The headliner this week is Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, the latest direct-to-DVD DC animated feature, but there are plenty of other interesting releases including a 1990s Transformers set, a bevy of TV shows debuting on Blu-ray, a great new “hard” science fiction anime, and the most enjoyable Coen brothers movie since Oh Brother.
Direct to DVD
Green Lantern: Emerald Knights (Warner Bros., “PG,” 84 min., $19.98, BD/Combo $24.98) functions like a primer for the Green Lantern live-action movie, which is due out ten later. While longtime Green Lantern comic book readers are unlikely to learn anything new, civilians will find this anthology of six stories very useful in deciphering the complex cosmology of the Green Lantern universe. Since Emerald Knights is an anthology released in conjunction with a major live-action film, comparisons have been made to Batman: Gotham Knights, but it must be said that Emerald Knights (a huge improvement over the first DC direct-to-DVD Green Lantern animated feature, First Flight) should be much more useful as an outreach tool simply because mainstream audiences are far more familiar with the Batman character and his backstory. 
The framing story for Emerald Knights features a major threat from the anti-matter wielding Krona. As the Lanterns gather their forces for the coming combat with Krona, Hal Jordan (well-voiced by Nathan Fillion) regales newbie Lantern Arisa (Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss) with tales of Avra, the scribe who became the first Green Lantern when he realized the importance of “will” in activating the powers of the ring, and other famous Lanterns including Abin Sur, Kilowog, Laira, and Mogo. In the slambang finale Arisa does her part to help defeat Krona.
The animation is solid, though not particularly fluid, throughout, and it certainly looks great on Blu-ray. The voice work is excellent. Numerous fans complained about rocker Henry Rollins as Kilowog, but he is at the very least serviceable in one of the anthology’s weakest segments, a drill instructor vignette that is all too reminiscent of the HALO animated anthology. Kelly Hu’s Laira segment is far more interesting, though some may find its Oedipal conflict a little too operatic. But Green Lantern is at its very core a “space opera,” with the players hurling energy bolts back and forth instead of belting out arias.
The Blu-ray has a number of solid extras (though sadly no animated short). Geoff Johns, the architect of Blackest Night (and Brightest Day) holds forth on “Why Green Lantern Matters,” plus there are informative “comic book-to-screen” features on Abin Sur and Laira Omoto, along with a Green Lantern Virtual Comic, and perhaps most importantly, an in-depth look at some of the key members of the Green Lantern Corps in “Only the Bravest: Tales of the Green Lantern Corps.”
The top animated TV release this week is Transformers: Beast Wars Season One (Shout Factory, 600 min., $29.98), the first half of the 52-episode computer-animated series produced by Mainframe (Reboot). Beast Wars was the 1990s sequel to the original Transformers series, and is still remembered fondly by legions of fans. The CGI animation may be a bit crude by modern standards, but the storytelling just gets better as this series goes along. This series was released before, but was way back in 2003, and this new edition looks much better.
There are lots of solid dramatic releases this week including The Big C: The Complete First Season (Sony, 360 min., $39.99), which stars the incomparable Laura Linney, who won a well-deserved Golden Globe for her performance as a 42-year-old schoolteacher who is blindsided when she suddenly learns she has Stage 4 malignant melanoma. Terminal cancer doesn’t appear to be a promising premise for anything but a 3-handerchief tear-fest, yet this series finds humor along with the pathos as Linney attempts to deal with her condition and her self-absorbed family. The ensemble acting in The Big C is some of the best on TV with Oliver Platt as the immature, often clueless husband, John Benjamin Hickey as the feckless tree-hugging brother, and Gabriel Basso as the distant, increasingly alienated teenage son. 
A cancer diagnosis also figured prominently in the AMC series Breaking Bad whose protagonist Walter White (superbly played by Bryan Cranston) is a high school science teacher who decides to manufacture meth in order to provide a financial legacy for his family. Those original events are long past in Breaking Bad: The Complete 3rd Season (Sony, 780 min., $39.95, BD $49.95) as Walt is now thoroughly enmeshed in the drug trade caught between the increasingly lucrative offers of a local kingpin and the barely controlled murderous revenge plots of the Mexican drug cartel that blames him for the death of the well-connected Tuco that occurred in Season 2Breaking Bad remains one of the most grueling, compelling, and intense series on American TV as Walt sinks deeper into his self-constructed morass of illicit drug manufacturing as allies turn into enemies and alliances shift under the pressure of big money and the fear of discovery.           
Pretty Little Liars: The Complete First Season (Warners, 600 min., $59.98), which has been described as “Desperate Housewives for teens,” is based on a series of novels by Sara Shepard. The ABC Family show, which features a bright young cast, combines mystery and soap opera elements in a complicated saga set among affluent teens that has earned top ratings among women from 18-34.
Recurring series include the excellent defrocked spy series Burn Notice: Season 4 (Fox, $49.98), HawthoRNe: Season 2 (Sony, 425 min., $29.95), the nursing drama starring Jada Pinkett Smith, Leverage: The Third Season (Paramount, 680 min., $39.98), the “it-takes-a-thief series starring Timothy Hutton, McMillan and Wife: Season 3 (First Look, 450 min., $39.98), the vintage mystery series starring Rock Hudson and Susan St. James, The Secret Life of the American Teenager Vol. 6 (Disney, 516 min., $39.99), the popular ABC Family series created by Brenda Hampton, and White Collar: Season 2 (Fox, 880 min., $59.98), the USA series about a con man who partners with an FBI agent to capture white collar criminals.
Fans of vintage westerns might want to check out Hopalong Cassidy: The Complete Series (Timeless Media Group, 1300 min., $39.98), which includes all 52-episodes of the 1950s series starring William Boyd and Edgar Buchanan (the ultimate western sidekick). This six-DVD set has been restored from the original film masters and represents the best available version of the copyrighted episodes of this classic series based on the characters created by Clarence E. Mulford. Those who like a little singing with their western adventures will enjoy The Gene Autry Show: The Complete 1st Season (Timeless Media, 650 min., $34.98), which features the singing cowboy and his voice-cracking companion Pat Buttram. 
For those who like their westerns straight from the golden age of TV oaters, there is Rawhide: The Fourth Season, Vol. 1 (Paramount, 700 min. $39.98), which includes 15 episodes starring Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates, the role that made him a star, and Gil Fleming.
There are also a number of excellent U.K. releases this week including the British/Italian co-production Rome, which was seen here in the States on HBO and is appearing on Blu-ray for the first time. Rome: The Complete 1st Season (HBO, 754 min., $69.98) includes the first 12 episodes of the series that chronicles the end of the Roman Republic and the birth of the Roman Empire as seen through the eyes of a legionary officer (Lucius Vorenus) and his tough non-com (Titus Pullo), while Rome: The Complete 2nd Season (HBO, 600 min., $69.98) includes the final 10 episodes of the series.
Also debuting on Blu-ray is Robin of Sherwood (Acorn Media, 676 min., $79.99), the 1980s BBC series written by Richard Carpenter. Filmed at numerous historic sites and in the forests of the west of England, this Robin Hood saga looks great in hi-def in its original 4:3 aspect ratio on Blu-ray. With its striking young cast led by Michael Praed, Judi Trott, and Ray Winstone , Robin of Sherwood returns Robin to his peasant roots and brings the fun back to Sherwood Forest. In fact with its idealism and general high spirits, it is the best Robin Hood since Errol Flynn’s definitive movie version The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938, which it resembles in many sequences such as the archery tournament. With its realistic period setting and great location work, this is a Robin Hood that is well worth watching in spite of the 80s hairstyles, the occasional jarring zoom shot, and disorienting hand-held shots in the battle scenes. The one new element that Carpenter brought to Robin of Sherwood was sorcery, and it’s not an entirely successful addition. A new villain, the Baron Simon de Belleme, who learned the Black Arts while crusading in the Holy Land, is actually quite effective, much more so than the shamanic figure of Herne the Hunter, who connects Robin to England’s pagan/animist/druidical traditions.
But the top U.K. release of the week is New Tricks: Season 4 (Acorn Media, 461 min., $39.99). New Tricks, which is being shown now in an increasing number of U.S. markets, is a BBC series that follows the adventures of the London’s Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad, which is made up of three retired policemen who return as consultants to solve difficult “cold case” mysteries under the leadership of the ambitious DCS (Detective Chief Superintendent) Sandra Pullman (Amanda Redman). New Tricks is sort of a “thinking man’s Matlock” that mixes ingenious mysteries with character-based humor and the occasional bit of modern history to create the most consistently entertaining police procedural to come out of the U.K. in years. Season 4 gets off to a great start as it clears up the jaw-dropping cliffhanger from Season 3 and never lets up as the team investigates a strange death in a retirement home, the death of a cat lady who was eaten by her brood, and even a mysterious death at a circus.
After several lean weeks suddenly there’s a plethora of  new anime releases led by To (Funimation, “14+,” 85 min., BD/DVD Combo $34.98), which includes two short films, Elliptical Orbit and Symbiotic Planet adapted from manga short stories in the 2001 Nights collection by Yukinobu Hoshino (published here by Viz).  These are some of the best “hard science fiction” manga stories ever written and director Fumihiko Sori and the crew behind the creation of the Appleseed anime movies do an excellent job of adapting them. Computer animation is a very nice fit with this sort of hard SF, and these two OVAs produced by Avex in 2009 are recommended for fans of science fiction anime. The deluxe package also includes a number of excellent extras including interviews with director Fumihiko Sori, trailers, and promo videos.
Under its Nozomi Entertainment banner, The Right Stuf is releasing newly remastered editions of Kunihiko Ikuhara’s groundbreaking Revolutionary Girl Utena anime. Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Student Council Saga Limited Edition (Nozomi Entertainment, “16,” 300 min., $49.99) contains the first 13 episodes of the classic 1990s adaptation of Chiho Saito’s classic shojo manga series. This allegorical saga with its surrealist overtones and yuri themes is one of the most complex and fascinating anime series of the 1990s. Its visuals derive from the stylizations of shojo manga, but it also displays the influence of the all-female Takarazuka theater, and  Asian shadow puppetry. In addition to brilliantly remastered visual and audio tracks, the deluxe Limited Edition includes a 48-page booklet filled with interview material, essays, and key art—this is a superb redo of a classic series.
Bandai Entertainment is bucking the  multi-disk release trend this week with three single-disc offerings including Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn Part 1 (Bandai, “13+,” 120 min., $29.98), the first release of the latest iteration of the long-running Gundam franchise, Tales of the Abyss Part 1 (Bandai, “13+,” 175 min., $29.98), the first part of the 26-episode, 2008 Sunrise series based on the popular Playstation game, and The Girl Who Leapt Through Space Vol. 2 (Bandai, “13+,” 175 min., $29.98), the second installment of the Sunrise mecha comedy series based on the light novels of Hajime Yatate.
Also out this week is the first half (13 episodes) of The Maid Sama Collection (Sentai Filmworks, “13+,” 325 min., $49.98). Produced by J.C. Staff, the Maid Sama anime is a romantic comedy adapted from Hiro Fujiwara’s shojo manga series about a girl whose attempts to tame a wild formerly all-boys school could be undermined by the fact that she works at a “maid café” in order to support her family.
Re-priced editions due on Tuesday include Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle Season 1 Complete Collection (Funimation, “13+,” 625 min., $29.98, BD $34.98) and the Tenchi Muyo Ryo Ohki Complete Collection (Funimation, “13+,” 225 min., $19.98).
Theatrical Movies
The Coen brothers’ True Grit (Paramount, “PG-13,” $29.99, BD/Combo $39.99) is a far more reverent adaptation of Charles Portis’ sardonic novel than Henry Hathaway’s earlier version starring John Wayne. The Coens managed to incorporate much more of the novel’s humorously stilted 19th Century schoolmarm frontier diction and 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld delivers it perfectly. The always dependable Jeff Bridges does well in the thankless task of replacing John Wayne in the central role of Rooster Cogburn. Bridges make lack Wayne’s screen presence, but he definitely has more acting chops, and Matt Damon as the Texas Ranger LeBoeuf is a major upgrade over Glenn Campbell. Neither Hathaway’s film nor the Coen brothers’ movie looks like it was filmed in the Ozarks where the novel takes place, but both are nevertheless highly entertaining westerns with more humor and grit than the typical “oater.”
Unlike most Saturday Night Live alumni who graduated to the big screen, Adam Sandler has maintained a strong fan base among the young male demographic. Just Go With It (Sony, “PG-13,” $28.95, BD/Combo $38.96), which co-stars Jennifer Anniston has to rank as one of his lesser efforts at the box office since it earned just $103 million domestically. Perhaps Just Go With It was too much of a conventional romantic comedy for Sandler’s hardcore fans, who want something a little raunchier, but however conventional this film might be with its predictable plot and predictably beautiful Hawaiian scenery, it does deliver some laughs as well as a bit of Sandlerian potty humor.
The only theatrical genre movie out this week is Sanctum (Rogue Pictures, “R,” $29.98, BD $49.98), an underwater cave exploration film that is pretty much for spelunkers only. In spite of the “James Cameron” imprimatur, Sanctum earned only $23 million in spite of a wide domestic release.
There are some serious films out this week too including The Company Men (Anchor Bay, “R,” $29.98, BD $39.99), writer/director John Wells’ look at the effects of the recession on three upper management types who have been made redundant as the economy crashed and burned.  Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, and Tommy Lee Jones head a superior cast and give superior performances. The fact that the recession was caused by egregious bad behavior by high rollers in the financial sector does not mean that we shouldn’t root for other affluent execs who have lost their positions through no fault of their own, though for some a Porsche in the garage can get in the way of empathy. The Company Men strains credulity a bit when the displaced sales honcho played by Affleck gets a job building houses with his brother-in-law, an unlikely outcome giving the near moribund status of housing construction in the wake of a recession caused by massive overbuilding in the housing sector, but the film is an honorable effort to depict  at least a portion of the human effect of the downturn.
No one does realistic slice-of-life movies like British filmmaker Mike Leigh, whose latest estimable effort Another Year (Sony, “PG-13,” BD $38.96) is a character-driven film that depends on acting rather than plot or action, but is nonetheless thoroughly entertaining.