20 seasons on 104 discs – That's a megaset if I ever saw one
"Law & Order: The Complete Series" (Universal)
The powerhouse crime-drama was practically under the cultural radar for years before people realized it was not only one of the most popular shows on TV, it was one of the best. This was long before it spawned so many spin-offs that the brand was practically its own crime show network, when it was simply a show with a brilliant structure and a memorable "chong-chong!" punctuation sting in every transition.
The show launched in 1990 with a line-up that featured Chris Noth and George Dzundza investigating the crimes under the Captain, Dann Florek, and Michael Moriarty and Richard Brooks manning the prosecution for D.A. Steven Hill. By the time it was retired in 2010, there wasn't a single original cast member left. Fans have their favorites, and usually the venerable Jerry Orbach, who began his 12 season run as Det. Lenny Briscoe in the third season, leads the list. My favorite is the perennially underrated Noth as the brash, hot-headed Det. Mike Logan, right there from the first episode and, more than any other character in the series, evolving through his tour of duty. Jill Hennesy joined the prosecution side in the fourth year, Sam Waterston took lead chair in season five (and continued through the end of the show, ultimately taking elder statesman duties as the D.A. (after Dianne Wiest and Fred Dalton Thompson both served their terms).
Other notables who put in their time: Paul Sorvino, Benjamin Bratt, Jesse L. Martin, Dennis Farina (perhaps the only odd fit on the show; too much maverick personality), Jeremy Sisto and Anthony Anderson on the Law side, all under with command of seventeen season veteran S. Epatha Merkerson; and Carey Lowell, Angie Harmon, Elisabeth Röhm and Linus Roche (taking lead chair from Waterston upon his promotion) on the Order. And that doesn't begin to take into account the tremendous run of guest stars through the years.
While the shows have been dutifully pouring out by the season for years, less than half the series is currently available by the individual season. This box set is the first time all twenty seasons and 456 (!!!) episodes have been available. No surprise, this is set with heft: 104 DVDs packed into a 12" by 7 1/2" by 5 ½" box, weighing in at just under ten pounds and carrying a retail price tag of $699.99, though you'll be able to find it discounted for up to hundreds of dollars less (check Bing for deals here).
It's not just a challenge to pack a megaset like this efficiently, it's a necessity. This box doesn't squander space on high-concept packaging: each season is packed into its own case, each of them standard size with hinged trays, and the only bonus extra is an episode guide that reproduces the one-sentence descriptions of the original releases. My minor gripe is that it neglects to identify guest stars (which is how many people remember key episodes) and other creative participants of the individual episodes. Neither do the seasons list the incarnation of the cast, but that you can make it out on the cast cover photo.
Not a lot of supplements, which is fine. The modesty of presentation fits the temperament of the show, and really, with 456 episodes, how much extra do you need? But it does include the three cross-over "Homicide" episodes, plus deleted scenes from throughout the show's run. What it's missing is the great "Law & Order" movie "Exiled," which brought Chris Noth back as Mike Logan, and the "Law & Order" crossover episodes of "Trial by Jury" and "Special Victims Unit." And while the discs present widescreen editions of the series from the fifth season onwards, it simply re-uses the earlier full screen (1.33:1) release of "Season 14" rather than remastering it in widescreen. Those minor quibbles aside, it's quite a package.
Plus a 'Mission: Impossible Trilogy' box set and more
Hitchcock patented the romantic thriller with "The Lady Vanishes" (Criterion), a bright, breezy confection that takes his quirky cast (and the audience along with them) from an idyllic picture postcard of fantasy Europe to a nightmarish journey to the heart of the dark days of World War II that lay just ahead.
Adorable Margaret Lockwood meets cute with ethnomusicologist Michael Redgrave and it's loathing at first brush, but those kinds of sparks ignite the fires of romance, especially once they board the same train and team up to search for Dame May Whitty, a charming old spinster who no one seems to remember after she disappears, seemingly into thin air. The tight, witty script by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder is brought to life by a seasoned cast of character performers, highlighted by droll turns by Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford as twitty cricket fans Charters and Caldicott desperately searching for the latest scores.
The Blu-ray debut features a newly remastered HD edition of the film, plus commentary on the film by Bruce Eder and the bonus 1941 film "Crook's Tour," a silly little British espionage comedy with Wayne and Radford reprising the characters Charters and Caldicott as lead characters for the first time. Here, the world travelers are mistaken for spies in the Middle East and passed secret information by a Nazi saboteur. What follows is veddy British, with plenty of jokes made at the expense of Radford's "horse-faced" sister (Noel Hood) and more cricket references than any American should ever have to wade through. Also features the video essay "Mystery Train" by film scholar Leonard Leff, audio excerpts from François Truffaut's legendary 1962 interview with Hitchcock, a gallery of stills and art, and a booklet with essays by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and Hitchcock scholar Charles Barr.
"Mission: Impossible Extreme Blu-ray Trilogy" (Paramount) is a box set collecting the first three big budget, big screen incarnation of the cult espionage series of the 1960s, starring Tom Cruise as secret agent Ethan Hunt and a collection of dazzling action set pieces. "Mission: Impossible" (1996), directed by Brian DePalma, puts Hunt on the run when he's framed for the deaths of his espionage team. To clear his name, he puts together a team of rogue agents to infiltrate the heart of his own organization. Built on a plot of feints and deceits that gets harder to understand the more you push it, it is nonetheless a slick piece of action filmmaking, directed with devious style by DePalma, who knows how to stage a set piece. Jon Voight plays the role created by Peter Graves in the TV show and Emmanuelle Beart, Henry Czerny, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Vanessa Redgrave co-star.
John Woo directs "Mission: Impossible II" (2000), which gives crack agent a new assignment (stopping a deadly biological weapon), a new villain (Dougray Scott), a new love interest (Thandie Newton), and lots of slow motion action with doves flapping through. Ving Rhames, Richard Roxburgh and Brendan Gleeson co-star. "Mission: Impossible III" (2006) takes on a vindictive international super-villain (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who takes his revenge on Hunt by kidnapping his fiancé (Michele Monaughan). Directed by TV creator J.J. Abrams, it plays like a an entire season of "Alias" condensed into one film where any motivation beyond revenge simply confuses the issue. The rest is just action movie spectacle, pyrotechnics, and devilishly clever missions full of split second timing and cool gear and feints that always work. Keri Russell (star of Abrams' earlier series "Felicity") makes a striking appearance as a fellow agent, Ving Rhames, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Maggie Q, and Billy Crudup fill out Hunt's team, and Simon Pegg and Laurence Fishburne co-star.
The discs all feature the supplements from the previous single-disc Blu-ray releases – commentary tracks, featurettes and such – except for "M:I-3," which includes just the first disc of the earlier two-disc edition and offers just the commentary track (the rest of the supplements were on the second disc). So if you have that earlier Blu-ray release, you won't want to let it go for this one.
"Tora! Tora! Tora!" (Fox), the epic 1970 American/Japanese co-production, set out to present the definitive story of the bombing of Pearl Harbor as seen from both sides of the battle. American director Richard Fleischer oversaw the complicated production and Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasuku directed the Japanese sequences (taking over from Akira Kurosawa, who quit the production over creative differences). Martin Balsam, Soh Yamamura, Jason Robards, Joseph Cotten, E.G. Marshall and James Whitmore star but the highlight of the film is the climactic 30-minute recreation of the attack, an impressive spectacle that earned the film an Oscar. Features the supplements of the earlier DVD special edition: commentary by director Richard Fleischer and Japanese film historian Stuart Galbraith IV, two historical documentaries, the featurette "AMC Backstory: Tora! Tora! Tora!," ten "Fox Movietone News" clips and galleries of stills and art. The Blu-ray comes on the Blu-ray book format with the disc in an inset sleeve in the back inside cover of the illustrated booklet.
"Now & Later" (Cinema Libre) is an erotic drama about a former banking executive on the run from the law who falls for an illegal immigrant who shelters the fugitive. Los Angeles Times critic Gary Goldstein describes it as "clumsily shot and scripted" and "a hollow concoction of sex, politics and endless chatter that's just a few camera angles short of hard-core porn." It came out on DVD earlier this year. The Blu-ray features two deleted scenes (including a bonus sex scene) and cast interviews.
"Arabia 3D" (Image) is a recent IMAX documentary narrated by Helen Mirren The Blu-ray edition includes both 3D and standard versions. (3D only works on compatible Blu-ray players and monitors.) Also includes a featurette.
Also debuting on Blu-ray: Ernst Lubitsch's "Design for Living" (Criterion), starring Fredric March, Gary Cooper and Miriam Hopkins as free-thinking Americans in Paris (reviewed here), "Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition" (Music Box), the Swedish mini-series version of the films, and Pier Paolo Pasolini's1969 "Medea" (eOne) with Maria Callas in her only big screen performance.
Plus Maria Callas in Pasolini's 'Medea,' more "MST3K' and Italian cinema
Ernst Lubtisch's elegant, witty, and risqué pre-code comedy "Design for Living" (Criterion), starring Fredric March, Gary Cooper and Miriam Hopkins as free-thinking Americans in Paris, gets the Criterion treatment on DVD and Blu-ray. Videodrone looks to MSN contributor Kim Morgan for her comments here.
The original "Millennium" trilogy, based on Stieg Larsson novels, was produced in two versions. "Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition" (Music Box) presents the expanded edition created for European television, where it was shown as a six-part, nine-hour mini-series. This edition, which runs almost two hours longer than the theatrical trilogy, restores characters and subplots from the novels missing in the shorter feature film versions, notably the editor played by Lena Endre. The main attraction, however, is still Noomi Rapace’s fierce incarnation of Lisbeth Salander, and weakest link is still the dutiful but uninspired direction. The mini-series version won an International Emmy Award. (I reviewed the original trilogy on Videodrone here.)
It debuts in the U.S. on DVD and Blu-ray in advance of the American remake of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," presented in the widescreen TV format of 16x9. In Swedish with English subtitles and optional English dub track. The program is spread across three discs while a four disc includes the same supplements as the previous theatrical release of the trilogy: the 49-minute documentary "Millennium: The Story," interviews with stars Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist and others, and a short featurette on the fight scene in the second film.
Not exactly documentary, "Jean-Luc Godard's Histoire(s) du Cinema" (Olive) is a collection of eight video essays, begun in 1988 and completed in 1998, where the Nouvelle Vague legend considers the history of the movies with a typically idiosyncratic style. He jumps through stills and clips from films spanning the 20th century, shuffling and intercutting between seemingly unrelated films to draw his connections. In the first, longest chapter, he begins and ends with Renoir's "The Rules of the Game," takes a detour into the legacy of studio head Irving Thalberg, and bounces around a vast collection of films (largely American and French), drawing connections between personal expressions and studio creations and finding beauty in both. His narration and slogan-like titles serve as both celebration and criticism of a form that is both art and industrial creation -- truth and lie in the same image -- but also become part of the text itself, a witty layer of wordplay and punning. Just like the title: history, histories, and stories about cinema. Which is a pretty accurate description of he's up to.
The complete program, which was shot and produced on video, runs about 4 1/2 hours over two DVDs in a box set of two thinpak cases. Note that the quality of the images, which look like second-generation video, is inherent in Godard's original production and part of the texture of this pirate journey through film history.
Pier Paolo Pasolini directs Maria Callas in his 1969 interpretation of "Medea" (eOne). It’s the legendary opera diva’s only film role and she dominates it with an outsized, theatrical performance appropriate to the direction, which recreates the myth as a series of rituals with Freudian reverberations in ancient world. Vincent Canby described the film as "not completely successful, but… full of eccentric imagination and real passion" in his review for The New York Times. In Italian with English subtitles. On DVD in Blu-ray, with the bonus documentary "Tony Palmer's Film About Callas."
In "Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXII" (Shout! Factory), Joel, Mike and the robots buddies on the Satellite of Love heckle four more films. This set is highlighted by two Japanese TV productions reworked into American drive in films -- "Planet of the Apes" knock-off "Time of the Apes" (created from episodes of a TV series) and James Bond knock-off "Mighty Jack" (a dubbed TV movie) -- and also features the Ed Wood Jr.-scripted "The Violent Years" and the 1946 B-movie "The Brute Man" with Rondo Hatton. Four discs in a box set of four thinpak cases, with new introductions, archival interviews, featurettes and mini-posters of each cover.
Three Italian features make the American home video debut via the Raro Video label. Albert Lattuado directs the 1970 dark sex comedy "Come Have Coffee with Us" (Raro Video), starring Ugo Tognazzi as a middle-aged tax inspector who lands himself a wealthy wife and takes her sisters as mistresses. Just one big happy family until he becomes involved with a young waitress. In Italian with English subtitles, with a video interview with film historian Adriano Apra and a booklet with essays and reviews.
The other two are horror films from Italian genre specialists. Riccardo Freda directs the 1981 erotic thriller "Murder Obsession" (Raro Video), where a group of horror filmmakers on vacation start getting killed one by one and the host (Stafano Patrizi) becomes the prime suspect. Cult actors John Richardson and Larua Gemser co-star. Features deleted scenes and an interview with contemporary horror film director S. Stivaletti. Lamberto Bava's 1992 "Body Puzzle" (Raro Video), starring Joanna Pacula and Tomas Arana, has been on home video before, but only in dubbed and cut versions. Both digitally restored editions are in Italian with English subtitles and come with an accompanying booklet with essays and notes.
"Milestones" (Icarus) features two films by radical filmmaker Robert Kramer. The 1975 "Milestones," a three-hour-plus road movie epic co-directed with John Douglas, headlines the set. "Following more than 50 characters through a combination of documentary and staged re-enactments, the film that Kramer described as "Fire-Water-Air-Earth-People" tracks the painful process through which collective action gave way to the Me Decade's enraged narcissism," wrote Village Voice film critic Melissa Anderson in 2009. Also features the 1969 film "Ice." Two discs plus a booklet with essays and notes on the films and filmmaker.
The director praises the format as the "finest technology" for home theater
Rumors of the demise of "physical media" -- DVD and Blu-ray, in other words -- have been greatly exaggerated, according to director Ridley Scott, writing for The Huffington Post.
"Far from being dead, physical media has years of life left and must be preserved because there is no better alternative," he proclaims. "Pundits aside, Blu-ray for the foreseeable future remains the finest technology to preserve the impact and enjoyment of watching movies at home."
The article is titled "The Only Way to See a Film," which he argues is "the way the filmmaker intended: inside a large movie theater with great sound and pristine picture." But in the era of home theater, he makes a case for, I guess, the only OTHER way to see a film.
"Short of that, the technically sophisticated Blu-ray disc, of which I've been a supporter since its inception, is the closest we've come to replicating the best theatrical viewing experience I've ever seen. It allows us to present in a person's living room films in their original form with proper colors, aspect ratio, sound quality, and, perhaps most importantly, startling clarity."
I don't disagree. And with so many of the new digital theater screens presenting films with washed-out images and improper color balance, it's getting to where watching a well-mastered Blu-ray in my home theater set-up is giving me a better experience than some theatrical screenings.
Plus 'Portlandia' and new seasons of 'The Simpsons,' 'The Sarah Jane Adventures' and more
"Big Love: The Complete Fifth Season" (HBO) brings HBO's big family drama of polygamy in Salt Lake City to a close, while "Big Love: The Complete Collection" (HBO) collects all five seasons in a tightly-packed gift set. Both reviewed by Videodrone here.
The Australian crime drama "Underbelly: The Trilogy" (eOne) is a gritty, dense series that chronicles the violent drug-fueled Melbourne gangland war that exploded in the 1970s and continued through the 2000s. The stories are in fact based on real-life events, fictionalized to some extent but following the historical record of murders (of both witnesses and criminal rivals and snitches), disappearances of key figures and arrest, and framed by the career of one police officer (played by Caroline Craig) who narrates the first season. Filled with violence and sex, the original 13-episode series (set in 1985) was highly controversial when it first showed on Australian TV (and banned in Victoria because of criminal trials of some of the real-life criminals portrayed in the show) and it was a massive hit, so subsequent series followed as prequels.
It's been called the Australian "The Sopranos" but, as Mike Hale writes in The New York Times, "It’s not at all the same sort of show— it’s pulpier and more lurid, and its narrative meanders as it follows the wandering course of more or less actual events. It’s closer, in both form and quality, to a high-end cable docudrama that can afford reasonably good actors for the re-creations." I've only seen the first few episodes of the debut season but they were quite vivid and compelling. "The Trilogy" in this collection's title refers to the initial three 13-episode seasons of the show, which began in 2008 and continues on Australian television. Each season is collected in a separate keepcase of four discs and there are two behind-the-scenes featurettes and the documentary "Carl Williams: Day of Reckoning," on the real-life gangster at the center of the first series. Note that the American video label reorganizes the seasons to play chronologically, which puts the prequels before the show's first season. The broadcast order is "War on the Street" (2008), "A Tale of Two Cities" (2009) and "The Golden Mile" (2010).
"Portlandia: Season One" (MVD) is the comedy series from Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen satirizing the Pacific Northwest culture of Portland, Oregon, where the dream of the nineties is still alive. The IFC original series (which was embraced by the hipsters of Portland, of course) is set to return in 2012. Six episodes. See a clip ("The Dream of the Nineties is Alive") below, after the jump.
"The Simpsons: The Fourteenth Season" (Fox) rewinds back to the 2002-2003 season, which opens with "Treehouse of Horror XIII" and features the show's 300th episode and a guest roster from Mick Jagger and Elvis Costello to Adam West and Burt Ward. 22 episodes on four discs in an accordion digipack of paperboard sleeves (not my favorite of packaging choices, and it's tricky to get it out of the slipsleeve) on DVD and three discs in a standard hardcase with hinges trays on Blu-ray, plus commentary on every episode by multiple members of the cast and crew, featurettes, deleted scenes and other supplements. Both releases feature a substantial episode guide.
"The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Complete Fourth Season" (BBC) marks the second-to-last season of the kid-oriented "Doctor Who" spin-off, starring original-series companion Elisabeth Sladen and young cast of helpers. Matt Smith makes an appearance this season as The Doctor. 12 episodes (six stories) on three discs.
"The Game: The Fourth Season" (Paramount), the BET sitcom about the wives of pro football players, presents 12 episodes on two discs. "Spongebob Squarpants: The Complete Seventh Season" (Paramount) features 50 episodes on four discs.
"The Lucy Show: The Official Fifth Season" (Paramount) features 22 episodes from the 1966-1967 season of her second sitcom, with guest stars Carol Burnett, George Burns and John Wayne. Also includes featurettes, archival clips and other supplements. "Designing Women: The Complete Fifth Season" (Shout! Factory) features 24 episodes on four discs.
The 2011 holiday special "Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas Special" (Fox) is an animated program featuring the voices of the original feature film cast members. On DVD and Blu-ray.
"Transformers Prime: Darkness Rising" (Shout! Factory) edits the five episodes of the CGI animated mini-series into an uninterrupted feature. "A Christmas Wedding Tail" (Anchor Bay) is a Hallmark Channel movie starring Jennie Garth and Brad Rowe, with the voices of Jay Mohr and Nikki Cox as dogs who play matchmaker for their masters.
MSN's Kim Morgan writes on the Ernst Lubitsch classic – here's an excerpt from her essay
Ernst Lubitsch's elegant, witty, and risqué pre-code comedy "Design for Living" (Criterion), adapted from the Noel Coward play by Ben Hecht, stars Fredric March and Gary Cooper as American artists and best friends in Paris who take up housekeeping with the very modern-thinking Miriam Hopkins. She decides that rather than choose one over the other, she will live with them both. A situation he would never have gotten past the censors after the imposition of the production code that year.
Previously available exclusively in a Gary Cooper DVD box set, it gets the Criterion treatment on DVD and Blu-ray, which features selected-scene commentary by film professor William Paul, Lubitsch's segment of the 1932 film "If I Had a Million," a 1964 British television production of the play "Design for Living," introduced on camera by playwright Noël Coward, and a video interview with film scholar and screenwriter Joseph McBride on Lubitsch and Ben Hecht’s screen adaptation of the Coward play.
MSN's own Kim Morgan writes the essay in the accompanying booklet and I leave the last words to her: "Ernst Lubitsch’s "Design for Living" (1933) is what sexy should be—delightful, romantic, agonizing ecstasy. And it’s not just sexy but also revolutionary, daring, sweet, sour, cynical, carefree, poignant, and so far ahead of its time that one could cite it as not only a pre-Code masterpiece but also a prefeminist testimonial. A uniquely Lubitschian picture in its elegance and graceful wisdom, with the gruffly intelligent, street-smart Hollywood writer and soon-to-be legend Ben Hecht collaborating, this take on the trials, titillations, and torments of a kind of relationship usually seen in true adult films, a ménage à trois (and one involving the gorgeous trio of Fredric March, Gary Cooper, and Miriam Hopkins), is unlike any other movie of its era. What film, even before that killjoy schoolmarm Joseph Breen brought his Squaresville strictness to the Production Code in 1934, has ever presented the potentially salacious scenario of three-way love in such a wistfully complicated way? This is neither a bunch of hot-to-trot cheap thrills nor a moralizing sermon on the dangers of sexual transgression—it’s a soulful look at human desire."
A clip of the opening scene is below, after the jump.
Plus 'Mr. Popper's Penguins and more
This season's favorite to "Blind Side" the Oscars with a sentimentalized tale of race relations is "The Help" (Touchstone), based on the bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett and directed by her childhood buddy Tate Taylor. Videodrone's review is here.
"The Hangover Part II" (Warner) is the monster hit of a sequel to the monster "wolf pack" comedy hit of binge drinking and bad behavior starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis. The plot's pretty much same, just the location (Thailand) and details are changed. "[I]t's not all that much of a stretch to see this film, like its predecessor, as a sour and ostensibly humorous fable of white male privilege withheld and then regained, and this film does an even worse job of disguising its resentment over the withholding part than the first one did," complains MSN film critic Glenn Kenny, who doesn't find the twists all that clever. "Unless you are laughing, which depends on your sense of humor, it gets kind of wearing. And I have to confess: I wasn't laughing." Ken Jeong, Jeffrey Tambor, Justin Bartha and Paul Giamatti co-star and Todd Phillips is back in drivers seat as director, co-writer and producer.
The DVD features a gag reel and the Blu-ray Combo Pack adds a making-of featurette and three additional featurettes. The Blu-ray also features an Ultraviolet digital copy and a bonus DVD. Also available on Video On Demand (with two exclusive featurettes) and digital download (with three featurettes from the Blu-ray).
"Cowboys & Aliens" (Universal), a science fiction western with Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, wasn't a hit, but it does have monsters, along with cowboys, spaceships, horses, six-guns, lasers and Olivia Wilde. Sounds like a blast and it should be, but it fails because, simply put, it’s a dull western with a science-fiction story grafted onto it, built on generic characters, a boilerplate posse drama and flashy digital effects. But MSN film critic Glenn Kenny is a bit more upbeat than I am on the hybrid: "What makes the movie work, really, is that above and beyond the conventions themselves doing their jobs, the actors seem truly invested in trying to convey what characters in a Western would do if confronted by aliens."
The DVD features four featurettes on the production and the effects. The Blu-ray includes both the theatrical version and an exclusive extended edition that runs 16 minute longer than the theatrical cut, plus commentary by director Jon Favreau, cast and crew interviews (conducted by Favreau) and two additional featurettes, plus the interactive "Second Screen" (which requires a tablet or PC and a wi-fi connection) and bonus DVD and Ultraviolet digital copy. Also available via Video on Demand and digital download. Available via kiosks and subscription on January 3.
"The Debt" (Universal), a British remake of an Israeli drama, is the actor's showcase of the week. Helen Mirren headlines the cast as a Mossad agent who flashes back a past mission (where she's played by actress-of-the-moment Jessica Chastain), where the truth of the event is far different than the story everyone knows and casts a shadow over her life and self-esteem. Sam Worthington and Martin Csokas are her mission partners in the flashback, who age into Ciaran Hinds and Tom Wilkinson in the present. "This fictional tale aspires to pack a big sting, and it works to an extent," considers MSN film critic Glenn Kenny, "but as a whole the picture is too overdetermined and melodramatic and sentimental in spite of itself to put its ideas and convictions across as powerfully as it would like."
The DVD and Blu-ray editions feature commentary by John Madden and producer Kris Thykier and three featurettes, and the Blu-ray also features the usual interactive BD-Live functions. Also available on Digital Download and On Demand.
Jim Carrey stars in the family film "Mr. Popper's Penguins" (Fox) with a bunch of, you guessed it, adorable penguins. " Adapted from a beloved 1938 children's book by Richard and Florence Atwater, this lightweight, mostly undirected fantasy goes down easy, gifting audiences with some laughs and uncomplicated fun," praises MSN film critic Kathleen Murphy. "It's an old-fashioned movie, gentling its way toward satisfying familial reunion, fueled by almost always endearing penguin antics."
The DVD features a flock of family friendly supplements, including commentary by director Mark Waters, editor Bruce Green and visual effects supervisor Richard Hollander, a bonus animated short, a couple of featurettes and the usual deleted scenes and outtakes. The Blu-ray adds a couple more featurettes, a bonus DVD and a digital copy. Also available via digital download.
From France comes two thrillers this week: "Point Blank" (2011) (Magnolia), about an innocent guy pulled into a conspiracy of corrupt cops and vicious killers, and "Rapt" (Kino Lorber), a grueling kidnapping drama with an undercurrent of tabloid culture humiliation. Videodrone's review is here.
Also new on the foreign front: the road comedy "Mammuth" (Olive) with Gerard Depardieu, "Life Above All" (Sony) from South Africa, the Hong Kong action thriller "Triple Tap" (Well Go) and "Astral City: A Spiritual Journey" (Strand) from Brazil. More here.
"Mangus!" (Wolfe), a comedy of a high school teen who just wants to be Jesus in the Christmas production. Jennifer Coolidge and John Waters make appearances. "Surrogate Valentine" (Tiger Industry/eOne) is a low-key road movie with San Francisco musician Goh Nakamura. Jed Reese and Will Sasso star in "For Christ's Sake" (MVD), a comedy of cancer, purloined church funds and a porno movie.
Katie Featherstone and Glenn Morshower star in the horror film "Psychic Experiment" (Lionsgate). "The Secret of Skeleton Island" (Lionsgate) is a family adventure and the first in a trilogy based on the "The Three Investigators" book series. Viveca A. Fox stars in the filmed play "Cheaper to Keep Her" (eOne) and Jason Weaver and Gabrielle Dennis star in the romantic comedy "He's Mine, Not Yours" (Image).
'The Complete Fifth Season' and 'The Complete Collection' arrive this week
"Big Love: The Complete Fifth Season" (HBO) brings HBO's big family drama of polygamy in Salt Lake City to a close with Mormon businessman and newly-elected state senator Bill Henrickson (Bill Pullman) putting his plural marriage (previously hidden from the public) into the spotlight: a political act to make the case for legalizing this bedrock of original Mormon belief. No surprise that the greatest resistance comes from the Mormon Church and devout politicians, who view his beliefs as an embarrassment to the modern Mormon faith and a distraction in the church's efforts to find acceptance from the rest of America. (Timely, that, considering the Republican primary race.)
While the show had a tendency to get lost in contrived complications (especially in Bill's blinkered aspirations), at its best it offered a skewed yet impassioned perspective on faith and family values. This season is no different, on all fronts. Along with the harassments and threats brought on by the public coming out, he's targeted by a crazed Alby Grant (Matt Ross), the angry, corrupt new "prophet" of the polygamist compound Bill is trying to shut down, and the criminal underground that lives in the shadows of the outcast polygamist "tribes" living outside of society. And then there is the petty nastiness of second wife Nicolette (Chloe Sevigny), who plays tattletale and playground bully while constantly playing the victim in a perpetual state of arrested adolescent behavior.
And finally, it's harder and harder to respect Bill's idealistic dreams while friends and family members take the brunt of the attacks. Paxton never falters in his commitment to the role, but when the series skids through soap opera melodrama and crime movie complications, his unwavering stand isn't all that much different from the cult leaders and compound dictators he take on. At least until it all comes to a head in the final episodes. And I'll give this season credit for finding perhaps the only satisfying way to bring all this to an end and still honor the best of the show's ideals. The often conflicted members of the family are still unequivocally devoted to and protective of all of its members, no matter what melodrama is twisting them around. That's the kind of big love it takes to hold the clan together.
The DVD presents all 10 episodes of the fifth and final season on four discs in a four thinpak cases, plus "Inside the Episode" featurettes with creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer discussing each episodes and the 25-minute retrospective featurette "Big Love: The End of Days."
Also arriving this week is "Big Love: The Complete Collection" (HBO). It's a reminder of just how good the first seasons of the show was, as Bill, his three wives (elder wife Jeanne Tripplehorn, problem middle wife Chloe Sevigny, and youngest Ginnifer Goodwin) and seven surprisingly well-adjusted children tried to keep a low profile while keeping their faith and values living in adjoining houses in a suburban Salt Lake City neighborhood.
While it celebrated their union, the show also cast a critical eye at polygamy in its most unhealthy and abusive incarnation in the isolated compound lorded over by the scheming, self-proclaimed prophet Roman (Harry Dean Stanton), managing his sect's fortune while his followers live in poverty in their prison of a compound. You can peg the show's downturn to when they replaced the original opening credits (set to the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows") with the "falling" characters in Season Four. On the other hand, we also got more of Mireille Enos in those later episodes and Cassi Thomson as Nicolette's daughter, reunited in the final seasons for a rocky reconnection made more difficult by Nicolette's inability to decide who she is and, more important, who she wants to be.
All 51 episodes of the five seasons are organized in a tightly-packed set of 20 discs in five standard keepcases with hinged trays. It features all the supplements of the previous seasons releases (featurettes, "Inside the Episode" spots, commentary) but nothing new apart from a more efficient package.