TV set onslaught begins with Greek, Eli Stone, Simpsons, Gossip Girl

By Tom Von Malder | Aug 19, 2009

Owls Head — Greek: Chapter Three (ABC Family, 3 DVDs, TV14, 440 min.). Over the next three weeks a slew of TV shows are being released on DVD, tying in with their new seasons. One of the most eagerly awaited is “thirtysomething,” which is coming next week. Meanwhile, two of my regular must-watches are out this week.

“Greek” is the story of a super-social sister (Spencer Grammer as Casey) and her antisocial brother (Jacob Zachar as Rusty). However, by this season, Rusty is a sophomore and in the thick of things at his party-loving fraternity. This actually is only half of the just-completed season on TV, with more new episodes due to start Aug. 31. The season begins with the Greek Olympics, after spring break. Later, Casey and Max finally go on a real date -- she used to date Evan and Cappy, whom she is still hung up over, although she does not realize it yet (Cappy by the way is president of Rusty’s fraternity). What makes the show fun is the cast playing believable characters. The 10 episodes here go through “Hell Week.” Extras include 20 questions with the cast, bloopers and audio commentaries. Grade: half-season 3 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Eli Stone: Final Season (ABC Studios, 3 DVDs, TVPG, 560 min.). This was a show that ended much too soon. Jonny Lee Miller is excellent as attorney Eli Stone, who sees visions (often as musical extravaganzas) due to a brain aneurysm, or perhaps, as his acupuncturist Dr. Chen thinks, it is because he is a prophet (the very nice final minutes answers this question by the way and brings the series both closure and a jumping off place for a new start should any network have the smarts to go ahead with the show). The supporting cast is solid (I particularly like Victor Garber as the firm’s head lawyer and father of Eli-s ex-fiancée, and Loretta Devine as Eli’s bossy assistant). This season many of the firm break away, leaving it in dire financial straits. Meanwhile, guest stars include Seal, Katie Holmes and Sigourney Weaver. Extras include bloopers, deleted scenes, a look at the creation of one of the song and dance numbers, and a glimpse of morning rituals on the set. Grade: season 3.75 stars

The Simpsons: The Twelfth Season (2000-01, Fox, 4 DVDs, 473 min.). The season opens with the annual Treehouse of Horror, then The Who and their music must bring down a wall dividing Springfield after half the town gets a new area code. In other episodes, Krusty the Clown discovers he has a daughter; Lisa develops a crush on an older boy who is an environmental activist; Homer becomes an Internet blogger in a satire on the 1960s series “The Prisoner”; Homer undergoes medical treatment to get smarter (the episode won an Emmy); and Lisa learns that a scent given off by nerds is why she is a bully. As usual, the set is loaded with commentaries and other extras. Grade: season 3.75 stars

Hannah Montana The Movie (Disney, Blu-ray or DVD, G, 102 min.). I never could understand how anybody could not tell the difference between ordinary schoolgirl Miley Stewart and pop star Hannah Montana (both played by Miley Cyrus) just because she wears a wig. Here, her dad (real life dad Billy Ray Cyrus) hijacks her plane to a New York music awards show so she can attend her grandmother’s birthday celebration back home in Tennessee. There, she falls for an old school friend (Lucas Trill as Travis Brody, cute enough to offset some of the film’s silliness), while trying to help the town prevent the construction of a mall. There is lots of going back-and-forth in character (helped out by Emily Osment as friend Lilly), a possible girlfriend for dad in ranch foreman Lorelei (Melora Hardin) and a British scandal sheet reporter (Peter Gunn as Oswald Granger), trying to dig up some dirt on Hannah. There are plenty of songs worked into the film. Extras include a handful of deleted scenes; seven music videos; bloopers; and dance lessons for the “Hoedown Throwdown.” Grade: film 2 stars; extras 2.25 stars

The Last House on the Left (Universal Blu-ray or DVD, NR/R, 110/114 min.). Competently made by director Dennis Iliadis, and produced by Wes Craven, who wrote and directed the 1972 film of which this is a re-imagining, the film actually is based on the same 13th century folk ballad as inspired Ingmar Bergman’s 1960 film, “The Virgin Spring.” Obviously, the quality is quite different.

The basics of the plot is rough characters encounter sweet young girl, rape her and then unwittingly seek refuge in her parents’ home. When the parents realize this, they do the revenge thing. Leading the rough characters is Garret Delahunt (TV’s “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”) as Krug. He is accompanied by his girlfriend and brother, as well as his son (Spencer Treat Clark as Justin). It is Justin who meets the daughter (Sara Paxton as Mari Collingwood) and her friend (Martha MacIsaac) at the small town by the lake’s grocery store. An ill-fated meeting has them all going off on a ride that results in an extreme car crash, a rape and some sadistic stabbing. With the crash, the nearest house is the vacation home of Mari’s parents (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter). The audience knows where the film is headed and the basic question comes down to how much violent beating of people back and forth do you want to watch.

DVD extras include four deleted scenes (8:58) and a brief (2:41) look at the film. Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras dog

Surveillance (Magnet DVD, R, 97 min.). Another film with some extreme violence and a bit of the quirkiness that her father, director David Lynch (here producing), brought to his films, this film by co-writer/director Jennifer Lynch features a brave performance by Bill Pullman. In a variation of Akira Kurasawa’s “Rashamon,” three witnesses to some horrific actions on a isolated highway are interviewed by FBI agents Sam Hallaway (Pullman) and Elizabeth Anderson (Julia Ormond). They are a young girl (Ryan Simpkins as Stephanie), who has lost her parents and brother; a junkie young woman (Pell James as Bobbi Prescott), who has lost her boyfriend; and a poor-excuse-for-a-cop (co-writer Kent Harper as Jack Bennet).

At the same time there is a killer or killers loose on the highway, Bennet and his partner Jim Conrad (a slightly hammy French Stewart) are shooting out the tires of passing vehicles and then harassing their occupants. It is a twisted and sickening game in of its own.

DVD extras include audio commentary by Jennifer Lynch (her first feature was “Boxing Helena”) and actors Mac Miller and Charlie Newmark; a 15:11 making-of that shows Lynch in action’ and two deleted scenes and a radically different alternate ending with optional Lynch commentary. Grade: film and extras 2.5 stars

Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection (Japan, 1959-61, Sony, 3 DVDs, NR, 259/277 min.). Each of the three films comes with both its English version and its slightly longer Japanese version. Toho, creator of the original “Godzilla,” was the most famous of all the Japanese movie studios. It first became known in the West for the films of Akira Kurosawa and then hit box office gold in 1954 with “Gojira” (known as “Godzilla” in this country). It was directed by Ishiro Honda, as were these three films.

“Battle in Outer Space” is charmingly quaint as aliens have begun attacking Earth, using cold rays to remove heat, and thus gravity, causing numerous disasters across the globe. The international community sends to space rockets to the moon to investigation the aliens base there. Meanwhile, the aliens use mind control to try and sabotage mankind’s defensive efforts. There are lots of ray battles (both hand-held guns and spaceship-mounted ones (this is the type of film, like “The Mysterians,” which thrilled me as a youth during Saturday matinees at the Coolidge Corner Cinema), miniatures pretending to be larger-scale rockets and moon terrain vehicles, and buildings that get blown up that look just like the cardboard they actually were. There is a sense of fun here -- the audience is in on the tricks -- and some forward thinking, as a woman is included among the astronauts.

The set also includes the monster movie “Mothra,” in which members of a Japanese expedition to a heavily-radiated island find two tiny, beautiful girls and take them home for observation. Back on the island, a mysterious egg hatches and produces a gigantic moth that destroys everything in its path as it searches for the girls. The third, and earliest film, is “H-Man.” Here, the Tokyo sewer system is an oozing mess after a radioactive liquid turns people into slimy blobs that float down the drains after a rainstorm. These blobs then reproduce.

The films all look good for their age and are quite colorful in spots. “Battle in Outer Space” and “Mothra” both come with audio commentaries by film scholars who specialize in Japanese films. The only negative is the films come on three discs that are stacked atop of each other. Grade: collection 3 stars

Gossip Girl: The Complete Second Season (Warner, 7 DVDs, NR1,063 min.). Developed for television by Josh Schwartz (“Chuck,” “The O.C.”) and Stephanie Savage (“The O.C.”), this show was a hit, especially among women ages 18 to 34. The set includes all 25 episodes.

This is the senior high school year for the Upper East Side New Yorkers, so applying for college is part of the story arcs. There are, of course, romances old and new that bloom and fade, scandals and shifting alliances. Episodes deal with being invited, or not, to the annual White Party in the Hamptons; Lord Marcus and Blair (Leighton Meester); on-and-off-again couple Serena (Blake Lively) and Dan (Penn Badgley) stuck in an elevator; Fashion Week; a visit to Yale; Vanessa (Jessica Szohr) trying to blackmail Blair; Blair attempting to seduce Chuck (Ed Westwick); Thanksgiving with the Archibalds; and tragedy striking the Bass family. The show was more effective in season one.

The set has more than four hours of extras, including Jenny’s fashion music video from episode nine; deleted scenes from 13 of the episodes; a tour of the characters’ favorite haunts; the “Chasing Dorota” Webisodes; a gag reel; a look ate the people responsible for the show’s art and fashion; and a downloadable audio book of the novel “Gossip Girl: You Know You Love Me,” written by Cecily von Ziegesar and read by Christina Ricci. There also is a printed excerpt of the new novel, “Gossip Girl: I Will Always Love You,” set to be published Nov. 3. Grade: season 3 stars; extras 3.25 stars

Sergeant Preston of the Yukon: Complete Season 2 (1956-57, Infinity, 4 DVDs, 10 hours). As a follow-up to the previously reviewed season one, now comes season two of the 1950s Thursday night TV favorite that starred Richard “Dick” Simmons as Sgt. Preston, who first joined the Canadian Mounted Police to find his father’s killer. He is accompanied by his lead sled dog Yukon King and horse Rex and the action takes place in the northern Alaskan wilderness during the gold rush of the 1890s. Often assisting him is a French-Canadian guide named Pierre. The plots may be simple, but Simmons, a dashing figure in his red uniform and broad-brimmed hat, was an iconic figure. Grade: season 3 stars

Early Edition: The Second Season (1997-98, CBS/Paramount, 5 DVDs, NR, 16 hours 42 min.). The series, a personal favorite, stars Kyle Chandler (“Friday Night Lights”) as Gary Hobson, who just happens to get the newspaper a day early (does the mysterious cat bring it?) and then sets out to prevent some of the bad things it contains. The show is set in Chicago and Hobson is increasingly helped by his friends Chuck (Fisher Stevens) and Marissa (Shanesia Davis), the latter of whom is blind. The season starts with Hobson’s hotel room destroyed by fire, forcing him to find a new home; meanwhile, Alex Rocco plays a greedy developer intent of tearing down an orphanage and McGinty’s, Hobson‘s favorite watering hole. In other episodes Lou Gossett Jr. plays a Vietnam veteran who considers suicide; Hobson’s high school sweetheart and her father are going to be assassinated at her wedding; Nia Peeples plays a streetwise nun; one time the early edition is printed in Russian; Kevin Dobson plays a white supremacist whom Hobson tries to keep alive so a law-abiding citizen does not face the consequences of murder; Hobson has t o disrupt a football game in order to save a pro’s life; and while searching for a little girl, Hobson becomes a suspect in her abduction. Grade: season 3.5 stars

Tracey Takes On … The Complete and Final Seasons of the Emmy Award-Winning Show (Eagle Media, 3 DVDs, 381 min.). This is the final two seasons, seasons three and four, of the hilarious HBO series that starred Ullman as a variety of characters. Each episode focuses on a particular subject, including sports, Hollywood, road rage, erotica, obsession, hype, dating and marriage. Guest stars include Hugh Laurie, Bob Costas, Cheech Marin, Michael McKean, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Corbin Bernsen, among others. Bonus features include 72 minutes of unreleased footage: character episodes on Virginia, Ruby and Rayleen. Grade: collection 3.75 stars

Comic Legends (MPI, 4 DVDs, 240 min.). This four disc set, each of which previously were available individually, collects television appearances by five comedy giants, generally before their famous TV series. There are single discs on Dick Van Dyke, Phyllis Diller and Tim Conway, and a shared disc with Redd Foxx and Groucho Marx. Van Dyke’s comedy material is from variety and panel shows and includes the routines “Babysitting Father,” “The Tennis Champ” and “Mailing a Letter on a Windy Corner.” He also sings with Pat Boone and Shirley Jones. Diller does her sharp standup comedy on several variety shows, including some repartee with Dean Martin and Don Rickles. Conway’s standup routines are rarer, going back to the 1960s and featuring appearances by Bing Crosby, Phil Harris and Steve Lawrence. Foxx is captured before a live studio audience just before “Sanford and Son” debuted. Groucho interviews audience members and answers questions about classic Marx Brothers films. Grade: collection 3.25 stars
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