Yearly Archives: 2014

Gunsmoke – The Ninth Season, Volume 2

Posted on August 14, 2014 at 4:25 am

(Note: As it covers virtually the same trends and territory, this review of Gunsmoke – The Ninth Season, Volume 2, is pretty much identical to its Volume 1 predecessor.

Gunsmoke is back for another year, its ninth (1963-64) of 20 massively productive seasons. It was the series’ third year after switching from a half-hour Western drama to an hour one and, it might be said, the one season where all of Gunsmoke‘s stars were in alignment. This was co-star Dennis Weaver’s last season as Chester Goode, Marshal Matt Dillon’s (James Arness) assistant. Burt Reynolds, as mixed-race blacksmith Quint (half-white, half-Comanche) was eased in as a series regular during the previous year, while this season repositions illiterate wolfer Festus Haggen (Ken Curtis), a character first introduced in a 1962 episode, as yet another series regular, more or less taking Weaver’s place. He’d remain with the series until its cancellation a dozen years later.

There would be no “final episode” for Chester, the kind of sentimental farewell that became commonplace on later shows like M*A*S*H, Hill Street Blues, and St. Elsewhere, though several of the final episodes featuring Chester hint that he’s outgrown the comically lazy hanger-on that made him so endearing. He’s eased out while Quint and Festus are made more prominent, and in at least one episode all three characters appear.

I had been a bit concerned about the switchover to the hour format, the earlier half-hour shows being routinely impressive, at times extraordinarily well done. But, so far at least, the switch to an hour has allowed richer character development and a greater sense of a larger Dodge City community, a bustling populace of three-dimensional characters. The half-hour shows, focusing primarily on its four leads, now feels more confined if dramatically taut. These hour shows do come at the expense of fewer Matt Dillon-focused episodes, but are worthwhile in other ways.

I’ve sung Gunsmoke‘s praises fifteen (!) times before, having reviewed the first season, the the second season, volumes 1 and 2, the third season, volumes 1 and 2, the fourth season, volumes 1 and 2, and the fifth season, volumes 1 and 2, the sixth season, volumes 1 and 2, the seventh season, volumes 1 and 2, and the eighth season, volumes 1 and 2

These latest volumes, The Ninth Season, Volume 1 and The Eighth Season, Volume 2 include 18 episodes in each set, spread across five discs per. Unlike past seasons, these volumes offer no extra features.

So long, Chester. Howdy, Festus.

As before, U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) and his eccentric, game-leg assistant (not deputy) Chester Goode (Dennis Weaver) are still maintaining the peace in unruly, barely-tamed Dodge City, Kansas. The various gunslingers and cattle rustlers causing Marshal Dillon no end of grief usually can be found drinking and gambling at one of the innumerable saloons. Matt’s friend Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake), formerly a (coded) prostitute, is now half-owner of the city’s finest, the Long Branch Saloon, with Sam (Glenn Strange) its gentle giant of a bartender. She’s also its madam, and though the audience doesn’t get to see much of that business, it’s implied, though not as much as in earlier seasons. Matt’s line of work often requires the services of cantankerous Doc Adams (Milburn Stone), another close friend of Matt, Chester, and Miss Kitty.

Writer John Meston (1914-1979) was to Gunsmoke what Rod Serling was to Twilight Zone; he penned an incredible 257 episodes of the series during its 20-year run, and that’s not counting episodes of the radio show he also wrote (though there was a lot of crossover, apparently). Two of his favorite devices are the “What’s Going On Here” and “How’s Matt Going to Solve/Get Out of This” structures, with Matt presented with a puzzling situation/irresolvable conflict at the beginning of the episode, and he and other characters working through the mystery which is revealed/resolved, often violently, at the end. By season nine other writers were penning more shows, notably Kathleen Hite (1917-1989), a former secretary whose Mad Men-like climb up the corporate ladder with high-quality teleplays would make a good book or biographical drama all its own.

Her scripts, like the season-opener, “Kate Heller,” are more character portrait pieces, this episode about an old prairie woman (Mabel Albertson) operating a relay station and coming to terms with the fact that her son is a murderer. In another good Hite-scripted episode, Quint leads a down-on-its-luck family to the Oregon Trail, the family having fled Illinois after their daughter (Sharon Farrell) murdered a man who tried to rape her. The assault has left her psychologically scarred, creating unanticipated challenges for Quint. In that same episode, Chester surprises Matt, Kitty, and Doc by going after a drifter who swindled the family out of $3,000. Everyone laughs off Chester’s declaration to track and catch the crook, but more than proves his mettle by the fade-out.

These and a few other episodes give Dennis Weaver a dignified send-off, if no chance to actually say goodbye in the 12 season nine shows in which he appears. His final appearance comes in “Bently,” a late-in-the-season episode in which Chester can’t quite accept the deathbed confession of a supposed murderer. His widow (Jan Clayton) is taken in by town folk (Charles McGraw and June Dayton) who along with the rest of Dodge had ostracized the couple. Written by John A. Kneubuhl, this was yet another show where everyone thinks Chester is crazy for not believing the dying man’s confession, but Chester’s gentle nature and understated determinedness prove right in the end.

Ken Curtis, who plays Festus, was at the time director John Ford’s son-in-law. Ford gave Curtis parts in many of his 1950s films, most memorably as Vera Miles’ intensely irritating suitor in The Searchers (1956), in the weakest scenes of that otherwise seminal Western. He affects a similarly twangy accent, Curtis himself being from southeastern Colorado. Festus makes an interesting contrast to Chester. Where the former was lazy and perpetually broke but sweet-natured, gregarious and a good man to have around when the chips where down, Festus is by contrast more ornery and even less educated. Where Chester spent most of his life in frontier towns, Festus is a former mountain man, a trapper bemused by city folk ways. Curiously, early in the season, in one episode, Curtis guest stars as a different character altogether.

Other than that, it’s business as usual. Guest stars include (in Volume 1) semi-regulars Glenn Strange, Dabbs Greer, George Selk, and Clem Fuller; also (in Volume 2) Denver Pyle, Strother Martin, Kevin Hagen, Lauri Peters, Robert Wilke, Warren Oates, James Griffith, Lyle Bettger, Don Megowan, Harry Dean Stanton, Ed Nelson, Royal Dano, Vic Perrin, John Dehner, Jay C. Flippen, James Seay, Hank Patterson, Gene Lyons, Bill Erwin, Jacqueline Scott, Herbert Anderson, Patricia Owens, George Kennedy, Julie Parrish, Phyllis Coates, Jack Elam, Harold J. Stone, Paul Fix, Patric Knowles, Mark Goddard, and Michael J. Pollard.

Video & Audio

Still in glorious black and white, Gunsmoke looks exceptionally good on DVD. Shows are a bit overly grainy (especially during the opening titles, reworked slightly for syndication) but otherwise they’re very sharp, very clean. The 18 black-and-white episodes are spread over five discs, with a total running time of about 16 hours per volume. The Dolby Digital mono (English only) is clean and clear, and the shows include optional English SDH subtitles. The packaging allows viewers to read the episode descriptions inside the snap case.

Extra Features

None.

Parting Thoughts

Two more terrific rounds (well, two rounds) of great Western drama, Gunsmoke‘s two ninth season volumes aren’t cheap, but provide many hours of quality entertainment worth the price. A DVD Talk Collector Series title.

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart’s Cine Blogarama here.

Posted in Fun and Games

Gunsmoke – The Ninth Season, Volume 1

Posted on August 12, 2014 at 4:25 am

Gunsmoke is back for another year, its ninth (1963-64) of 20 massively productive seasons. It was the series’ third year after switching from a half-hour Western drama to an hour one and, it might be said, the one season where all of Gunsmoke‘s stars were in alignment. This was co-star Dennis Weaver’s last season as Chester Goode, Marshal Matt Dillon’s (James Arness) assistant. Burt Reynolds, as mixed-race blacksmith Quint (half-white, half-Comanche) was eased in as a series regular during the previous year, while this season repositions illiterate wolfer Festus Haggen (Ken Curtis), a character first introduced in a 1962 episode, as yet another series regular, more or less taking Weaver’s place. He’d remain with the series until its cancellation a dozen years later.

There would be no “final episode” for Chester, the kind of sentimental farewell that became commonplace on later shows like M*A*S*H, Hill Street Blues, and St. Elsewhere, though several of the final episodes featuring Chester hint that he’s outgrown the comically lazy hanger-on that made him so endearing. He’s eased out while Quint and Festus are made more prominent, and in at least one episode all three characters appear.

I had been a bit concerned about the switchover to the hour format, the earlier half-hour shows being routinely impressive, at times extraordinarily well done. But, so far at least, the switch to an hour has allowed richer character development and a greater sense of a larger Dodge City community, a bustling populace of three-dimensional characters. The half-hour shows, focusing primarily on its four leads, now feels more confined if dramatically taut. These hour shows do come at the expense of fewer Matt Dillon-focused episodes, but are worthwhile in other ways.

I’ve sung Gunsmoke‘s praises fifteen (!) times before, having reviewed the first season, the the second season, volumes 1 and 2, the third season, volumes 1 and 2, the fourth season, volumes 1 and 2, and the fifth season, volumes 1 and 2, the sixth season, volumes 1 and 2, the seventh season, volumes 1 and 2, and the eighth season, volumes 1 and 2

These latest volumes, The Ninth Season, Volume 1 and The Eighth Season, Volume 2 include 18 episodes in each set, spread across five discs per. Unlike past seasons, these volumes offer no extra features.

So long, Chester. Howdy, Festus.

As before, U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) and his eccentric, game-leg assistant (not deputy) Chester Goode (Dennis Weaver) are still maintaining the peace in unruly, barely-tamed Dodge City, Kansas. The various gunslingers and cattle rustlers causing Marshal Dillon no end of grief usually can be found drinking and gambling at one of the innumerable saloons. Matt’s friend Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake), formerly a (coded) prostitute, is now half-owner of the city’s finest, the Long Branch Saloon, with Sam (Glenn Strange) its gentle giant of a bartender. She’s also its madam, and though the audience doesn’t get to see much of that business, it’s implied, though not as much as in earlier seasons. Matt’s line of work often requires the services of cantankerous Doc Adams (Milburn Stone), another close friend of Matt, Chester, and Miss Kitty.

Writer John Meston (1914-1979) was to Gunsmoke what Rod Serling was to Twilight Zone; he penned an incredible 257 episodes of the series during its 20-year run, and that’s not counting episodes of the radio show he also wrote (though there was a lot of crossover, apparently). Two of his favorite devices are the “What’s Going On Here” and “How’s Matt Going to Solve/Get Out of This” structures, with Matt presented with a puzzling situation/irresolvable conflict at the beginning of the episode, and he and other characters working through the mystery which is revealed/resolved, often violently, at the end. By season nine other writers were penning more shows, notably Kathleen Hite (1917-1989), a former secretary whose Mad Men-like climb up the corporate ladder with high-quality teleplays would make a good book or biographical drama all its own.

Her scripts, like the season-opener, “Kate Heller,” are more character portrait pieces, this episode about an old prairie woman (Mabel Albertson) operating a relay station and coming to terms with the fact that her son is a murderer. In another good Hite-scripted episode, Quint leads a down-on-its-luck family to the Oregon Trail, the family having fled Illinois after their daughter (Sharon Farrell) murdered a man who tried to rape her. The assault has left her psychologically scarred, creating unanticipated challenges for Quint. In that same episode, Chester surprises Matt, Kitty, and Doc by going after a drifter who swindled the family out of $3,000. Everyone laughs off Chester’s declaration to track and catch the crook, but more than proves his mettle by the fade-out.

These and a few other episodes give Dennis Weaver a dignified send-off, if no chance to actually say goodbye in the 12 season nine shows in which he appears. His final appearance comes in “Bently,” a late-in-the-season episode in which Chester can’t quite accept the deathbed confession of a supposed murderer. His widow (Jan Clayton) is taken in by town folk (Charles McGraw and June Dayton) who along with the rest of Dodge had ostracized the couple. Written by John A. Kneubuhl, this was yet another show where everyone thinks Chester is crazy for not believing the dying man’s confession, but Chester’s gentle nature and understated determinedness prove right in the end.

Ken Curtis, who plays Festus, was at the time director John Ford’s son-in-law. Ford gave Curtis parts in many of his 1950s films, most memorably as Vera Miles’ intensely irritating suitor in The Searchers (1956), in the weakest scenes of that otherwise seminal Western. He affects a similarly twangy accent, Curtis himself being from southeastern Colorado. Festus makes an interesting contrast to Chester. Where the former was lazy and perpetually broke but sweet-natured, gregarious and a good man to have around when the chips where down, Festus is by contrast more ornery and even less educated. Where Chester spent most of his life in frontier towns, Festus is a former mountain man, a trapper bemused by city folk ways. Curiously, early in the season, in one episode, Curtis guest stars as a different character altogether.

Other than that, it’s business as usual. Guest stars include (in Volume 1) semi-regulars Glenn Strange, Dabbs Greer, George Selk, and Clem Fuller; also Tom Lowell, Betsy Jones-Moreland, Sheree North, William Talman, Scott Marlowe, Harry Townes, Mary LaRoche, Philip Abbott, L.Q. Jones, Andrew Prine, George Wallace, Shug Fisher, Chubby Johnson, James Broderick, Everett Sloane, Anjanette Comer, I. Stanford Jolley, Barney Phillips, Jeanne Cooper, Richard Devon, Gilbert Roland, Gene Evans, Lloyd Corrigan, Lynn Loring, George Lindsey, Kent Smith, Marsha Hunt, James Best, Karen Sharpe, Ned Glass, Noah Beery Jr., Tom Reese, Jan Shepard, Butch Patrick, Slim Pickens, Elizabeth MacRae, Kenneth Tobey, Roy Barcroft, (and in Volume 2) Denver Pyle, Strother Martin, Kevin Hagen, Lauri Peters, Robert Wilke, Warren Oates, James Griffith, Lyle Bettger, Don Megowan, Harry Dean Stanton, Ed Nelson, Royal Dano, Vic Perrin, John Dehner, Jay C. Flippen, James Seay, Hank Patterson, Gene Lyons, Bill Erwin, Jacqueline Scott, Herbert Anderson, Patricia Owens, George Kennedy, Julie Parrish, Phyllis Coates, Jack Elam, Harold J. Stone, Paul Fix, Patric Knowles, Mark Goddard, and Michael J. Pollard.

Video & Audio

Still in glorious black and white, Gunsmoke looks exceptionally good on DVD. Shows are a bit overly grainy (especially during the opening titles, reworked slightly for syndication) but otherwise they’re very sharp, very clean. The 18 black-and-white episodes are spread over five discs, with a total running time of about 16 hours per volume. The Dolby Digital mono (English only) is clean and clear, and the shows include optional English SDH subtitles. The packaging allows viewers to read the episode descriptions inside the snap case.

Extra Features

None.

Parting Thoughts

Two more terrific rounds (well, two rounds) of great Western drama, Gunsmoke‘s two ninth season volumes aren’t cheap, but provide many hours of quality entertainment worth the price. A DVD Talk Collector Series title.

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart’s Cine Blogarama here.

Posted in Fun and Games

Banshee: The Complete First Season

Posted on August 6, 2014 at 4:25 am

The Season:

If Quentin Tarantino cranked out a contemporary answer to Boardwalk Empire and Justified, mixed with a little Big Love to get the provocative juices flowing, then it’d probably look something like Banshee, Cinemax’s new original series. Created with the intention of expanding the network’s original programming (and to draw attention by pushing some boundaries), the show arrives on the steam of [b]True Blood[/b] and [b]Six Feet Under[/b] producer Alan Ball, assuring that some degree of snappy dialogue and saucy characterization, crammed within a tweaked outlook on the American Gothic, would factor in. What comes as a surprise is how much violence and raw passion crams into this yarn about an untamed ex-convict turned lawman, a nameless and unreadable rogue who drags a small Pennsylvania town into his bloody, vengeful past. Much like the town of Banshee itself, it’s an unpredictable and volatile journey hallmarked by well-drawn characters, despite its own war with believability along the way.

Antony Starr’s protagonist doesn’t remain “nameless” for long. After serving fifteen years in prison, he finds his way to Banshee in search of the remnants of the life he once had, only to discover that everything he’d like to reclaim after his time served — the love of his life and partner in crime, Carrie/Ana (Ivana Milicevic), his profession, and $10 million in diamonds — are all lost due to the passage of time and misfortune. Through a twist of happenstance, however, with a little blood spilt and a few bodies hidden away (and the help of a stranger, Sugar), he’s given the opportunity to do something he does well: con the town of Banshee into believing he’s the interim sheriff, Lucas Hood. From there, Hood awkwardly attempts to integrate with the township and his new police coworkers, where his recently-  released edginess gets the better of him as he unleashes his own brand of law-serving. He doesn’t really have a plan, outside of being near the woman he once loved and hiding from the employer, Mr. Rabbit (Ben Cross), that he screwed over, but the town’s obstacles naturally draw his attention to Banshee’s resident ex-Amish tycoon, Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen).

Banshee has to be taken in stride at the beginning, though, starting on a reckless, blatantly action-driven note that substitutes common sense for a bracing introduction to Hood’s situation. Despite being in an era where it’s easy — and often mandatory — to know what an incoming member of one’s staff looks like, “Hood” manages to pass for an inbound government-paid sheriff through the town’s mayor and the police department’s other officers, even before something can be done to modify his identity. Eventually, the show’s writers acknowledge that hiccup in logic, even shaping the dubiousness into a few decent cliffhangers once his exposure grows wider, and that lingering doubt fades as Hood gruffly wedges into the everyday workings of the small Pennsylvania town. Yet, that’s not the only instance of convenience in the show’s writing, holding the show back from stepping up to another level as it relies on salty banter, zealous posturing, and eminent violence to move Hood between situations.

Lucas Hood’s shifting attitude as an ex-con enforcing the law becomes the show’s linchpin, and not quite in the ways one might expect. Those expecting a predictable progression of a criminal turned do-gooder should be surprised at how tightly the brazen renegade sticks to his past ways and loose morals, where the storytelling deliberately avoids stereotypical heroic redemption. He’s a con man playing a role for as long as he’s able to, something Banshee never loses sight of; he sleeps with several women (whom have intriguing backgrounds) and drowns his sorrows in liquor, eventually even leading Hood back into the world of committing crimes. Combined with Antony Starr’s stubbly, wild-eyed intimidation as he charges into situations, from  fist fights to drug raids, Hood’s impulsiveness draws us in as he manages to justify his self-interested attitude towards wanting to stay in Banshee. Hood’s gallery of supporting rogues adds a dash of spice to the situation — from Frankie Faison’s weathered wisdom as Sugar to Hoon Lee’s sardonic cross-dressing hacker, Job — while his rapport with Ulrich Thomsen’s Proctor compellingly revolves around the idea that he might need to bargain with this intimidating devil to get other things accomplished in town. And Ivana Milicevic’s bold performance provides just the right backbone of sensuality and intensity to justify Hood’s forlorn undertones.

The environment created by this eponymous Pennsylvania town also sparks a degree of storytelling interest, a slice of twisted rustic Americana that exists on the cusp of Amish and Native American cultures. The more obvious side of this world-building lies in Kai Proctor’s past with the Amish: the distance between he and his heritage reminds one of a tweak to Bill Henrickson’s distance from fundamentalist Mormons in Big Love, only less heavy-handed and insistent over which side is right and wrong. No easy pot-shots are taken at the conflict of cultures, instead reminding one of the fact that Proctor’s family have been responsible for sustaining the town of Banshee for over 150 years. Contemporary Native American elements also work their way into the narrative, mostly built around the local casino and their dealings with Kai Proctor, with flickers of thematic material about the transition from tradition to harsh modern business practices — similar to Proctor’s metamorphosis. While it doesn’t inform the narrative much outside of tying back to Hood’s own conflict of identity, it makes the town’s zany secrets and conflicts feel more alive, especially when a conflicted Amish girl (Lili Simmons) mingles with Banshee’s populace.

After some natural growing pains due to its own conflict of identity, Banshee focuses its strengths as an action-packed game of chess between the police force and the town’s criminal underbelly, often pointing to Proctor’s sketchy string-pulling as the source. The show doesn’t shy away from relishing the brutality and bloodiness of high-stakes scenarios either, zeroing in on how Hood’s devil-may-care tactics demolish the line between protocol and the end justifying the means — a tempo that intentionally throws back to classic Western bravado. Several lengthy hand-to-hand brawls also appear in the show that, arguably, stick around longer than they probably should; one actually lasts for the majority of an episode, interspersed with events  that happen elsewhere. They’re so wild and gritty as they go over the top, though, that it’ll make one overlook the fact that they’re impractical and fail to move the story forward, perhaps even intentionally stalling it. Entertainment value and raw thrills trump practicality here, and there’s a lot to go around.

Ultimately, the big curiosity becomes not whether Lucas Hood will be found by his former employer or discovered to be a fraud, but when — and how the love of his life, the woman who dominates his dreams despite now being a married mother of two to a district attorney, would resolve their relationship. Through the police raids, brutal fights, and back-alley deaths, Hood’s shaky, emotional grasp on his past and present life remains the show’s emotional core as it flirts with addressing that eminent revelation head-on, a conflict that pushes this first season flush up to its volatile conclusion. Banshee reveals a lot about our antihero — how he learned to fight, how he survived prison, where the boundaries of his chivalry lie — and it proves to be an intriguing-enough foundation whether he’s the loose-cannon sheriff of a small town or simply an ex-con who wants something resembling his old life back. It’s unknown where the road will take Hood and his crew, or whether Hood’s identity will remain intact, but it’ll be worth continuing to see how he’ll dig himself out of this hole he’s landed in.

The DVD:

 

Banshee: The Complete First Season arrives from Warner/HBO Home Entertainment in a four-disc clear case with a series of hinged trays, where all of the discs sports the same black-on-red textual design. Inner artwork features a shot of Hood aiming a pistol on one side, while the other side contains an episode and special features rundown. A fine matte slipcover with raised letters replicates the outer artwork.

Video and Audio:

The way Banshee is shot can vary greatly from scene to scene: something it sports robust flesh tones and vibrant neon colors, and other times it’s downright dirty and colorless. All this is part of the plan, though, conveying different ambience in different locations — warmth and clarity in Sugar’s bar, gray drabness in Hood’s makeshift apartment, a mix of both in low-saturation outdoor sequences — and the series of 1.78:1-framed transfers convey the caliber of detail and depth of an HD broadcast about as potently as you can get on standard-definition. Moments of intense textural strength and impressive depth-of-field can be seen at various points in the series, such as during intimate love-making sequences and brawls where the camera closes in on someone’s bloody face, and the palette is often extremely reactive when it comes to the desired visual tone. Aside from a little smoothness and very light outdoor ringing here and there that may or may not have been avoidable, Banshee excels on DVD.

Sporting almost as much vigor as the visuals, the Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are versatile, powerful, and respectful to the surround design occasionally created by the show. It’s not short on opportunities: bodies get flung around in wood-heavy rooms, punches are delivered, guns fired, and wheels screech, all of which are supported with respectable clarity and composure across the surround design — both the highs and the bass activity. Little details earn their place in the design as well, such as the clank of a glass on a bar and the splash of someone diving in the water. Verbal clarity hits all the right notes, if a bit reserved in fidelity when it attempts to interact with the atmosphere. Moreover, the evocative music that often commands the series’ tone manages to flex quite a bit of muscle, yet never drowning out the sound effects. Everything sounds just about as great as it looks. English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles are available.

Special Features:

Appearing on three of the four discs are a series of Audio Commentaries that vary in participating cast and crew across the entire series. Each one with the tracks — Pilot; Meet the New Boss and The Kindred; Wicks, Behold a Pale Rider and We Shall Live Forever — includes participants central to those episodes being successes. Show producers Jonathan Tropper and Greg Yaitanes discuss the premiere episode as an “origin story” and name-dropping Peter Weir’s Witness as an obvious aesthetic inspiration, stunt coordinators touch on the hurdles they had to jump in order to get aggressive action on-screen, and editors take the opportunity to chat about getting “internalized” flashback scenes seamlessly into certain moments. The tracks are laid back yet enthusiastic, as is fitting with many burgeoning TV series.

Also included on Disc One are the thirteen Banshee Origins (33:52, 16×9) webisodes that fill in small gaps throughout the series, starting back fifteen years prior to the current timeline. Surprisingly, the content contained within can be fairly enlightening to some of the series secondary plot mysteries, such as the connection between Proctor and Sugar and how Siobhan became involved with the police force. I’d struggle to say that the content is “crucial”, but most of the bits are worth the thirty-minute time to just watch ’em all. Furthermore, a primary Town of Secrets “making of” glimpse at Banshee takes a general look at the Pennsylvania town itself, while a NYC Bus Crash (2:27, 16×9) illustrates the extensive and rather successful visual effects employed during the aggressive crash sequence that starts the series off.

From there, the remaining handful of features are scattered across the rest of the discs. Around ten minutes of non-essential Deleted Scenes appear on the last two discs, while a pair of brief Zooming In (3:21, 16×9) making of features chronicle the construction of two heavy action set-pieces later in the season. Wrapping things up is a Season Two Teaser Trailer which barely meets even the criterion of the term, since it “teased” practically nothing about the next season.

Final Thoughts:

Once you get beyond the unlikeliness of Banshee‘s premise, you’ll find a vigorous, well-felt action series from Cinemax that allows its strengths to quickly sink its claws into those watching. Plenty of violence and sex are to be found in this story of an ex-con posing as the sheriff of a small-ish Pennsylvania town, yet there’s a substantial backbone to what’s going on that revolves around identity and lingering in the past. With that sense of purpose driving it forward, the series gets it hands dirty with well-orchestrated action sequences that revolve around a renegade sheriff’s lack of restraint in getting things done, reveling in its tumultuous rhythm as Hood’s past and present rush towards one another. It’s addictive, stylized television that pulls through its premiere seasons with enough of a foundation to keep watching. Strongly Recommended.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer — DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site

Posted in Fun and Games

Sushi: The Global Catch

Posted on August 4, 2014 at 4:25 am

THE PROGRAM

Despite not being a fan of “raw” sushi, (or sashimi as it’s properly referred to) the concept, specifically the history and reverence for the food has always intrigued me. If I had perhaps done the tiniest amount of research into the true content and intent of the documentary, “Sushi: The Global Catch,” my viewing experience would have been a more balanced and possibly more open-minded one. That said, the 75-minute runtime of said film, is less about the pageantry of sushi and more insight into the widespread effect on the environment it has, before semi-devolving into a thinly veiled soapbox for the sustainability movement. This isn’t by any means a bad thing, but does leave viewers with a very inconsistent documentary offering.

Director Mark Hall does a tremendous job of drawing in a casual viewer, one likely to come across this on Netflix, into the traditional world of sushi, covering the history of the food before focusing on a top Japanese sushi chef and the path required to reach such a status. From there, Hall shifts to the source of chef’s supply, a giant fish market in Tokyo that boasts record setting prices for bluefin tuna, which the audience quickly learns is being fished to near extinction to satisfy the exponentially increasing appetites of sushi connoisseurs worldwide, including China, which has recently undergone its own sushi craze. It’s at this critical revelation, the exact heart and soul of the documentary in fact, that the film begins to slightly unravel at the seams.

The remainder of the feature never truly gives the viewer a chance to let much apart from the dwindling numbers of bluefin to soak in, jumping all across the globe from traditional sushi-masters to a San Francisco based restaurant that only uses sustainable fish, back to a man who strives to perfect a way to breed the tuna in captivity. Hall presents very fascinating information but the runtime isn’t nearly enough to convey the scope of the issue and by the time we get to two ideologically opposite restaurant owners discussing sustainability, its easy to incorrectly write the film off as a lightweight agenda piece.

“Sushi: The Global Catch” succeeds in conveying how destructive a luxury food item has become to the planet and the irony of what was once a quick, nearly fast food-esque origin of the meal now resulting in record setting auction prices for the most essential components of the meal is not lost. I doubt I’ll ever change my own personal reasons for not eating sashimi, but if that day were to ever come, I’d think long and hard about my own choices, knowing what widespread consequences it could have, even if this film itself left me a little unclear in what the future holds.

THE DVD

The Video

The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer sports adequate, natural colors, with wholly average detail. There are some minor instances of compression artifacts and depending on the location where the footage was shot, some instances of minor digital noise/grain.

The Audio

The Dolby Digital English and Japanese stereo audio track is perfectly suitable for the documentary format. The soundscape does show a decent amount of depth during scenes filmed in the expansive, concrete enclosed fish market. Non-removable English subtitles are included.

The Extras

The only extras are a theatrical trailer and image gallery.

Final Thoughts

A competently handled, tonally shaky documentary piece, “Sushi: The Global Catch” is a little too far-reaching in its efforts, but manages to drive home its most important points relatively well. Either way, it’s an eye-opening, brief look for connoisseurs and non-connoisseurs alike. Recommended.

Posted in Fun and Games

Grey’s Anatomy: The Complete Ninth Season

Posted on August 2, 2014 at 4:25 am

Note:
For this very-special DVDTalk review of the ninth season of Grey’s Anatomy, I’m turning over the reins to the only person in my house who watches the show, my wife Nicole. She’ll be taking it from here.

In 10 Words or Less
The doctors are back, but a bit different

 

Reviewer’s Bias*
Loves: Medical drama, the “MerDer” dynamic, soap operas
Likes: Ellen Pompeo, Patrick Dempsey, Sandra Oh
Dislikes: Woe-is-me attitudes
Hates: Missing Lexie and Mark

The Story So Far…
ABC’s take on ER, St. Elsewhere, Chicago Hope, but way better! Since Grey’s Anatomy‘s beginning, nine years ago, we’ve been witness to life’s ups and downs, lefts and rights, of a beloved group of doctors from Seattle Grace Hospital. Over the years, the hospital name has evolved along with the characters. When we first meet the cast, they are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed interns, ready to take on the operating rooms of Seattle Grace Hospital. With the guidance of Dr. Richard Webber, better known as the Chief and Dr. Bailey, a hard-ass resident working to teach this newbie group of doctors what it really takes to make it, we watch each grow in a way that will change who they are and what type of doctor they will become forever. They show heart, dedication, pompousness,ignorance and, for kicks, no one can keep there freaking pants on. The series has been released, one season per year, for the past eight years, and DVDTalk has reviews of several of the sets.

The Show
If the characters below are unfamiliar, you should probably go back and check out our previous reviews. Like any soap opera, there’s a lot of history here and trying to catch everyone up is a pointless endeavor.

We’ve watched the “MerDer” pairing (Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey) hit highs and lows over the past eight seasons, but this time around their relationship is tested to the limits and the happiness of their family hangs in limbo. How could the Prom King and Queen not end up with the baby they’ve longed for It’s awkward to see our favorite couple not get along at the end of a 60-minute episode, but once again, Meredith being Meredith, choses to go against the grain and, though with good intentions of helping Adele, Richard’s ailing alzheimer afflicted wife, she comprises the integrity of Derek’s Alzheimer trials. Owen (Kevin McKidd) and Christina (Sandra Owen), who left the group and headed to Minnesota, continue to ride the rollercoaster of emotion. You wait each time they’re together on-scene for her to finally just give in to happiness with Owen, but the pot continues to simmer.

For Callie (Sara Ramirez), Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) and Mark (Eric Dane), life as one big happy family hasn’t been easy. But over time, the relationship between Mark and Arizona begins to blossom, so much so, it makes Callie’s life miserable, but in the end, their love for their daughter Sophia puts any and all issues aside. If only it could happened sooner rather than later. Teddy, or “G.I. Jane” as she’s been labeled, Owen’s BFF from back in the day, loses Henry, the love of her life, who can not be saved by Christina, not knowing the covered patient on her table is Henry. For the Chief, it’s a heart-wrenching season. The love of his life, Adele, is slowly succumbing to her disease.

Among the standout episodes this season has to be “Going, Going, Gone”, in which the survivors of the plane crash are faced with yet another blow.. As they cope with yet another impending loss, each character explores their relationships, via flashback, leading up to the 5:00 deadline for one of their own. Aside from last season’s finale and the moment that Lexie died, this has to be the most heart-wrenching scene in the show’s recent history, powered by the format of the episode and an overall great job by everyone involved. As someone with young a child, another highlight of the season was, “Can’t Fight This Feeling”, in which a mother fights to save her sick child. The old adage, “a mother knows her child best”, holds true in this episode as her determination is all her child has going for him.

One again, series creator Shonda Rhimes was able to capture the viewers’ attention and engross them in the daily dramas and traumas of Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital, or should I say Grey Sloan Hospital, as you’ll see further into the season. No one saw it coming or could have expected that heartthrob Mark Sloan or the bubbly, ambitious Lexie Grey would be gone right before our eyes. The progression of this season, has once again padded the, “I love you, I love her, I love him, I love me” feel that has coated the halls of this way-too-perfect hospital since 2005. We’ve seen ferry crashes, building collapses, shootings and more over the past nine seasons, but never has 90% of the cast dropped from the sky in one flash of fate, as was the case in the cliffhanger that ended season eight.

This was a season, that amongst my girlfriends is called “the phoenix.” What rose from the ashes of that devastating plane crash, were the same characters with new personas. I’ll be honest, after eight seasons, we all know that “MerDer” is gonna make it and live that happily-ever-after life, one way or another. Christina is a breed all to herself and I admire her fight. The, “You are my person, you will always be my person” relationship shared between Meredith and Christina is what I think holds every episode together. There’s always something, big or small that makes you want to be them.

Compared to previous season’s, Arizona and Callie, Seattle’s resident alternative couple, had a season that made for a most extreme amusement rides. The question, “Why the hell does Callie put up with Arizona’s crazy”, was asked time and time again. But as Grey’s has taught its fans for years, love always prevails. However, the loss of Lexie and Mark was devastating. After all this time, this was supposed to be their year to find each other all over again, but in the end, Shonda Rhimes delivered, in a way that to this day, still makes me tear up thinking about it. Alex and Owen and Richard all pretty much floated through this season. Side characters April and Jackson just got overplayed, and the new interns were like a pre-school of whiners. In all honesty, that’s how the show started, and look where there are now.

 

The DVDs
The 24 episodes in this collection arrive on 6 DVDs in a clear standard-width case with two flip trays, along with an episode guide on the reverse of the cover art. A foil-embossed slipcover repeats the cover art. The discs feature animated anamorphic widescreen menus with options to play all the episodes, select a show, adjust the set-up and check out bonus features (on disc six.) There are English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai and Korean () subtitles, but no audio options or closed captioning.

On a side note, the quality of the manufacturing of this set is questionable, as some of the disc art is misaligned and one of the discs had some trouble playing in a few of my machines.

The Quality
After watching this show in high definition each week, these discs are a bit of a let-down. The image is often nowhere as sharp, lacking in detail, though these problems aren’t consistent. It could be the way the show is shot (maybe the old hazy soap opera style) but since you can sometimes pick out individual hairs, it seems wrong. Every now and then, some banding occurs in the backgrounds, and you can see some pixelation in the image,

The audio, available in Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, is nice and clear, with no issues with distortion, though it’s not the most exciting sound, kicking in mainly during the use of the soundtrack. Usually with surround, I notice activity in the speakers on the side and in the back, but there wasn’t much here.

The Extras
Things get moving with “Happy Trails with Jim Pickens Jr.” (13:08) a very in-depth and enjoyable glimpse into the other side of Dr. Richard Webber. For fans of Grey’s, he is known for his love and passion of medicine and his doctors. For fans of Jim Pickens Jr, he’s known mainly for his love of what he calls, “the western life.” Both on-screen and off, Jim Pickens Jr. is recognized for helping others and giving back where he can. Along with his wife, he’s set up several charity foundations to help at-risk children, raising money along the way from charity roping events.

In “The Long Road Home” (15:03), Jessica Capshaw, with her cheery, chipper, “I love to help babies” attitude on the show, was asked this season to become the ,”woe is me, I’m so helpless, you cut my leg off” character, that in a way really put a damper on the first several episodes. Few fully-capable actors are asked to suddenly play someone with a severe physical disability. Jessica was successful in showing the viewers the stages of grief, denial and anger that often follow a person after such a tragedy. Of all the doctors, Arizona is the only one who never seeks professional counseling in dealing with what happened that fateful night when all hell broke loose on their way to Boise. It was a daunting task for Rhimes to ask of an actor.

There are 19 deleted scenes (13:04) included in this set, with the episode indicated (a play-all option is available.) This part of the DVD was actually quite boring. Each snippet of a particular deleted scene was simply slightly alternate takes of dialogue in the episode, ranging from 11 seconds to 2:17. Nothing added anything to the show.

The final extra is “In Stitches: Outtakes” (2:15), where we see what every actor, on every television show, movie set or broadway stage goes through on a regular basis. Someone forgets their lines, someone sneezes, a prop is knocked over…we’ve all seen it before and we’ll all see them again.

The Bottom Line
Like any soap opera, things don’t change that much on Grey’s Anatomy, however the show tried a few new things, but as always, they are rooted in tragedy. By the end of the season though, these are still the characters we’ve followed for eight years, and we’ll more than likely stick with them until it’s over. This set offers a better season overall than we’ve seen in a while, though the quality doesn’t hold up compared to how the show looks in HD, and the extras are a mix of interesting and mundane. For fans, it’s worth adding to your collection, so you can revisit old friends every now and then.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 – A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow

*The Reviewer’s Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer’s biases lie on the film’s subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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