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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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15 Feb, 2010

New on DVD: ‘Good Hair,’ ‘Hunger,’ ‘Contempt’ and more …

Last week, in talking about the new-to-DVD 1966 TV version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, I alluded to the 1933 oddball movie version of Alice in Wonderland. Now, it turns out that Universal is releasing it Mar 2 to cash in on the new Tim Burton Alice. The movie has a rep as a misfire, and I haven’t seen it since the early 1960s. But my curiosity is up due to the supporting cast: Cary Grant (Mock Turtle), Gary Cooper (White Knight) and W.C. Fields (Humpty Dumpty).

Now on to this week’s picks:


Good Hair

Street 2/16
Lionsgate, Documentary, B.O. $4.2 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘PG-13’ for some language including sex and drug references, and brief partial nudity.
Stars Chris Rock.
Comic Chris Rock tries to do for African-American cosmetology what Bill Maher did for God in Religulous — embarking on an odyssey to educate himself on the big-business aspect of hair and all the sub-categories this entails.
Extras: Commentary by Rock and producer Nelson George.
Read the Full Review


Street 2/16
Criterion, Drama, B.O. $0.2 million, $39.95 DVD or Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham.
Brit video artist Steve McQueen’s justly acclaimed political prison drama focuses on the 1981 Maze Prison hunger strike masterminded by real-life Irish Republican Army prisoner Bobby Sands (Fassbender) amid his weakened final days.
Extras: McQueen recalls how the strike, which he says was vastly underreported by the Brit press, affected him during his youth; interviews with the cast and writer Enda Walsh and others; the BBC’s 1981 look at the strike; and an essay by critic Chris Darke.
Read the Full Review

Contempt (Le Mepris)

Street 2/16
Lionsgate, Drama, $39.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance, Fritz Lang.
Studio Canal appears to be challenging industry-standard Criterion to a game of HORSE when it comes to making arthouse classics look like opening night. Contempt is among the most gorgeous-looking European films of the era.
Extras: Jammed: an intro by film professor/historian Colin MacCabe, which packs an amazing amount of historical info into five minutes; and scads of look-backs clocking in at various length — some done at the time, some more recent.
Read the Full Review

The Music Man

Warner, Musical, $28.99 Blu-ray, ‘G.’
Stars Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, Buddie Hackett, Ron Howard.
Warner Home Entertainment didn’t pull many muscles serving up the paltry extras on its Blu-ray of The Music Man, but this best picture Oscar nominee was shot in pristine Technirama, which means that, visually speaking, even lesser renderings invariably start a few gallops out of the gate.
Read the Full Review

The Perfect Furlough

Available Now via Amazon.com CreateSpace
Universal, Genre, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Tony Curtis, Linda Cristal, Janet Leigh.
The art of director Blake Edwards ceases to exist without letterboxing. Even fluff such as The Perfect Furlough needs the widescreen treatment. Tony Curtis plays a corporal given a Paris furlough with an Argentine actress (Linda Cristal) to boost the morale of his unit. Once the story gets out of confined spaces, and Edwards gets to the countryside, the movie is a pleasant diversion.
Read the Full Review

Bad Girls of Film Noir Vol. 2

Sony Pictures, Drama, $24.96 DVD, NR.
Stars Janis Carter, Cleo Moore, Ida Lupino
1946-56. Vol. 1’s companion amounts to a Cleo Moore film festival, though the one movie here the late buxom blonde isn’t in is best of the bunch. The set includes, in order of preference, Night Editor (1946), Over-Exposed (1956), Women's Prison (1955) and One Girl's Confession (1953).
Read the Full Review



9 Feb, 2010

Why No ‘Serious’?

<i>A Serious Man</i> and Wal-Mart's <i>Couples Retreat</i> exclusive
<i>A Serious Man</i> and Wal-Mart's <i>Couples Retreat</i> exclusive

One of the Oscar contenders for best picture hit DVD Feb. 9, but you wouldn’t know it if you browsed through Wal-Mart’s shelves. A check of a Long Beach, Calif., store showed no copies of the Coen Brothers’ comedy A Serious Man, on DVD and Blu-ray from Universal.

Granted, the film only made $9.2 million, and doesn’t seem like it fits with Wal-Mart’s core demographic, but the nation’s top retail chain was the only major outlet not to stock the title on shelves (though Best Buy didn’t list the Blu-ray in its weekly ad circular). Those willing to wait for shipping could get it at Walmart.com at $18.86 for the DVD and $19.36 for the Blu-ray.

Wal-Mart did have the only real exclusive among any of the new releases, offering a two-DVD version of the comedy Couples Retreat (the “Ultimate Vacation Edition”) containing more than 40 minutes of additional bonus content and a contest to win a trip to Bora Bora.

Best Buy promoted Couples Retreat with a sticker touting a free subscription to the USA Today e-edition with purchase of the DVD and Blu-ray.

And most copies of the movie at various retailers offered an instant $4 savings off the purchase of Role Models, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Knocked Up or The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Best Buy also ran a promotion for “Valentine’s Titles for Him & Her,” discounting to $4.99 such titles as Hitch, 27 Dresses, Talladega Nights, Minority Report, Mr. & Mrs. Smith and others that hardly seem related to the holiday of love.


8 Feb, 2010

New on DVD: ‘A Serious Man,’ ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ and more …

A Serious Man

Street 2/9
Universal, Comedy, B.O. $9.2 million, $29.98 DVD, $36.98 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for language, some sexuality/nudity and brief violence.
Stars Michael Stuhlbarg, Sari Lennick, Richard Kind, Aaron Wolff.
You know those days when you wish you could go back to bed and start over? Substitute “life” for days and you get the closest thing to a flawless movie the Coen Brothers have made since 1996’s Fargo — if not ever.
Extras: Three featurettes.
Read the Full Review

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Street 2/9
Infinity, Musical, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Judi Rolin, Jack Palance, Agnes Moorehead, Nanette Fabray.
With curiosity high about Tim Burton’s March 5 take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, it makes sense to revive the NBC-TV musical version of Carroll’s Glass sequel. You can’t get too snarky over an oddity for the ages that casts Jimmy Durante as Humpty Dumpty.
Extras: Two entertaining short segments with co-producer Bob Wynn, who spins anecdotes about showbiz in general and this specific show — including worries about hiring Jack Palance because their Jabberwocky had previously decked a couple directors.
Read the Full Review

Twelve Angry Men

Street 2/9
E1, Drama, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Robert Cummings, Franchot Tone, Edward Arnold.
Three years before the famed theatrical feature, Reginald Rose’s Emmy-winning teleplay was performed live on CBS’s “Westinghouse Studio One.” This solo DVD release is the marketing standout of a superb 2008 boxed set ($59.98) that anthologized the series. Also included on this DVD is another Rose teleplay (for 1954’s An Almanac of Liberty), which was included on the same boxed set.
Extras: A cool 16-page booklet with lots of backgrounders.
Read the Full Review

Bad Girls of Film Noir Vol. 1

Street 2/9
Sony Pictures, Drama, $29.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Lizabeth Scott, Evelyn Keyes, Gloria Grahame.
Echoing Sony’s “Martini Movies” line, the lineup shrewdly combines film history with a luridly commercial hook, and deep-sea diving into the archives is always to be encouraged. In order of preference, the set includes The Glass Wall (1953), The Killer That Stalked New York (1950), Bad for Each Other (1953) and Two of a Kind (1951).
Extras: Two of a Kind’s Terry Moore interviewed today, plus a 1956 Blake Edwards teleplay called The Payoff.
Read the Full Review

Welcome to Nollywood

IndiePix, Documentary, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Considering that the Nigerian film industry didn’t exist until 1990, it’s remarkable that it was the world’s third largest at the time this rather raucous documentary was made. The interviewed filmmakers, like their peers, bankroll the movies out of their own pockets, which has dire lifestyle consequences if the result doesn’t meet public favor.
Extras: Commentary by writer/director Jamie Meltzer.
Read the Full Review


5 Feb, 2010

Will ‘Avatar’ Have the Same Staying Power on Disc?


Bravo, James Cameron.

You’ve managed to top the box office record of your own Titanic, which many once believed was unsinkable.

That you did it with what is essentially an amusement park ride designed to manipulate the audience into believing the hype is beside the point (and a bit impressive). But I don’t want to talk about the irony of how you made $2 billion with a movie that bashes capitalism.

I’m mostly curious what kind of staying power the movie is going to have on disc.

See, without the gimmick of 3D or the immersion of a giant Imax screen, Avatar’s visual effects really aren’t any more impressive than something like the first Transformers movie, or even The Phantom Menace.

It’s like porn for geeks. You can throw action and special effects at the screen only so much before the brain wants to see something new. To paraphrase from Boogie Nights’ Jack Horner, maybe the light show is dazzling enough to draw a crowd, but is the story good enough to make them want to sit there long after they’ve gotten their fix?

I don’t think so. The plot is so filled with clichés it’s pretty clear it was just crafted to provide a rudimentary framework to test the new technologies that were invented for the movie. It’s basically just a glossy update of Pocahantas.

But the effects are dazzling, and Cameron takes great relish in showing them off. This is a beautiful travelogue of an alien planet, and if you get past how ridiculous the story gets in the final act, it’s not too different from an otherworldly version of Planet Earth.

It’s kind of like a really big museum exhibit that might draw a huge crowd, but is it really something you really need to see again? This could be one of those discs you pop in to see specific scenes if the mood suits you, or even as background material for a party.

Word is the film will be released on disc by June, and then will only be available in 2D. Since 3D was such a major part of its hype, anticipation for a 2D version seems a bit underwhelming. But barring some revolution in home 3D (that doesn’t seem likely for a few years), this is all we’re gonna get for a while.

Sure, Fox could start playing the double-dip game, and put out multiple versions of the movie every few months. But how long are people going to tolerate that? This movie is big enough to justify a huge extras package the first time out, they’re already talking about not being in a rush to put it on disc, and they’ve had the better part of a decade to put together extras for it.

And it’s going to need a lot of extras to placate those casual fans who might want to add it to their collection. (Forget the hardcore fans who have been gushing over the movie since the trailer … they’re already too far gone to save).

I’m talking several commentaries and a comprehensive behind-the-scenes documentary just for starters, that really gives fans a keen insight into all those new technologies Cameron had to invent before he wanted to start making the movie.

And there had better be a lot of deleted scenes. I mean, just watching the movie, it seems like there was a lot that was left out. I can think of a few specific scenes that I would be surprised didn’t exist on the cutting room floor, just due to the gaping plot holes left behind by their exclusion. (For starters, where’s the scene in which Yosemite Sam Col. Quaritch chews out whats-her-name for abandoning the attack on Hometree?)

Of course, I’d be quite amused to have an alternate audio track that plays the songs and dialogue from Pocahontas or Ferngully: The Last Rainforest as one watches Avatar. The movie probably wouldn’t have to be edited much to match up the scenes.

And since it has a screensaver quality, why not put a screensaver mode on there? Make it music only, cut out the dialogue and the military hardware and just focus on Pandora.

Then, when 3D at home technology catches up, a second release would be warranted. But whatever’s on there, it’s going to sell huge and make even more money. That’s a given.

That being the case, though, why even release this movie by itself on DVD? If people are so desperate to own it, put it on Blu-ray only and force the folks to finally upgrade their system. Or, if that’s too extreme, go with a combo pack only, so that the unenlightened masses can still get it on DVD, but they’ll have that Blu-ray there nagging at them with the curiosity of what they are missing.

If Avatar really is the next generation of filmmaking, it seems like such a waste if it can’t do the same for home entertainment.

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4 Feb, 2010

Galactica Redux … Redux

Now that Battlestar Galactica: The Plan has officially capped off the reimagined “Battlestar Galactica” series, Universal Studios Home Entertainment is taking the opportunity to re-release a complete series of the show.

You may remember that a complete-series DVD and Blu-ray collector’s set was released last July, a few months after the series finale. But since The Plan hit disc in October, that first “complete” set didn’t have it.

April 6, Universal will release a new configuration of the complete series, this time with The Plan, and at a lower cost than the first boxed set. The 26-DVD version ($199.98) and 21-disc Blu-ray version ($299.98) won’t be as elaborate as the limited-edition collector’s set, and won’t include the Cylon action figure.

Early details from Universal suggest the set will probably consist of the same slimcases the season sets came with, packed inside a larger outer box, which is how the studio usually configures its complete-series sets (“Knight Rider,” “Incredible Hulk,” “Northern Exposure,” “Miami Vice,” to name a few).

If this is the case, it would correct one of the few flaws of the first boxed set, which didn’t include an episode guide and housed the discs in flimsy cardboard slots (less of a problem for the scratch-resistant Blu-ray version, but problematic for scratch-prone DVDs). Our friends at TVShowsOnDVD.com bring news of a trade-in program for those who own the old boxed set and want the new packaging, though it seems as though you have to tear off a portion of the set to mail in to get the new packaging.

Unfortunately, the new set still will not include the “Face of the Enemy” webisodes that were first released during the fourth season, and a studio rep indicated there were no plans to release them on disc any time soon. The webisodes are readily available online.

The April 6 release date coincides with the debut of the standalone Blu-ray version of Battlestar Galactica: Season Two.

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2 Feb, 2010

Planet of Hulk and Zombies

While Zombieland was probably the biggest new release Feb. 2, most retailers still had prominent displays for Michael Jackson’s This Is It, a holdover from the previous week.

A Wal-Mart in Long Beach, Calif., was playing This Is It on one of its TV endcaps, and had two big aisle displays for the movie.

The only retailer offering a Zombieland exclusive was Best Buy, which had a bonus DVD packed in with limited copies of the Zombieland DVD and Blu-ray. Extra content includes the featurette “Shootin’ Zombies With Ruben Fleischer” and behind-the-scenes footage.

Another title that generated a lot of interest was Lionsgate’s new Marvel animated adaptation Planet Hulk.

Best Buy’s weekly ad circular promoted an exclusive mini comic book on-pack with copies of Planet Hulk. A store in Costa Mesa, Calif., had a nice Planet Hulk display at the front of the store, but DVD copies of the movie were marked with a sticker promoting a simple mini-poster inside the package.

The mini-comic, The Incredible Hulk and Now the Wolverine, actually came with copies of the new Wolverine and the X-Men: Fate of the Future DVD, as well as re-released versions of previous Lionsgate animated Marvel movies Ultimate Avengers, The Invincible Iron Man and Hulk vs.

Best Buy was one of three major retailers offering some sort of “Hulk” comic book exclusive. Wal-Mart offered a 20-page Planet Hulk Prelude: Peace in Our Time mini-comic with copies of the two-DVD special edition of the movie, while Target presented a digital comic with the special edition. (Target didn’t bother advertising the single-DVD version in its weekly ad circular.)

Wal-Mart also is running a promotion for the TV series “24.” Through Feb. 28, fans can get a free CTU T-shirt by mail with purchase of a “24” DVD set.

1 Feb, 2010

New on DVD: ‘More Than a Game,’ ‘As It Is in Heaven’ and more …


Prebook 2/2; Street 3/2
Shout! Factory, Drama, $19.97 DVD, NR.
Stars Kurt Russell, Shelley Winters, Season Hubley, Bing Russell.

Boilerplate biopic, albeit very high-end, spanning 1952-69 (when Presley made his Las Vegas debut). John Carpenter directed the eventual Golden Globe nominee for ABC. Kurt Russell’s performance is exceptionally studied (if your subject is Elvis, it had better be), and his nailing of the singer’s mannerisms and speech patterns (uh-huh, uh-huh) still leaves me all shook up.
Extras: Commentary by Ronnie McDowell (who re-creates Elvis’ “voice” in the movie — and very well) and Presley cousin Edie Hand; minor featurettes. 
Read the Full Review

More Than a Game

Street 2/2
Lionsgate, Documentary, B.O. $1 million, $27.98 DVD; ‘PG’ for brief mild
language and incidental smoking.
Remarkable access again distinguishes a basketball documentary. This time, it’s championship high-school team St. Vincent-St. Mary, out of Akron, Ohio, in the early 2000s – whose standout player just happened to be current Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James.
Read the Full Review

As It Is in Heaven

Street 2/2
Kino, Drama, $29.95 DVD, NR. In Swedish with English subtitles.
Stars Michael Nyqvist, Frida Hallgren, Helen Sjoholm.
Seeking inner peace, a renowned symphony conductor (Michael Nyqvist) returns to the Swedish village where childhood bullies once pummeled him — only to be cajoled into leading a church choir of oddballs and upsetting a closed community’s rhythm. Enjoyable — though at times, this foreign-language Oscar nominee seems like another of those humanistic feel-good imports that Oscar frequently nominates for foreign-language feature in its sleep.
Read the Full Review

Leonard Bernstein: Omnibus

E1, Music, $49.98 four-DVD set, NR.
Here’s Lenny in the just-plain-folks mode that some inevitably found off-putting — but he still has charm to burn explaining Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, jazz, conducting, American musical comedy, “modern music,” Bach and opera. Remarkably restored and remastered from kinescopes by the Archive of American Television.
Extras: A CBS broadcast of Handel’s Messiah from Christmas Day 1955. Note, also, young Carol Burnett’s appearance on the musical comedy program.
Read the Full Review

Ruggles of Red Gap

Available Now via Amazon.com CreateSpace
Universal, Comedy, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Charles Laughton, Zasu Pitts, Charles Ruggles, Mary Boland.
This is director Leo McCarey’s gentle jewel, epochs overdue on DVD. For lead Charles Laughton, it kicked off one of the greatest single years any actor has ever enjoyed. The recent availability of this best picture Oscar nominee is a nice lead-in to Criterion’s much-awaited Feb. 23 release of McCarey’s never-more-topical 1937 tearjerker Make Way for Tomorrow.
Read the Full Review

TCM Greatest Classic Films: Sci-fi Adventures

Street 2/2
Warner, Sci-Fi, $27.92 two-DVD set, NR.
Stars Kenneth Tobey, James Whitmore, Hugh Marlowe, Lois Maxwell.
Another keenly packaged Turner Classic Movies four-pack offers The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Them!, World Without End and Satellite in the Sky. My, what large scales or pincers you have.
Read the Full Review

26 Jan, 2010

Jacko's Final Spotlight

(L-R): Wal-Mart and Target <i>This Is It</i> Exclusives
(L-R): Wal-Mart and Target <i>This Is It</i> Exclusives

With This Is It representing the last new material generated by Michael Jackson before his death, retailers understandably gave it a grand treatment upon its release Jan. 26.

Target offered an exclusive This Is It Blu-ray combo pack that also contained the DVD, the latest Sony Pictures title to see this configuration at Target (Angels & Demons was the first). Shoppers also could get a $5 gift card with purchase of the This Is It CD soundtrack with either the DVD or Blu-ray.

In a related promotion, Target gave away 3D glasses to be used during a special Jackson tribute during the Grammys.

Best Buy listed This Is It videos in the music section of its weekly ad circular, and offered an exclusive bonus disc with the Blu-ray version, which also came with a backstage pass replica. Fans could also save $5 off the DVD or Blu-ray with purchase of the This Is It CD or the 25th anniversary Thriller CD.

Wal-Mart, which devoted a whole sectional display to This Is It and other Jackson products, offered an exclusive two-DVD special edition of the concert film, with four additional featurettes on the second disc.

Wal-Mart also give short shrift to another Blu-ray new release Jan. 26 by not offering the Whip It BD in stores, but online only, presumably to drive traffic to Walmart.com.

Wal-Mart also cut the price of a BD Live-ready Samsung Blu-ray Disc player nearly in half, from $248 to $128, the same price as its Magnavox non-Internet ready player.

25 Jan, 2010

New on DVD: 'This Is It,' 'Whip It' and more …

Before writing a quarter-century’s worth of consecutive Friday home viewing columns for USA Today, I programmed about 5,000 movies at Washington, D.C’s American Film Institute Theater for eight years.

Before that, I went through a kind of screening-regimen boot camp (though this one was more for wimps) at New York University’s Graduate School of Cinema. And before that, I worked at a CBS affiliate in one of the country’s largest feature film libraries.

In other words, I have seen them come and go.

Starting this week, I hope to bring some of the colorful fallout from all this (plus my admitted junkie-dom for sports, politics and all things pop) to a Home Media Magazine feature devoted to the viewing room releases that push my buttons.

I didn’t want to begin until there was an especially meaty week of choices at hand. So here we are: for anyone whose taste runs to the eclectic, Jan. 26’s street date comes close to being the full haunch.

Michael Jackson’s This Is It

Street 1/26
Sony Pictures, Music, B.O. $72.1 million, $28.96 DVD; $39.95 Blu-ray, ‘PG’ for some suggestive choreography and scary images.
Jackson is in full command as he rehearses for the concert that never was. Some of the performance footage here needs no qualification: “The Way You Make Me Feel” performance, for example, made me feel pretty spry.
Extras: Several behind-the-scenes documentaries, and the Blu-ray adds lots more, including interactive features.
Read the Full Review

Whip It

Street 1/26
Fox, Comedy, B.O. $13 million, $29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13’ for sexual content including crude dialogue, language and drug material.
Stars Ellen Page, Juliette Lewis, Drew Barrymore, Marcia Gay Harden, Daniel Stern.
Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut benefits from plucky Ellen Page really diving into roller derby mayhem. The story’s sisterly camaraderie (Lewis and Barrymore play partners in contusions) is not without appeal, and it’s fun to see the beer enthusiast dad played by Daniel Stern.
Extras: Expendable deleted scenes — though there’s one funny harangue by the team’s coach (Andrew Wilson).
Read the Full Review

Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy

Street 1/26
Criterion, Drama, $79.95 three-DVD set, NR.
Director Rossellini made history by filming World War II’s aftermath as it happened with Rome Open City (1945); Paisan (1946-48) and Germany Year Zero (1948-49). The still-searing City, about Italy’s anti-Fascist resistance, put future Oscar-winning actress Anna Magnani on the international map. The six-part Paisan remains an uncommonly consistent anthology film.
Extras: Archival Rossellini intros, extensive documentaries, essays, the Taviani Brothers (great Italian filmmakers themselves) paying homage, and more.
Read the Full Review

The Kennedy Assassination: 24 Hours Later

Street 1/26
A&E, Documentary, $19.95 DVD, NR.
As one historian notes, few days left America more vulnerable than the events of Nov. 22, 1963. This account replicates the feel of William Manchester’s 1967 essential read The Death of a President — possibly because the author himself compiled documents in 1964-65  that were sealed until last year. Most amazing revelation: a power scuffle over JFK’s body between government and local authorities in the hospital, during which someone actually pulled a gun.
Read the Full Review

Bright Star

Street 1/26
Sony Pictures, Drama, B.O. $4.4 million, $27.96 DVD, ‘PG’ for thematic elements, some sensuality, brief language and incidental smoking.
Stars Ben Whishaw, Abbie Cornish, Paul Schneider.
The story is of John Keats at 23 as an aspiring Romantic poet. Writer-director Jane Campion got super reviews for her take on the romance between Keats (Whishaw) and neighbor Fannie Brawne (Cornish). The movie looks gorgeous, too — so where’s the Blu-ray?
Extras: Three minor Campion featurettes, over in a blink.
Read the Full Review

Country’s Greatest Stars Live: Vol. 1 and 2 (DVD Review)

Street 1/26
Shout! Factory, Music, $26.99 each two-DVD set, NR.
Telecast over a five-month period during the Jimmy Carter years, this seven-hour tribute to 50 years of a bedrock music form showcases more than 60 artists performing the expected evergreens. But this is what you want in a comprehensive overview, which is far more often moving than not despite an overabundance of saccharine strings.
Read the Full Review


22 Jan, 2010

Continuing an Epic

Sci-fi geeks experiencing a bit of “Battlestar Galactica” withdrawal should be able to get their fix with the prequel series “Caprica,” which premieres tonight on Syfy.

Granted, most fans have probably seen the pilot, which Universal released on DVD last year, and tonight’s version is an edited-for-TV version (with limited commercial interruption, at least). So for many fans, the real premiere comes next week with the first regular episode of the series.

I can’t wait to dive in. I was a huge fan of the “Galactica” remake, developed by veteran writer Ronald D. Moore, who cut his teeth on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” writing some of the better episodes of those shows. “Caprica” chronicles how the Colonials created the Cylons, a race of robots who would eventually turn against their masters and force them to flee their homeworlds in search of the mythical Earth.

With the arrival of the show on Blu-ray and its spin-off movie The Plan, I recently watched “Galactica” from start to finish again, and I must say it’s even better the second time around, avoiding the problem a lot of shows have once their freshness has worn off (I’m looking at you “24”).

Yes, “Galactica” took a lot of heat and criticism for a final season, and a final episode, that seemed to abandon its sci-fi ideals in exchange for a blanket spiritualism that overwhelmed the storylines, leading many viewers to conclude it overwhelmed the writers as well. Talk of angels and gods began to take on literal meanings within the plot, although it turns out the characters in question were saying exactly what they were the entire time.

This evokes the feeling of a Greek poem not unlike The Iliad or The Odyssey, when gods would interfere with the course of humanity all the time. Upon further review of the show’s plots and motifs, it seems clear that these ideas fit perfectly into the narrative structure. The Plan acts as an epilogue that reinforces the primary themes of the show.

Fundamentally, this is a show (and, with “Caprica,” a franchise) about the conflicts between parents and children. How a new generation’s desire to stake a legacy of their own often interferes with the goals of the previous generation for a better tomorrow.

We see it with the Cylons attacking humanity.

We see it in Cavil’s conflict with the Final Five.

We see it on a personal level, between Apollo and Adama. Between Starbuck and her parents. In Athena and Helo’s attempts to protect Hera.

We see it on a spiritual level, as a story of humanity’s metaphorical parent, God, attempting to set right the sins of its creation by orchestrating the destruction of one society and the creation of another. The Biblical overtones are obvious.

Further, we can extend the metaphor beyond the fourth wall, as the show attempts to surpass the original from the 1970s. “All of this has happened before, and will happen again” is more than just key mythology within the storyline, it is an acknowledgement of the show’s roots. In this sense the series seems aware of its place within the history of televised science-fiction.

Now, with “Caprica,” the franchise grows beyond its origins, maintaining its focus on the core story, but presenting it in a whole new light. I for one can’t wait to see how these new stories inform and enhance what we already know.

Sure, history has shown us that creating an effective prequel isn’t always the easiest task to accomplish. However, given the pedigree of the writers involved with “Caprica,” I have faith that they’ll pull it off.