Love & Other Drugs: Blu-ray
Anyone who spends more than a couple hours each year killing time in the waiting room of a GP, internist or psychiatrist should be able to attest to the accuracy of the portrayal of pharmaceutical sales reps in “Love & Other Drugs.” The only resemblance most bear to Willie Loman, these days, is in the sample cases attached to their arms. (Even here, today’s generation has an edge over Loman is that sample cases now come with wheels.) Typically, the women reps are attractive and fashionably dressed, while the men are glib and flirtatious. The smart ones arrive bearing gifts, ranging from cups of the receptionist and bookkeeper’s favorite coffee-based drinks to flowers and candy. Doctors are schmoozed behind closed doors. No one, apart from patients, seems to care that the cutest and most persistent sales reps are allowed to bypass waiting-room protocol and jump to the head of the line. The depiction of such shenanigans in “Love & Other Drugs,” at least, couldn’t ring any more true.
Not content simply to expand upon the humor and outrages revealed in the source material — Jamie Reidy’s “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman” — co-writer/director Edward Zwick elected to add a romantic through-line to what already was a pretty good story. Not long after their hilariously awkward cute-meeting in the office of a doctor being wooed for a Zoloft contract, patient Maggie (Anne Hathaway) and salesman Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) enter into a relationship based on sex and mutual self-interest. Another subplot draws a parallel between Jamie’s rise to prominence as a promoter of Pfizer’s new miracle drug, Viagra, and Maggie’s struggle with Parkinson’s disease. Hathaway and Gyllenhaal juggle the disparate storylines as nimbly as possible, but ultimately their attempts to balance the pathos, romance and humor is pushed beyond the limits of their estimable skills. The actors’ charisma, alone, isn’t enough to make “Love & Other Drugs” a winning movie. Neither does it help that so much of the pre-release hype focused on Hathaway’s nude scenes, which, while appreciated by one segment of the audience, at least, add little to the movie’s forward trajectory. Compared to most other Hollywood rom-coms, though, it practically qualifies as a triumph.
The Blu-ray package arrives with deleted scenes and several not particularly revelatory featurettes, “Love & Other Drugs: An Actor’s Discussion,” “Beautifully Complex: Anne Hathaway Is Maggie,” “Reformed Womanizer: Jake Gyllenhaal Is Jamie” and “Selling ‘Love & Other Drugs.’” – Gary Dretzka
Jackass 3D: Blu-ray Combo
No matter what critics and other observers of American pop culture think about Paramount’s “Jackass” franchise, it can’t be said of the studio that it doesn’t understand the composition of its core audience. At a time when the majors are working hand-in-hand with manufacturers of expensive HD3D platforms, Paramount understands that “Jackass” fans probably aren’t the early-adaptors sought by promoters of advanced consumer electronics. In large part, the consumers who’ve rushed to buy first-generation HD3D television and Blu-ray 3D units are parents of young children enchanted with the many animated features that have already passed through the distribution pipeline. The likelihood of “Jackass” enthusiasts owning first-generation HD devices is so low, it would have been ridiculous to test their loyalty by requiring them to invest a minimum of $2,000, plus $200-plus for glasses (a piece), on state-of-the-art equipment. True, the visual experience provided by traditional cardboard-and-cellophane glasses isn’t as intense as that available in large-format theaters, but, let’s face it, there’s only so much one can do to enhance the joy inherent in watching feces being detonated and balloons being inflated with fart gas.
I haven’t been keeping score over the last 10 years, or so, but I suspect the number of scatological set pieces in “Jackass 3D” is far greater than in the previous 2.5 installments. Even if mainstream moviegoers won’t be impressed by that fact, scat fetishists surely will notice the difference and appreciate the gang’s thoughtfulness. Otherwise, the “Jackass” formula remains appallingly intact. Where else could one witness a tooth being extracted, with nary a dentist in sight, using a string connected to the bumper of a Lamborghini? Fans of the late, great Roger Miller surely will appreciate Johnny Knoxville’s interpretation of “You Can’t Rolleskate in a Buffalo Herd.” And, one needn’t be a card-carrying sadist to enjoy watching troupe members, dressed as prisoners, run a gauntlet of cattle prods and Tasers, which are suspended from the ceiling.
The Blu-ray package contains four sets of glasses, the MTV making-of special, deleted scenes and outtakes. It also comes in standard 2D and unrated versions. — Gary Dretzka
The Man From Nowhere: Blu-ray
Today, no national cinema is as adept at churning out revenge thrillers as that of South Korea. The gold standard is Chan-wook Park’s hyper-violent and extremely disturbing “Vengeance Trilogy,” but the race has been joined by such genuinely disturbing films as Jee-woon Kim’s newly released, “I Saw the Devil,” Im Sang-soo’s “The Housemaid,” Chul-soo Yang’s “Bedevilled,”Joon-ho Bong’s “Barking Dogs Never Bark” and, here, Jeong-beom Lee’s “The Man From Nowhere.” Little more than a decade ago, it was impossible to foresee a time when Korean films would be listed among the best in the world in any category. Today, though, even the most extreme horror/thrillers from Korea are shown here and in arthouses, no less.
A huge commercial success in Korea, “The Man From Nowhere” tells the story of a former secret agent, Tae-Sik,whose desire to withdraw from public view is ignored by his next-door neighbor and her young daughter. Not exactly June Cleaver, Hyo-jeong is a drug addict and smuggler for a local gang. Lacking other kids to play with in their rundown apartment building, So-Mi, finds some semblance of normalcy hanging out with Tae-Sik. One day, Hyo-jeong asks her neighbor to do her a favor, by holding on to a gym bag for her. Not being a curious sort, Tae-Sik accepts the bag, which, unbeknownst to him, contains a small fortune in narcotics. After Hyo-jeong is abducted by gang members, So-Mi moves in with the former agent. To get the woman to reveal where the drugs are stashed, they also kidnap the girl.
Fearing for the safety of So-MI, if not her mother, Tae-Sik agrees to deliver the bag to a rival ganglord. What was intended as double-cross on the part of Hyo-jeong’s abductors unexpectedly backfires on them when the currier sniffs out the ambush and wipes out those lying in wait for him. Given reason to believe So-Mi was murdered along with her mother, Tae-Sik continues the rampage, but on their turf and on his terms. Not surprisingly, local cops put up little resistance when the agent manages to accomplish things their bosses haven’t allowed them to do. The ending is as satisfying as it is savage. – Gary Dretzka
Andy Goldsworthy: Rivers & Tides: Blu-ray
I love to watch documentaries, but, for some reason, it’s taken me almost 10 years to catch up with one of the best films – non-fiction and otherwise – of the early 2000s. The Blu-ray edition of “Andy Goldsworthy’s Rivers and Tides” is a perfect place to become acquainted with an artist whose work has been enjoyed by millions of people, but who labors in near anonymity. Goldsworthy’s art isn’t intended to be hung on walls, even though photographs of his major commissions provide good places to begin an active appreciation of his sculptures and installations. Most only can be found in the natural environment that inspired their creation, and that would require trips to rural Cumbria, West Yorkshire and West Sussex, England; Cornwall, N.Y.; Stanford University; the Roof Garden of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; Washington’s National Gallery; and Provence, France. Because the artist’s materials can only be found in nature and are site specific – pastures, beaches, alongside rivers, surrounded by trees — bronze reproductions would defeat the purpose of Goldsworthy’s work. Neither does the term “environmental art” do it justice.
The movie begins with Goldsworthy carefully surveying a desolate stretch of beach in sub-freezing weather. After meditating on the possibilities, he creates an ice sculpture by connecting short lengths of pipe-shaped ice – ice welding, if you will – and shaping it to the snakelike contours of the river. As the position of the sun changes during the day, the colors in the ice prisms change and the melting process affects shape and shadows. Finally, it’s gone, and all that’s left are photographs. Cairns in the shape of giant pine cones or wasp hives hold their form, even in the face of the incoming tide. A circular shelter made of sticks is lifted by the tide and carried away to points unknown, while maintaining its shape for as long as the framework will allow. Giant snowballs enchant Londoners, even as they melt and reveal the surprises inside them. Goldsworthy adds the natural colors of berries, blossoms and stones to rock formations, providing them with an entirely new personality.
Viewed in person and from photographs, the works are at once beautiful, humorous, ironic and provocative. The effect is amplified by the artist’s soft-spoken eloquence, understanding of physics and structural engineering, and sensitivity to geography and history. The Blu-ray presentation Thomas Reidelsheimer’s film is impeccable. The featurettes allow viewers to learn more about the artist and Londoners’ reactions to the snowballs. – Gary Dretzka
Movies adapted too literally from plays and musicals run the risk of becoming stage-bound. Lately, too many movies set in the offices of large companies have suffered from being office-bound. There’s nothing quite as dreary and contemptible as the modern workplace, with its impersonal cubicles, barren desktops and mandated sterility, and the uniformly generic environment defeats most attempts to humanize it on film. Even though they were released a dozen years ago, Mike Judge’s “Office Space” and Jill Sprecher’s “Clockwatchers” remain the only two titles that come immediately to mind when movies set in modern offices are discussed. (Television sitcoms, especially both versions of “The Office,” do a much better job in assaying the absurdities of professional life.) Indeed, the office space described in “Revolutionary Road” looks like an amusement park, compared with today’s cubist labyrinths.
Brian Lally’s “8.5 Hours” is largely set inside a Dublin software company, on the eve of the collapse of Ireland’s “Celtic Tiger” economic boom. Four employees sit cheek-by-jowl in a non-descript office, where privacy is at a premium and personal business has begun to cut into the 8.5 hours allotted for company obligations. Each of the four men and women we meet here is attempting to cope with problems largely unrelated to the job. One has become to doubt his commitment to his fiancé and upcoming marriage. Another desperately needs a raise, so she can afford an apartment in the fashionable section of town. The office playboy’s past has come back to haunt him and his desk mate discovers his wife is cheating on him in flagrante delicto. “8.5 Hours” doesn’t rise high enough above its soap-opera conventions (and hysterics) to take flight, but the actors are game and attractive enough to give the movie some class. The DVD arrives with audio commentary and a making-of featurettes. – Gary Dretzka
Every Day: Blu-ray
Even though it’s billed as a family-themed comedy, “Every Day” is about as funny as a divorce decree. Liev Schreiber plays a New York television writer, Ned, who’s begun to feel underappreciated at work, alienated at home and on the verge of a midlife marital crisis. His wife, Jeannie (Helen Hunt), feels overwhelmed by the obligation of caring for her father, a broken-down old goat who treats her as if she were a dish rag. Meanwhile, Ned chaffs at the thought that their openly gay teenage son wants to attend the “gay prom” and, possibly, dance with another boy. Throw in a younger son who’s curious beyond his years, Brian Dennehy at his orneriest best as the wheelchair-bound geezer, Carla Gugino as the office seductress and Eddie Izzard as the overbearing boss and you have the makings of, well, a pretty decent TV sitcom.
“Every Day” is the creation of veteran television producer and writer Richard Levine (“Nip/Tuck,” “Stark Raving Mad”), who has directed the movie as if he had 20 more episodes to develop the characters and their storylines. Ned is given the largest role, even if his wife is required to bear the brunt of the dysfunctional load. That all of the various traumas are tied together in a neat little bow in a mere 93 minutes demonstrates Levine’s continuing reliance on easy TV cures. Still, fans of the individual actors should be able to find something here to their liking. – Gary Dretzka
The Third Testament
Mark Dallmann employs a faux-documentary format to explore a murder-mystery involving a possibly insane atheist convict, a pregnant Christian and her missing husband. At the center of the strange case are the teachings supposedly contained in a controversial Third Testament to the bible. Jane Altman plays Deirdre, whose sketchy past is used against her by the man she believes either murdered her husband – a proponent of the new New Testament – or knows where he is. During a jailhouse interview the nutso brute teases Deirdre with obscure clues and bizarre historical references, involving the reigning Pope and King Henry VIII. As faith-based stories go, “The Third Testament” carries a sharper edge and far more muscular dialogue than most. I can’t honestly say that I was able to follow all the dots connecting the testaments, but I stayed with the movie quite a bit longer than I have with other representatives of the genre. – Gary Dretzka
Not given much of an opportunity to succeed on the arthouse circuit, “Rage” is an effective psycho-thriller set in a crumbling estate, owned by an esteemed family coming apart at its seams, and recalling a social order in the final stages of decay. Based on a novel by Argentine author Sergio Bizzio and set in Spain, “Rage” also is the story of a pair of star-crossed Latin American immigrants, whose relationship is based on false premises and, thus, doomed practically from the start. Construction worker José María (Gustavo Sánchez Parra) and live-in maid Rosa (Martina Garcia) fall in love, with the intention of leaving their jobs and starting a family. Although Jose Maria is a pussycat when they’re together, he’s quick to respond to lewd comments and put-downs with a hail of punches few of his victims can endure. Fired from his job for insubordination, Jose Maria returns to the construction site to get his job back, but ends up killing the boss, instead. Desperate for shelter, the young man sneaks into the mansion of his lover’s employers and takes up residence in the unused attic. From there, he spies on Rosa and eavesdrops on the conversation of the owners. After their son forces himself on Rosa, Jose Maria devises a way to kill the brute and evade suspicion. What the stowaway can’t escape, however, is the owners’ desire to rid the estate of rats and the toxic fog laid down by the exterminators to do it. By the time Rosa discovers her lover’s lair, he’s on the verge of death. Ecuadoran director Sebastian Cordero (“Cronicas”) does a nifty job building tension, without resorting to tricks to keep Jose Maria’s presence secret. – Gary Dretzka
A Beautiful Life
Despite the presence of Dana Delany and Debi Mazur’s names on the cover of “A Beautiful Life,” the stage-based urban drama is dominated by the moony eyes of Angela Sarafyan, who invests in her character a palpably woeful disconnection from mainstream American life. Her Maggie is a suburban waif on the run from a sexually abusive father and mother who refuses to comprehend what’s happening before her eyes. Maggie is exactly the kind of girl, who, in other such movies, would fall under the spell of a pimp three minutes after she stepped off the bus and be a coke whore by the weekend. In Alejandro Chomski’s adaptation of Wendy Hammond’s play, “Jersey City,” however, Maggie finds refuge in the dumpster of a strip club, wherein works the solid El Salvadoran immigrant and dishwasher, David (Jesse Garcia), and a sympathetic pole-dancer, played by Bai Ling, who’s making a career out of portraying hot Asian strippers. David allows Maggie to share his threadbare pad, without any intention of pursuing sex. Once the inevitable happens, though, Maggie’s past experiences with men turns the act of making love into a war zone. Delaney’s role is limited to that of the clueless mom, while, in her least-hipsterish assignment, Mazur plays a librarian who pushes Maggie to get her GED. Instead, she imagines that a fortune can be made from stringing beads and making necklaces. That might have worked in the Haight Ashbury, circa 1967, but since the film’s about life in contemporary L.A., it’s a non-starter. – Gary Dretzka
The Walking Dead: Season One
The Zombie Farm
As much as some of us would like to see a moratorium imposed on books, movies and TV shows about vampires and zombies, the genre simply refuses to die. Despite the preponderance of uninspired and downright crappy titles, however, the occasional gem does manage to make its presence known. Recently, “Let the Right One In” and its English-language remake, “Let Me In,” both were accorded top-10 status in several critics’ polls, while “Zombieland” proved that zombies could be funny, too. HBO’s “True Blood” survived early skepticism to become a pop sensation, as well as a terrific entertainment. Likewise, the “Twilight” trilogy demonstrated the appeal of buff vampires to teeny-boppers. Count AMC’s “The Walking Dead” – a series adapted from Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels — among the winners, too.
With a plot that recalls Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later,” “Walking Dead” chronicles the quest by police officer Rick Grimes to understand what happened to Atlanta while he lay comatose in a deserted hospital. Over the course of the next six episodes, Rick discovers a community of fellow survivors, struggling to withstand an onslaught of undead “geeks,” “walkers” and botched lab experiments. Moreover, the living Atlantans must learn to survive each other’s personality traits and motivations … a problem earlier identified by William Golding in “Lord of the Flies.” As is the case with every successful prime-time soap opera, “Walking Dead” balances its frightening central conceit with romance, drama and comedy. What it doesn’t do is underestimate the ability of cable viewers, especially, to tell the difference between lazy and smart writing. “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” were tough acts to follow and AMC programmers didn’t want to blow their hard-earned credibility with a massive turkey. To this end, it helped immensely that Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption”) and Gale Anne Hurd (“Terminator”) were at the helm of the project. The Blu-ray bonus package adds extra footage; the 30-minute promotional short; several background and making-of featurettes; tips on zombie makeup and walking; character profiles; and a ComicCon panel discussion with the producers.
Originally and more accurately titled “Macumba,” “The Zombie Farm” is less about the living dead than voodoo and charlatans. Indeed, the first appearance of anyone resembling an undead creature doesn’t occur until nearly halfway through the movie. Ricardo Islas’ film opens with an abused woman seeking help in dealing with her drunken husband. After seeing a infomercial in which a wildly wigged pitchman – looking suspiciously like Coffin Joe – promises a potion for every malady. In a rare display of conscience, the telemarketer disappoints the woman by suggesting she take the matter up with police, instead of wasting money on a bottle of snake oil. She then seeks out the local voodoo priestess, who agrees to satisfy her desire for revenge. At the same time, a local TV reporter and the pitchman join forces to discover the truth behind the strange things happening at the priestess’ plantations. It’s here that the “zombies” make their first appearance … as migrant farm workers. “Zombie Farm” isn’t as much fun as it sounds, but, as midnight-movie fare goes, I’ve seen a lot worse. It comes with a making-of featurettes and in Spanish and English dialogue tracks.
In “Vampire Boys,” a pack of shirtless bloodsuckers stroll the streets and concrete river beds of L.A., in search of mortals willing to share eternity with them. After flirting with the possibility of female companionship, leader of the pack Jasin sets his sights on Caleb, an attractive college student, as “The One.” Perhaps the most interesting thing about “Vampire Boys,” for those not obsessed with the length and girth of undead penises, anyway, is that these “hybrid” sons of Dracula wear crucifixes around their neck and enjoy tanning in the SoCal sunshine. The original songs on the soundtrack add a disco beat to the proceedings. – Gary Dretzka
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XX
As the video incarnation of the Peabody Award-winning series, “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” turns the corner on No. 20, the crew of the Satellite of Love reflects on some of their greatest hits, including here “Project Moonbase,” “Master Ninja I and II,” and “The Magic Voyage of Sinbad.” Naturally, all four of the titles can be considered “so bad they’re funny,” or else they wouldn’t have made the show’s cut. Even if none of the movies can escape the sharpened wit of Crow T. Robot, Tom Servo and host Joel Robinson, each contains at least one factor deemed sufficiently redeemable to warrant a second look. For example, “Project Moonbase” was adapted from a story and screenplay written by master sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein. Released in 1953, it was originally intended to be a pilot for a television series. When that project was canned, director Richard Talmadge (“I Killed Bill Hickock”) and writer/producer Jack Seaman pulled enough nonsense out of their butts to approximate a feature-length movie. The extra time allowed the mission, which was to have been launched in then-faraway 1970, to include a wedding on the moon and the shenanigans of a stowaway foreign agent hell bent on destroying America. Needless to say, Heinlein subsequently disowned “Project Moonbase.”
Also from 1953, “The Magic Voyage of Sinbad” (a.k.a., “Sadko”) was made in the former Soviet Union by the esteemed Russian director of fantasy films, Aleksandr Ptushko. Working behind the Iron Curtain denied Ptushko the pleasure of having his name read alongside that of Ray Harryhausen, but they shared similar roles in the history of animation. As such, “Magic Voyage” has much visually to recommend it. The dubbed dialogue, however, tells a very different storythan the one originally based on an opera by Rimsky Korsakov. Indeed, its sheer ridiculousness makes it MST3000-worthy. The two installments of “Master Ninja” are, in fact, comprised of four one-hour episodes of the failed 1984 action series, “The Master.” On the plus side of the campy divide is the presence of Lee Van Cleef, Claude Akins, Timothy Van Patten and a baby-faced Demi Moore. Everything else is on the negative side of the notepad.
The “XX” compilation adds a new introduction by Trace Beaulieu (Crow T. Robot/Dr. Clayton Forrester), an interview with Bill McKinney (Master Ninja), hour “wraps” from the show, the “Tom Servo vs. Tom Servo” panel at the 2010 Dragon*Con and a featurettes with DP Jeff Stonehouse. – Gary Dretzka
Timing in at 80 minutes, “Bazaar Bizarre” is a true-crime documentary based on the beyond-gruesome case of a Kansas City serial killer, who, in the late-1980s, raped, tortured and murdered gay men he’d pick up outside bars and then bring home to his dungeon. Overweight and smelly, Bob Berdella was a local businessman and hoarder of weird objects, best known locally as proprietor of a flea-market booth called Bazaar Bizarre. Berdella was arrested only after a young man was found wandering outside his home, naked except for a dog collar and leash. On further investigation, police found hundreds of Polaroid photographs, a detailed torture log, envelopes of human hair and a human skull. Although the final death toll may never be accurately calculated, Berdella’s name could be attached directly to six deaths. Otherwise, he was your basic, almost run-of-the-mill American serial killer, made noteworthy by a collection of Kansas City documentary makers and their connection to then-resident James Ellroy.
I don’t know if “Bazaar Bizarre” was shown anywhere west of Lawrence or east of St. Louis, but it looks as if it might have been intended as fodder for the many cable networks, which, in 1984, survived on true-crime series. Director Benjamin Meade had excellent access to police files, neighbors, acquaintances, near-victims and Berdella, before he died in prison. He even was able to find a local goth-rock ensemble that had memorialized the case in song. Ellroy pops up every so often to offer his observations on Berdella, serial killers, the death penalty and sociopaths, in general. It’s all pretty interesting, but, at 80 minutes plus bonus features, the doc gets old pretty fast. – Gary Dretza
The Ultimate Wave: Tahiti: IMAX: Blu-ray 3D
No company is positioned better to take advantage of the current 3D craze than IMAX, which has been turning out high-quality, large-format, feature-length stereoscopic entertainments since “T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous,” in 1998. At the time, 3D was used sporadically in films showing at theaters attached to museums. Movies shown at such institutions were limited to titles considered to be primarily educational and few lasted longer than 40 minutes. If, at the time, the format was considered to be little more than a novelty, the men and women producing 3D movies probably already were looking ahead to the day when it would be a staple at multiplexes and on television.
“The Ultimate Wave: Tahiti” is typical of the genre that evolved from those early experiments in 3D exhibition. It is set in an exotic location, tells something resembling a story and is distinguished by action that literally explodes from the screen. Director Stephen Low, whose first 3D venture was the 1990 short, “The Last Buffalo,” traveled to the island paradise with nine-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater, Tahitian surfer Raimana Van Bastolaer and a group of friends to tackle the giant break at Teahupo’o. The surfing footage is every bit as spectacular as it would need to be in a crowded 3D marketplace and the scenery could hardly be any more spectacular. What would qualify “The Ultimate Wave” as a movie fit for exhibition at institutions dedicated to learning, however, are scientific discussions and graphics explaining the origin of waves and how the really amazing ones are formed. Even on the small screen, the hi-def photography looks terrific on Blu-ray. The set comes with featurettes expanding on the scientific research and cinematography. A 2D version of the movie also comes with the package. (Watch closely and you’ll be able to spot the occasional stationary lens popping above the surface of a curl.)
Also making the leap from the large-format IMAX screen to Blu-ray are “Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia: 3D” and “Straight Up: Helicopters in Action.” The former offers pretty much what you’d expect to find in a movie about beasts named Giganotosaurus and Argentinosaurus, including impressive CGI re-creations, lots of science-speak and Donald Sutherland’s narration. Made 10 years after “T-Rex,” “Dinosaurs” shows just how far 3D has come in a short period of time.
Never having ridden in a helicopter, I can’t say how “Straight Up” measures up to an actual flight. The 2003 IMAX experience will suffice nicely until I agree to take the plunge. (Oops, wrong choice of words.) On display here are sea and mountain rescues, police pursuits, humanitarian aid and reconnaissance missions, and high-altitude repair jobs. Martin Sheen provides the narration. – Gary Dretzka
Colin & Brad: Two Man Group
Have you ever paid good money to attend a show at the local Improv comedy dungeon, expecting to enjoy truly improvisational humor, but have had to sit through one standup comic after the other? You’re not alone. Very few venues showcase the discipline in its pure form.Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood, stars of the long-running “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” demonstrate how it’s done in the hilarious “Two Man Group.” True improv relies exclusively on prompts from an audience and unrehearsed verbal combat between highly trained actors. Occasionally, amateurs are recruited not only to have some fun at their expense, but also to demonstrate just how difficult improvisation can be to learn. Anyone who thinks improve is merely the theatrical equivalent of Mad-Libs is kidding themselves. In addition to the concert performance, Mochrie and Sherwood offer tips on the “Do’s and Don’ts of Improv” and anecdotes about their lives on the stage. – Gary Dretzka
Nova: Emergency Mine Rescue
Nature: Birds of the Gods
Spongebob Squarepants: The Great Patty Caper
Doctor Who: The Ark
TV-to-DVD: The rescue of 33 miners trapped under nearly a half-mile of solid rock, in a collapsed mine in Chile’s remote Atacama desert, will rank as one of the great engineering feats of the 21st Century, and I say that knowing it has 89 years left to go. That it took place in full view of television viewers around the world made the recovery that much more remarkable. After the dust settled and the miners scurried to take advantage of their 69 days of fame, the “Nova” team began its quest to tell the story not shown to viewers. It required surveying the San José mine for itself, interviewing mining engineers, families of the miners and creating animations of the underground tunnel system. “Emergency Mine Rescue” is as uplifting a story as you’re likely see, until a pack of Cubs Scouts is lost on the dark side of the moon and an international crew of astronauts is given 24 to save them.
“Birds of the Gods” is another one of those wonderful episodes of “Nature” designed not only to introduce us to our endangered neighbors, but also to test the limits of our hi-def TVs. Here, an intrepid band of birders braves the jungles of New Guinea in pursuit of birds whose bright plumes have adorned the wardrobes of tribal royalty for centuries and even have been used as currency. The team’s cameras also managed to capture rare mating rituals and other colorful displays of avian bravado.
The latest releases from Nickelodeon’s stable of wacky kiddie characters feature the SpongeBob SquarePants gang and salty make-believe pirates of the Backyardigans crew. In “The Great Patty Caper,” SpongeBob and deep-sea pals are consumed with the preservation of the Krabby Patty dining experience, keeping Pearl’s appetite sated and furthering Our Hero’s modeling career. “Backyardigans: We Arrrr Pirates” is a compilation of episodes in which the imaginative kids turn their yard into a high-seas theme park, with them at the helm of a pirate ship. As always with such compilations, make sure your kids aren’t already sick of the enclosed episodes before purchasing the package.
“Doctor Who: The Ark” and its companion DVD, “Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom,”allow longtime fans to revisit favorite story arcs from the archives and for newcomers to catch up on the mythology. “The Ark” represents stories from the early William Hartnell era (1963-66), during which TARDIS crew members accidentally endanger a ship loaded with Earthlings travelling to a new home beyond our solar system. In “The Seeds of Doom,” pods carrying intergalactic parasites are opened, with roughly the same result as Pandora and her box. Here, Doctor Who is played by Tom Baker (1974-81). Perhaps as valuable as the shows themselves are the generous bonus packages. – Gary Dretzka
Gary Dretzka has covered the entertainment industry and digital technology for such publications as the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, New York Daily News, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco and Seattle Times. He also is a weekly columnist for the Internet’s Movie City News, for whom he writes about current movies; advances in DVD, Blu-ray and 3D technology; and other show-business interests. Besides being a survivor of the great Cassette vs. Eight-Track and Beta vs, VHS wars of the early 1970s and ’80s, Dretzka attended the press conference at which DVD technology was first unveiled in the U.S., in 1997. He was raised among the cheeseheads, in Wisconsin, but currently lives in Los Angeles.
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