Glee: Season 1 – Those who purchased the first Glee DVD are out of luck, having to re-up and buy the complete season rather than the second part of the first season, but that gripe aside, the collection of Fox’s runaway musical sensation is a knockout.The Blu-ray version not only looks spectacular but sounds superb, getting the most out of the casts’ energetic performances. The set, which is also available on DVD, also includes behind-the-scenes look at the making of the famous Madonna episode and hilarious short skits from the devilish Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch).
The Big Bang Theory: Season 3 – The up-and-down but mostly riotous sitcom pays tribute to geek culture through the lives of an insular crowd of socially awkward scientists and their bubbly neighbor (Kaley Cuoco).The show’s laugh track bugs the hell out of me but the references to nerd nirvana such as Battlestar Galactica and Comic-Con make up for the shortcoming. The set is light on extras, with a gag reel and some cast and show creator interviews.
Bill Maher: But I’m Not Wrong – The acid-tongued, shamelessly liberal pundit continues to assert himself as the successor to George Carlin, delivering scathing political diatribes in this stand-up performance. Maher hits the usual targets, including the Bush administration and organized religion. The extras are too slim for all but the most stalwart fans to warrant a purchase, but it’s definitely worth a rental.
The Black Cauldron – The 1985 tale of swords and sorcery doesn’t rank with Disney’s classics, but it holds a special place in my heart because I fell in love with it when I was in second grade. The fact that the movie is released on DVD and not Blu-ray is a sign of the studio’s lack of respect from the movie, and the half-hearted extras – a lone deleted scene, a photo gallery and a pathetic game – follow suit.
Grey’s Anatomy: Season 6 – The hospital soap opera series doesn’t do much for me, but there’s no debating the throngs of mostly female fans who think of its characters as good friends. This set treats those enthusiasts well, with an extended cut of the season finale, extended scenes, outtakes and an in-depth look at Chandra Wilson, who plays Dr. Miranda Bailey. Season three of Grey’s spinoff Private Practice is also out on DVD, boasting similarly impressive extras.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: 35th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu-ray – As proven by last year’s blowout releases of Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, Warner Home Video has a way of going all-out with anniversary releases. And even though there’s nothing particularly special about a 35th anniversary, the 1975 classic – starring Jack Nicholson as a criminal con artist who fakes his way into an insane asylum – delivers anything you could hope for. The Milos Forman-directed film is a seminal deconstruction of the mental health care system and a thrilling drama to boot. The film comes alive like never before in crystal-clear HD, accompanied by four hours of extras, including retrospective conversations from the cast. There’s also a book and a deck of playing cards, which are unnecessary but oh-so-right.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time – In a flashy but shallow adaptation of the video game of the same title, Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a musclebound, magically powered acrobat who saves the world from evil with the help of a wise-cracking princess (Gemma Arterton). The forgettable movie drags on a bit too long and grows tiresome with its dopey writing that tries too hard to be funny. The Blu-ray/DVD combo includes a digital copy, deleted scenes and a making-of documentary.
Se7en Blu-ray – David Fincher’s 1995 thriller, starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as detectives hot on the trail of a serial killer, gets a much-deserved pop culture reintroduction with a stellar Blu-ray, which includes four commentary tracks, alternate endings and a 32-page book that’s built in to the packaging.
The Third Man Blu-ray – Director Carol Reed’s 1949 mystery, which stars Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles, looks gorgeous for a black-and-white film in high definition, highlighting the clever cinematography. The set includes a 20-page book, audio interviews with Cotton and writer Graham Greene, as well as an alternate opening. The Internet Movie Database says this is the 65th-best movie ever made. That’s a few dozen spots too high for my tastes, but the movie is a stunner that has held up well over 61 years.
The Twilight Zone: Season 1 Blu-ray – Because the inaugural season of the iconic show was made more than 50 years ago (1959), some of the episodes seem contrived because imitators have driven the ironic, surprise-twist concepts into the ground. But overall, the series has held up well, although Blu-ray does little to sharpen up the archaic black and white imagery. The set is a godsend for fans, with 19 new audio commentaries, 18 audio-only radio episodes, and vintage interviews.
Wall Street: Insider Trading Edition – This is the obligatory DVD re-release to lead in to the sequel, the excellent 1987 stock-trading drama, which stars Michael Douglas as a sleazy corporate raider and Charlie Sheen as his up-and-coming wannabe. The two-disc set includes a look ahead to the sequel and no real reason to buy the disc.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Season 5 – TV’s funniest show, which starts its sixth campaign Thursday night on FX, fails to maintain the upward trajectory but maintains the level of brilliance from season 4. This year’s release is the first season of the show to earn a Blu-ray release, joining the show’s Christmas special, which also hit Blu. Season 5 of the show, which tracks the self-destructive efforts of a band of narcissistic friends in their early 30s who run a bar in Philly, includes commentaries on some episodes and a gag reel. Watch this season and learn the hilarity that is “Kitten Mittons” and the Dick Towel.
Phil Villarreal’s humorous money-saving book, Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel, is available on Amazon.