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Insights from home entertainment industry experts. Home Media blogs give you the inside scoop on entertainment news, DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases, and the happenings at key studios and entertainment retailers. “TK's Take” analyzes and comments on home entertainment news and trends, “Agent DVD Insider” talks fanboy entertainment, “IndieFile” delivers independent film news, “Steph Sums It Up” offers pithy opinions on the state of the industry, and “Mike’s Picks” offers bite-sized recommendations of the latest DVD and Blu-ray releases.

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26 Jul, 2010

New on Disc: World Series 1985 and 'Crack in the World'

The Film Noir Classic Collection Vol. 5

Warner, Thriller, $49.92 four-DVD set, NR.
Stars John Cassavetes, Dick Powell, Richard Kiley, Susan Hayward.
The easy standout pick here is the most eagerly awaited and overdue: director Phil Karlson’s trenchant 1955 The Phenix City Story, which deals with the much publicized (at the time) postwar corruption in Phenix City, AL — once the so-called “Sin City” just across the river from Columbus, Ga., and Fort Benning. The set also includes Dial 1119 (1950), Cornered (1945), Desperate (1947), Armored Car Robbery (1950), Crime in the Streets (1956), Deadline at Dawn (1946) and the underachieving Backfire (1950).
Read the Full Review

Kansas City Royals: 1985 World Series Collector’s Edition

Street 7/27
A&E, Sports, $69.95 seven-DVD set, NR.
Chronicling what was called the “I-70 Series” due to the atypically close proximity of the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals in Missouri, here’s a set that transcends specific fandom of one team or another due to the drama that took place on the field, punctuated by Don Denkinger’s blown call that allowed the Royals to win Game 6, and a melee in the Royals’ Game 7 clincher that threatened to resemble one of the saloon brawls in John Ford’s Donovan’s Reef.
Extras: According to a couple interviews in the supplements, the Royals got riled when they went into St. Louis two games down and saw a banner prematurely congratulating their opponents as “World Series Champions.” The extras also include the Royals’ post-game locker-room celebration, and it’s good to see George Brett not just spraying teammates with champagne — but also swigging the stuff, then spitting it out, on national television.=
Read the Full Review

Crack in the World

Street 7/27
Olive, Sci-Fi, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Dana Andrews, Janette Scott, Kieron Moore, Alexander Knox.
The kind of movies for which 1960s drive-ins were invented, this dramatically lukewarm but thematically scorching sci-fi melodrama is of interest for its environmental topicality and for its status as one of the “launch” titles in a welcome new line of Paramount oldies now being distributed by Olive Films. The peril is encroaching heat from the Earth’s core — which is intended to solve the world’s energy needs but is instead engendering earthquakes and causing animal populations to run for the hills, or at least cooler temperatures. The workmanlike direction is by Andrew Marton, who is probably best known for co-directing 1950’s King Solomon’s Mines and the only bad movie Grace Kelly ever made (Green Fire) — plus the American exterior episodes in The Longest Day and the famous chariot race for William Wyler’s Ben-Hur.
Read the Full Review

College, Inc. (Frontline)

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD.
The $400 billion for-profit higher-education system leaves many graduates saddled with massive student loan debt. “Frontline” continues to do what it does so well: tell a story that other documentaries are not inclined to cover, even though the subject is one that effects huge numbers and probably someone on your block. Like most muckraking documentaries, this one deals with “excesses” — which means the volume of them is either several instances of simple bad apple-dom or the kind of numbers you get when an entire system whose potential for abuse is endemic.
Read the Full Review

Prodigal Sons

First Run, Documentary, DVD $24.95, NR.
There’s a cartoon from the 1970s that I used to love from, if memory serves, The New Yorker — though if not, it had a decidedly New Yorker tone. The set-up is a domestic scene that pictures something like a frumpy mom in pin-curlers, one son who’s either gay or a cross-dresser and another on his way out the door dressed for what in the ’50s would have been rumble. In the center of the frame is dad in his chair, reading Ozzie Nelson’s autobiography.

I was thinking about this — and how life can play tricks on all kinds of parental plans and assumptions — while watching this deservedly praised documentary about the surprises that were in store for a Helena, MT, physician and the woman from Texas who married him. Older son Marc (adopted) eventually suffered a severe frontal lobe injury as a young adult and became subject to violent outbursts that went against the grain of his everyday demeanor. Next in line came this film’s transgendered director Kimberly Reed — who turns out to be a role model for displaying grace under stress — who is now a woman but was once a male quarterback for the high-school football team.

Marc and Kim (who was in the same high-school class because Marc got held back in pre-school) have never truly gotten along, due in part to her onetime local star status. Now, after a long layoff, and as Kim pays a visit with her New York female companion as the story begins, they are trying.

Just by itself, this warm-up would make an interesting movie. Here’s married Marc the tinderbox primed to explode unexpectedly at any time, as he does late in the movie when he commits violence against a younger brother whose gayness he sometimes won’t accept (so you can imagine the issues he has with Kim). And Kim is going through what many transgendered individuals do, which is to go into such complete denial of one’s former existence that even seeing old snapshots can conjure up pain. And Marc is a guy with a fondness for old snapshots.

But there’s an added twist, which, unlike the rest of the story, made news a few years back. Marc, who has always been searching for his own identity in a sibling rivalry, finds one in spades when he discovers that the biological mother he never even saw until she was in a casket at her funeral was Rebecca Welles, daughter of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. And the physical resemblance between Marc and his grandfather is unmistakable.

Reed deserves a lot of credit for juggling what could have been some dangling elements, which include a family visit to Croatia at the request of Oja Kadar — Welles’ companion for the last two decades of his life and a memorable presence in 1973’s F for Fake, the last film he directed. Marc and the others swim outside her home in what looks as if it could be anyone’s ideal honeymoon spot, and given the almost folkloric financial woes that plagued Welles for almost his entire career, it’s good to see Kadar apparently living large. More power to her.

Assisting Kim in her own journey are a group of old Helena friends who come off as being non-judgmentally supportive — though when the story opens, she’s on her way a 20th high school class reunion after a long absence and isn’t certain how she’ll be received. Her mother, too, seems to be constituted of uncommonly sound bedrock, and the older woman’s reflections are featured on a DVD bonus section that deals with this film’s festival showings and a special film-related church weekend back in Helena. The story ends, though, with Marc’s plight at an impasse, and just about anyone will exit this haunting documentary wondering about his ultimate outcome.

23 Jul, 2010

A 'Tron' User's Manual

Greetings programs! The annals of film lore have recorded 1982 as a landmark year for science-fiction. Blade Runner, Star Trek II and E.T. are among the beloved films to debut that year. Also on that list is the video game fantasy Tron (on DVD and soon to be Blu-ray from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment). An oft overlooked benchmark in visual effects wizardry, the film is a dizzying fairy tale for the digital age. In preparation for a highly anticipated sequel making its way to theaters later this year, here are just a few reasons Tron endures as sci-fi classic.

The Story

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) hacks into the Encom mainframe in search of proof he created a popular video game that was stolen from him, but comes across the powerful Master Control Program, which uses an experimental laser to send Flynn into the computer world, where the MCP sends enemy programs to die on the game grid (i.e. in video games). Flynn must team with a security program named Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) to stop the MCP and find the missing data.

The Technology

Just as Flynn is a user who becomes a program, the MCP is a program that would be a user. The MCP grows in power by assimilating other computer systems and taking over their functions. Without invoking the term Internet, MCP’s methods are evocative of its function. Ultimately, the film presents a message that the real world isn’t that different from the computer realm.

The Effects

To achieve the look of the computer world, director Steven Lisberger (pictured) and his team used groundbreaking new computer generated effects, which got them disqualified from the Oscars for “cheating.” Be on the lookout for hidden jokes, such as a cameo by Pac-Man or a Mickey Mouse head in a digital landscape.

The Parable

Religious themes abound. In the computer world, the users are considered gods. Flynn is a user who becomes a program and sacrifices himself to become a messiah, which evokes Jesus. Tron’s user gives him the code that will free his people, which parallels Moses’ experience with the Burning Bush and the 10 Commandments. Plus there’s the Tron vs. Giant Sark battle at the end, a la David and Goliath.

The Influence

Many of the film’s iconic images, such as the light cycles, have been referenced on shows such as “Family Guy.” “The Simpsons” made a memorable reference in the 1995 “Treehouse of Horror VI” segment “Homer3.” “South Park” has made numerous Tron jokes, most recently in “You Have 0 Friends,” in which Stan is sucked into the game grid by his Facebook profile, which has grown too large to allow itself to be deleted (“South Park” also likes to use the MCP as its representation of “Super Best Friends” member Moses). And let’s not forget Jay Maynard, otherwise known as Tron Guy, a computer programmer who parlayed his homemade Tron costume from Internet fame to appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

The Legacy

Jeff Bridges returns as Flynn in Tron Legacy, which Disney releases to theaters Dec. 17. Garrett Hedlund plays Flynn’s son, Sam, who enters the computer world in search of his father. The effects get a 21st century upgrade (for Imax 3D), but all the key elements are still there. Cyberspace will never be the same.




22 Jul, 2010

‘The Simpsons’ Top 10 Supporting Cast Members

Sure, everybody loves Homer Simpson. He did, after all, top Entertainment Weekly’s list of the top characters of the past two decades. And Bart, Lisa, Marge and Maggie all have their time to shine on a weekly basis. But “The Simpsons” is nothing without its huge cast of great secondary characters. During the course of the show’s 21 seasons, some of members of this supporting cast have become almost as iconic as the family itself. Here’s our list of the top 10 “Simpsons” supporting characters whose contributions to our weekly dose of laughter cannot be overlooked.

1. C. Montgomery Burns

Voiced by: Harry Shearer
Centenarian owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, and Homer’s boss, Mr. Burns is not only one of the most enduring villains of the series, but also the perfect symbol of corporate excess and apathy. Equal parts Charles Foster Kane and Howard Hughes, Burns enlivens any scene with his trademark distaste for the common man.
Key Episodes: “Homer at the Bat” — Season 3, Episode 17
“Rosebud” — Season 5, Episode 4
“Who Shot Mr. Burns” — Season 6, Episode 25

2. Moe Szyslak

Voiced by: Hank Azaria
Owner of Moe’s Tavern, where Duff beer flows like honey, Moe the bartender is often associated with the vices that plague Springfield. He will sell out anybody when it suits him, lacks basic social skills and is considered repulsive by most respectable citizens, especially woman. That only makes Moe all the more pitiable, and thus endearing. Never count out Moe for a catchy one-liner to set the comedy tone.
Key Episode: “Flaming Moe’s” — Season 3, Episode 10


3. Krusty the Clown

Voiced by: Dan Castellaneta
Herschel Krustofski epitomizes all that is wrong with show business. A self-centered, burnt out performer who makes his living entertaining children as a television clown, Krusty is perhaps the last person you’d want around your kids. He nonetheless controls a huge marketing empire based on slapping his image on countless cheap products. His antics are legendary, including betting on the Washington Generals to defeat the Harlem Globetrotters because he thought they were due.
Key Episodes: “Kamp Krusty” — Season 4, Episode 1
“Krusty Gets Kancelled” — Season 4, Episode 22
“Homie the Clown” — Season 6, Episode 15

4. Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Ph.D.

Voiced by: Hank Azaria
Apu is the proprietor of the Springfield Kwik-E-Mart, where he is safe to embody every foreign stereotype known to man (he is not, however, safe from criminals, having been shot numerous times during robbery attempts). Still, no matter the circumstance, Apu is always ready to deliver a “Thank you, come again” to his customers, even as he gouges them out of their money with high prices and expired food.
Key Episode: “Homer and Apu” — Season 5, Episode 13


5. Comic Book Guy

Voiced by: Hank Azaria
Jeff Albertson, otherwise known as the Comic Book Guy, is the acerbic owner of the Android’s Dungeon & Baseball Card Shop and is best known for his catch-phrase, “Worst episode ever!” The character lets the show’s creators take subtle jabs at their own obsessive fans who sometimes take things a bit too seriously.
Key Episode: “Worst Episode Ever” — Season 12, Episode 11


6. Sideshow Bob

Voiced by: Kelsey Grammer
Robert Underdunk Terwilliger, better known as Krusty’s former sidekick Sideshow Bob, is typical of highbrow elitists who see the world as beneath them. He has sworn to kill Bart Simpsons for always meddling in his schemes, which include framing Krusty for robbery to take over his show, and rigging an election to become mayor of Springfield. Bob is proof that a well-timed rake to the face is always good for a cheap laugh.
Key Episode: “Cape Feare” — Season 5, Episode 2

7. Seymour Skinner

Voiced by: Harry Shearer
The principal of Springfield Elementary school was born Armin Tamzarian but assumed the identity of an old Army buddy he believed had died in Vietnam. He is known for rigid discipline, frugalness and mangling classic Abbott and Costello routines. His tendency to take jokes literally has proved an endless source of laughs over the years, even as he pathetically attempts to curb Bart’s wicked ways.
Key Episodes: “Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song” — Season 5, Episode 19
“The Principal and the Pauper” — Season 9, Episode 2

8. Waylon Smithers

Voiced by: Harry Shearer
Smithers is the ultimate whipping boy sidekick. As Mr. Burns’ personal assistant, he keeps the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant running smoothly, from melting down, mostly operational. His unrequited puppy love for Mr. Burns is at once cute and sad. Smithers’ hobbies include collecting Malibu Stacy dolls and staying in the closet.
Key Episodes: “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy” — Season 5, Episode 14
“Homer the Smithers” — Season 7, Episode 17

9. Troy McClure

Voiced by: Phil Hartman
You may remember Troy McClure from such parodies as Planet of the Apes: The Musical and The Muppets Go Medieval (what the hell is a Muppet?). Springfield’s hardest-working actor was perfectly embodied with charm and bavura by the late Phil Hartman, who also distinguished himself as blowhard incompetent attorney Lionel Hutz. No list would be complete without at least one of his characters.
Key Episode: “A Fish Called Selma” — Season 7, Episode 19


10. Itchy & Scratchy

Voiced by: Dan Castellaneta and Harry Shearer
They fight and fight so we laugh and laugh. This ultra-violent send-up of Tom & Jerry consists of a homicidal mouse named Itchy and his elaborate skills to butcher an unsuspecting cat named Scratchy — a relentless assault on the senses from which we don’t want to recover. Their antics and complicated backstory have since provided the perfect template to skewer all things Disney or set the stage for a quick spoof, adding yet another layer to a show so rich in detail there’s no way to absorb it all.
Key Episodes: “Itchy & Scratchy Land” — Season 6, Episode 4
“The Day the Violence Died” Season 7, Episode 18
“The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show” — Season 8, Episode 14

The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season will be available Aug. 24 on DVD (four-disc set $49.98) and Blu-ray (three-disc set $59.99) from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Fans at Comic-Con can buy the set a month early and will receive an exclusive lithograph at the Fox booth (4313).



20 Jul, 2010

Target’s Blu-ray ‘Cop Out’

Target has resorted to an interesting pricing scheme for the release of Warner Home Video’s Cop Out and The Losers. When the titles hit shelves July 20, Target offered the Blu-ray combo pack editions (which include Blu-ray, DVD and digital copies of the film) at just $19.99 each, the same price as the standalone DVD version.

Target also offered a $5 savings when both the soundtrack (at $9.99) and season one of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” (at $14.99) were purchased together.

Walmart is exclusively selling copies of the direct-to-video sci-fi movie The Jensen Project at $13 for a DVD set that includes a CD soundtrack. The title is also available as a two-pack with an earlier Walmart exclusive movie, Secrets of the Mountain, for $15. Walmart.com and some stores also offer a Blu-ray version of Jensen Project for $15.

Best Buy and Target offered some nice savings on TV DVD titles for the week, as well as Blu-ray titles for about $10.

Best Buy also had a two for $20 sale on select Blu-ray Discs.

19 Jul, 2010

Floria Sigismondi’s ‘The Runaways’ Takes Off on Disc

The Runaways Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart
The Runaways Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart

Floria Sigismondi has gone from directing some of the most striking (and disturbing) music videos of the ’90s (if you don’t suffer from nightmares, Marilyn Manson’s stop-motion “The Beautiful People” is a waking one) to directing two of the biggest young stars in the world — the “Twilight” saga’s Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning — in The Runaways.

The film, which hits DVD ($27.96) and Blu-ray Disc ($34.95) July 20 from Sony Pictures, is based on the story of the ’70s all-girl teenage punk band of the same name that in four short years together helped set an example for rockers of both genders to follow, in addition to launching successful solo careers for band members Joan Jett (played by Stewart) and Lita Ford. But their story is marred by the typical trappings that have crushed so many artists before and since — drug abuse, interband issues (Stewart and Fanning, who plays singer Cherie Currie, share a kiss in the film) and a domineering manager (Kim Fowley, played by Michael Shannon) who takes advantage of the girls’ youth and beauty.

The film’s DVD and Blu-ray include a commentary with Jett, Fanning and Stewart, as well as a making-of featurette. Sigismondi spoke to us about recreating the story of the Runaways.

HM: Coincidentally, I heard The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” in the car yesterday, and I was wondering what was more important to you in making this film, getting the details correct or the energy?

Sigismondi: I think both. We'd done some live performances (Stewart and Fanning perform in the film), and I really wanted to capture the energy they had onstage. For me it was more important to get the dynamics between Cherie and Joan, and their relationship with Kim.

HM: Can you talk a little bit about the special features on the DVD? How did the girls respond to having one of the real-life inspirations for the film, Joan Jett, around? (Jett was an executive producer of the film.)

Sigismondi: She was pretty quiet, she observed a lot. It really kind of helped Kristen. We didn't have a lot of tech time, so they didn't have a lot of time to spend together beforehand. All that time she spent on set, I think that Kristen gobbled it up, really became a sponge and got her mannerisms because of the time she spent on set. It was Joan Jett now and not Joan Jett when she was 15, but [Stewart got] her attitude. I think [Stewart] really did a great job in getting the swagger down, she holds her body in a very particular way. All that physicality really helps.

HM: Have you experienced a lot of interest for the DVD of this film as its being released around the same time as Eclipse?

Sigismondi: I don't think anybody knew it was in theaters, is the bigger problem. I think maybe, I think there's always the chance to talk about it. I hear it. I don't have a television, but I've heard they've been talking about The Runaways along with Eclipse, and I think that both girls are proud of what they did.

HM: Do you think young Twilighters who may be drawn to this film could learn something from it?

Sigismondi: It’s a different time. Hopefully what it does is inspire girls to follow their dreams. Joan's story is very much that she just keeps on doing what she's meant to do. It's a little bit different than what here initial dream was, to go forth with an all-girl band, and she's still rocking out today. I think that's quite a heroic thing to do, to keep on going. With any pioneer, there's always conflict, and the ones that win are the ones who keep on going. And for Cherie's side, she's really trying to find herself, kind of bouncing around, trying to figure that out.

HM: What were some of your filmic inspirations for this movie?

Sigismondi: I looked at Christiane F. (based on the true story of a teenage girl’s introduction into the drug-laced underworld of 1970s Berlin, released on DVD in 2001 by Image). That film just had a reality I wanted to inject into this, a texture and attention to details. Although it's a different film, I loved Sid and Nancy. I watched anything from Klute to Straw Dogs, the whole ’70s thing.

HM: One movie I was reminded of was Ladies and Gentlemen the Fabulous Stains. Did you consider that an inspiration at all?

Sigismondi: I have such a bad copy of it. It's on VHS, and half of it is all smeared. But I did like it, and I guess the similarities are kind of girls rocking out and doing their thing and guys giving them a hard time, but it's not one of the films I was really drawn to — maybe just because of my bad VHS copy!

HM: What did you bring from your music video experience to making this film?

Sigismondi: Because I've worked with musicians most of my life, it was very important to have the girls look very authentic on stage and having the girls singe their own songs. For me it was getting the girls to feel like musicians.

HM: Being a music-oriented film, do you think The Runaways benefits from being on Blu-ray?

Sigismondi: Yes. I did a transfer for theaters and a separate transfer for the DVD [and Blu-ray Disc]. I really had the time to experiment when I got there, I knew what I wanted to do. Hopefully the Blu-ray will capture the quality I saw in that transfer.

By: Billy Gil

19 Jul, 2010

New on Disc: 'Black Narcissus' and more …

Black Narcissus

Street 7/20
Criterion, Drama, $39.95 DVD or Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Deborah Kerr, David Farrar, Sabu, Jean Simmons.
Thanks to an unusual story stirringly told plus apt and imaginative casting, the high-Fahrenheit film version of Rumer Godden’s novel played well even when shown in black-and-white in early TV showings decades ago. The Blu-ray pretty well equals the impressive theatrical print of this Technicolor psychological drama with religious overtones that dramatized the challenge of British Anglican nuns to bring a sense of order to what is at least physical paradise in the Himalayas, which merits serious consideration as one of the 10 most beautiful color movies of all time.
Extras: A booklet contains magnificent color stills and an essay by Kent Jones, plus several more supplements (some that carried over from a 2001 DVD) that relay a lot of information about the production.
Read the Full Review

White House Revealed

Street 7/20
Infinity, Documentary, $14.98 DVD, NR.
Narrated by Martin Sheen.
You have to believe that no one ever says “it’s just a job” when it comes to the 95 resident staffers in the White House detail, who begin and end their day (which can last up to 20 hours if a state dinner is on the calendar) serving the leader of the free world, family members and a dog or two. Martin Sheen (an apt choice considering his role on “The West Wing”) narrates this 50-minute history, which frequently cuts to the senior George Bush and first lady Barbara for warm recollections.
Read the Full Review

New York Confidential

VCI, Drama, $19.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Broderick Crawford, Richard Conte, Anne Bancroft, Mike Mazurki.
If you don’t expect too much beyond grown-up subject matter and actors who can carry the show, there’s a hefty body count to be enjoyed from what the DVD box art refers to as “the Holy Grail of missing noir films.” Seen by relatively few at the time and fondly remembered by a few, the movie basically fell off the face of the earth until a recent well-received public showing at the American Cinematheque’s annual noir festival in Los Angeles.
Extras: On the commentary by Alan K. Bode and Kim Morgan — one of the most entertaining and certainly the funniest I’ve heard in a while — the film is not unjustly described as “roots” of The Godfather.
Read the Full Review


Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Dick Kallman, James Best, Susan Cummings, Tom Pittman.
Fans of writer-director Samuel Fuller will let him get away with anything and even relish the nerviness of his conceits. How many movies do you know that feature Beethoven’s Fifth on the soundtrack, followed by the voice of an unbilled Paul Anka singing the title tune? Fuller’s extensive combat experiences in World War II no doubt colored this rather raw ‘B’-pic (or close) about a conquering G.I. (James Best, later of the filmmaker’s quintessential 1963 Shock Corridor) who is cared for in a rubble-surrounded house by an anti-Nazi fraulein (Susan Cummings). Best so specialized in playing good ol’ boys that he later ended up as Sheriff Roscoe in TV’s “The Dukes of Hazzard,” and there’s a little of that here.
Read the Full Review

13 Jul, 2010

Doldrums of Summer

With the summer box office heating up, stores seem to be caught in a rut awaiting the hit movies from spring on DVD and Blu-ray.

In a week offering a smattering of modest box office performers, it’s not uncommon for stores not to stock everything, with a different assortment of titles depending on the retailer.

Best Buy, for example, gave a nice push to the Ben Stiller starrer Greenberg, while Walmart and Target sold it only online. Lionsgate’s direct-to-video thriller Caught in the Crossfire was readily available on Walmart shelves, but online only at Target and Best Buy. And so on.

For the most prominent new title, The Bounty Hunter, Walmart offered a two-pack with romantic comedy Maid in Manhattan.

Best Buy offered a promotion with Sony Pictures, packing $10 theater coupons for upcoming releases Salt, The Other Guys and Eat Pray Love with copies of DVDs of The Pursuit of Happyness, Talladega Nights, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Snatch, at $7.99 each.

12 Jul, 2010

New on Disc: 'Dragnet 1968' and more …

Dragnet 1968: Season 2

Shout! Factory, Drama, $44.99 six-DVD set, NR.
Stars Jack Webb, Harry Morgan.
The successful 1960s revival of the classic cop drama packed in some camp value during the counter-culture heyday. The jokiness began to seem more forced when juxtaposed against more adult subject matter like sex predators, LSD and racial turmoil. Even so, these episodes do give a hint of where the country was at the time.
Extras: The set includes the 1966 pilot episode, a sit-around with longtime associates of Jack Webb and informative essays by Webb’s daughter (Stacy) and Webb’s official biographers.
Read the Full Review

Jason and the Argonauts (Blu-ray)

Sony Pictures, Adventure, $24.95 Blu-ray, ‘G.’
Stars Todd Armstrong, Honor Blackman, Nancy Kovack, Gary Raymond.
Generally, the colors on the darker Jason Blu-ray aren’t as bright as those on my old and generally brighter DVD copy, though I noticed certain reds on the Blu-ray that carried the day. Overall, the grainier Blu-ray is sharper, though there’s visual inconsistency in both versions. The result is kind of a litmus test for how much or little Blu-ray can do for a movie shot on a limited budget.
Extras: The Blu-ray offers a pair of commentaries, one of which is with stop-motion special effects guru Ray Harryhausen (who just turned 90) and film historian Tony Dalton. The other discussion features visual effects artist Randall William Cook (The Lord of the Rings) and Peter Jackson.
Read the Full Review

Obama’s Deal: Inside the Battle for Health Care Reform

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
April’s “Frontline” special from its top creative gun (Michael Kirk) is about the grimy hands that resulted from presidentially mandated arm-twisting on the long road to getting a bill passed. Expect the usual array of Washington characters and confrontations, though here, of course, the stakes were upped. You get a great sense of how arduous the process is and how many unsavory things one has to do even to win a squeaker, which Kirk gives us in just under an hour.
Read the Full Review

Five Star Final (Remastered)

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $14.95 Download, NR.
Stars Edward G. Robinson, Marian Marsh, Boris Karloff.
Though a couple of its supporting performances have their overwrought moments, this pioneer best picture Oscar nominee is still the real deal when it comes to the screen’s most acidic portrayals of the tabloid press. And there’s nothing overwrought about Edward G. Robinson, who proved to audiences that his range went well beyond playing iconic hood “Rico” in Little Caesar, which had made an overnight star of the Broadway import earlier in the year. Said to be based on the experiences of a vengeful former newshound, this play-to-film casts Robinson as the managing editor of a rag called the New York Evening Gazette. With the sales force wanting more sensationalism, Robinson reluctantly gives it to them by dredging up a society shooting from 20 years before. What follows is escalating tragedy that turns the stomach of Robinson — who, in an effective symbolic gesture, is always seen sudsing up his hands with hot water, as if to excise layers of Gazette dirt.
Read the Full Review

8 Jul, 2010

Emmy Nominees Make a Statement

"South Park"
"South Park"

The 2010 Emmy nominations as unveiled July 8 by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences consisted of the usual list of perfunctory nominees that really shouldn’t surprise anyone. Looking at the list, it’s hard to quibble with a majority of the selections (unlike the asinine winners list from the recent Saturn Awards).

Sure, I would rather have seen “The Big Bang Theory” up for best comedy instead of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which was probably nominated on the gimmick of its “Seinfeld” reunion. But I’m glad to see “True Blood” up there on the list for best drama series. And it’s nice to see Hugh Laurie nominated again for “House” in the best actor category, which he should have dominated the past few years but has never managed to win, and probably won’t win again this year.

Beyond the major nominees, however, are a few selections that really stand out to me.

First, in the Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series category, is the nomination of “The Tonight Show.” But not the Jay Leno “Tonight Show.” It’s “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien.” That’s right, the redoubtable redhead gets a bit of vindication following his very public ouster by NBC earlier this year (he returns in November on TBS, which mounted the Emmy campaign on his behalf).

But I think more interesting is the Outstanding Animated Program category. “South Park” picked up its 10th nomination in the animation categories, which isn’t a surprise since the show has won four times, including the past three years. The amusing thing about this particular nomination is that it’s for the two-part episode “200/201,” which is the infamous episode that was censored by Comedy Central for fear of offending certain religious groups, then yanked from the Internet so fans couldn’t watch it there either.

From what I understand of the Emmy process, nominations are based on the submission of individual episodes, rather than the show as a whole. This isn’t always apparent since the best comedy and drama series and acting categories are listed by show and not episode (that’s why some mediocre shows can make the list if they have a couple of standout episodes). The animation category actually lists the specific episode because one-shot specials are also eligible for the category.

To further simplify the process, only one episode of an animated show can be submitted for the category in a given year, so the producers and network have to make that determination.

Ergo, Comedy Central, after demonstrating their confidence in the episodes “200” and “201” by censoring them, later submitted them for Emmy consideration (though I suspect creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone had more to do with the selection of the episode to present for the Emmy).

Looking at the nominees list, there’s really no reason it shouldn’t win, either (though “The Simpsons” has won the category 10 times and is nominated again this year). But to simply nominate the episode after such controversy demonstrates courage, and is a positive statement in support of free speech — the very statement the episode was trying to make in the first place.

6 Jul, 2010

A ‘Despicable’ Selection

Best Buy's <i>Despicable Me</i> app
Best Buy's <i>Despicable Me</i> app

A slow week for new releases, such as the one following the July 4 holiday, gives stores a nice excuse for sales or other promotions.

Best Buy covered its weekly ad circular with references to the new animated film Despicable Me, for which Best Buy is offering a smartphone app tie-in.

Related to this promotion, Best Buy is offering a $10 coupon toward a Despicable Me theater ticket with select Universal titles, such as Coraline, Land of the Lost, The Tale of Despereaux and The Incredible Hulk, listed at $14.99 each for the Blu-ray version.

Best Buy’s CinemaNow movie download service offered Greenberg for $15.95. The movie won’t be released on DVD or Blu-ray until July 13.

Best Buy also has a Clash of the Titans cell-phone skin for free with preorders of the movie on DVD or Blu-ray. It hits shelves July 27.

Catalog Blu-ray titles were offered for sale by Best Buy at $9.99 and $14.99 each.

Target offered select catalog titles on Blu-ray at $14.99 each.