This is a pretty big week for DVD releases with plenty of titles worth buying and renting as well as a couple worth skipping completely. There’s no real common thread here aside from almost half of titles featured below being TV shows on DVD. The best of the bunch include the second and third seasons, respectively, of Community and Parks & Recreation, but other TV releases include the classic seventies series Police Story, the trippy Sigmund & the Sea Monsters, the piss poor Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, and more. But there are some great releases for film fans too including Hanna and X-Men First Class.
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
The events of 9/11 affected all Americans in one way or another, but for many people the nightmare struck very close to home. Jim Whitaker’s documentary was almost a decade in the making and follows five of those people as they deal with the events across the years. Each year we revisit with a son who lost his mother, a woman who lost the love of her life, a man who lost his brother, another who lost his best friends, and a woman who suffered massive burns across her head and body. We see them descend into depression, struggle with survivor’s guilt, and hopefully emerge whole again. Everyone grieves differently, and this ultimately triumphant and redemptive film shows it as a necessary step when coping with tragedy. Time lapse footage of the rebuilding at Ground Zero set to soaring music is featured as well, but the truly powerful footage features nothing more than these people, looking into the camera, and telling their stories.
Community: The Complete Second Season
Pitch: This is the reason why TV on DVD is a good idea…
Why Buy? The gang at Greendale Community College continue their education by schooling every other sitcom in the fine art of comedy. Modern Family is equally as good overall, but this show leads in laughs per episode thanks both to the writing as well as the near perfect delivery of stars Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie, Donald Glover, Danny Pudi, Joel McHale, Chevy Chase, and Yvette Nicole Brown. The supporting players are equally adept at turning creator Dan Harmon’s world into one of the most subtly emotional sitcoms in recent memory. Episodes consistently explore the sitcom form and show a willingness to bend, break, and create new rules as they see fit, all while maintaining high standards of comedy and heart.
Pitch: If only little Susie Salmon had Hanna’s combat skills when she was being diddled…
Why Buy? A man (Eric Bana) trains his daughter (Saoirse Ronan) in the fine arts of fighting and weaponry and then releases her into the world on a very specific mission. Cate Blanchett stars as the CIA woman trying to track them both down. Director Joe Wright steps far outside his period piece comfort zone with this stylish action romp that melds the genre’s beats with his own artistic sensibilities. There’s some goofiness to wade through including Blanchett’s highly suspect accent and the questionable assertion that Ronan could beat Bana in a fight, but the film as a whole is an exciting and entertaining adventure set to the driving beats of The Chemical Brothers. Check out my full review here.
Park & Recreation: Season Three
Pitch: Rashida Jones and Adam Scott star. So you shouldn’t need any more of a reason to watch…
Why Buy? The parks department of Pawnee, Indiana, is at the center of this very funny NBC show that follows the trials and tribulations of small town politics and inter-office relationships. Amy Poehler leads a cast of characters that over the past three seasons have gelled with near perfect chemistry, and their comedic timing and talents combined with some sharp and savvy writing and editing has led this show into must-see TV territory.
Pitch: Always start from the outside first then work your way in…
Why Buy? A young boy chops up his mother for giving him grief over a nudie puzzle, and forty years later college co-eds are meeting a similar fate. The setup is purely generic slasher fare, but the execution is an oddly perfect blend of gore, sex, and absurd laughs. Genre veteran Christopher George plays the ineffectual detective on the case, but the real star is the unexpected personality and humor throughout. Check out my full review here. **NOTE – This is a region2 DVD which requires either a region-free player or the willingness to watch on your PC.**
X-Men: First Class
Pitch: Winner, Best Cameo of the Year and Best Bar Scene of the Year…
Why Buy? Director Matthew Vaughn brings the X-Men back to their origins in this prequel that sees young Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr as friends fighting for a common cause before their markedly different ideologies drive them apart. This is the fourth X-Men film and arguably one of the best of the bunch as it infuses stellar set pieces with wit and real emotion. Some may argue that it changes up the Marvel universe too much from the other films, but they’re missing the point of a reboot. It succeeds brilliantly in its goals and will leave most viewers eagerly awaiting a second installment (that we probably won’t get thanks to an indifferent theatrical response). Check out my full review here.
Pitch: Racism, drug addiction, and dysfunction, oh my…
Why Rent? British playwright Andrea Dunbar is the initial focus of this uniquely crafted documentary, but the “character” who grabs the most attention is her first daughter, Lorraine. Born to Dunbar and a Pakistani father, the young woman grows up in a family, neighborhood, and mentality that eventually lead her to tragedy. The story is bleak, no doubt, but director Clio Barnard presents the story in such an oddly fitting format as to make it difficult to pull the eyes away. The film includes some older footage of Dunbar and her family, but the majority of it features actors lip-synching to previously recorded audio interviews with the real subjects. Barnard also interjects snippets of one of Dunbar’s plays acted out in her actual neighborhood. It’s a fascinating, but often depressing, watch.
The Battle for Marjah
Pitch: Keep an eye on the midget Mohammad…
Why Rent? This British doc from journalist Ben Anderson follows the US Marines’ Bravo Company as they attempt to take and hold the town of Marjah in Afghanistan in early 2010. Anderson’s cameras are right there in the midst of the action as bullets and rocket propelled grenades whiz by through the air, and the experience is a frighteningly tactile one. Viewers critical of the war effort will find evidence to their views here as Anderson’s focus aside from the action seems to be how much of a clusterfuck the whole thing is, but if you can distance yourself from the politics there’s an interesting and engaging doc to be found here.
The Office: Season Seven
Pitch: Welcome to Robert California…
Why Rent? Season seven of this NBC mainstay says goodbye to Michael Scott (Steve Carell) with a bevy of heavy-hitter guest stars and a search for his replacement. This season started off pretty weak, as evidenced by the incessant online bitching, but it stepped things up a bit with visits from folks like Timothy Olyphant and Will Ferrell. The best was saved for last though as the final two episodes introduce someone who just may be the show’s savior… James Spader as Robert California, possible new office manager. The guy is absolutely pitch perfect here and is reason enough to watch the season as well as tune in for season eight.
Police Story: Season One
Pitch: The best Police Story installment not to feature Jackie Chan…
Why Rent? Best-selling author Joseph Wambaugh created this series about the Los Angeles police department in the early seventies, but while the fashion and lingo feels dated the stories, action, and attitude are fairly timeless. The show has a fluid cast of characters who can disappear for episodes at a time only to return later in the season, and while that means more people to keep track of it also feels more realistic as the action and events aren’t always happening to the same lead cops week after week. It’s gritty, edgy, and entertaining action drama lovingly packaged by the folks at Shout! Factory, and fans of TV procedurals should definitely take a look.
Sigmund & the Sea Monsters: Season One
Pitch: “I pulled my Barracuda into a Shell Station, the mechanic said, you’ve blown a seal. I said hey, just fix the car and keep my personal life out of this…”
Why Rent? Two boys, one blond (Scott Kolden) and one an unfortunate ginger (Johnny Whitaker), find a multi-limbed sea creature named Sigmund at the beach and bring him home as a friend and/or pet. It’s not clear exactly. It seems Sigmund was booted out of his sea monster family for refusing to terrorize humans, but now that they want him back the boys face endless adventures trying to keep him safe and secret. It’s all just as goofy and broad as you’d imagine a Sid & Marty Krofft production to be, but the highlight of each episode remains the bits where Whitaker sing/talks a story element. It’s creepy.
Pitch: Gong who? Wu…
Why Rent? A high-ranking member (Andy Lau) of the Hong Kong triad decides the upcoming birth of his child will signify his exit from the business, but as word of his impending retirement hits the streets some nefarious types start planning a hostile takeover. The film moves between Lau’s dealings with the loyal and not so trustworthy men of his inner network and two young street thugs vying for a hit that will make their name with the triad. Lau and Jackie Cheung are always fun to watch, and the movie is interesting enough to warrant a rental from genre fans, but it’s not exactly action heavy. Or even action medium.
Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior
Pitch: If you suspect this show sucks you are correct…
Why Avoid? The FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit includes a rapid response team, known as a RED Cell for some undisclosed reason, and they fly around the country solving crimes. This appears to be a spinoff of Criminal Minds in the same vein as the various iterations of Law & Order, NCIS, and CSI, but having never watched the original I can’t say how similar they are. I can however say that this show is pretty damn terrible. Forest Whitaker leads a bland and melodramatic crew that includes a woefully miscast Janeane Garofalo. None of them feel the least bit authentic or interesting in the roles, and the stories are equally uninspired. Skip it and watch Community instead.
Pitch: Even the South deserves better than this…
Why Avoid? Two guys and a girl head south in a van and get lost amidst the ignorance, racism, and Satanism of a small Southern town. Not everything Arrow Video chooses to reissue is worthwhile apparently. This 1982 cheapie from writer/director John Russo for example is a pretty much junk. It’s almost entirely filler as most of the film feels like endless driving, walking, talking scenes that do nothing to make you care about the characters or storyline. Poor acting, pacing, and direction are the real killers here. By the time the horror elements start really kicking in and the blood begins to flow it’s way too little too late. Skip it and watch Charles Bronson’s far scarier 10 to Midnight instead. **NOTE – This is a region2 DVD which requires either a region-free player or the willingness to watch on your PC.**
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show, review material was unavailable, and I have no blind opinion:
Drak Pack: The Complete Series
Everything Must Go
Fringe: The Complete Third Season
High School Musical: China
A Horrible Way To Die
No Ordinary Family: The Complete First Season
Read More: This Week in DVD
What are you buying on DVD this week?