Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Prisoner

With the successful revival/reinvention of shows like Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica in recent years, a reinterpretation of the ‘60s cult phenomenon The Prisoner seems like a no-brainer. Indeed, it’s something that had been bandied about for years (long before such projects became the “it” thing to do), so such a development was an inevitability. If you’re a fan of the original – as am I – it’s virtually impossible to sit through this new miniseries version without playing compare and contrast along the way. However, this DVD was my second experience with this mini, and this time around it was somewhat easier to try to forget about the original and take this version on its own merits. The problem is that it isn’t any easier to swallow the heaping mounds of hallucinogenic madness this serves up, even when taking the brilliance of the Patrick McGoohan version out of the equation. Both versions are akin to acid trips, only this new one is, metaphorically speaking, missing all the pretty colors.

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Rhoda: Season Two

It isn’t often that DVD producers listen to consumer reaction, or at least it doesn’t seem terribly common. Last year, Shout! released the first season of Rhoda and it was an atrocious presentation. Well over half of the episodes suffered cuts, and the audio and video quality were more often than not dodgy at best. (Indeed, in hindsight, I was generous in giving it three stars.) People complained, and it seems Shout! wisely listened. Season Two is presented in its entirety, uncut and remastered – and boy, the difference is truly a night and day affair.

Remember how perfect the first season of Mary Tyler Moore looked – back when Fox actively gave a shit? This is nearly, if not as good. The colors are bright and beautiful and the ‘70s fashions jump right off the screen and into your eye sockets. The picture is crisp and clean, and the sound is likewise really nice – well, about as nice as a sitcom from 1975 can possibly sound anyway. In any case, major props to Shout! for not covering their ears and intoning “La la la la la la…” when faced with disgruntled fans. Maybe someday they’ll even see fit to go back and give Season One a proper makeover.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Monk: Season Eight

Normally in a review like this – one written about the final season of a series – I’d say, “This isn’t the place to start if you’ve never watched [insert show title here] before.” But with Monk, there isn’t any real reason why you shouldn’t. You’ll “get it” even if you start watching with this DVD. Of course, the show was on the air for eight seasons, so chances are you’ve already been exposed to some of it, somewhere along the way. You may even be like me – someone who’s only watched the show intermittently over the years. If so, then you know the basic premise of the obsessive-compulsive detective, and the ongoing backstory of how the murder of Monk’s wife Trudy caused him to cave in as a human being. In this final season, Monk finally solves that most important and personal of cases, but more on that later.

Monk is never going to go down as one of the great cop series of the ‘00s – not in a decade that produced fare like The Shield and The Wire. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t one of the most reliably entertaining series of the decade. It’s the TV equivalent of comfort food, and there aren’t many shows you can say that about anymore. Now there’s one less. Likewise, Tony Shalhoub is never going to garner the same kind of critical respect bestowed upon actors like Michael Chiklis and James Gandolfini, because his performance was more often than not played for comedy, and that’s a huge shame, because if you see enough of this series, you begin to know that his work is every bit as calculated and driven as the Bryan Cranstons and the Jon Hamms; all this despite three Emmys, which goes to show that awards probably don’t mean all that much.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

thirtysomething: The Complete Second Season

Imbibing in the second season of thirtysomething brought me to a minor revelation: I like this show because it makes me love a group of characters who, on the surface, I feel I should dislike. The reason? These people are dirty, or rather, there’s nothing clean about their lives. After thoroughly digging on Season One, I was interested, but not exactly eager, to check out the winding road it would continue to go down. If you picked up Season One and didn’t care for it (it’s hard to believe anyone would outright hate it), then there’s nothing here that’s going to change your mind. On the other hand, you may have viewed Season One and thought, “OK, that’s enough. I’ve sifted through the time capsule once and there’s no need to go for seconds.” You’re probably right. If this was just enough for you on the first round, why bother with another helping? My TV-watching life wouldn’t have suffered any irreparable damage without seeing Season Two, and yet there’s no denying that once again the show sucked me in. thirtysomething is good writing and acting, and while there’s no shortage of either on TV today, you can never have enough of both.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (1966)

With the impending release of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland we’ve been inundated with press releases of DVDs for what seem like nearly every version of the Lewis Carroll story ever put to film. It’s all being released or rereleased on DVD due to the awareness of the new film. The one I jumped at – due to a combination of the cast, its reputation, and its unavailability in the U.S. – was this take which was made for BBC television in 1966. To be sure, this version owes more to feature film than BBC TV. Burton may think he’s redefined Alice, but he’s wrong. Surely nobody’s ever explored this story the way Jonathan Miller did 44 years ago – nope, not even the porn musical from the ‘70s with Kristine DeBell. Admittedly, I’ve yet to see Burton’s movie, but come on…

There’s little that’s jolly or wondrous about this take, and yet that very approach makes it a wonder to behold. Shot in crisp black and white (which on this DVD is nearly spotless), the story unfolds like some kind of dream from Ingmar Bergman, or perhaps even more like a nightmare from David Lynch. While all the hallmarks of the Carroll story are present, their execution is mostly unexpected. The most glaring omission is the absence of talking animals and childlike wonder. There are no elaborate costumes or walking cards or giant mushrooms here, yet it remains a work of utter fantasia. Alice (Anne-Marie Mallick) sees the White Rabbit (Wilfrid Brambell, Paul’s grandfather in A Hard Day’s Night) and follows him into a dreamy state that has no singing flowers, or Tweedledum or Tweedledee – after all, that duo first appeared in Carroll’s sequel, so they’re not part of this action. It’s a loose interpretation of the events within the first book. If you know the story, you really don’t need a recap. If, for whatever reason you don’t know the story, then this DVD is probably not for you. It’s for people who’ve seen version after version of the same story but are seeking something different.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Doctor Who: Dalek War

The last time material from the Jon Pertwee era was released on DVD was two years ago, and that was the “Beneath the Surface” box set. Because it’s been such a lengthy gap since the last Pertwee, I’m probably feeling overly enthusiastic about this set, and yet it’s arguably a remarkable example of this period of the classic series. The Pertwee era was heavily dependent on six-part serials, which are all too often referred to as “padded.” One can say that, but it lacks imagination. Maybe a kinder label should be used. How about “leisurely?” Leisurely works well if you’re into a story and in no particular hurry to see it end. This set is comprised of two such six-parters, “Frontier in Space” and “Planet of the Daleks.”

The title “Dalek War” is a little misleading since it promotes the idea that this is some kind of action-packed extravaganza with Daleks trundling rampant, killing everyone and everything in sight. That isn’t quite the case, and yet it doesn’t make the set itself any less of an extravaganza from a presentation standpoint. Both stories have been given a thorough overhaul, and they’ve never looked better than they do here. Where the real magic becomes apparent, however, is in Episode Three of “Planet,” which has existed only in black and white for the past 30 some odd years – until now. Several techniques, including the new kid on the block, color recovery, have been joined together to achieve this feat, and the results are astounding. Visually, the differences between it and the other five episodes of the story are negligible. “The Silurians” colorization from “Beneath the Surface” was impressive, but this restoration leaves that one in the dust.

If these techniques can be honed further, it’ll be fascinating to see what can eventually be achieved with the other half-dozen Pertwee serials deserving the same kind of attention. It remains to be seen what exactly can be done, as the materials with which to work apparently vary from story to story, and, of course, money is always an issue. Yet this is a huge step forward, not just for the Doctor Who DVD range, but for vintage TV (particularly of the BBC kind) in general. There’s so much vintage TV that’s released on DVD these days, and a great deal of it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. As much as I love “Doctor Who,” it’s a real pleasure to view and review the series on DVD, as there are people behind the scenes working overtime to make this material the best it can possibly be, and far more often than not they succeed. If only the classic series weren’t so niche, other DVD producers might take note of what’s happening with this range and adopt the same strategies. It pays off in the long run to do right by shows with a fervent fan base.

Anyway, enough about the technical stuff and on to these two stories...

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Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks (Special Edition)

It’s almost a shame this title is being released on the same day as the inaccurately named “Dalek War” box set, because “Remembrance” features far more Dalek carnage. Better still, it’s Dalek whooping Dalek ass, assuming Daleks have asses to whoop. Having been very unkind to the Sylvester McCoy era in recent Bullz-Eye reviews (“Delta and the Bannermen” and “Battlefield”), this story affords the opportunity to bestow some major kudos. Like the story itself, let’s travel back to another time.

In 1988, Doctor Who had seen far better days. Colin Baker’s controversial era – during which the show was put on hiatus for 18 months – hadn’t gone down well with viewers, and he was eventually fired. The first season of Doctor #7 (McCoy) was god awful – surely the worst the series had ever seen, and it proved that Baker wasn’t the problem. The show’s 25th Anniversary was approaching, and even the faithful had lost faith. Could there possibly be anything new unveiled worth celebrating? Season 25 charged out of the gate with a “fuck that shit” attitude: “Remembrance of the Daleks” aimed to prove that not only the Doctor, but the Daleks themselves, still had a lot of life left in them. It’s something of a shame that Colin Baker’s Dalek story was titled “Revelation of the Daleks,” because back in the day, this is the one that felt revelatory.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.