Matteo Garrone does a 180 from his acclaimed crime film, Gomorrah, in this keenly observed cautionary tale about pop culture, moral scruples, and the human mind’s capacity for self-delusion. The title is ironic, yes — the film’s charismatic but hapless fishmonger Luciano (Aniello Arena) spends his time coming unglued, losing his perspective as a working-class family man as he sacrifices his ordinary life in a misguided bid to become a reality-TV star.
In later seasons, The Sopranos would too often threaten to disappear up creator David Chase’s asshole as he ruminated, sometimes vigorously, sometimes ponderously, on the mysteries of American family life. But the first season has none of that leisure, expertly modulating stretches of comedy and drama en route to those crucial moments that leave you gasping.
So you think you might be interested in Dollhouse, the Joss Whedon-created series about human drones programmed with disposable serial personalities by a shady underground organization dedicated to fulfilling the most precious needs and desires of the very rich. The first thing you need to know is that it’s gonna take a while.
My review of True Blood: The Complete First Season is online at FilmFreakCentral.net.
There’s something refreshing about True Blood, a show that approaches the idea of loving the undead with healthy helpings of humour, viscera, eroticism, and subtext. The tongue-in-cheek storytelling and routinely bloody tableaux aren’t especially remarkable, but True Blood is pretty packed with sex, even by HBO’s standards. Over the course of True Blood‘s first 12 episodes, we learn that Bon Temps, Louisiana, and environs are home to not just a handsome Civil War vampire but also a plucky telepathic waitress and a shapechanging bartender, as well as assorted “fangbangers” (humans with a thing for screwing vampires) and addicts in thrall to V juice, the street term underscoring the intoxicating, potency-enhancing effects vampires’ blood has on humans.
When I settled in to take a look at Nimrod Nation, an eight-part documentary series that aired beginning in 2007 on the Sundance Channel, I expected to sit still for an episode or two before deciding when and whether to continue. To my not-inconsiderable surprise, I devoured the first four episodes in a single afternoon, took down two more in the evening, and finished out the package the following morning. Taken as a whole, Nimrod Nation is not a great documentary, but it’s a friendly and unassuming collection of days in the life that gets big points for compulsive watchability.
Well, the writers’ strike is on. And as tempting as it is to pontificate on the role of the director as the real authorial voice in filmmaking, or to suggest various roads to amiable compromise, I have to say go writers. That screenwriters are still being compensated for video sales at a compromise rate agreed to when home-video was still a rental market seems unjust to me, given the profitability of DVD sales — and demands for royalties on Internet-distributed content that outpace what they originally got for VHS are morally defensible from a won’t-get-fooled-again standpoint if nothing else. It seems disingenuous to suggest that the content industry won’t be able to monetize the freaking Internet. (See Jon Stewart, above.) Big Corporate versus Organized Labor — this is how the system is supposed to work.
Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Volume 5 (Warner)
There were two reasons for my decision to purchase a DVD player in time for Christmas, 1997. One of them was the news that Criterion had begun releasing its catalog of “classic and important contemporary films” to the new format, so that a film-and-extras package that cost $100 or $125 on laserdisc would soon be available as a $40 DVD. And the other was the Warner Bros. announcement that the Looney Tunes catalog was on its way to DVD. The Looney Tunes announcement turned out to be years premature, but the shorts did start showing up on four-disc DVD collections, one per year, in 2003. The sets aren’t exactly optimized for the collector — they’re not chronological, and there is no all-Chuck Jones set, or all-Robert McKimson — but they’re organized smartly enough from a commercial perspective, sprinkling the best-known shorts across enough discs to keep the nostalgia factor high for casual viewers while dipping deep enough into the catalog to surprise even Looney Tunes fans. (Still no “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips,” in case you were wondering.) Highlights of this set include a helping of Chuck Jones classics (“Ali Baba Bunny,” “Transylvania 6-5000,” “Bewitched Bunny,” among others) plus a 2000 documentary (Chuck Jones: Extremes and In-Betweens), an all-Bob Clampett disc, and an “Early Daze” disc presenting pre-1944 ‘toons from Clampett, Jack King, Tex Avery, Frank Tashlin, and Tom Palmer (1933’s “I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song”). Extras include a couple of Private Snafu cartoons and the usual flotilla of short documentaries, commentaries, music-only tracks, etc. (Do not confuse this with the less-expensive Spotlight Collection, which only includes the first two of these four discs.)
Buy it from Amazon.com: Looney Tunes – Golden Collection, Volume Five
Twin Peaks: The Complete Series (Paramount)
OK, it’s a mixed bag, really. The second season of Twin Peaks was a disappointment, growing sillier and more disassociated from any notion of a conventionally satisfying narrative (which the early episodes delivered on top of all the Lynchian quirkiness) as each episode stretched on. Even the eventual revelation of Laura Palmer’s killer was bungled in the program’s increasingly unfocused execution. And, yeah, $100 is a lot of money to spend on a TV show. But television rarely got stranger or grander than this program’s first season, which examined the aftermath of the murder of Laura Palmer, a pretty, popular high-school girl who was found dead, wrapped in plastic, on a riverbank in Twin Peaks, WA. What ensued was a tongue-in-cheek soap opera involving the denizens of the town, plus newcomer Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), on hand to investigate Palmer’s murder and slug down diner coffee. It’s a masterpiece of mood if nothing else. And the portentous, wryly funny feature-length pilot episode remains, even after all these years, a highlight of David Lynch’s career. Watch it, and imagine what Mulholland Dr. could have been. This definitive, 10-DVD set includes all 29 episodes of the show, the original pilot, the European version of the pilot (which resolves the “mystery” in a clumsy coda at the very end), deleted scenes, and even footage from the Saturday Night Live episode hosted by MacLachlan at the height of Agent Cooper’s popularity.
Buy it from Amazon.com: Twin Peaks – The Definitive Gold Box Edition (The Complete Series)
If you ever felt, as I did, there was some missing backstory associated with the smartly amusing Shaun of the Dead and its somewhat-less-brilliant follow-up, Hot Fuzz, you may be excited to make the acquaintance of Spaced, the consistently ingenious British TV show where director Edgar Wright and actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost cut their comic teeth. Storywise, it’s no relation to Shaun of the Dead, even though it feels somewhat like a prequel — and it’s a bit thrilling to think of Tim Bisley, the videogame-addicted comic-book artist Pegg plays in Spaced finally given a chance to face the zombies who populate his dreams in a real-world post-apocalyptic showdown.