I love this MMA flight clip. You have to see it to believe it!
Television fans must love the holidays, because it’s the one time of year when studios unleash a host of massive box sets collecting their favorite dramas and comedies. This year is no different, with several critically acclaimed shows getting the complete series treatment. But while we like to devour an entire TV show just as quickly as the next person, sometimes a little self-discipline is required, which is why we’ve also included some less time-consuming (and more affordable) suggestions as well.
Click the links to purchase each product online, and for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.
The Wonder Years: The Complete Series
Can it really have been way back in 2006 when we put “The Wonder Years” at the top of our list of the 15 shows that we most wanted to see released on DVD? 2014 has been a damned good year for that list – now that “Batman” and “WKRP” are finally available, the only things left that we’re still waiting to see released are “Sifl & Olly” and “Ed” – but nothing’s made us as happy as the arrival of a miniature locker containing two faux Trapper Keeper notebooks filled with 26 discs worth of “The Wonder Years.” In addition to the 115 episodes, there’s also over 23 hours of bonus material, including footage from the recent cast reunion, tons of interviews with cast, creators and numerous guest stars, 10 newly-created featurettes, and outtakes from the filming of Kevin and Winnie’s first kiss…which, in case you didn’t know, was also Fred Savage and Danica McKellar’s first kiss as well! Lastly, when you pop open the locker – don’t worry, there’s no lock, so you don’t need to memorize a combination – you’ll also find a hardcover “yearbook” filled with behind-the-scenes pictures and notes from the cast. It’s so totally worth the wait.
Batman: The Complete Television Series
Whether you grew up in the late 60s when it originally aired, or watched the reruns that played throughout the following decades, chances are that the “Batman” TV series was a big part of your childhood. One of the best things about the show is that it operates on multiple levels, so whereas you were attracted to the suspense, action and colorful production design as a kid, when revisiting the series as an adult, you’re able to enjoy the subtler, campier aspects. It certainly helped that it had such a game cast, from stars Adam West and Bruce Ward, to its cavalcade of villain guest stars – most notably Frank Gorshin, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith and Julie Newmar – all of whom understood exactly what kind of show they were making. “Batman” is one of the few classic TV series that still holds up today, which is why it’s so surprising that it took this long for it to be released on Blu-ray. The new digital restoration looks fantastic for a show that’s nearly 50 years old, with all 120 episodes presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The Blu-ray set also comes with hours of bonus material, including a retrospective on the show’s production and its legacy, a roundtable discussion with West and other Bat-fanatics, the original “Batgirl” pilot, screen tests for West and Ward, as well second-choice Lyle Waggoner (Batman) and Peter Deyell (Robin), and much more. And as if that wasn’t enough, it also comes with a Hot Wheels replica Batmobile, while the box itself plays the “Batman” theme song. Holy Fan Service, Batman!
Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.
WHAT: In 1995, Louisiana detectives Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) track down the disturbed murderer of a young woman while dealing with personal issues that threaten to interfere with the case. 17 years later, a similar murder brings the two cops back together when their original case is reopened for investigation.
WHY: Few shows have had such a spellbinding effect on its audience like HBO’s “True Detective,” the gritty crime drama that feels more like an eight-hour movie than a limited TV series. That’s because everything about the show is incredibly cinematic, from the smart writing by creator Nic Pizzolatto, to the brilliant direction by Cary Fukunaga, to Adam Arkapaw’s gorgeous cinematography. This is the kind of show that requires absolute patience and trust in the storytellers, opting for a slow-burning pace that allows the characters to evolve naturally over the course of its time-jumping narrative. Unlike most crime dramas, the mystery surrounding the killer’s identity is never as important as Rust and Marty’s respective arcs, and that’s what makes it such rich and gripping television. Well, that and two knockout performances by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, who deliver some of the best work of their careers as the strikingly different partners. They elevate “True Detective” from a damn good drama to one that will be remembered as one of the greatest shows of its time, and while that kind of praise only heaps even more pressure on Pizzolatto for Season Two, if the first season is anything to go by, he’s definitely up for the challenge.
EXTRAS: In addition to a pair of audio commentaries with creator Nic Pizzolatto, composer T Bone Burnett and executive producer Scott Stephens, there’s a making-of featurette, interviews with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, deleted scenes and more.
FINAL VERDICT: BUY
WHAT: While on a transatlantic flight from New York to London, air marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) receives a series of text messages threatening to kill a passenger every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred into an off-shore account. But when it’s made to look like Marks is the one hijacking the plane, he must find the real culprit before it’s too late.
WHY: Liam Neeson has certainly made a go of this whole action star phase over the last few years, but even he must be growing tired of playing what’s essentially the same character over and over again. Granted, “Non-Stop” doesn’t have nearly as much action as its trailers would lead you to believe, but just like “Unknown,” Jaume Collet-Serra’s previous collaboration with Neeson, it’s a disappointing attempt to cash in on the success of the “Taken” franchise. For as ridiculous as the premise may be (and it becomes even more so as the story progresses), “Non-Stop” does a good job of building suspension by throwing an almost endless barrage of red herrings at the audience. The bad guy could pretty much be anyone on the plane – from Julianne Moore’s chatty passenger, to Michelle Dockery’s meek stewardess, to Corey Stoll’s no-nonsense NYPD cop – and Collet-Serra makes the most of that paranoia. Where “Non-Stop” fails, however, is in its last-ditch effort to suddenly become an action movie in the final act, letting out all the mounting tension like air from a balloon.
EXTRAS: There’s a pair of short featurettes covering various aspects of production, but sadly, that’s the extent of the bonus material.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
WHAT: When CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack, he’s sent into the field for his very first mission. But after his fiancée (Kiera Knightley) arrives in Moscow unannounced, Jack must keep her out of harm’s way as he attempts to defuse the threat against the country he swore to protect.
WHY: Unlike James Bond or Batman, it’s hard to imagine that a Jack Ryan reboot (especially one packaged as an origin story) was in very high demand, but that didn’t stop Paramount from making it anyway. After all, franchises are a hot commodity these days, and the studio apparently has so much faith in Chris Pine that they’ve entrusted him with yet another iconic character despite already playing Captain Kirk in the new “Star Trek” films. It’s not that the actor is necessarily bad for the role – he can be extremely charming at times and has proven himself adept at action – but the casting is uninspired to say the least. However, Kevin Costner (as Ryan’s mentor) and Kenneth Branagh (pulling double duty as the film’s villain) are both enjoyable in supporting roles, while Keira Knightley does the best she can with an underwritten character. The only reason the actress likely even bothered with such a rote action thriller was the chance to work with Branagh, and although the director isn’t exactly in top form here, he makes “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” a lot more entertaining than it deserved to be.
EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary with director Kenneth Branagh and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, six deleted scenes, a retrospective on the Jack Ryan franchise, a profile on Branagh and more.
FINAL VERDICT: RENT
Everyone loves watching a great movie or TV series, so we’ve compiled some of our favorite releases from the past year that just about guy will enjoy. And for more gift ideas, be sure to check out the other categories in our Father’s Day gift guide.
The Wolf of Wall Street
It’s been a while since Martin Scorsese’s last truly great film, but the director has rebounded in style with “The Wolf of Wall Street,” highlighted by Terrence Winter’s hilarious script and Leonard DiCaprio’s brilliant turn as Jordan Belfort. You’ve never seen the actor quite like this before, and he’s in top form as the notorious stockbroker, delivering what is arguably his best performance with Scorsese yet. The rest of the cast is great as well, especially Jonah Hill in another award-worthy turn, up-and-comer Margot Robbie and Matthew McConaughey in a short but memorable cameo. Loud, flashy and totally obscene, the movie is like a private tour through Belfort’s excessive, hard-partying lifestyle, including easily one of the greatest sequences of the year. (Hint: it involves a highly potent strain of Quaaludes.) Though it’s a little too long for its own good, the characters are so magnetic and the dialogue so fast and funny that “The Wolf of Wall Street” is hard not to enjoy. It’s Scorsese’s best film in years, and one that will only get better with time.
It’s been six years since Alfonso Cuarón’s last feature film – the criminally underrated “Children of Men” – but his outer space survival thriller was well worth the wait. “Gravity” is the kind of movie that will likely change the way films are made in the future. From the stunning, single-take opening sequence that lasts more than 12 minutes, to the numerous set pieces throughout, “Gravity” is such a technical marvel that it looks like Cuarón shot the whole damn thing in space. Though the story is ridiculously simple, not a single second of its 91-minute runtime is wasted, extracting so much suspense from the film’s terrifying setup that the brief injections of comedy (courtesy of George Clooney’s easygoing astronaut) are a welcome reprieve from the almost unrelenting intensity. Sandra Bullock delivers one of the best performances of her career as the rookie astronaut caught up in a seemingly impossible situation, but the real star of “Gravity” is Cuarón himself, and he deserves every bit of praise for creating what can only be described as pure movie magic.
Game of Thrones: The Complete Third Season
Creators David Benioff and D.B Weiss have stated numerous times that they set Season Three as the unofficial benchmark as to whether or not the show would be a success, and it’s easy to see why, because it showcases the full complexity and richness of the universe that they inherited from George R.R. Martin. The third season expands its scope even further than the previous year, with several new characters quickly making their mark, and old ones (like Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Jamie Lannister, one of the season’s MVPs) continuing to evolve within that moral gray area where “Game of Thrones” thrives. It also featured some of the most shocking story developments to date, perhaps none more so than Episode 9’s infamous Red Wedding, which made Ned Stark’s beheading look like child’s play in comparison and was without a doubt one of the biggest television events of last year. The audience reaction to that episode is very telling of the show’s pop cultural footprint, and when the writing and acting is this good, it’s no surprise why its popularity continues to grow.
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”And if a double-decker bus crashes into us…”
It’s as if the writers of “24” have been reading this blog, and secretly sent me a love letter.
What, the Smiths reference isn’t enough proof? Fine, I’ll go one better. Jack is trying to trick weasel arms dealer Karl Rask into uploading tracking software to his computer – meanwhile, in the next room, Kate is getting the shit kicked out of her as a decoy, because what Federal agent wouldn’t sign up for that? – and Rask tells Jack that he knows the people at the bank where he set up the account, and asks him about Metzger (that’s the German spelling of my name. It means ‘butcher,’ if you’re curious). The move is clearly a bluff, and Jack sniffs it out. Still, both Rask and Jack are repeatedly talking about Metzger. “Describe Metzger to me!” “There is no Metzger at the bank.”
In the end, I apparently don’t exist. Damn. Still, for a few moments, this episode was all about me, and that felt pretty damn good.