Category: Television

Jun 03 2015

Videophiled: ‘The Wire: The Complete Series’ on Blu-ray

WireBD

HBO

“Follow the drugs, and you’ll find dealers and users. Follow the money, and you have no idea where the case will take you.” So began the first season of HBO’s compelling tale of cops, crooks, and the social and bureaucratic forces that both divide and bind them, and the begining of an epic series that set the high water mark for television drama. I’m not generally one for sweeping statements, but The Wire is the best original show ever made for television.

Created by David Simon (co-creator of the landmark cop show Homicide: Life on the Street), it’s marked more by the mundane realities of procedure and politics (on both sides of the law), and the intricate details building cases and connecting the dots of evidence, than by drug busts and shoot-outs. The first season follows the single investigation of an inner-city drug dealer and the violence surrounding his ambitious expansion, while the narrative is built around Baltimore police detective McNulty (Dominick West), a hard-drinking divorced cop whose dedication is endangered by a big mouth that gets the better of him when he’s indignant, and D’Angelo Barksdale (Larry Gilliard Jr.), the sharp young nephew of West Side drug lord Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris). The structure recalls Richard Price’s novel Clockers (though not the movie) in the way it gives equal time to both worlds, exploring both the intricacies within each and the interaction between the two. (It’s surely no coincidence that Price was drafted to become part of the show’s writing bullpen.) D’Angelo opens his eyes to the street politics when he’s demoted to slinging product from the towers in the slums and the show opens our eyes into both worlds. The deliberate pacing and attention of complex detail marked it off from every other crime show on TV, and Homicide star turned director Clark Johnson can take some of the credit for setting the tone and style in the first two episodes (he did similar honors on the pilot of The Shield).

The second season opens with hard-drinking loose cannon McNulty shuffled off to the harbor patrol (his punishment for bucking the chain of command) and the special squad commander Daniels (Lance Reddick) consigned to the police archive dungeon. Then McNulty fishes a corpse out of the water and starts a whole new investigation rolling. The team is back in business, and this time they leave the drug crimes of the street for human smuggling and corruption on the docks… and it’s all kicked off by a spat between a petty Irish cop and the local dock workers union. The drama brings us into the complexities of organized crime on the docks, the desperate tactics and petty scams run by an underemployed dock workers’s union in a faltering economy, and the victims sacrificed by international crime lords in the human cargo trade, but Simon and company continue to follow the drugs as well. Avon Barksdale’s drug operation is now being managed by Stringer Bell (Idris Elba). His big ambitions sets the foundation for the third season, which pulls the story the task force back into the affairs of Barksdale’s expanding drug operation. But what makes this season so compelling is the doomed, inspired, and utterly unthinkable solution to the drug problem that Simon proposes and then illustrates, with startling frankness, both the pros and cons of his modest proposal.

Wire-the-law-1600

By the fourth season, as Simon and company boldly take on the broken education system, it’s clear that Simon’s ambitions are no less than a complex portrait of the American city (specifically Baltimore) with fictional stories illuminating the social and bureaucratic forces that make our cities work, or just as often, not work. Through the course of thirteen episodes that follow the lives of four friends in the eighth grade, Simon reveals the failure of the school system and the inability of the classroom structure to reach kids raised in a culture that is close to a war zone. These are kids on the killing streets of Baltimore’s drug-filled slums, where the behavior best suited to survival is the type that disrupts classrooms. It’s a devastating story with characters that are knots of complications and contradictions in a world where the internal politics of the system (any system) kills all innovation and stops progress dead in its tracks.

The Wire ended its run by casting a light on how and why the media covers the news. The newsroom of The Baltimore Sun becomes part of the narrative weave of the show, intertwining its challenges with the stories it’s supposed to be covering: crime, politics, the schools and the community as a whole. As with each previous season, the old stories are woven into the new: money earmarked for the police by the Mayor has been drained by the floundering school system, which had been starved and neglected and fallen in debt thanks to previous administrations. So wild card McNulty concocts a crack-brained scheme to pry money out of the city: he invents a big, headline-grabbing serial killer (a complete fiction) and Detective Lester Freaman (Clarke Peters), perhaps the most gifted and brilliant detective in the department, becomes his accomplice and retrofits the evidence to keep the fiction alive. He builds cases and pieces together evidence like a master puzzlemaker, and he and McNulty concoct a lie so big, with such far-reaching implications, that the city can’t risk the truth getting out. Certainly not the ambitious and irresponsible junior reporter (Tom McCarthy) who inadvertently contributes to the conspiracy by adding his own fictional details to the story, suspicious embellishments that glory-hungry editors are willing to let through without scrutiny. “We have to more with less,” proclaims its managing editor. “You don’t do more with less, you do less with less,” complains the newsroom’s voice of reason and bearer of standards, City Editor Gus Haynes (Clark Johnson, of Simon’s Homicide), and so they do, but with splashier headlines.

Creator David Simon is especially critical of what he sees as the media’s dereliction of responsibility as the community’s watchdog and his insistence comes with a noticeable loss of nuance in that particular story, but the scope of the show remains just as ambitious and rich. The writing is the best on television (including scripts co-written by authors Richard Price, Dennis Lehane, and George P. Pelecanos), with a novelistic sweep and complexity unprecedented on the small screen and a brilliant symmetry as the show comes to a close. It doesn’t have the neat poetic drama of the “Dickensian” narrative (as the paper’s editors like to call it), merely the satisfying changing of the guard, with irony and poetic justice, rewards and punishments, guilty who go free and innocents who flounder. Yet for all the incompetence and corruption that keeps percolating to the top, there remain good cops, dedicated editors, honorable folks who take the places of those burned out by the system that resisted all efforts to change it. The show ends with a system that perpetuates itself – a system reproduced in microcosm in everything from city politics to the school system to the drug hierarchy of the streets to the newspaper to, of course, the legal system – and people that continue to struggle against it even as others give in. To complete the symmetry, co-star Clark Johnson, who directed the show’s debut episodes, returns to direct the 90-minute series finale, which appropriately enough features a spirited wake.

Wire-the-street-1600

There are a lot of “Complete Series” collections out there, but this an essential, not simply because it invites repeat revisits but because of the show’s unity. Each season is like a novel in a self-contained cycle and together they make a complete whole.

The Wire: The Complete Series was released on DVD in 2011 its original broadcast format. Since then, HBO remastered the series in Digital HD, and in the process they changed the aspect ratio from the squarish 4×3 of the old TV standard to the widescreen 16×9 format of the current flatscreen standard. This choice was made against the wishes of creator and producer David Simon.

Simon weighs in on his issues with the transformation in this feature on his blog from 2014, in advance of the launch of the HD version on cable and digital formats: “At the last, I’m satisfied what while this new version of The Wire is not, in some specific ways, the film we first made, it has sufficient merit to exist as an alternate version. There are scenes that clearly improve in HD and in the widescreen format. But there are things that are not improved. And even with our best resizing, touchups and maneuver, there are some things that are simply not as good. That’s the inevitability: This new version, after all, exists in an aspect ratio that simply wasn’t intended or serviced by the filmmakers when the camera was rolling and the shot was framed.” Sam Adams weighs in on the issue at Indiewire.

Many viewers won’t notice the difference. Even many fans of the show will likely ease into the widescreen without difficulty. But it should be noted that HBO did not give viewers the option for the original version on Blu-ray, so purists will want to hold onto their DVDs.

That said, it’s a handsome image with all the atmosphere of the original broadcasts, but with greater detail and clarity. It presents all 60 episodes of the five seasons of the TV epic, along with all the commentary tracks and featurettes from the earlier DVD box set, including the retrospective featurette “The Wire Odyssey” (a chronicle of the first four seasons), “The Wire: The Last Word” (a reflection on the state of the media today featuring series creator David Simon), and three character “prequels” (little scenes of Prop Joe and Omar and the first meeting of McNulty and Bunk, each running under two minutes).

New to this release is the “The Wire Reunion,” an 85-minute roundtable discussion recorded at the Paley Center for Media in October 2014 and featuring creator David Simon, producer Nina K. Noble, and 11 members of the cast: John Doman, Larry Gilliard, Jr., Seth Gilliam, Jim True-Frost, Jamie Hector, Michael Kenneth Williams, Sonja Sohn, Wendell Pierce, J.D. Williams, Michael Lee, and Bob Wisdom (Dominic West and Idris Elba were unable to attend but are represented by video messages). Also includes an Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the entire series.

20 discs in five cases collected in a box set. It’s a simple presentation, which I prefer over the more elaborate boxes, which often look cool on a shelf but are far less convenient when it comes to actually accessing the discs.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

May 10 2015

Videophiled TVD: ‘Mr Selfridge: Season 3′

MrSelfS3

PBS

Mr Selfridge: Season 3 (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD), British TV’s urban answer to Downton Abbey, continues with the story of Harry Selfridge (Jeremy Piven), an American department store entrepreneur and marketing pioneer in London whose populist approach is a refreshing change from British restraint and conservatism.

Opening with the end of World War I and the funeral of Harry’s wife (a victim of the 1918 influenza pandemic), this season focuses on his romance with an ambitious and philanthropic young businesswoman (Kelly Adams) trying to build homes affordable housing for returning war veterans. Meanwhile his daughters are recast as young twentysomething women and given the spotlight when one (Kara Tointon) marries a Russian Prince in exile and another (Hannah Tointon) becomes a wild child who flirts with the proprietor of a notorious nightclub, and his son and heir apparent (Greg Austin) secretly dates an employee at the store. The stories touch on the problems of returning veterans, the pressure on women to return to the home and give their jobs up to the men, and rising crime, but this is still more soap opera than social drama, with plenty of romances and complications among the store employees and the scheming Lord Loxley (Aidan McArdle) back to try and sabotage Harry’s success out of pure spite, this time by buying his way onto a seat on the Board of Directors.

The series shows on the PBS showcase Masterpiece in the United States and a fourth season will follow next year. 10 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with a 30-minute featurette.

More TV on disc reviews at Cinephiled

May 08 2015

Videophiled TVD: The future of tech in 1983 in ‘Halt and Catch Fire’

HaltCatch1

Anchor Bay

Halt and Catch Fire: The Complete First Season (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD) – The same year that HBO launched its modern tech comedy Silicon Valley, AMC premiered this offbeat (and sometimes off-putting) drama about the early days of the home computing revolution.

Set in a small Texas tech company in the early eighties, the story centers on three characters: Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace of The Hobbit trilogy and Guardians of the Galaxy), a former golden boy salesman from IBM rising from the ashes of a crash with a dream of taking on his old company with a visionary personal computer; Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), a computer engineer still licking his wounds from a failed attempt to launch his own machine; and Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis), a rebellious young college student with a punk attitude and a genius for coding. Joe recruits these two underdogs to run the development team and sells the president of a small company on his grand vision with a lot of salesmanship. Then he turns to mindgames and corporate thievery. Their initial work is based on reverse engineering the foundation of a competitor’s operating system, but from there it’s all ingenuity and invention, from Gordon’s hardware designs to Cameron’s software ideas. Gordon’s wife Donna (Kerry Bishé), an engineer who works at Texas Instruments, is an uncredited fourth member of the team and the Clark family home life provides a contrast to the gamesmanship at work. As a trivia note, McNairy and Bishé previously played a married couple in the Oscar winning movie “Argo.”

The title of the show is a computer term for a command that engages every function to run at once and compete for dominance. That’s a fair description of the working relationship of these characters, a partnership that Joe constantly upends through manipulation, betrayal, and psychological warfare. He’s very much the focus of the show: enigmatic, unpredictable, driven by the ghost of some past crisis, and not above sabotaging his own team to steer the project in a new direction. The level of cutthroat tactics he uses on his own colleagues makes the show at times unpleasant, but it’s always interesting, and it has a terrific sense of time and place. The eighties never looked so drearily right.

The second season begins on AMC this summer. There is sexual content and adult themes but no explicit scenes and disc release features uncensored language. It’s for mature audiences. 10 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with three featurettes and brief five-minute pieces on each episode.

More TV on disc reviews at Cinephiled

May 07 2015

Videophiled TVD: ‘Masters of Sex: Season Two’

MastersSexS2

Sony

Masters of Sex: Season Two (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD) – Cable television, both pay and commercial varieties, has proven itself more fertile ground than the broadcast networks when it comes to nurturing period dramas that resonate with the present. Showtime’s drama about the pioneering work by Dr. William “Bill” Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Kaplan), partners in a landmark study of human sexuality, is one of the best. Like “Mad Men,” it uses its subject and setting to explore the lives of characters in that era and to reflect our own perceptions and preconceptions of sex, race, gender roles, and the complicated relations between men and women.

The first season set the scene—St. Louis in the 1950s, a prestigious teaching hospital, a leading gynecologist pursuing research that is controversial at best in the conservative culture with a partner who has no acknowledged credentials but shows a keen interest in and understanding of the topic and a way with putting the human subjects as ease—and introduced the complexity of the study, which was condemned when the initial findings were presented.

The second season enters the 1960s with Bill looking for a new hospital to sponsor his controversial study and Virginia, a single mother without a college or medical degree, struggling to support her kids while finding work that inspires and engages her. Meanwhile their private “sexual research” becomes a full-fledged affair without the excuse of the study as emotional cover and the physical intimacy leads to personal revelations that twine with the studies expansion into the psychological and emotional component of sexual activity, and into a more aggressive engagement with sexual dysfunction, which their own research finds to be more widespread than they ever imagined.

As Bill continues to remain emotionally and physically distant from his wife Libby (this may be the only show about a married couple in the late 1950s/early 1960s where single beds is an accurate reflection of their relationship), she gets a troubling education in her own bigotry and gets involved in the local chapter of a civil rights organization and its passionate organizer (Jocko Sims). Race becomes a major issue this season, both inside the study and out, and the show tackles it with characteristic intelligence and unexpected perspectives.

Masters of Sex is at its best when exploring the contradictions of its characters—Bill’s insistence on academic honesty while lying to his wife and making unilateral decisions about the study without consulting his partner, Virginia engaging in an affair with Bill while remaining a confidant of Libby—and the hypocrisies of society, and it does so with engaging personal stories. The third episode, set almost entirely in a hotel room in the aftermath of a coital engagement, plays like a chamber drama. Watching a prize fight on TV, Bill slowly reveals aspects of his childhood he’s to this point suppressed, opening the door to his conflicted ideas of masculinity that come to a head when his estranged brother tries to reconnect. The episode, directed by producer Michael Apted, is both revelatory and mysterious and is remarkably cinematic given its constraints.

Bill is correct that sex is one of the most powerful and least understand aspects of the human experience, but he’s still learning that there’s more to making a human connection than simple physical contact. There is plenty of nudity and scenes of sexuality but it is less explicit than many pay cable shows and it is all in service of the exploration of human sexuality: the boundaries of what we consider “normal” and acceptable, feelings of shame and fear, and the emotional complications that sex brings to a relationship. The third season begins on Showtime in July.

12 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with the 18-minute featurette “The History of Sex,” which surveys the historical backdrop of the era as featured in the show. Exclusive to the Blu-ray are two interview featurettes. “The Woman of Sex” (20 minutes) features interviews with Lizzy Caplan, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Annaleigh Ashford, Betsy Brandt, Ann Dowd, Allison Janney, and other actresses on the show and “The Men of Sex” (26 minutes) is a roundtable discussion with Michael Sheen as moderator and participant with fellow actors Beau Bridges, Teddy Sears, Jocko Sims, and Kevin Christy. Also features an Ultraviolet HD digital copy of the season.

More TV on disc reviews at Cinephiled

May 06 2015

Orson Welles goes ‘Around the World’

‘Around the World with Orson Welles’

When handed the raw materials from an unfinished documentary about Elmyr de Hory, an art forger whose life was being written up by biographer Clifford Irving, Orson Welles took the opportunity to make something far beyond the concept of the traditional documentary. F for Fake has been called the Orson Welles’ first essay film, a true enough statement if you limit the accounting to feature films, but he had been doing short-form non-fiction since 1955, when he made Around the World with Orson Welles (a.k.a. Around the World) for British television.

It was ostensibly a series of travelogues, shot on location with Welles as tour guide, host, and narrator. Welles himself described them as “all sort of home movies—a vacation documented…,” but these are sort of home movies that only Welles could make. They are built on Welles’s public persona as much as on his directorial personality. He is “as always, obediently yours,” the worldly yet personable host who casts a spell with his voice, disarms with a boyish grin and invites the audience into his confidence as he tosses out cultural observations and historical asides.

Continue reading at Keyframe

Apr 17 2015

Videophiled: ‘Foyle’s War’ – The final mysteries

Acorn

Foyle’s War: Set 8 (Acorn, DVD) – Foyle’s War debuted on British TV in 2002 as a mysteries series set on the homefront during World War II, where the cool-headed, rational Inspector Foyle (Michael Kitchen) was assigned to investigate domestic crimes against the backdrop of life during wartime. British TV long had a tradition for mysteries set in the colorful pre-war past, from Sherlock Holmes to Poirot, but this show started a vogue for darker stories in less glamorous settings and troubled times. It became a favorite in both Britain and the U.S. (where it played on Masterpiece Mystery), was revived twice after cancellation, and carried on after the show brought the war to an end war with Foyle working for the secretive MI-5 to fight the Cold War.

This set presents the final three episodes of the show, all scripted by series creator Anthony Horowitz. Set in the late 1940s, each mystery is a fictional take on the real life events and social realities of the era. While Foyle cuts through the tangled politics of crimes that reach beyond the borders of Britain, his assistant Sam (Honeysuckle Weeks) and her husband Adam (Daniel Weyman), an idealistic Member of Parliament struggling to make a difference, take us through the social and political situation of post-war life for ordinary citizens. Horowitz also takes the opportunity to explore Foyle’s superiors at MI-5, who slowly put their trust in his intelligence and sense of justice in a culture of compromise and secrecy.

In “High Castle,” the murder of a translator at the Nuremberg war crimes trials leads back to an act of treason in the war. “Trespass” deals with the conflicts over the emigration of Jews to Palestine and the rise of a Fascist party stoking anti-immigrant anger in Britain. “Elise,” the final episode of the show, weaves the story of a conspiracy within the intelligence service reaching back to the war with black market activities in the present, and it ends the show in a way that leaves the door open for yet another revival. It could happen. Horowitz has said this is the end but in the featurettes he’s careful not to close the door entirely.

On DVD, with “The Truth Behind the Fiction” interviews between Anthony Horowitz and historian and series consultant Terry Charman that explore the real-life history behind the stories among the supplements.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Apr 09 2015

Videophiled TVD: ‘Manhattan: Season One’

ManhattanS1

Lionsgate

Manhattan: Season One (Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD) isn’t about the city. It’s about the project. Set on the Los Alamos, New Mexico, military base in the early 1940s, it is about the development of the atomic bomb and the uneasy society in this gated community guarded by MPs who, like everyone else not directly involved with the project, don’t actually know what the brain trust of physicists and engineers are working on.

The real-life Manhattan Project was developed across multiple sites spread around the country (the series even visits one of those sites) but Los Alamos was at the center of it. This is where the device was to be designed and built and Robert Oppenheimer, the head of the program, had two teams working in competition on separate approaches. That’s where we come into the story with young physics wunderkind Charlie Isaacs (Ashley Zukerman), who arrives with his wife Abby (Rachel Brosnahan) to a high-security base that is not on any map (it’s simply identified as PO Box 1663) feels like a cross between a cheaply-built gated community and an internment camp. Charlie is assigned to the favored team led by Reed Akley (David Harbour) but he’s obsessed with impressing Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey), the brilliant leader of the misfit B-team who has a habit of bucking the chain of command. Olivia Williams is Frank’s wife Liza, a botany professor in her own right who is dismissed as simply another base wife by the military command even as she discovers the radiation accumulating around the camp (it’s killing the bees).

The tension between the military structure and civilian scientists and families is just part of the drama. Much of the story is caught up in the politics of the base: who gets to work on projects, how the money and equipment is used as leverage, how the culture of secrecy and suspicion undermines a sense of community and shared commitment. Hovering over it all is are representatives of the security services (notably West Wing veteran Richard Schiff) tracking every possible intelligence leak and possible sabotage attempt, especially after their mole in Germany is captured. At this point in the war, the focus is on the war in Europe and they are racing Hitler’s team to the bomb. Those stakes are more than simply a dramatic device. The fear of the Axis beating them to them bomb is a very real possibility.

This is the second original drama from the Chicago cable superstation and aspiring cable player WGN and it reaches for the level of human drama, social commentary, and historical perspective of shows like Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, and Masters of Sex. It largely succeeds. Thomas Schlamme, who visualized Aaron Sorkin’s ideas on The West Wing, is an executive producer and directs the pilot, setting the tone of the show. The Spartan setting helps stretch the budget, which uses the dusty streets, shabby shack housing, and forlorn isolation in the middle of nowhere to define the atmosphere of this community, and the personal dramas and challenges define the culture of suspicion and the social world of wartime America, with all its prejudices and anxieties. Some of the storylines stumble a bit and the personal betrayals at times come off as dramatic contrivances, but at its best the series dramatizes the stakes of the project—and the cost in lives—in human terms, and it casts its gaze on a culture that has not been explored on the screen in any depth.

The second season begins on WGN later this year.

Eight episodes on Blu-ray and DVD with commentary tracks on select episodes and four featurettes. Both also include Ultraviolent Digital copies (the Blu-ray edition has Digital HD).

More new releases on disc and digital at Cinephiled

Mar 13 2015

Videophiled TVD: ‘Sons of Anarchy’ ends

SonsAnarchyFinalSons of Anarchy: The Final Season (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD) and Sons of Anarchy: The Complete Series (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD) – This drama of family ties, brotherhood, loyalty, betrayal, and honor in an outlaw motorcycle gang that practically runs the (fictional) Central California desert town of Charming grew from cult show to surprise hit for the FX network over the course of its seven season run.

The crime drama had taken on almost Shakespearean dimensions, from a “Hamlet”-like conflict between club heir apparent Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) and his step-father Clay (Ron Perlman), while offering a kind of leather jacket soap opera and an idealized portrait of underworld brotherhood under fire. Jax was the well-meaning warrior prince determined to deliver Camelot to his brothers but constantly beset by blowback from his alliance and criminal activities. By the time the final season roared out in the fall of 2014, the club had left enough victims in the wake of their criminal activities and territorial battles to fill a small graveyard, including Clay and his own wife, murdered by his mother Gemma (Katey Sagal), the ferocious den mother of this wolf pack. As likable as this scruffy but loyal brotherhood could be, it was hard to overlook the violence of their business, the bodies dropped in misguided acts of vengeance (either by impulse or spurred by the lies of betrayals or cover-ups), and the innocents killed in the crossfire.

Those reservations aside, I remained a fan of the show to the end if only for creator Kurt Sutter’s commitment to the whole twisted idea of brotherhood and the fantasy that they are the protectors of their town. The bad boy romance of their world is a façade, but Sutter sure knows how to work that fantasy into brutal, bloodsoaked melodrama of retribution and redemption. The individual members of the club (at least those who survived to season seven) have all become distinctive, integral characters with their own issues and Gemma a broken, doomed figure spinning stories to delay the inevitable revelation and retribution. Jax’s young son (who knows what Gemma did) takes on the look of a zombie, haunted by the knowledge that his grandmother killed his mother and acting out with acts of violence at school. The hypocrisy he sees in the adult world is poisoning his soul, a truly innocent victim of the violent life of his father.

Annabeth Gish joins the show as the new sheriff of Charming, a veteran who understands that a certain amount of accommodation to the outlaw elements is necessary to keep things from blowing up on the streets, and Jimmy Smits is back as Nero, club ally and conscience to Jax, the compassionate and honorable father figure he lacked in Clay, and there are return visits from some familiar faces, notably Hal Holbrook as Gemma’s infirm father and Walton Goggins as Venus, a tough yet tender transsexual dominatrix with whom club hothead Tig (Kim Coates) falls in love in one of the most touching stories weaving through the series.

Guest stars include Marilyn Manson as a white supremacist taking care of business for the club in prison, Courtney Love as a pre-school teacher who tries to help Jax’s troubled son, Lea Michelle as a truck stop waitress who befriends Gemma, and small roles from Robert Patrick and Michael Chiklis (star of Kurt Sutter’s previous series, The Shield).

Charlie Hunnam and Marilyn Manson

As far as the idea of justice is concerned, the show follows its own tunnel-vision code. These guys sell guns to California gangs and run a brothel and a porn business (which, oddly enough, are managed by women and accommodating to the employees—you gotta love a socially progressive gangster) and routinely murder obstructions and threats, but Jax draws the line at drugs and the IRA pipeline that Clay established. In their world, that’s a moral stand, and while the show flirts with the collateral damage and unintended consequences of their business, it tends to overlook the bigger picture and ask up to look beyond the criminal code. But then that’s part of the outlaw romance of the series. And while there is a fatalism to much of it, Sutter also offers redemptive stories, rewarding longtime fans with a happy ending for a few deserving characters.

13 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, The final season expands each episode to 90 minutes (a little over 60 minutes without commercials), giving the stories more space to play out (it’s like getting an extra six episodes). The disc sets feature hour-long documentary “Carpe Diem: The Final Season of Sons of Anarchy” and featurettes on the legacy of violence, the motorcycles, the stories of the tattoos, and the guest stars of the final season.

Fox also releases the entire series in a box set on Blu-ray and DVD, a bargain way to get the complete show.

More TV on Disc at Cinephiled

Mar 04 2015

Videophiled: ‘Outlander: Season 1, Volume 1′

Outlander S1V1

Sony

Outlander: Season 1, Volume 1 (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD), a mix of historical drama, romantic melodrama, and time-travel tale based on the novels of Diane Gabron, shows that Starz is starting to figure out this original cable series thing. That’s not to say they haven’t had their successes—Spartacus did just fine for them, thank you very much—but Outlander manages to combine serialized storytelling, budget-minded historical spectacle, and pay-cable nudity in a compelling story that never feels contrived or exploitative. It’s intelligent and interesting, full of historical and cultural detail, and build on a situation that calls upon magic yet remains grounded in a very real world where the threat of violence and death are ever present. And it’s all told from the perspective of a smart, observant, modern (circa 1945) British woman doing all she can to stay alive long enough to escape back into her world.

Caitriona Balfe stars as Claire Randall, who spent World War II as a combat nurse and, with war’s end, is finally reunited with her husband (Tobias Menzies) for a second honeymoon in the Scottish highlands. That’s where (and when), after witnessing a ceremony at an ancient Druid shrine, she’s cast back 200 years, landing in the midst of war between the occupying British army and the rogue Highland clans who are considered savages by the British. Both sides believe she’s a spy (especially a cold-blooded British officer who happens to be her husband’s ancestor and is played by the same actor) but she is slowly accepted into the MacKenzie clan and married to the handsome young Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), cousin to the clan laird and a man with a price on his head. It’s her protection from the British soldiers, if only in legal terms. But this sympathetic Brit in a Scottish land is still an outsider, much more than even they realize, and she keeps her wits about her in the hopes of returning to the shrine and hopefully getting back to her world and her husband. Her first husband. Needless to say, it gets complicated, and not just the timelines. She starts to fall for the romantic young Scot and it seems that Dougal (Graham McTavish), the clan laird, is falling for her.

Ronald D. Moore, the Star Trek TV veteran who rebooted Battlestar Galactica for SyFy, developed the show for Starz and scripts the key episodes of the first eight episodes, which ran on Starz in 2014 to strong ratings and reviews. Balfe gives Claire a courage and strength of character that makes her drama matter to us. No wonder everyone in this world is so fascinated with this woman who speaks her mind and has the courage of her convictions.

Eight episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with the featurettes “An Epic Adaptation” and “The Dresses and Kilts of Outlander.” The Blu-ray also includes three additional featurettes, 21 deleted scenes, and a bonus Ultraviolent HD copy of all eight episodes. The second half of the first season begins in April and a second season is already in production.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Feb 07 2015

TV / Streaming Review: ‘Black Mirror’

Britain’s audacious answer to The Twilight Zone for our plugged-in world of social media and screen culture, Black Mirror seemed to come out of nowhere. The anthology show debuted on Netflix in December with “The National Anthem,” which caused a viral sensation. That first episode addressed hacking, cybercrime, political protest, and extortion with a savagely satirical story about the kidnapping of a royal family member. To save her, the Prime Minister was instructed—in the form of a video ransom demand streamed for the world to watch—to fuck a pig on live television, and he did. “The National Anthem” was the most transgressive thing I’ve ever seen on TV, and I see a lot of TV.

Rory Kinnear (center) in “The National Anthem”

Written by English journalist-turned-satirist Charlie Brooker, Black Mirror’s creator, that episode was wickedly, nastily funny. Unlike most premium American television, however, its shock value has a real point. The YouTube terrorism of “The National Anthem” is but an nth-degree exaggeration of our own cyber-bullying, celebrity phone hacking, and North Korean cyber-attacks.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Jan 28 2015

Videophiled: ‘Downton Abbey: Season 5′

Downton5

PBS

Downton Abbey: Season 5 (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD) embraces everything I enjoy about the show, and everything that frustrates me to distraction. It’s 1924 and the times they are a changin’, much to the consternation of Lord Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) and head butler Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), the old guard of traditional values who despair of a Labour government in power. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), meanwhile, rather daringly agrees to an unchaperoned holiday with a beau to try out an intimate arrangement (kicking the tires, so to speak, before it was socially accepted), and her sister Edith (Laura Carmichael) decides she cannot live without the son she had out of wedlock. The latter tale unfolds with reassuring affirmations of family acceptance but Mary’s journey is a little more interesting and the show even flirts with the social judgments directed toward a woman (even a married woman, as Mary delegates to purchase to a servant) purchasing birth control from a pharmacist. And family matriarch Lady Crawley (Maggie Smith) gets her own romantic journey when she runs into a Russian aristocrat (Rade Sherbedgia) she once romanced.

Even more interesting is the evolution of footman Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier), the schemer of the servant class whose homosexuality is an open secret at all levels of the manor. He secretly undergoes aversion therapy to “cure” his homosexuality (a doomed endeavor) and applies his particular skill set to protect his fellow servants and even his employers from less savory types. And the concept of “bettering oneself” and class mobility perks up this season, especially as kitchen made Daisy starts educating herself and gets involved politically when the new Labour government wins the 1924 election.

The end of the season focuses on bubbly cousin Rose (Lily James) and her marriage to the son of a Jewish businessman who is as snooty toward them as Rose’s mother is toward her new Jewish in-laws. Most of these social conflicts and class collisions are too easily solved to have any dramatic weight and the pillars of old-world tradition are eased into the modern world with a smile and a warm embrace, which is my frustration with the show. It seems no one here is too old or too entrenched to learn a lesson and get a happy ending, and no situation is so difficult that it would call the tradition of inherited wealth and aristocratic class divisions into question.

9 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, including the season finale special “A Moorland Holiday,” available before the season is even half over in the U.S. (it ran in late 2014 in the U.K.). These is the uncut British version of the show (the episodes are trimmed slightly for the American run) and it includes three featurettes.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Jan 15 2015

Videophiled: The end of ‘Boardwalk Empire’

BoardwalkS5

HBO

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fifth Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD) wraps up the Martin Scorsese-produced series set in Atlantic City during Prohibition with an abbreviated final season of eight episodes. Jumping ahead to 1931, with talk of ending Prohibition in the air, it finds Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) working to stake his claim in the legal booze trade (he attempts to strike a deal with a certain Joseph Kennedy) while Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky (Vincent Piazza and Anatol Yusef) are busy trying to unite the major mobs into a syndicate and eliminate the competitors and outliers. Thompson included.

As is the new convention with cable dramas about violent worlds and lifestyles, the final season wraps up many of the storylines by chronicling the demise of major characters. The transition of organized crime and the federal case against Capone in Chicago come right out of history but creator Terence Winter isn’t strictly beholden to the record for some of the other dramatic developments (just compare Nucky’s screen story with the real life Enoch Johnson). Winter may have been hampered by the short season but his choice to end the series in transition seems more creative than convenient. And his affection for Nucky is clear in the reflective journey he makes—the flashbacks of young Nucky coming of age in Atlantic City is surely as much about his own concerns as it is to reveal the making of a unique kind of racketeer—and he spends his final days as a prohibition-era power righting certain wrongs as he can. The advice given him in the first episode of the series, “You can’t be half a gangster,” ring through this season. But for Winter, the turning point isn’t anywhere in 1931 but back in Nucky’s formative years, learning how power is flexed and what is sacrificed to attain it. Winter saves Nucky’s original sin for the final episode, his Rosebud of sorts. It doesn’t explain all, of course, but it adds another dimension to Nucky’s efforts at any kind of redemption.

Eight episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary on four episodes and “Scouting the Boardwalk” featurettes on the locations for each episode. The Blu-ray also includes the exclusive “Blu-ray Live HBO Sampler,” which allows internet-connected Blu-ray devices to access the pilot episodes of four shows for free: Girls, Looking, Banshee, and the new series Togetherness.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Image | WordPress Themes