Join us each week as Rob Hunter takes a look at new DVD releases and gives his highly unqualified opinion as to which titles are worth BUYing, which are better off as RENTals, and which should be AVOIDed at all costs.
And remember, these listings and category placements are meant as informational conversation starters only. But you can still tell Hunter how wrong he is in the comment section below. This week sees an abundance of TV shows hitting DVD in preparation for the new Fall season including Modern Family, Spartacus Blood and Sand, Community, Castle, and more.
Click on any of the titles below to magically head over to Amazon.com and pick up the DVD. And don’t forget to check out Neil Miller’s hilariously titled This Week In Blu-ray for reviews on the latest high definition Blu-ray releases!
Community: The Complete First Season
Pitch: “We’re the only species on Earth that observes Shark Week…”
Why Buy? This is one of the two funniest new shows on TV. It focuses on a group of adults (technically speaking) attending a local community college, and it’s that rare creation where all seven of the lead characters are legitimately funny. Joel McHale leads the pack as a disgraced and disbarred lawyer forced back to the college grind, and he’s joined by Mystery Team‘s Donald Glover, the hilarious and hot Alison Brie and Gillian Jacobs, character actress but funny in her own right Yvette Nicole Brown, veteran funnyman Chevy Chase, and the show’s pop culture center, Danny Pudi. Season one is smart, funny, and emotionally satisfying in equal measure, and it also features the best episode of any TV series from last season… “Modern Warfare.”
Extra Features? Commentaries, outtakes, extended pilot, alternate scenes, featurettes
Modern Family: The Complete First Season
Pitch: “I have to get old. You don’t have to get fat…”
Why Buy? This is the other of the two funniest new shows on TV. Like Community above, this ABC sitcom works due to a combination of smart and funny writing and a perfectly cast ensemble. Three families, all part of the same extended family actually, are viewed through the lens of a a semi-documentary. (It’s similar to The Office, but a bit less obvious.) Ed O’Neill is the patriarch looking over the family that includes his young, Latina wife and her precocious son, his gay son and the man he loves, and his daughter who has a full family of her own including three children and a husband who should probably be counted as a fourth child. Ty Burrell plays the husband, and for a character actor known for playing evil doers and assholes he’s revealed here to be an incredibly funny performer. Filled with laughs and warmth, this show is a keeper.
Extra Features? Deleted scenes, gag reels, featurettes
The Secret In Their Eyes
Pitch: Suck it Michael Haneke! (No offense Landon…)
Why Buy? This mystery thriller won the Oscar for Best Foreign language Film, and it was a well deserved victory over The White Ribbon (not so much over A Prophet). Everyone’s favorite Argentinian (well Jeff Hall’s anyway), Ricardo Darin, plays a droopy-eyed, ex-prosecutor trying to write a book about the case that still haunts him. The film flashes back across two decades to weave a tale of murder, political intrigue, and regret, but it’s in the present day where the truth will finally be revealed. Strong acting, sharp writing, and beautifully shot, this is a fantastic adult thriller well deserving of your time. The tracking shot over, into, and throughout the soccer stadium alone is worth watching the movie for, but thankfully the rest of it is just as impressive.
Extra Features? Commentary, featurettes
Being Human: Season Two
Pitch: Three’s Company meets The Monster Club…
Why Rent? This British series follows the otherworldly adventures of three London flatmates who happen to be a bit unusual. Mitchell is a vampire, George is a werewolf, and Annie is a ghost, but they won’t let any of that get in the way of their friendship. Well, not often anyway. Besides they’re too busy worrying about spectral assaults, shadowy vampire organizations, and working the daily grind at the local hospital and pub. Like most British series (and pay-cable series for that matter) the season is short, only eight episodes here, but while it doesn’t quite have enough time to really suck you in deep there’s enough character work and surprises to keep you entertained.
Extra Features? Featurettes
Bored To Death: The Complete First Season
Pitch: Wouldn’t Jason Schwartzman make an awesome super villain? Maybe it’s just me…
Why Rent? Jonathan Ames is a writer who’s just been dumped by his girlfriend, and so he does what anyone would do it that situation. He becomes an unlicensed private eye. Along with his wealthy, pot-loving boss (Ted Danson) and his portly, depressing friend (Zack Galifianakis), Ames takes on cases that would make Raymond Chandler proud indifferent. Schwartzman makes for an appealing everyman kind of hero here, and there’s no denying it’s one of HBO’s funnier shows… especially when Danson is onscreen.
Extra Features? Commentaries, deleted scenes, featurettes
Castle: The Complete Second Season
Pitch: ‘Bam’ said the lady! Again…
Why Rent? Novelist Richard Castle continues to work his smooth and sassy magic with the NYC police department while alternately wooing and annoying Detective Kate Beckett. Nathan Fillion would have great chemistry with an office chair, but luckily he’s given an equally talented co-star in Stana Katic. The two do a fantastic job playing off each other both comedically and romantically, and as long as they keep that romance unfornicated (?) the show will be continue to be one of the lightest and most entertaining procedurals on TV.
Extra Features? Featurettes, outtakes, deleted scenes, music video
Pitch: Does Vagisil work on mermaids with a fishy odor problem? It’s a legitimate question people…
Why Rent? A fisherman and single father named Syracuse spends his days trawling the open water where one day he pulls in his nets to find a pretty blonde lady among the fish. Her name is Ondine and while she’s not sharing the circumstances that led to her water rescue, Syracuse’s wheelchair-bound daughter has an idea… the woman is a selkie! Which is not at all like a mermaid and is instead more of a sea nymph. The movie never quite becomes the magical Irish tale it seems meant to be, but it’s beautiful to look at and Colin Farrell is quite good as well. Plus, squid girl is pretty damn attractive too.
Extra Features? None
Pitch: Somewhere between Prince Of Thieves and Men in Tights sits this misguided but mildly entertaining entry into the Robin Hood canon…
Why Rent? Ridley Scott revisits the legend of Robin Hood as an epic action adventure starring Russell Crowe, and it’s unlike any version of the story that has come before. Of course, that’s because this new version doesn’t actually become about Robin Hood until the last five minutes of the damn movie. Until that point the film serves as a prequel to the story we all know and features large scale battles, feudal politics, and Robin’s portly hood. Like most of Scott’s films Robin Hood is definitely worth a watch, but if you go in expecting to see the Robin Hood you know and love you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Extra Features? Director’s cut and theatrical, deleted scenes, featurettes
The Secret Of Moonacre
Pitch: Is it just me or are orphans the only ones who get to have magical adventures? Kids from happy homes like fantasy too…
Why Rent? A young orphan is sent to live with her goofy uncle and learns that she might actually belong amidst the magical world of Moonacre. Unlike the director’s previous film, Bridge To Terabithia, I had no knowledge of the book that this new movie is based upon prior to watching it. And I don’t think that matters. The movie doesn’t really stand out from the genre, but the actors are good, the effects and set design are solid enough for a smaller scale fantasy film, and the story filled with lessons about growing up. And while Tim Curry can play campy bad guys in his sleep he’s always fun to watch.
Extra Features? Making of, deleted scenes, interviews, behind the scenes
Spartacus: Blood and Sand: The Complete First Season
Pitch: Blood, boobs, butts, and bad CGI abound…
Why Rent? A Thracian soldier becomes an enemy to the Roman army and finds his wife sold into slavery and himself tossed into the gladiator arena as fodder. He surprises everyone by defeating his better armed opponents and is sent to a gladiator training camp as property of a man named Batiatus. The two strike a deal… Spartacus will fight and earn money and Batiatus will track down the gladiator’s wife. This is one show you really can’t judge based on the initial episode, because while that first ep is a ridiculously over the top mash-up of CGI blood, sex, and 300-style visuals. Subsequent episodes keep the same ingredients but manage to use them to enhance the story instead of trampling it. John Hannah stands out as a slimy villain who occasionally tilts toward empathy, but Andy Whitfield anchors the show with his heart, athleticism, and love story. Spartacus may start out rather cartoonish but it quickly earns your viewership through effort, action, and lots of naked body parts.
Extra Features? Extended scenes, gag reel, featurettes
None of this week’s releases (that I’ve seen anyway) are worth Avoiding. Unless you really hate television I guess…
In the interest of full disclosure, I received review copies of the following DVDs for this week’s column:
Castle: The Complete Second Season
The Secret Of Moonacre
Spartacus Blood and Sand: The Complete First Season
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen it and review material was unavailable:
Human Target: The Complete First Season
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Undead
Read More: This Week in DVD
What are you buying on DVD this week?