DVD Reviews - Doctor Who, Jumper, Burn Notice

DOCTOR WHO: BENEATH THE SURFACE

BURN NOTICE: Season One (Fox) (4 DVDs)

Your heart goes out to covert operative Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan). He’s been given a burn notice, a particularly rude way for the government to say his services are no longer required. Before he knows it, he has no money, no support, no identity. Worst, he’s stranded in a pastel-colored cesspool often mistaken for a third world country, Miami. Can it get any worse?

It most certainly can. For us viewers, it can’t be any better.

Surrounded by an incredible cast of character actors, including Sharon Gless, Bruce Campbell and Gabrielle Anwar, Burn Notice caught the fancy of spy aficionados last year when it made its debut on the USA Network. Thanks to its mix of gritty urban, solid action and dry humor it will start a second season starting July 10.

In each episode Weston tries to figure out just who is responsible for putting him in his situation. At the same time he must contend with a mother from hell (Gless), a double-dealing bud already “burned” (Campbell) and a former IRA militant with a temper as explosive as her methods for handling situations (Anwar). You also have your share of suits, gunrunners, drug dealers, politicians and such local low-lifes like Rush Limbaugh out there making Weston’s life difficult.

But what really sets this series are Weston’s monologues. It covers everything from what the spy biz is really about, to simple things like taking out a bully and his toadies or just how to make any number of explosives. They’re delivered with the insight of a man who has endured just a little too much in his life. He’d rather just watch the honeys go by on South Beach without a bullet flying overhead or checking his drink for poison.

The extra content included isn’t anywhere near the quality of the show itself. It includes gag reel, audition tapes and the required episode commentary. The other “montage” sequences, like all the local residents in their micro-kinis, have their moments, but didn’t impress me. Guess I’ve lived down here too long.

No matter what, if you really want to know what this show’s about (and you should), get this set. From there, don’t be the slightest bit surprised if you start enjoying it as well.

COMEDY CENTRAL’S HOME GROWN (Comedy Central)

This is the latest comedy collection from the guys who’ve been packaging humor like Twinkies for the years. The idea is simple, if one you like masters like Chappelle, they hope you’ll finally like Sarah Silverman’s crap. If you find Lewis Black’s Root of all Evil: Beer v. Pot debate, well, mind blowing, you might think the same of Reno 911. Personally, I’ve always been of the opinion that anyone who likes Sarah Silverman or Reno also laughs at train wrecks, but so it goes.

In other words, it’s like those old 12” LPs music labels put out way back in the late 60s. They cost 99 cents and include acts like Mississippi Fred McDowell to Pink Floyd. They also had truly unmitigated crap, but so it went. But if you discovered one new act, it did well for less than a dollar.

Personally, the menu, which goes off on a mushroom and grass routine, is probably the funniest thing inside. Also enjoyable are some are hard-to-see short clips CC used to run like “Spiders on Drugs” and excerpts from Mike Judge and Doug Hertzfeldt’s The Animation Show (three of them, all superb). Others are best left never said.

So while this sampler has its moments, it sure isn’t worth the $19.99 list price Comedy Central has it under. If they really want to be daring, set it at $4.99. Then it’s well worth the price.

DOCTOR WHO: BENEATH THE SURFACE (BBC) (3 DVDs)

• And The Silurians

• The Sea Devils

• Warriors of the Deep

Personally, I thought the Jon Pertwee period of Doctor Who one of my favorites.

For those who don’t recall, this was1970-1974, and the Time Lord was stranded on Earth by his fellow Gallifreyans for most of its run. This meant an entire rethink of the series, creating a new purpose for our hero. It introduced UNIT, as well as a number of characters who would have some serious impact on the Doctor, most prominently The Master and, in the last season, companion Sarah Jane Smith.

The Master wasn’t the only villain our favorite (former) time traveler had to contend with either. The first were the Autons (a.k.a. the Nestines). After them came the underground Silurians. Two years later, the Sea Devils were added to the mix. Much later, they would team up to take on the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davidson.

As it turns out, both races apparently were related. While details were fuzzy, both races were from the pre-human days of the Earth, and both races are somehow directly related to the dinosaurs. The essential difference is the Silurians preferred caves and the warmth of the planet. The Sea Devils lived in colonies on the bottom of the ocean. What they did share in common was intentions of taking the planet back and being absolutely cold-blooded strategists with special psychic powers.

My personal favorite of this pack is The Sea Devils, not because of the oceanic BEMS, but because the Master was now formally a recurring character, and Roger Delgado played him to the hilt. You could tell Pertwee and Delgado were also seriously enjoying their time together.

As with all these collections, they come chock full of extra content, ranging from the early use of synths in Silurians to extensive commentary from Davidson and then companion Janet Fielding (Tegan). So while these particular aliens didn’t quite stick like the Daleks, Cybermen or even the Ice Warriors, it’s nice to see they are getting the proper presentation they deserve.

EARLY EDITION: The First Season (CBS) (6 DVDs)

Early Edition is one of those cult programs that started appearing over the last decade or so. That also includes shows ranging from Dead Like Me to Wonderfalls.

They center around a relatively grounded individual who has something extremely unusual happen to him or her. In the case of lead character Gary Hobson (Kyle Chandler), a mysterious red tabby delivers the paper to him every morning. The trick is it’s the next day’s edition. His friend Chuck (Fisher Stevens) thinks this is an incredible way to get rich exceedingly quick, but it wouldn’t be much of a TV series if Hobson took his advice. Instead, he follows the advice of fellow co-star, the blind Marissa (Shanesia Davis) to utilize his advanced knowledge to prevent tragedies, big or small.

This brings about a subplot of the origins of the newspaper, the cat and everything else connected to it, but that’s never truly explained. Nor does it really need to be. The chemistry and issues the three key stars tackle during these first 23 episodes more than compensate for it.

Also, like the other shows of this nature, what sets Early Edition apart is its mix of cynicism with some truly guileless charm. Hobson is a truly likeable character. The story dialogue, provided by Stevens, makes sure it never sinks into evangelic murkiness. The real find though is Davis, who plays a blind lady with enough gumption and independence to make one wish there were more people like here in the world.

In all, this is a nice add-on to your TV library, if your tastes are so inclined. I know I sure would enjoy seeing a few more just like Early Edition.

GET SMART: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Sony)

After viewing this train wreck of a sequel, one could almost see Don Adams strike his familiar pose of Maxwell Smart and say, “I meant to do that,” knowing full well he didn’t.

This isn’t the original bit of brilliance created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry in 1965. This is the sequel set 30 years later, in 1995. One quick scan and it isn’t hard to see why it only lasted even seven total episodes.

Not that the initial concept was bad. Cast members Adams and Barbara Feldon were still together. Old Max was head of CONTROL, and Agent 99 (Feldon) is now a Congressman. Their spy roles have been taken over by their kids, Zach (Andy Dick) and Agent 66 (Elaine Hendrix). The problem is while the situation had been updated, that was about it. The jokes were so stale any bit of humor they used to have went with the way of psychedelia, the Pinto, and pet rocks.

Obviously, the only reason this collection was released is to capitalize on the upcoming Warner Bros. feature starring Steve Carell. Just put this down as one you can easily skip and get a bag of popcorn with. You’ll get a better deal from the popcorn.

HEAVY METAL IN BAGHDAD (Arts Alliance America)

In the autobiographical film Persepolis, there’s a scene where creator Marjane Sartrapi works the black market for some Iron Maiden. To us of more genteel Western tastes, the scene is humorous because of what she has to go through to get a bootleg tape. What we don’t realize is the ultra-serious undertones of the sequence. Certain Muslim factions would have killed her for possessing that bit of Western decadence.

If you don’t believe, this new release should bring home the point. It tells the tale of an Iraqi metal band, Acrassiscauda. Formed before the fall of Saddam Hussein, the band actually fell on harder times after the U.S. “liberated” it from the former dictator’s rule. They became the target of numerous death threats, not only to themselves, but to their young families. If spin-offs from the likes of Al Queda and the Taliban weren’t enough to consider, there were also non-stop security checks, power outages, gun happy and American hating militias and constant, I repeat, constant harassment to conform to one group or another’s ideal Islamic standard. You soon learn all this pain and suffering also isn’t rooted in religious difference. The band is a mix of Suni and Shiite themselves. The cause is pure madness.

A gripping documentary by any standard, what drives the point home is one of the least challenging forms of rock’n roll can end up being so controversial in the Middle East. Search this one out to see just how truth can be so much more deadly than fiction (like the U.S. is bringing democratic ways to Iraq).

THE INVADERS: The First Season (CBS) (5 DVDs)

This nearly forgotten cult series got a major boost nearly a decade ago when creator Chris Clark managed to tie it directly into his then megahit for the paranoid, The X-Files. Good thing, too. It truly was a tremendous show.

Created by Quinn Martin, who were riding high on the ratings skyway from The Fugitive, the show told the tale of architect David Vincent (Roy Thomas). One night he got lost and witnessed the landing of a flying saucer. From there, he finds no one will believe him. The extraterrestrials have so infiltrated the planet they have successfully buried the truth.

A timeless bit of paranoia, with each episode, Vincent attempts to set the record straight, and every episode he may lose each episodic battle, but picks up a convert or two. Thomas is particularly effective as the man trying to prove he’s not out of his mind and, like Dr. Richard Kimble, will go from episode to episode narrowly escaping his pursuers and getting closer to the truth.

If that isn’t enough to convince you to get you to check this out, Thomas does an opening monologue for each episode. It also includes an extended pilot that didn’t air back in 1967 and a lot more fascinating details. A true must have for any sci-fi collection, whether you’re an X-Files fan or not.

JUMPER (Fox)

Now here’s an interesting concept. Instead of a comic book inspiring a movie, how about a film about a superhero with no comic book origin?

That’s the premise for Jumper, a film that’s going far towards restoring Hayden Christensen’s career after the last Star Wars trilogy. He plays David Rice, a boy who discovers he can teleport to any place he can visualize, whether by being there previously or looking at a photo. Further, he’s not blue or suffers from extreme Catholic guilt. Not that his life is easy. He’s got no less than Samuel L. Jackson wanting him dead, dead and dead. In fact, Jackson acts like his manner of killing is nothing less than a holy mission, and he doesn’t need to be chomping on a hamburger to convince you he means it.

Then again, what really counts is who are behind Christensen and Jackson. Based on a novel by Stephen Gould, the script is the co-creation of Jim Uhls, Simon Kinberg, and a guy Newsarama readers should be very familiar with, David S. Goyer. Goyer’s writing credits include Blade (both TV & film), Batman Begins and an episode of the upcoming Batman: Gotham Knight and Dark Knight. Under the direction of Doug Liman (Go, The Bourne Identity), it’s a fast paced, ultra-violent rollercoaster that intentionally doesn’t want you to think too much about what’s going on, and is all the better for that.

The word is Jumper did well enough that Fox is now deep into negotiations for two more films. Here’s to hoping so. It may not be the most brilliant bit of cinema to ever hit the screen, but like any decent comic it has its share of gosh wow moments and big splash shots. I can live with that.

THE NOEL COWARD TRILOGY (Kultur)

It’s something to think about, but the world would have been a slightly darker place without the wit and wisdom Noel Coward. If you don’t believe, check out this extensive documentary on his life.

The man who created the line “mad men and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun,” was a lot more than just a sissy boy bon vivant. As told by his last great lover, Graham Payn, Coward was a man who had a mastery of the English language like very few in the last century. In the 30’s he made his name as a songwriter, playwright and general commentator of life in general. He could easily mix with the likes of King George VI, who wanted to award him a knighthood for his World War II activities. The only reason he didn’t get it was because no less than Winston Churchill disapproved of his “flamboyant” life style. At the same time, he was also a colleague of HG Wells, whose form of socialism he ardently followed.

Like many of his contemporaries, after the War his popularity would sink and would have to leave the UK permanently as a tax exile. That didn’t stop him from performing though. He would continue to write and act up to his last film, the original The Italian Job, in 1969.

What this cliff note bio doesn’t give you though is just how incredible a man Coward was. Yes, he played the sophisticated fop with extreme delight, but underneath it all was a man who could produce some brilliant songs and shows. How he spent years of being persecuted for his political and personal beliefs are thoroughly explored here, and are all the more revelatory for the contrast of his loving the high life.

Search this one out. You’ll be glad you did.

OTIS (WB)

Mixing humor and horror, and making it work, is a damn near impossible thing to accomplish. Once or twice a decade you get a film like Bubba Ho-Tep, Fido or Eating Raoul, but how many other films can you include in this category?

Put this film there, right now.

As played by Boston Christopher, the title character is a serial killer who thinks he’s the gift to woman kind. Then he finally picks the daughter of the wrong family for his next victim. When the Lawson family (including Daniel Stern, Illeana Douglas, Ashley Johnson and Jared Kusnitz) decide it’s time to take justice into their own hands, they do it with all kinds of power tools, gore and some of the most killer one-liners you’ve heard in ages. The only twist is the get the wrong guy.

Call it a comedy of errors with chainsaws and whips, this one’s going to leave you in little pieces. You’ll never look at cooking utensils the same way afterwards.

THE PASSION OF GREG THE BUNNY (Shout! Factory)

If Robot Chicken doesn’t convince you that Seth Green is a truly sick you-know-what, you must pick up this collection.

In this latest set of atrocities, he has his little hand puppets do all kinds of unspeakable things to such sacrosanct ground as Blue Velvet, The Passion of Christ and Jon Favreau. Just seeing Count Blah doing his Dean Stockwell while Warren the Ape plays Dennis Hopper is perverse in so many ways it has to be seen to be believed. It honestly makes us wonder what Green’s cleaning bill for the puppets must be like.

So, if you want some stuff that even Adult Swim won’t do, check this out. As for Mr. Green? I think if I had any children, I’d certainly keep him away from them.

SAVED FROM THE FLAMES (Flicker Alley) (3 DVDs)

You all might remember how I raved about the George Melies collection Flicker Alley put out several months back. That said, if you want more true cinematic history, you have to find this other release.

Among the bits of historical curios uncovered in this are the debut Charlie Chaplin as the Little Tramp, Stan Laurel before he hooked up with Oliver Hardy, and rarely seen “Hell Bent for Election” short which was directed by Chuck Jones and became the precursor for the UPA studio. If for the inclusion of Emile Cohl’s “Fantasmagorie” (the first animation work done on paper) it’s value. There’s also the works of the Lumieres, DW Griffith, George Pal and the musical films of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Django Reinhardt.

To top it, each print is restored to the best condition possible. It comes with a highly informative booklet and is superbly categorized into eight different chapters. A truly wonderful set and proper companion piece to the Melies. Search this out at all cost.

SHORT CIRCUIT (Image)

Hey, I don’t blame Image for putting this set out. After all, there’s a certain Pixar film coming out in less than a couple of weeks whose protagonist bears a rather uncanny resemblance to the star of this little gem of the 1980s.

Let’s be honest. When push comes to shove, this really was an entertaining little yarn. The robot #5 was a proper foil to the shenanigans of budding stars Steve Guttenberg, Ally Sheedy and Fisher Stevens. Even more remarkable is the humor holds up very well 22 years after its initial release.

To make it a little sweeter, this disk comes with interviews of just about everyone involved when the film was released (they sound like they come from Entertainment Tonight). The modern day interviews from effects masters Syd Mead and Eric Allard add some interesting hindsight to it all.

So, if you’re just looking for a touch of fun until the big event comes two weeks from now, give this one a spin.

SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES: FIELD GUIDE EDITION (Paramount) (2 DVDs)

As director Mark Waters points out in the extra content, the U.S. is usually way in the back when it usually comes to modern fairy tales. He hopes his effort helps rectify this gap.

Based on a series of successful novels, it posits that most magical beings are well aware of us norms, they just prefer we weren’t aware of them. In the past, a country gentlemen, Arthur Spiderwick, did a field study on them, and in the wrong hands it could spell disaster. So eighty years or so ago they grabbed Spiderwick and took him away.

Move to the present, and distant relations the Graces move to the Spiderwick estate. Once there, one of the twin boys, Jared, discovers where the weird folk have hidden the field notes. You can guess what happens from there.

Actually, when I first saw this one I truly enjoyed it. In looking over it again I found it holds up fairly well. It’s a true showpiece for young Freddie Highmore (playing both twins), Sarah Bolger (as sister Mallory) and all those who voice the various magical creatures, which include Martin Short, Nick Nolte and Ron Perlman. The animation work is surprisingly effective, particularly when it comes to the various types of sprites or the evil ogre Mulgrath.

Personally, the second disk of extra content goes a little too far when it comes to the technical details of the film. All the making of stuff drains a lot of the magic of the movie itself. Otherwise, this was a solid bit of entertainment and it hopefully bodes well for American fairy tales to come.

TRANSFORMERS ANIMATED: Transform & Roll Out (Paramount)

This little set collects the origins episodes of the latest Transformers series. While I’ve heard the usual crew of G1 and Beast fans scream bloody murder over it, I truly find it a solid improvement over the last few incarnations.

The animation is fast-paced and smooth, even if the character design leaves something to be desired. The plot reinvents the Autobot mythos in a kid-friendly way and pulls some interesting touches with a spunky new human girl sidekick. Yes, it hashes the hell out of the original concept, but if history has proven anything it’s that Transformers continuity was never a big issue to begin with. On the other hand, I found the new versions of Optimus, Bumblebee, and company easy to take. Starscream stuck pretty much to the original, but why mess with something that really works anyway? The potential inclusion of Black Arachnia, Megatron, and more will keep me watching, too.

So continue to scream and moan old-schoolers. I’m fine with this latest incarnation of the Transformers. When you come to your senses you’re welcome to join in.

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