Robin Hood: The Director’s Cut – Russell Crowe stars as the title hero in this Ridley Scott-directed opus, which bothered some audiences because it neglects the traditional Robin Hood tale in favor of going for a measure of historical accuracy and focusing on Robin Hood’s origin story. I pushed my prejudices to the side and managed to enjoy the quirky but engaging story. It helps that Cate Blanchett thrives as a fiery Maid Marion. The Blu-ray includes a digital copy, exhausting making-of featurettes and an intensive look at the costumes and sets.
Bored to Death: Season 1 – Jason Schwartzman comes into his own in this HBO comedy as a frustrated, aimless New York novelist who haphazardly becomes a private eye to make ends meet. He longs for his ex (Olivia Thirlby), caters to his pot-addled boss (Ted Danson) and endures the shenanigans of his bumbling best pal (Zack Galifianakis). Both the Blu-ray and DVD include a making-of doc, deleted scenes and commentaries.
Breathless Blu-ray – Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 thriller, one of the crown jewels of the French New Wave, is the tale of a criminal wanted for the murder of a cop who falls in love with a young American woman living in Paris. Chases, romance and relentless suspense make the film live up to its name. As you’d expect from the always-solid Criterion Collection, the box overflows with extras. There’s an in-depth booklet that pays tribute to the film, numerous cast and historian interviews, a 1993 retrospective documentary and one of Godard’s early shorts.
The Experiment – This is a tepid remake of the brilliant German film Das Experiment, which is based on the infamous Stanford prison experiment, in which unwitting test subjects were assigned roles of guards and prisoners, sparking violent struggles, depression and sadism. Adrien Brody and Forest Whitaker can’t bring much life to a tired script. With few notable extras, it’s tough to justify buying this one.
Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers – A rerelease of a rare 1988 PBS interview series explores the origins of myths, their applications to great modern storytelling and the meaning of life. The set includes a 12-page viewing guide, an interview with George Lucas and previously unreleased interviews with Campbell, an esteemed professor and author.
The League: Season 1 – The FX series that bats cleanup after It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia doesn’t live up to its lead-in but still manages to carve out a respectable share of laughs. A non-star cast plays a group of yuppies obsessed with their insular world of fantasy football. The geeky statistical references fall flat, but the backstabbing characters and hilariously cruel cut-downs make the show worthwhile. The Blu-ray includes deleted scenes and shorts that take off on in-jokes from the show.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand Season 1 – The brilliant Starz series set in ancient Rome mixes the sensibilities of Braveheart and 300 and succeeds in every way HBO’s Rome failed. Crammed with breathtaking battles, gratuitous nudity and fist-pumping explosions of testosterone, the show overcomes its cheesy CGI special effects with its breeziness. Bloopers, behind-the-scenes footage and commentaries fill out the Blu-ray.
Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue – Disney goes back to the well with yet another direct-to-video Tinker Bell flick. This time around, Tink befriends a little girl and once again saves her fairy pals from oblivion. I found this one tough to slog through, but my 3-year-old enjoyed it. It’s nice that the Blu-ray includes a DVD as well.
Modern Family: Season 1 – This poignant, spot-on and riotous sitcom was one of the surprises of last year’s TV season. The show rotates among three branches of an extended family, including a gay couple, an aging stepfather married to a much-younger South American immigrant with a kid from a previous marriage and a bumbling traditional clan. The set includes deleted and extended scenes, a making-of commentary and a look at the episode in which the characters take a trip to Hawaii.
Phil Villarreal’s humorous money-saving book, Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel, is available on Amazon.