Plus the debut seasons of "Haven" and "The Glades"
The debut seasons of two new cable shows arrive on DVD this week: the SyFy Channel's "Haven," which spins a Stephen King novel into a "Twin Peaks"-lite show (reviewed on Videodrone here), and A&E's "The Glades," with an offbeat Chicago cop solving murders in Florida (reviewed on Videodrone here). Here's the balance of TV on DVD this week:
"The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes: Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle" (BFS) – Ian Richardson plays Dr. Joseph Bell, the real-life doctor and forensic scientist who taught the young medical student Arthur Conan Doyle and inspired (at least in part) the character of Sherlock Holmes, in this British made-for-TV mystery based on the novels of David Pirie, who offers a new twist to a familiar character. Robin Laing plays the young Doyle in this feature-length BBC production, learning the art of observation and deduction from his elder. The partnership of the observant and brilliant mentor and the loyal sidekick is a clever mirror of the Holmes-Watson relationship, but with its own dynamic, more like mentor and protégé. Features Arthur Conan Doyle's complete "The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes" as a DVD-ROM supplement, plus production notes.
Alan Dobie is the crisp, dry, unflaggingly professional Sergeant Cribb, a bowler-wearing investigator in Victorian England’s Scotland Yard, in this British mystery series based on the novels of Peter Lovesey. Originally made for British in the early 1980s, it was seen stateside on the PBS showcase "Mystery!" The seven-disc set features 14 episodes, including the previously unreleased episodes "Waxwork" and "Abracadaver"
"Doctor Who: Frontios" (BBC) and "Doctor Who: Time and the Rani" (BBC) – Two more classic "Who" stories: "Frontios" (story no. 133 in the show's chronology) starring Peter Davison as The Doctor, and "Time and the Rani" (story no. 148) with Sylvester McCoy. Both feature commentary by the actors and others, featurettes, interviews and other supplements. The BBC knows how serve fans of the Whoniverse.
"Irena Sendler: In the Name of Their Mothers" (PBS) is a documentary that explores the heroic efforts of a young social worker who rescued more than 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto during World War II. Sendler, now 90 years old, was interviewed along with some of the (now adult) children she saved. It premiered on PBS in May, 2011.
Also new this week:
"Tyler Perry's House of Payne: Volume Eight" (Lionsgate) features 24 episodes of the cable sitcom on three discs
"Snoopy's Adventures" (Warner) presents the 1985 TV special "Snoopy's Getting Married, Charlie Brown" with an episode from "The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show."
"Lethal Landscapes: Canvases of the Combat Artist" (PBS) profiles combat artists, trained to sketch the lives of soldiers in war.
"Journey of The Bonesetter's Daughter" (PBS) follows the creation of the original opera "The Bonesetter's Daughter," adapted from the Amy Tan novel, by the San Francisco Opera company.
"Chronicle of the Third Reich" (PBS) is a four-hour documentary originally produced for German TV by documentary filmmaker Michael Kloft to mark the 75th anniversary of the seizure of power by the Nazis.
"The Order of the Phoenix" and "The Half-Blood Prince" debut in deluxe editions on DVD and Blu-ray
Warner Home Video has been carefully pacing its "Ultimate Edition" releases of the Harry Potter series. Now, just a month before "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two" brings the series to an end on the big screen, comes the deluxe editions of "Year Five" and "Year Six" on DVD and Blu-ray.
In "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (2007), magic-school student and haunted hero Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has to deal with the usual teenage angst with decidedly unusual pressure – he's being smeared by the media to discredit his report that Lord Voldemort (aka He Who Shall Not Be Named) is back, ignored by the usually protective Headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), and viciously harassed by the despot professor Dolores Umbridge (played by Imelda Staunton with a poisonous smile). The usual cast is back and Evanna Lynch debuts as the goofy yet sincere Luna Lovegood, but it also marks the arrival of director David Yates, a TV veteran with excellent credits but no special effects experience in vita. He takes charge of the series from this film on, bringing a focus on character over spectacle.
In "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (2009), Voldemort and his Death Eaters are terrorizing both the magical and Muggle worlds and Harry and Dumbledore are desperately searching for the key to stopping them. This installment flirts with young love (and love potions) at Hogwarts but also moves into a darker and more adult direction and director David Yates follows suit with a film that is more intimate and somber. The effects are excellent but secondary to the character drama, with less rollercoaster action and spectacular set pieces, and anyone familiar with the series knows that a major character is killed here, setting up the tone for the final book, which is spread over two films.
The "Ultimate Editions," which number five discs on DVD and three on Blu-ray, include all the featurettes, interviews and deleted scenes from the previous release but this time around feature only the theatrical cuts of the film, with no extended editions offered. Exclusive the "Ultimate Editions," which come in a hefty slipsleeve with a magnetic clasp, are hardback photo booklets, characters cards and a downloadable digital copy of the film, plus each set features a new chapter in the excellent "Creating the World of Harry Potter" documentary series. "Evolution" (on "Order of the Phoenix") charts the changes in costumes, production design and characters over the course of the films, and ""Magical Effects" (on "The Half-Blood Prince") covers the visualization and execution of magical imagery throughout the series. Each runs about an hour. The Blu-ray editions also include the "Maximum Movie Mode," Warner's version of the interactive audio-video track.
TV cop show lite for the summer season
The folks at the A&E network are starting to look to the FX and USA models for their original programming. "The Glades," about a Chicago detective (Aussie actor Matt Passmore) who relocated to Florida for the sun and ended up smack in the middle of the murder capital of the Everglades, follows the usual formula. Passmore's Detective Jim Longworth is aggressively irritating and typically unconventional—he doesn't really work well with others, which is partly why he's far from his Chicago home—but a sharp detective. His approach to crime solving is succinctly put by Callie (Kiele Sanchez), a single mom and medical student he woos through the course of the season: "By irritating as many people as possible until someone confesses."
Yeah, he does, and the blandly handsome and generically charming Passmore makes it work by simply making it part of his character. He doesn't really have much in the way of social filters or professional restraint but he's no bully either, and his affection for Callie's son smoothes over some of his rough edges. The rest is the usual cable summer show formula of unusual setting (rural Florida), unconventional character and lots of colorful detail around the edges of the conventional crime story. Carlos Gómez co-stars as the exasperated medical examiner and the closest Jim has to a friend and Michelle Hurd takes over as his boss in the second episode.
13 episodes on four discs in a standard case with hinged trays, with commentary on two episodes, two featurettes, deleted scenes and a gag reel. The second season is already underway on A&E.
Strange things are happening in this "Twin Peaks"-lite SyFy series
"Haven: The Complete First Season" (eOne)
The SyFy Channel found both popularity and critical acclaim with their reboot of "Battlestar Galactica" but never really capitalized on the interest in serious, well-written science fiction and mostly settled on a line-up of SF-lite programs such as "Eureka" and "Warehouse 13." "Haven," a Canadian co-production spun from the Stephen King novel "The Colorado Kid," fits right in to the line-up: weird tales in a familiar format.
In the small coastal town of Haven (which, irony alert, is anything but a haven), "the troubles" do not refer to Ireland but to the inexplicable things that happen on a nearly daily basis and have been occurring for as long as anyone can remember. Audrey Parker ("E.R.") is the usual too-young-to-be-a-jaded-agent young actress cast as a tough and talented FBI agent Emily Rose, whose shadowy past is somehow tangle up in the town's bizarre legacy, and she takes a short leave from the Bureau to join the local Haven PD (bringing the ranks up to three) and investigate the freak-show phenomenon of this town: men aging to death in hours, stuffed and mounted animals coming back for revenge, spontaneous earthquakes and fires and the like.
It's of course populated by odd characters – a partner (Lucas Bryant) who doesn't feel pain, a rogueishly charming smuggler (Eric Balfour), eccentric brothers who run the paper and keeps tabs on the local gossip and town lore, and the crusty old police chief (Nicholas Campbell) who has his own secrets and endgame.
It's a conventional approach to unconventional quasi-horror stories and supernatural TV—thing the "X-Files"/"Fringe" mode of strange phenomenon in an insular "Twin Peaks"-type town—but it improves as Agent Rose settles in to the town and her legacy gets churned up through the season. The twist in the closing minutes of the final episode, which isn't necessarily surprising but is a satisfying development, is a springboard for season two, which begins on SyFy in July.
13 episodes of four discs in a three-panel paperboard digipak, along with the usual array of familiar featurettes and cast interviews, plus a handful of short video blog pieces. There's also a "Season Two Sneak Peak."
Plus "Monogamy," "Kill the Irishman" and the French cop drama "36th Precinct"
Headlining the New Release list this week is the science fiction action thriller "Battle: Los Angeles," which pits alien invaders against American Marines (see Videodrone review here) and the new take on the old fairy tale "Red Riding Hood," this one with Amanda Seyfried, werewolves and the Inquisition (see Videodrone review here). And from China comes "Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen" starring martial arts legend Donnie Yen (see Videodrone review here).
"Hall Pass " (Warner)
Owen Wilson and Jason Sudekis are best friends and married men who are nearing middle age but still behave like adolescent boys when it comes to pretty young women, much to the irritation of their wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate). So the girls give the boys a "week off" from their vows.
The film is directed and co-written by the Farrelly brothers, Peter and Bobby, but it is a "tiring and dispiriting enterprise," in the words of MSN film critic Glenn Kenny, who notes that "the things "learned" in scene after scene were taught rather better in earlier, funnier and less-rote films, films such as Blake Edwards' "10" and Rob Reiner's "The Sure Thing.""
He continues: "the movie is at its funniest when it stops trying to be all invertedly fuzzily humanist, and lets fly with the resentment, as with some running gags involving a bearded wool-capped faux hipster (Derek Waters) who stirs things up with Rick and Fred. This suggests that the Farrellys might be better off forgetting the teachable moments and just letting loose with the hatred for these damn kids and anyone else who so clearly pisses them off. Might be a step back for humanity, but a step forward for comedy."
The supplements are slight for a comedy of this ilk. The DVD features a deleted scene. The "Enlarged Edition" Blu-ray offers an extended cut of the film in addition to the original theatrical version (the extended cut runs six minutes longer) and a gag reel, plus a bonus DVD and digital copy of the film.
"Monogamy" (Oscilloscope) – Dana Adam Shapiro, a journalist and co-director of the documentary "Murderball," puts love, sex and commitment in the modern age under the microscope in this romantic drama. Chris Messina and Rashida Jones star as a couple preparing for their wedding when anxieties and temptations complicate their conviction. "With modest resources, some nice digital camerawork and an appealing cast - the likable Ms. Jones draws you in easily - Mr. Shapiro keeps you engaged even when his story falters," writes New York Times critic Manohla Dargis. The DVD, which comes in Oscilloscope's distinctive foldout paperboard case and slipsleeve, features deleted scenes, outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage, plus the complete screenplay and a music video.
"Kill the Irishman" (Anchor Bay) dramatizes the true story of an Irish mobster (Ray Stevenson) who took on the Italian mob in 1976 Cleveland. "What makes the difference here is not Hensleigh's direction or his work with the huge cast… but, rather, the interest and intrigue intrinsic to this little-known sidenote in the grisly history of American organized crime," writes MSN film critic James Rocchi. Vincent D’Onofrio, Val Kilmer and Christopher Walken co-star. The DVD and Blu-ray releases both feature the documentary "Danny Green: The Rise and Fall of The Irishman."
"36th Precinct" (aka "36 Quai des Orfèvres") (Tartan) – Daniel Auteuil is the maverick police Captain with underworld ties and Gérard Depardieu the bitter, hard-drinking veteran officer who compete to capture a violent gang in the French cop drama from Olivier Marchal. With promotion held out as the prize, these two compromised cops blur the line between the cops and the crooks they chase. The Observer film critic Philip French wrote the film, originally released in France in 2004, "is the best French cop movie to reach this country since Bob Swaim's "La Balance" in the early Eighties." André Dussollier, Roschdy Zem and Valeria Golino co-star. The DVD and Blu-ray both feature a "making of" documentary, an interview with director (and former police officer) Olivier Marchal and two featurettes. French with English subtitles.
"Korkoro" (Kino) is a World War II drama following a family of Gypsies trying to escape occupied France. Director Tony Gatliff (whose previous films "Latcho Drom" and "Mondo" also explore Gypsy culture and music) "weds a vibrant, soulful celebration of Gypsy culture to an assortment of war-movie cliches that stand in for Vichy France," explains film critic Scott Tobias at NPR, who cautions that "passion alone doesn't sell a drama that loses authenticity whenever it strays from the tribe." French with English subtitles. No supplements.
Also new this week:
"Kingdom of War Parts 1 & 2" (aka "Naresuan") (Magnolia) – The epic story of King Naresuan the Great, Buddhist monk turned prince who liberated the Siamese from the control of Burma, is told across two sweeping historical dramas from Thailand. They have been collected (and renamed) for release on DVD and Blu-ray in the U.S., totaling five and a half hours of Thai history writ large in costume action cinema. The two-disc sets also include featurettes, historical background and a music video. In Thai with English subtitles.
"A Cold Day in Hell" (Lionsgate) – Michael Madsen headlines this western as a U.S. Marshall who takes on a banker assembling his own private army.
"N-Secure" (Fox) - Essence Atkins, Denise Boutte, Tempestt Bledsoe and Elise Neal star in this romantic thriller that tips into revenge and murder. On DVD and Blu-ray, both with a featurette.
"Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet" (Lionsgate) – A horror film starring genre vets Bill Moseley ("The Devil's Rejects") and Danielle Harris (multiple "Halloween" sequels and remakes). Also includes a featurette, interviews and outtakes.
"Fall Down Dead" (Image) stars Dominique Swain as a single mom hunted by serial killer Udo Kier, and features David Carradine in one his final performances.
"Lord, All Men Can't Be Dogs" (Image) is a taped staged production of the TJ Hemphill faith-based comedy of a failing relationship in a haunted apartment. Vivica A. Fox stars.
Donnie Yen stars in this bizarre sequel to "Fist of Fury"
"Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen" (Well Go)
Ostensibly a sequel to the 1972 martial arts classic "Fist of Fury," with the talented but far less furious Donnie Yen in the role created by Bruce Lee (and recreated by Jet Li in the 1994 remake "Fist of Legend"), " Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen" is a colorful and largely incoherent mess, less a movie than a collection of cannibalized ideas stitched together into something resembling a plot.
Set largely in the decadent splendor of 1925 Shanghai, where gangsters made money off the chaos as Japan and Britain made their plays for control of China, it opens as a World War I drama, takes a turn into Chinese "Casablanca" as a quasi-musical costume spectacle and then transforms into a resistance thriller. Yen shucks off the grace and restraint of his "Ip Man" films to play the sleek lounge lizard, his cover as he infiltrates as nightclub (called, big surprise, "Casablanca") before donning a costume that recalls Bruce Lee as Kato in "The Green Hornet." Shu Qui wobbles through it all as a nightclub chanteuse playing drunk in every other scene and Anthony Wong maintains a level of modest dignity as the Triad nightclub owner, the film's answer to Rick Blaine, providing neutral territory for enemies to rub elbows.
The entire film, directed by Andrew Lau (of "Infernal Affairs" fame), seems borrowed (if not blatantly lifted) from one movie or another without bothering to integrate the ideas in any coherent way. Even the martial arts action sequences are shoehorned into the film and Lau's frantic editing and swooping camerawork chops up Yen's moves beyond recognition. "Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen" is a strange and unsatisfying hybrid, at times quite gorgeous but never adding up to a story. Lau is a fine cinematographer but no storyteller.
Well Go offers the film in multiple editions: single disc DVD, Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pacl, and two-disc "Collector's Edition" versions on both DVD and Blu-ray. The former includes two "Behind the Scenes" featurettes, which are little more than montages of production footage. "War Zone," which is subtitled, offers footage of pyrotechnics and Donnie Yen's action scenes as he attacks the German soldiers in the World War I prologue, while "Casablanca" offer scenes from the nightclub without subtitles, but does give us Yen playing Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" in an impromptu bit.
The "Collector's Edition" versions offer a bonus disc with six more "Behind the Scenes" montages (running about half an hour all together) and 50 minutes of interviews with director Andrew Lau, producer Gordon Chan and the five leading actors.
Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman star in this fairy tale werewolf film
"Red Riding Hood" (Warner)
Not your grandmother's fairy tale, this mix of fable and werewolf film tries to get the blood flowing in the new brand of horror-fantasy-romance that the "Twilight" films are so busy draining the life from.
Director Catherine Hardwicke, in fact, directed the first (and the best) of the "Twilight" films before "creative differences" brought a parting of the ways. So she went a little more feral for this story, which is less shy about churning up sex and lust and feral drives, though it does keep it down to a PG-13 level. And while it seems to have plenty going for it, from a ripe Amanda Seyfried in the lead under the scarlet hood to Gary Oldman as a piously dangerous Inquisition priest who doesn't mind torturing a few villagers to rid the place of the supernatural wolf preying upon its inhabitants, this gorgeously-mounted production fails to rouse the primitive ferocity of the primal beauty and the beast tale.
MSN film critic Kat Murphy gets to the point of the film's shortcomings: "Acting's awful, story line's messy and unengaging, and there's not a trace of authentic passion anywhere in the movie's picture-pretty production design. Hardwicke's version of "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" bites, and not in a good way."
She continues: "A former production designer, Hardwicke outfits every tree with hooks and horns, paints an F/X moon red, turns the town into a wooden warren a-crawl with secrets and potential shape-shifters, deploys Roger Corman-style drifts of fog and mist everywhere, repeatedly fashion-shoots the scarlet smear of Valerie's cape on snowscapes ... but fails to generate a single goose-bump."
The single-disc DVD and Blu-ray editions feature the theatrical cut of the film along with deleted scenes.
The Blu-ray+DVD+Digital Copy Combo Pack is highlighted by an alternate cut of the film with "sexier" (but still PG-13) scenes and an alternate ending (which is not as "provocative" as the box promises but is appropriate to the film) and the "Secrets Behind the Red Cloak" picture-in-picture commentary track with director Catherine Hardwicke and actors Amanda Seyfried, Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons, plus video clips featuring other members of the cast and crew and behind the scenes footage interspersed between their spotty comments. Apart from Hardwicke, they have little interesting to share with the audience and the clips are only marginally more interesting.
Those supplements are on the Blu-ray disc only, along with four featurettes, casting tapes, rehearsal footage and other supplements.
Platoon drama meets invasion thriller and things blow up
Hoo-rah! The aliens have landed and the Marines are the first line of defense in this heavy metal alien invasion thriller by way of a traditional platoon drama. And I do mean traditional, right down the familiar soldier backstories, the short-timer about to leave and the personal grudges that are overcome in the crucible of battle, when true courage and sacrifice is shown.
Aaron Eckhart anchors the film as the veteran Staff Sergeant corralling a unit of young guns but it's not about characters under fire, it's about war movie types in the heat of battle, where the enemy has flying saucers and ray guns and all sorts of space age weapons. Director Jonathan Liebesman, making the leap from low-budget horror to big budget action, shoots it all with the artless "run and gun" style where the camera takes the perspective of a combat photographer with too much caffeine to keep his camera still. It's great for creating chaos and jittery energy but no substitute for storytelling and this humorless film as unimaginative -- and as exhausting -- as you can get.
"(T)he real problem with this picture, shaky-cam visuals aside… is its insistent, talky, unnecessary earnestness, which adds a good 15 minutes of flab to the picture and is more risible than engaging, for the most part anyway," complains MSN film critic Glenn Kenny.
He continues: "it does deliver a lot of stuff blowing up, aliens that are spindly and nasty but not goofy-looking, crazy-ass outer-space flying machines, a couple of genuinely tense men-in-war suspense set pieces, and more. But the thrills and effects do not suffice to vitiate the near-staggering triteness of the enterprise, triteness that might have been bearable in the small doses genre convention practically demands, but not in a veritable warm enveloping bath."
The DVD features the 18-minute "Aliens in L.A." featurette, a fairly conventional but certainly informative featurette focused on the effects (practical and digital) involved in creating the alien part of the alien invasion, plus a trio of shorter featurettes (just over five minutes apiece). "Behind the Battle" is a generic production overview, more of an introduction than a behind-the-scenes doc, "Preparing for Battle" reveals that the cast member did most of their own stunts, and "Creating L.A. in LA" shows how the production transformed Louisiana into Los Angeles.
The Blu-ray offers more featurettes, notably the ten-minute "Boot Camp" (teaching the actors how to "walk, talk and act like Marines," including the handling of field weapons) plus the short featurettes "Directing the Battle" (how director Jonathan Liebsman got the job) and "The Freeway Battle" (exactly what it sounds like).
The in-depth is "Command Control," a picture-in-picture audio/video commentary viewing option, where interviews, featurettes, behind the scenes footage and storyboards periodically pop up. Unfortunately, there's not much substance to these video pieces and they offer less insight than your average audio commentary track. Also features the BD-Live movieIQ function
There is also a two Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack, which offers both discs in a single package but no additional supplements.