially young boys) entertained for hours. The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Season 3 (Shout Factory, 600 min., $19.95) contains 33 episodes of colorful Power Rangers action for the same low price.
Since this is the 50th anniversary of the first episodes of the Doctor Who TV show, the BBC is putting together retrospective sets that will highlight all 11 incarnations of the Doctor. Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited 1-4 (BBC, $39.98) is a four-disc collection with a disc dedicated to each of the first four Doctors (William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, and Tom Baker), who carried the show from 1963 to 1981. Each Doctor gets some extra features plus one classic serial story (The Aztecs, Tomb of the Cyberman, Spearhead from Space, and Pyramids of Mars).
Also from Production I.G. (and Xebec) is Lagrange: The Flower of Rin-ne Set I (Viz Media, “17+,” 300 min., $44.82, BD $54.97), which includes all 12 episodes of the first season of the mecha science fiction anime series from 2012, which is based on the seinen manga series by Shotaro Suga. Young girls pilot giant mecha to fend off alien invaders in yet another series that follows in the grand tradition of mecha anime.
Viz is also releasing Bleach Box Set 17 (Viz Media, “13+,” 310 min., $44.82), which contains episodes 243-255 of the long-running anime based on Tite Kubo’s popular supernatural manga series. Bleach remains a top manga and anime property in the U.S. market thanks in part to exposure on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.
Week of June 11th, 2013
Posted by ICv2 on June 9, 2013 @ 10:29 pm CT
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