TV on Disc: ‘Damages: The Complete Fourth Season’

Damages: The Complete Fourth Season (Sony), set a few years after the fallout of “Season Three,” finds superstar litigator Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) settled into an easy friendship with former protégé/nemesis Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), now on a successful career track in another big firm.

Hewes hasn’t mellowed so much as reprioritized; she’s raising the granddaughter that her absent son abandoned and she goes through nannies faster than she can vet them. So when Ellen, following up a tip from a former classmate, decides to take on High Star, a Blackwater-like military contractor providing illegal services in Afghanistan, Patty agrees to once again play mentor and advisor to her former pupil. And nothing gets Patty’s blood up like playing hardball against a corrupt corporation, though she’s a bit distracted this around when a search for her missing son comes back on her in a custody battle for her granddaughter.

This is the first season of the show’s new identity as a DirecTV exclusive show and it appears to have taken a budget hit in the process. There are fewer central figures to the drama, more modest locations and settings, and a shorter season of ten episodes. The flashforward / flashback structure is still intact but not as effective in this story, which revolves around corporate honcho Howard Erickson (John Goodman) and his brutally efficient hatchet man (Dylan Baker, superb in an understated performance), a former security officer with his own issues. Their justification of cruel and murderous tactics in the name of national security (they are not above having inconvenient witnesses eliminated) fits right in to the morally ambiguity of the show’s sensibility, where legal action on this level is nothing short of warfare.

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TV on DVD 1/19/10 – The latest Damages and Weeds and old Law and Order for thirtysomethings

The most savage legal series on TV, Damages launched on FX in 2007 with Glenn Close running the show as Patty Hewes, the alpha wolf of New York’s high-priced attorneys. Hewes walked away from that very eventful season with a huge win in her class action lawsuit against arrogant millionaire CEO Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson) and a failed murder attempt against her newest hire, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), and Close walked away with an Emmy for Best Actress (one of the show’s three awards). Damages: The Complete Second Season (Sony) picks up in the wake of those events, with Ellen now working as an informant for the FBI’s efforts to put Patty away and Patty looking for the right case to follow up the win that made her the superstar of New York litigators. This season features what is arguably the most impressive cast on television, including William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Timothy Olyphant, Ted Danson, Mario Van Peebles, Darryl Hammond, and Clarke Peters and John Doman of The Wire. Hurt is old friend and professional colleague Daniel Purcell, who comes to Patty with hints of a corporate conspiracy and then becomes a client when he’s the prime suspect in the murder of his wife, Gay Harden is the corporate litigator who takes on Patty and Olyphant is a member of Ellen’s support group with his own secrets.

Glenn Close rules the room as Patty Hewes

Close plays Patty with a cold cunning and unapologetic ego—she plays to win and she doesn’t seem to care who gets chewed up in the process—while Hurt keeps us guessing at Purcell’s motives and allegiances when he double-crosses Patty on the stand at a time he’s supposed to be a friendly witness against the corporation that seems to have corrupted him as well. Everyone is playing an angle here and you can’t trust anyone, not even the FBI or the EPA, which keeps the audience off balance through the thirteen-episode story. And as in the first season, they almost never step into a courtroom. Forget courtroom theatrics and dramatic summation speeches to the jury, this all about behind the scenes machinations and hardball tactics of legal gamesmanship.

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DVD of the Week – ‘El Cid’

“What a noble subject. If he had only a noble king.”

El Cid, Anthony Mann’s exceedingly handsome historical epic starring Charlton Heston as Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, aka The Cid, debuts on DVD this week. You might think that El Cid means The Stud, as Heston is truly macho and unwaveringly chivalrous throughout, but it’s a term of respect bestowed by a Moorish prince on the Catholic Spaniard for his humanity and his respect of the Muslim citizens of Spain, a people who are under assault by Rodrigo’s intolerant Catholic king. There’s a theme more timely now than ever. I review it in my DVD column on MSN

You can argue over what is the greatest historical movie epic, but “El Cid” is surely the brawniest. Not in the gladiator sense of muscled bodies and mano-a-mano combat (like “Ben-Hur”) but in the strength of its storytelling and its visual display of force and pageantry.

The story is pure melodrama centered on a larger-than-life romance between Rodrigo and Sophia Loren’s Chimene, his lady love turned mortal enemy (the two performers did not get along, which may explain the rather formal quality of their love scenes). But director Anthony Mann uses his stunning locations and choreographs his armies and crowds magnificently, not just showing off the budget but corralling it into the frame like an old master and creating a dynamic, powerful, living landscape.

Read the complete review here. It’s available in both 2-Disc set and in a deluxe Limited Collector’s Edition.

Also new on DVD this week: special editions of Monty Python’s Life of Brian and Groundhog Day and the home video debut of the documentary Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows, Continue reading “DVD of the Week – ‘El Cid’”