Film

The Best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2013

As home video spins off into various immediate options -- streaming, simultaneous theatrical and digital release -- there are still many gems to uncover in the increasingly obsolete format.

As home video spins off into various immediate options -- streaming, simultaneous theatrical and digital release -- there are still many gems to uncover in the increasingly obsolete format.

 
DVD: American Masters Philip Roth: Unmasked

TV Show: American Masters

Cast: Philip Roth, Nicole Krauss, Nathan Englander, Jonathan Franzen, Mia Farrow

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American Masters Philip Roth: Unmasked
PBS

American Masters Philip Roth: Unmasked is a thorough celebration of the greatest living American writer. For many artists, the only fate worse than death is the biography and Roth, who recently turned 80, is known for his reclusive nature and reluctance to grant interviews, making this entry in the American Masters series all the more remarkable. Filmmakers Livia Manera and William Karel were granted ten days with the master, interviewing and filming him both at his Connecticut home and his New York City apartment. The result of their labor is a 90-minute film that doesn't answer all our questions -- nor do we really want it to -- but is beautifully filmed and beautifully written. The real show, of course, is the man himself and Unmasked will long be held in high esteem for what it reveals and how it celebrates its great subject. Jedd Beaudoin

 
DVD: The Punk Syndrome

Film: The Punk Syndrome

Director: Jani-Petteri Passi, Jukka Kärkkäinen

Cast: Pertti Kurikka, Kari Aalto, Sami Helle, Toni Välitalo, Kalle Pajamaa

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The Punk Syndrome
November Films

As the subject of the sensational documentary The Punk Syndrome (I prefer the Finnish title -- Kovasikajuttu -- it sounds so much more mysterious to my Western ears), a quartet of learning disabled individuals have its issues... legitimate issues. They are considered handicapped, though we in the Ever-Present Need to Categorize and Label Everyone States of America would instantly recognize and call out such issues as Autism, Aspergers, and Downs. They have been making music since 2009, and use the medium as an unique window into their world as well as a way to complain about the preconceptions over who they are and the battles they must fight every single day. One of the better moments comes when the band members muse on how they are not allowed coffee (apparently, this is a big thing in Scandinavia) because of their condition. Formally, guitarist Pertti Kurikka writes most of the music and some of the lyrics. He shares the latter chore with vocalist Kari Aalto. Add in bassist Sami Helle and drummer Toni Välitalo and you've got the Nordic version of Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy/Marky. They've released a few singles, an EP, and an album, and when they can, they tour and play live. Bill Gibron

 
DVD: Phantasm II (Blu-ray)

Film: Phantasm II

Director: Don Coscarelli

Cast: James LeGros, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm, Paula Irvine, Samantha Phillips

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Phantasm II
Shout! Factory

In spite of the Roman numeral, Phantasm II is one of the best movies that emerged during that glorious age of cinematic gore, the ‘80s. Phantasm II‘s ‘healthy doses’ of creepy monsters, gruesome killings, nightmarish images, spooky locations, and flaying silver balls make it an undisputed classic of the horror genre. Phantasm II is a direct sequel to Phantasm, the cult classic from 1979. That is, Phantasm II starts right where Phantasm left off. Not that this matters much, as these flicks are characterized by their uttermost dreamlike quality were logic completely breaks down into tiny pieces. Indeed, it’s nearly impossible to tell what is real, what is a dream, and what is in the imagination of the characters that populate these bizarre films. Marco Lanzagorta

 
DVD: Scandal: The Complete Second Season

TV Show: Scandal

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Scandal: The Complete Second Season
Buena Vista

In its ridiculously entertaining second season, Scandal comes into its own as one of television’s great thrill rides. The stellar second season of ABC’s Scandal unfolds – and refolds in on itself, and twists and turns and retwists itself into ever greater, thornier knots; and zigs and zags, and jerks and jukes; and wends and weaves wildly through all its narrative and emotional traffic. Then, after almost plowing into a brick wall going 150 mph -- it stops on a dime. Then it immediately shoots off into an unseen tangent aimed straight at another brick wall, then smashes through that brick wall! Then, it builds up again only to plow right back through the brick wall in reverse. Shake and stir, rinse and lather, and repeat repeat repeat (all this sometimes in one episode). If it isn’t quite reaching for the artistic and cinematic brass ring of the great prestige dramas over on cable, it’s because it simply doesn’t care and doesn’t have time. Scandal is going for something maybe even greater, a totality and completeness, a singularity of TV qua TV, that is almost nonexistent in today’s fragmented television landscape—and we would be fools to think it won’t achieve this. Jake Meaney

 
DVD: Halloween: 35th Anniversary Collector's Edition

Film: Halloween

Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis

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Halloween: 35th Anniversary Collector's Edition
Anchor Bay

The unstoppable and vaguely supernatural killer. The knife and the teenage babysitter in danger. The “final girl” who fights the monster to the death… but then we learn the monster isn’t actually dead. All these elements are familiar to movie audiences and have been for almost 40 years. But they wouldn’t be if not for John Carpenter’s Halloween, the independent film that started the golden age of the slasher. The 35th anniversary edition Blu-ray of Halloween gives us a gorgeous transfer of the terrifying experience. If you have only seen DVD prints or the earlier Blu-ray version, you’ll be delighted with this newest transfer. The film’s original cinematographer, Dean Cundey, oversaw this new HD release with new TrueHD 7.1 audio. It looks and sounds fantastic. The most notable new special feature is an all-new commentary track with Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis. Although Carpenter goes over some of the same ground you’ve heard before (especially about the origins of the idea of Michael Myers as the Shape), the interaction between the director and his star has the charm of old friends talking. W. Scott Poole

 
DVD: Rocko's Modern Life: The Complete Series

TV: Rocko's Modern Life

Director: Various

Cast: Tom Kenny, Mr. Lawrence, Charlie Adler, Linda Wallem

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Rocko's Modern Life: The Complete Series
Shout! Factory

It took 17 years, but the best cartoon ever to air on Nickelodeon has finally arrived on DVD. Oh, I know, I know. You can have your Rugrats and your Dougs. For me, Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt will always be the best part of childhood television. From the catchy opening jingle to the protagonist’s triangle-laden polo, Rocko’s Modern Life was a remarkably funny, decade-defining cartoon, and it’s finally, FINALLY available in all its glory. The complete series set features all four seasons, made up of 52 episodes and quite a few fun extras. Series creator Joe Murray provides a commentary track and an instructional video on how to draw all your favorite characters. Also included is the live version of Rocko’s Modern Life performed in 2012 with the main cast and creator. It’s not as deep as some of us old fans would prefer, but the episodes themselves are reward enough after all these years. Ben Travers

 
DVD: Superjail: Season 3

TV: Superjail

Director: Various

Cast: Various

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Superjail: Season 3
Williams Street

Superjail couldn't be more insular in its self-contained craziness. It plays by its own unique rules which it constantly makes up on the fly only to discard them minutes later for more regulations that will end up meaning very little narratively or rationally. One second, an entire wing of the jail can be wiped out by gargoyles with the heads of Santa Claus. The next, The Warden is walking amongst the very same faces, handing out funny hats and dinosaur donuts. In almost each episode, there is an overriding theme, but these are merely holdovers for the often stunning setpieces featuring death, slaughter, and gallons of red inked arterial spray. Bill Gibron

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