TV's favorite misanthrope medical genius falls in love and then falls back into familiar patterns in Season Seven
For all its popularity, "House" has a tendency to slip into familiar patterns.
So "House: Season Seven" (Universal) changes things up with an honest-to-god love affair between TV's favorite misanthrope medical genius (Hugh Laurie) and Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), his boss and longtime protector at the hospital. The season opens in the bliss of the first blossoms of their affair and then takes along the rocky road of romance as House attempts to balance a real relationship with his maverick ways at work and his worst instincts in his personal life. The glow of romance takes the edge off his worst tendencies, but House is still House, sniping at everyone who crosses his path and constantly competing at practical jokes with Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard).
The rise and fall of their romance plays out over the course of the season, but it's not the only dramatic development. Thirteen (Olivia Wilde) takes a sudden and unexplained (at least until she returns late in the season) leave of absence in the first episode (in reality to give the actress time off for a her blossoming film career) and Cuddy sends House a young medical phenom to join his diagnostic team with episode six (on disc two). Amber Tamblyn is Martha Masters, a brilliant, socially awkward and morally centered medical student, a little geeky (okay, a lot geeky) and very gifted and a new challenge for House, who takes her refusal to lie to a patient as a challenge.
The award-winning prison thriller from Spain is as smart as it is gripping
"Cell 211" (Zeitgeist), a volatile thriller from Spain about a young guard trapped in the midst of a prison riot, is already being looked at by Hollywood for remake potential. Make a point of seeing the superb original, which is visceral and intelligent, with layers of political complexities (both national and internal) and a touchy buddy story at the center.
Alberto Ammann stars as the guard who, on tour of the prison before he even begins his job, is trapped behind enemy lines when a well-planned riot led by a dangerous but principled lifer (Luis Tosar) takes control of the main block. The guard has to pose as one of the inmates to survive the ordeal, dangerous enough under normal circumstances but even more nerve-wracking in a situation on the verge of exploding into violence at any turn. After all, a riot is great cover for a murder or two.
"Cell 211" is gripping and unsettling and the script makes the most of unexpected (but completely credible) turns in the chaos of the stand-off and the pressure-cooker tension in the cell block, where the violent criminals barely keep it together as the stand-off drags on. A cell of political prisoners only piles more gunpowder on a situation that is one spark away from blowing up. And the guard's dawning realization of the depth of corruption and lies in the system as it turns against him as well only makes it more compelling. His survival becomes tied with the success of the inmates. The film won eight Goya Awards in Spain, including Best Film, Best Director (Daniel Monzon), Best Adapted Screenplay and acting awards for Tosar, Ammann and actress Marta Etura.
In Spanish with English subtitles, plus a half-hour Spanish language featurette "The Making of Cell 211."
Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week.
"Prom" (Disney) offers the world of high school romance and the magic of prom night as a cute, colorful, altogether PG experience. It may not transcend the clichés, but it delivers them all with just enough mushy fun to make it, if not quite timeless, at least familiar to every generation. Videodrone's review is here.
You can continue the journey from youth to adulthood in the indie features "Skateland" (Fox), a coming-of-age drama set in a small Texas town in the early 1980s, and "True Adolescents" (Flatiron), about a 34-year-old Seattle slacker (Mark Duplass) who isn't all that more mature than the two adolescent boys he takes on a camping trip.
Susanne Bier's "In a Better World" (Sony), a drama from Denmark about two Danish families brought together by two troubled boys, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Two other imports also stand out these week: "Cell 211" (Zeitgeist) (reviewed here), a volatile thriller from Spain about a young guard trapped in the midst of a prison riot, and "Police, Adjective" (Zeitgeist), a dryly funny satire of the absurdity of bureaucratic literalism triumphing over human justice. More at the "Foreign Affairs" round-up.
TV on DVD:
"Nikita: The Complete First Season" (Warner) arrives in time to catch up with the sleek super-spy series, starring Maggie Q as the sultry rogue agent at war with the corrupt rogue government agency that turned her into a killer, before the second season begins in late September. There aren't many high-energy, big-budget action thrillers on the small screen anymore and this has sex appeal and style as well as adrenaline and special effects going for it. Videodrone's review is here.
Sadly, "Detroit 1-8-7: The Complete First Season" (Lionsgate) did not get picked up for a second season, a terrible shame as the first season of the precinct-style cop show is probably the best of its kind with "NYPD Blue," and the best role Michael Imperioli has had since "The Sopranos." Reviewed on Videodrone here.
"Wonders of the Universe" (BBC) is the latest in a run of superb BBC natural history documentaries, this one focusing on the building blocks of the universe and how they shaped the Earth. Comparisons to "Cosmos" are inevitable and this four-part series measures up. Reviewed here.
And of course, as the new seasons prepare to launch, the previous seasons continue to role for such shows as "House: Season Seven" (Universal) (reviewed here), "Parenthood: Season Two" (Universal), "Desperate Housewives: The Complete Seventh Season" (Disney), "The Vampire Diaries: The Complete Second Season" (Warner), "90120: The Third Season" (Paramount), "Sons of Anarchy: Season Three" (Fox) and more.
Cool, Classic and Cult:
"The Complete Jean Vigo" (Criterion) presents newly remastered edition of all four films made by the great French director, including his sole feature (the sublime "L’Atalante") and revered extended short (the playfully surreal "Zéro de conduite"), made before he died at the age of 29. On DVD and Blu-ray
Based on a manga and subsequent anime series, the Japanese live-action "Gantz" (New People) is gonzo sci-fi fantasy that combines video-game aesthetics, gladiator games and classic Japanese monsters with a metaphysical mystery that, as the final image reminds us, is "To be continued." Videodrone's review is here.
"Strike" (Kino), the landmark debut feature of Soviet master Sergei Eisenstein, arrives on DVD and Blu-ray in a new edition mastered from the recent restoration. Also debuting on DVD is the much more lighthearted Russian silent comedy "The Cigarette Girl of Mosselprom" (Kino).
"The Twilight Zone: Season 5" (Image) presents the complete final season of Rod Serling’s brilliant series of the fantastic, where social politics and barbed human dramas were slipped in behind the façade of fantasy: 36 episodes (including "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," the only episode not produced for the series) plus hours of commentaries, interviews and other supplements.
Lindsey Anderson's "If…" (Criterion) quite fittingly debuts on Blu-ray the same week that "Zero For Conduct," one of the films that inspired the director, also debuts on BD. Also this week: "Top Gun" (Paramount), the film that made Tom Cruise a superstar and boosted U.S. Navy recruitment in 1986, and the Oscar-winning "Good Will Hunting" (Lionsgate).
The complete calendar of releases this week is after the jump:
|Tags:||Week in review|
The world of high school romance according to Disney
"Prom" (Disney), a familiar but sweet teen romances made without a trace of cynicism or calculation, was a conspicuous underachiever at the box office. Which is surprising as it seemed ready made for the teen and tween demographic that made Disney's "High School Musical" films such hits. All that's missing is the song and dance numbers.
It's not exactly John Hughes-lite and it never transcends the clichés it so knowingly rides along the road to the high school prom experience. But it delivers them all with just enough mushy fun to make it, if not quite timeless, at least familiar to every generation. Songs and styles change but the innocence of teen romance and idealized yearnings remains the same through the decades.
Aimee Teegarden (of "Friday Night Lights") is the sunny poster girl of the film, the pretty overachiever so overextended she hasn't time for a personal life, and Thomas McDonell (looking like a young Johnny Depp) is the misunderstood bad boy, eternally in trouble because of his commitment to his single mom and little brother and constantly with a chip on his shoulder because of it. Gee, could these photogenic opposites -- tossed together in a plot contrivance -- end up together at prom? And so it goes with the rest of the ensemble of obligatory types, from jocks to scholars, from popular kids to geeks, from longtime sweethearts to newfound loves
Is it too wholesome for today's youth? Do these tropes go down easier when the kids break into song and dance? Or was it simply bad timing? Hard to say, but I imagine that this high school romance is going to be home video perennial, though likely not for high school kids, who will be moving on to "Gossip Girl" and other more worldly, trashy and cynical entertainments. I image the tweeners will likely take to this all-embracing, terribly romantic, safely PG vision of high school acceptance.
Your guide to our coverage of the new DVD/Blu-ray releases
Here's what's new on DVD and Blu-ray this week as featured on Videodrone
"Win Win" – For the Actors, the Filmmaker and the ViewersRiding the "Road to Nowhere" - MSN has a review and an exclusive clip
It's not all "Sunshine" and "Poetry" – The Films of Lee Chang-dong
TV on DVD:
Not Quite "The Event" That NBC Hoped For
Cool and the Collectible:
Cult Watch: "The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara"
Cool, Classic and Collectible: Sword and Sorcery and Phineas and Ferb
Blu-ray Round-up: 'Swingers' is So Money, Baby, plus 'Bambi II,' 'Rounders' and 'Hostage'
The original 1973 TV movie "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark"
Streams and Channels:
Coming up next week:
"True Adolescents" (Flatiron)
"Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family" (Lionsgate)
"Police, Adjective" (Zeitgeist)
"Cell 211" (Zeitgeist)
"The Complete Jean Vigo" (Criterion)
"The Incredible Shrinking Man" (Universal)
"Nikita: The Complete First Season" (Warner)
"Detroit 1-8-7: Season One" (Lionsgate)
"House: Season Seven" (Universal)
"Cougar Town: The Complete Second Season" (Disney)
"Desperate Housewives: The Complete Seventh Season" (Disney)
"Parenthood: Season Two" (Universal)
"The Vampire Diaries: The Complete Second Season" (Warner)
"Sons of Anarchy: Season Three" (Fox)
"Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D" (Blu-ray) (Disney)
"The Twilight Zone: Season 5" (Blu-ray) (Image)
"If…" (Blu-ray) (Criterion)
"Top Gun" (Blu-ray) (Paramount)
"Good Will Hunting" (Blu-ray) (Lionsgate)
"The 10th Victim" (Blu-ray) (Blue Underground)
|Tags:||Week in review|
Good thing 'Medical Center' is around to patch up the pieces
More vintage shows are debuting via the more const-conscious MOD mode. Here are some of the highlights of recent TV on DVD-R releases.
"Man From Atlantis: The Complete TV Movies Collection" (Warner Archive) – Before "Dallas," Patrick Duffy washed upon the beach of network TV in the 1977 TV movie "Man From Atlantis," the first of four telefilms with Duffy as the mysterious stranger on dry land "Mark Harris." That's the name he adopts after Dr. Elizabeth Merrill (Belinda Montgomery) saves his life when he's found unconscious on the beach. When modern medicine fails to get him breathing again, she drops him back into the water, which apparently is enough to keep him around an otherwise alienating facility monitored by a military that sees him as a either a national defense asset or a potential military threat. But it's not like he can go home again, since his memory is a blank. He doesn't know who he is or where he came from and hanging around with the humans is his best bet at getting some answers. Duffy's blank naïveté plays like an analogue precursor to Data from "Star Trek: The Next Generation," a guileless innocent with fabulous abilities -- the guy outswims Flipper in the film's best special effect and skin-dives to the ocean floor of the Bermuda Triangle -- and a fondness for human society balanced his instinctive suspicion of human motives.
The pilot itself, which brings him in contact with a modern Captain Nemo (Victor Buono), falls somewhere between Gene Roddenberry seriousness and Irwin Allen fantasy, while the follow-up "Man From Atlantis II: The Death Scouts" adds an alien visitor angle to his mystery: a UFO crash lands in the water and a couple of underwater-breathing humanoids with unblinking eyes, webbed hands and monotone speech patterns emerge to take stock of the land above the waves.
"Man From Atlantis: The Complete TV Movies Collection" (Warner Archive) features all four TV Movies made in 1977 ("Killer Spores" and "The Disappearances" fill out the set) on two discs. The subsequent weekly incarnation was short-lived and all 13 episodes are collected in the four-disc set "Man From Atlantis: The Complete Series" (Warner Archive). Both in standard cases with hinged trays.
"The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Series, Part One" (Warner Archive), starring Stephanie Powers as the very capable Agent April Dancer, is no more campy than its big brother series, which still gives it a lot of leeway to play it tongue in cheek. In the first episode alone, the antidote to a top secret drug (which makes people move at half speed) is parachuted into Greece on a dachshund (or rather, on the dog's fleas) and then chased down by U.N.C.L.E. and T.H.R.U.S.H. agents alike. Otherwise it's a colorful Cold War spy romp with Powers sent all over the world for glamorous assignments that call for her to dress up in jumpsuits and harem outfits and the like and Noel Harrison providing back-up as her partner Mark Slate. Leo G. Carroll provides the adult supervision as U.N.C.L.E. director Alexander Waverly. The show lasted a single season. This four-disc set features the first 15 of the show's 29 episodes.
"Medical Center: The Complete First Season" (Warner Archive) was part of a new wave of medical dramas post-"Dr. Kildare." There was still the mix medical stories with personal stories and the obligatory dynamic of the veteran chief of staff (James Daly) and the dedicated younger firebrand (Chad Everett) who also headed the Student Health Department at the University (because, you know, he's a little more with it when it comes to the kids), but it also brought medicine and ethical issues up to the modern age, Well, modern for 1969, anyway, which feels fairly dated by today's standards. Guest stars this season include Dyan Cannon, Tyne Daly, Mercedes McCambridge, Walter Pidgeon, Slim Pickens, Martin Sheen, Richard Thomas, Cicely Tyson and William Shatner (in case you want to jump ahead, he's in "The Combatants" on disc six). 26 episodes on six discs in a standard case with hinged trays.
MOD stands for "Manufacture on Demand" and represents a recent development in the DVD market, where slipping sales have slowed the release of classic, special interest and catalogue releases. These are DVD-R releases, no-frills discs from studio masters, ordered online and "burned" individually with every order. You can read a general introduction to the format and the model on my profile of the Warner Archive Collection on Parallax View here.
The original 1973 TV movie is not all that scary but it is a little weird
It's standard practice on home video to cash in on whatever chips the studio has in the vault whenever the opportunity comes, especially when it comes to sequels and remakes. But with the drop in DVD sales (and the subsequent loss of shelf space in the major retailers) over the past couple of years, more of the vault titles are being sidelined into the less costly (for the studios) manufacture-on-demand release streams.
So, with Guillermo del Toro's "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" hitting theaters this weekend, the original 1973 TV movie is back on DVD (well, DVD-R) through the Warner Archive in a new "Special Edition" (at lead by MOD standards).
No, it's not a lost masterpiece, but it is fun. Young marrieds Kim Darby and Jim Hutton move into an old house with a secret locked away in a boarded-up room. William Demarest is the amiably crusty old carpenter who warns them that "Some things are better left as they are," advice they predictably ignore. Their renovations unleash a small swarm of mumbling demons in furry jumpsuits and rubber masks (they look like cousins to the gremlin from the "Twilight Zone" episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," but with creepy shriveled heads). Hutton comes off as the worst kind of paternalistic husband, patronizing in one scene, scolding her like a fed-up parent in the next as the creepy little demons (who carefully hide themselves from all other eyes) hound her to distraction and terror.
Plus 'Bambi II,' 'Rounders' and 'Hostage'
The DVD editions came out in June. Now "The Women in Cages Collection" (Shout! Factory), a collection of three Roger Corman-produced exploitation films of the seventies, debuts on Blu-ray. Cult filmmaker Jack Hill directs "The Big Doll House" and "The Big Bird Cage" and Pam Grier is featured in all both films plus "Women in Cages." Videodrone's review is here.
When out-of-work actor Jon Favreau tired of waiting for his big break, he decided to go the Sylvester Stallone route and write his own. The result was "Swingers" (Lionsgate), the 1996 indie hit that launched the careers of Favreau, Vince Vaughn and director Doug Liman. Favreau plays the sad sack of the bunch of aspiring LA actors still hung up on the girl back home who broke it off. His happy-to-help buddies (led by the would-be smoothie of a ladies man Vaughn) drag him from one nightspot to another, plying him with cocktails while coaching him in the ways of the swinger. Full of wry humor, knowing references and dead-on guy talk, "Swingers" is a snapshot of a time in the American indie culture where they made the kinds of films that the studios had given up on: small character pieces with genuine characters, and now it makes its high-def debut. That is so money, baby.
Features all the supplements from the previous DVD special edition: two commentary tracks (one with director Doug Liman and editor Stephen Mirrione, the other with writer/star Jon Favreau and co-star Vince Vaughn), the four-part documentary "Making It in Hollywood," five deleted scenes and the short film parody "Swingblade," a mock trailer which drops the mumbling dimwit Karl (of "Slingblade") into the hip LA scene, complete with button-up short, hiked-up pants and guttural communication: “You are so money, baby!” “Mm hmmmm.”
Did you know there's a sequel to "Bambi"? Sixty years after the debut of Disney’s masterful animation classic came the 2006 "Bambi II" (Disney), a direct-to-DVD sequel that fills in the time after Bambi’s mother is shot by hunters and his father, The Great Prince, teaches him the ways of the forest. Bambi’s beloved friends Thumper, Flower, Owl and others return for the adventure. It arrives in a Blu-ray+DVD Special Edition this week, along with featurette "The Legacy Continues," a deleted song, an optional subtitle Trivia Track and set-top games and activities for young viewers among the supplements.
"Rounders" (Lionsgate) stars Matt Damon as a former poker hustler trying to lead a straight life as a law student and Edward Norton as a sleazy, scamming buddy (appropriately named Worm) who pulls him back into the gambling world. Director John Dahl makes the most of the masks, moves, and double dealing by the characters. He understands the gambler’s motto -- you don’t study the cards, you study the person -- far better than the hackneyed script does. Dahl, Damon and the cast carry the film through the narrative hoops. John Turturro and Famke Janssen cut fine performances from their roles, John Malkovich hams it up shamelessly with a flamboyant Russian accent, Gretchen Mol is lovely window dressing, and Martin Landau brings dignity to a plot device. Features two commentary tracks and featurettes on the film and on the world of professional poker.
In "Hostage" (Lionsgate), Bruce Willis is an aging, burned-out L.A. hostage negotiator who has retreated to a job at a sleepy county sheriff's department but pulled back in when a pair of joy-riding teens (led by Ben Foster) turn a home invasion into a hostage situation with Willis' family in the middle. There’s an air of terrifying plausibility for much of its running time, especially when Willis sweet talks a spunky adolescent boy into harm’s way (his voice almost cracks as he puts this boy’s life on the line to save his own family), but it loses its credibility when Foster goes on the hunt like a blood-simple psycho with the moves of a movie spymaster. Director Florent Siri has a tough style and an unforgiving attitude, but it gets drowned in the queasy blood lust. Features director commentary, deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary by Siri and a featurette.