Veep

Toni Servillo in THE GREAT BEAUTY

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. The Great Beauty (Criterion) Paolo Sorrentino’s almost plotless portrait of the glamorous nightlife of contemporary Rome may seem on the surface to be an obvious choice for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. After all, it quite deliberately follows the footsteps of La Dolce Vita as an ode not only to Rome’s vast history, but its history of cinematic glitz. Yet there’s a great deal going on below The Great Beauty’s exquisitely realized surface. Rather than a simple 21st century upgrade of Fellini’s Rome, The Great Beauty is an existential travelogue, a decadent and detailed portrayal of a place uncertain about how to realize its future as a definitive global city in the culture so content to rest its champagne-soaked laurels on its extensive reputation. We see Rome through the eyes of Toni Servillo’s Jep Gambardella, whose failure to produce a second novel after a monumental first success sets the stage for his engrossing tour of Rome’s beguiling but hollow surfaces. While it made nary an appearance on op-ed trendpieces on the topic, Sorrentino’s film belongs directly alongside 2013’s many portrayals of excess for an era of economic uncertainty. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more beautifully shot and edited exegesis on the sweet life. – Landon Palmer [Blu-ray/DVD extras:  Interviews with the director, lead actor, and screenwriter; deleted scenes; trailer; an illustrated booklet featuring an essay by Philip Lapote]

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30 Rock

When we talk about joke-machine sitcoms, you know the type. They have the same sense of humor and dramatic climate as a 30 Rock episode. It’s the kind that’s hard to articulate, but easily recognized: comedies where misunderstanding the pronunciation of “rural juror” is a series-long gag and characters can change their attire by turning around and walking away without anyone raising his or her eyebrows. Tina Fey and company broke sitcom barriers with the show-about-a-show for more substantial reasons than just economizing sentences into rapid-fire jokes, but there’s no denying style played a key role. In plenty of ways, 30 Rock was equal parts insufficient and success; while its audience only ever grew sizable with Fey’s Sarah Palin skits, the little sitcom that could was a critical darling. More importantly, peers loved it. The show was awarded three Emmys for outstanding comedy series and holds the record for most nominations given to a comedy series in a single year (22). This month, the show will be nominated again in almost every category, for certain. And there’s even a fighting chance it will win in plenty of them, too. But the other sitcoms that sprung from the 30 Rock generation have not had the same fate.

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discs natalie portman

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. Beautiful Girls Willie Conway (Timothy Hutton) has returned home for his high school reunion at a very confused time in his life. His long time girlfriend (Annabeth Gish) joins him on the trip as he visits with friends, strikes up a purely platonic relationship with a 15-year-old neighbor girl (Natalie Portman) and decides if he’s ready to settle down and get married. The late Ted Demme has a few fine films to his name including The Ref and Blow, but this sweet, honest and funny movie remains his high point. Portman’s perfect encapsulation of the untouchable teen is fantastic in every regard, but to be fair her storyline is only a small part of the whole. Willie’s friends (Matt Dillon, Noah Emmerich, Max Perlich, Michael Rapaport, Rosie O’Donnell and more) run the gamut of emotional stages as some are satisfied with their lives and others are not, but all of them feel authentic. The story threads fold together so effortlessly, the performances feel so real and the Blu-ray debut is long overdue. Also, Natalie Portman. [Blu-ray extras: None]

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Culture Warrior

Two nights ago, Aaron Sorkin’s heavily-anticipated and rather polarizing new show The Newsroom aired its debut on HBO. With the pilot’s central focus on the BP oilrig explosion, the premium cable network has established itself (alongside with their recent TV movies) as the primary venue for dramatizing recent political history. However, other contemporary television shows have addressed political issues well beyond the headlines of the past few years. In this election year, it seems that TV comedies and dramas from several networks have a surprising amount to say about the political process in a way that resonates with this uncertain, often frustrating moment. Here’s how The Newsroom stacks up against a triumvirate of other TV shows with overtly political themes…

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What is Movie News After Dark? It’s a nightly column about movies and television and things that are said about movies and television. Sometimes it’s full of news. Sometimes it’s weird. It’s always worth reading. We begin tonight with a fact that should be well known to readers of this column. If not, you’re not paying attention, and you should feel shame. I enjoy reading the work of Pajiba’s Joanna Robinson more than I enjoy reading my own work. Which is a lot to say, as I find myself to be downright brilliant. That said, the supremely talented Ms. Robinson has written a list all about 5 Kickass Female Characters You Wouldn’t Want to Meet in a Dark Alley – including Thor‘s Sif, as played by Jaimie Alexander and seen above. The only problem is that I want to meet all of these women in a dark alley. But not in a combative manner. Unless they’re into that sort of thing. What can I say? I’m flexible.

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Channel Guide - Large

Ah, Elaine Benes. The spastic dancing, the contraceptive sponge hoarding, the big wall o’ hair. She’s the Seinfeld character nearest to my heart, which speaks both to the deep admiration I have for uncouth women with practical, somewhat masculine taste in footwear and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ endearingly brassy performance. Though there was never any reason to doubt her talent during the ‘90s, in my eyes, no TV character that Louis-Dreyfus tackled post-Seinfeld was going to come close to matching iconic Elaine. At first, this stubborn assessment (originally made when I was a very self-possessed 17-year-old) seemed on point, but then the trailer for her new HBO series Veep was released last week. Even though the comedy isn’t set to premiere until April, it already looks like we have another classic Louis-Dreyfus character on our hands. In other words, if TV shows were potential lovers, Veep would be looking pretty sponge-worthy right about now.

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