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Pompeii [Blu-ray]
Pompeii [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Kit Harington
Price: $12.96
50 used & new from $2.98

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bringing down the house ... and everything else!, June 14, 2014
This review is from: Pompeii [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
IT’S A little bit historical romance, a little bit gladiator adventure, and a whole lot of disaster film – but what could we expect from a movie about the destruction of Pompeii?

This slice of history is as fascinating as the sinking of the Titanic and well-suited to the 3-D format. In 79 AD, the seaside town of Pompeii and its citizens, just outside of Naples, were destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. In the multi-part making-of extra included on the Blu-ray, we learn the city was also hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami. And director Paul W.S. Anderson, best known for his “Resident Evil” movies, shows it all in the space of 105 minutes – just a tad over 90.
It’s everything an action-fan could hope for, especially in 3-D.

We could swear we were watching a Roland Emmerich film. The king of disaster movies, Emmerich is known for “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow.” Opening scenes, where our hero’s family is killed in the Roman slaughter of a village in Britannia, might lack the 3-D pop test, but the rest of the film is packed with engaging visual depth that continues throughout. As expected, the volcanic explosion brings hundreds of rocks, flames and ash into the home theater. And the “Gladiator”-type fight sequences are worth the 3-D price.

Yep. “Gladiator.” Even Anderson and his posse admit they lifted a big chunk of inspiration from Ridley Scott’s film. Kit Harington, Jon Snow of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” plays Milo, the lone survivor of the Britannia massacre. Milo is only a child when he becomes enslaved, but grows up to become an unbeatable gladiator known as The Celt. Driven by vengeance, his skill leads him to the arena in Pompeii, described as the Las Vegas of Ancient Rome. It’s where rich Romans had their seaside villas, Anderson tells us. Pleasurable activities – like watching men kill each other for sport – were the mainstay of the resort town.

Milo arrives in town, bound for the arena, as Vesuvius begins its death dance. Warning signs are everywhere – earthquakes, killer geysers, sudden sinkholes. Among the deleted scenes, we find a priestess pronouncing bad omens. No one heeds her warnings – and her prophesies certainly aren't needed for the audience. We know the score.

Milo meets a young woman, the beautiful Cassia (Emily Browning), on the road and its fate/love at first sight. A citizen of Pompeii, Cassia is fleeing back home to escape the attentions of Roman Senator General Corvus, who was responsible for killing Milo’s people. He is played with panache by Kiefer Sutherland, who talks about how much he enjoyed played a bad guy for a change. No one – not even Browning – has better costumes than Sutherland, who wears those cloaks and medallions as if he were born to the purple. We also get to see Sutherland display some remarkable horsemanship, delivering dialogue on horseback. The scene was originally written with his character dismounting. However, Sutherland advised he could remain mounted and hit his marks – and he does.

Speaking of costumes, they look spectacular in HD detail, as do the amazing sets, which also look great in 2-D. Anderson has long been fascinated by Pompeii, its tragedy and its rich culture. History enthusiasts should appreciate the effort put into making the spectacular look … spectacular! Sound is also excellent, completely immersive with terrific surround-sound range.

The commentary with Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt held my interest throughout; details include production as well as historical info. Making-of extras also feature interviews with the leads, costuming with designer Wendy Partridge, and the actors’ gladiatorial training.

No – characterization isn't deep and there’s nary a trace of levity throughout, but I enjoyed this escape into history. Chances are, with a big bowl of popcorn, you will, too. — Kay Reynolds and Bill Kelley III


Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron [Blu-ray]
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
Price: $13.49
16 used & new from $6.85

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Spirit rides onto Blu-ray, June 14, 2014
DREAMWORKS ANIMATION was just hitting its stride when it released “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” in 2002, right after “Chicken Run,” (2000) and “Shrek” (2001). While it doesn't have the comic pizzazz of the latter two, it provides an introduction to the Old American West with a good story and lots of heart.

Producer Mireille Soria says in the commentary that the idea for the movie came from produce Jeffrey Katzenberg (“The Prince of Egypt,” 1998, “”The Road to El Dorado,” 2000, “Shrek”) who wanted to do a story about horses, something that had never been done before. Older viewers, who know something about these animals, will see representation is somewhat of a fantasy. Life on the plains is perfect with no fights for dominance, except when it comes to cavalry commanders. DreamWorks left the gritty bits for nature films.

The animated adventure starts with Spirit’s birth and follows him as goes from brave, rascally colt to leader of his mustang herd. His high-spirited curiosity brings him in contact with the U.S. Cavalry, who capture him after a long chase. Attempts to break the wild stallion are pretty brutal for this otherwise gentle film, although the horse generally gets the best of his captors. When Spirit escapes with another captive, Little Creek, voiced by Daniel Studi, we get a glimpse of Native American culture and their relationship with horses. Still, it’s only a moment in a saga that takes us from the plains to a U.S. fort, to a Native American camp, and the building of the cross country railroad and its Iron Horse (with another harsh sequence like those found in "War Horse." White men are no one's friend in this movie.)

Restoration on Blu-ray and the 1080p transfer looks very good, with vivid colors and sharp detail. There is no film grain, indicative of its digital origins. But pay special attention to the cinematic opening sequences, where an eagle soars over the plains. There’s a beautifully realized cloud formation of a galloping herd.

Sound is also impressive. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track brings immersive effects and clear dialogue. Director Kelly Asbury tells us in the commentary how they also made the movie without talking animals as had been done in past films, most famously “Bambi,” (1942). Matt Damon narrates the story as Spirit, in a deliberately neutral voice despite all the conflict. Emotional dynamics come out through Bryan Adams’ rock music, which falls especially odd against the instrumental score by Hans Zimmer. It didn't work for me when I first saw it in theater and doesn't now either.

The original DVD is included in this package and most of the extras – all carried over from an earlier release – are duplicated, including the commentary with producer Mireille Soria, and directors Asbury and Lorna Cook, where there’s a lot of chat about the technology of combining hand-drawn animation with CG, a fresh idea at the time. Other featurettes are “Learn to Draw Spirit with James Baxter,” “Animating Spirit, “The Songs of ‘Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron,’” and storyboards, with optional commentary.
A Blu-ray exclusive has an interesting feature, “International Star Talent,” about the voices brought in to dub narration and songs for foreign release in 20 different countries including Italy, Germany, Mexico, Hungary, Norway and Poland. The DVD exclusive has a couple of games for the little ones.

In the world of animation that’s continually become sharper and more adult, this remains a good family film – especially for those with younger children. However, I recommend parents watch with those young ones. — Kay Reynolds


Home of the Brave [Blu-ray]
Home of the Brave [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ James Edwards
Offered by Blue Moon Discounts
Price: $18.53
24 used & new from $7.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A courageous film, June 14, 2014
Set in the Pacific Theater, a small group of soldiers are volunteered to map an island held by the Japanese. The movie is based on a hit Broadway play by Arthur Laurents. Originally, the lead character was a young Jewish soldier, who becomes a victim of anti-Semitism. Here, our hero is a young African American played by James Edwards, who delivers a dimensional, believable performance, paving the way for actors such as Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington.

The story deals with bigotry and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Edwards’ character, Private Peter Moss, returns from the mission unable to walk. He isn't wounded – not in the flesh – but harrowing events on the island as well as his life, have taken a toll. We find out what happened in a series of flashbacks as a therapist tries to heal Moss from his psychosomatic paralysis.

“Home of the Brave” is a bold film on two major counts: It deals with racism and with PTSD, a disorder that wasn't even recognized at the time. Viewers today may find the treatment and solutions predictable. Still, this was a courageous film in 1949, made when Hollywood experienced a flash of social consciousness. The performances are all good. It’s now relatively unknown – and Olive Films, a young company dedicated to bringing back classic, independent and foreign films – gets major kudos for its HD release.
It isn't a pristine restoration - there are has dirt and scratch marks - but contrast, and black and gray scales are good. The picture has a nice, overall grain. All that's forgotten, however, as the story plays out. Dialogue and score come through clearly on the DTS HD mono soundtrack.

Would have loved some extras and it’s too bad Olive didn't provide any. Still, what a find! — Kay Reynolds


3 Days to Kill [Blu-ray]
3 Days to Kill [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Kevin Costner
Price: $18.17
38 used & new from $8.21

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Hit Men deliver, June 14, 2014
This review is from: 3 Days to Kill [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
WRITER LUC BESSON brings his magic touch to “3 Days to Kill” about a CIA terrorist specialist who’s suddenly retired when he develops terminal cancer.

We know Besson from the “Transporter” series that made Jason Statham a household name – No.’s 4, 5, and 6 announced – “Taken,” with Liam Neeson, and “La Femme Nikita,” the original movie and both TV series. This time, he shares script credit with Adi Hasak – but make no mistake. This story is Besson’s.

He likes his men macho and his women ultra-strong. His stories are always over the top and carry a smart, tongue-in-cheek humor. “3 Days to Kill” has all these qualities – so I wonder why it wasn't the hit it should have been. (Critics hated it, too – but what do they know? Is there some weird anti-Costner thing going on?)

Gonna tell you now, I love it. Kevin Costner is perfect as American cowboy assassin Ethan Renner. He’s on the trail of a dirty-bomb selling terrorist known as The Wolf (Richard Sammel) and his henchman, The Albino (Tómas Lemarquis). Ethan finds himself back on the case via his dominatrix-type handler, Vivi (Amber Heard), who tempts him with an experimental drug that could cure – at least delay – his pending demise. This is important because our hero hopes to re-bond with his ex-wife and daughter.

What makes this work is the chemistry between Costner and the ladies who make up his family played by Connie Nielsen (“Gladiator”) and Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar-nominated for “True Grit.” Strong women, see? There’s also great chemistry between Costner and those who become his unwilling informants, bringing in some unexpected humor – more like the kind we found in “RED” (“Retired Extremely Dangerous.” Not Besson, still great).

Visuals and sound are Blu-ray terrific. A busload of extras provides interviews with the cast, Besson and director McG, known for his TV prowess with “Nikita,” “Chuck” and “Supernatural.” We learn about the stunts and action sequences – all on a par with “Taken.” But the winner is the feature with ex-CIA agent, Bob Baer, who tells us about the problems of keeping a family together and working in the agency. He also hits on improbable cover stories, how not-to-make friends while on assignment, and the drive to pursue the bad guy. Life in the CIA – “It’s like out of the movies,” he says, laughing.

He also says agents learn not to trust anyone – even their own people. But you can trust me. This is an excellent action flick with memorable characters and great stunts. It belongs in the Besson archive. — Kay Reynolds


Grand Piano [Blu-ray]
Grand Piano [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Elijah Wood
Price: $15.49
30 used & new from $8.44

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sour notes, June 14, 2014
This review is from: Grand Piano [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
WHERE’S HENRY MANCINI when you need him? This thriller about a piano-playing genius needs a better score. And a better script and director.

It’s no fun to slam a movie with actors – Elijah Wood and John Cusack – I enjoy. Or a director, composer and crew who, in the extras, appear so talented and likable. But this tribute to Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma fails on so many levels it’s hard to find anything positive about it.

OK. The HD picture looks good, with rich, saturated colors. Set in the world of high-end theater, the camera conveys a sense of opulence and detail from behind-stage dressing rooms and catwalks, to on-stage grandeur. Sound is also first-rate – as it should be where the story is also carried by its score. Dialogue is clear and music and effects immersive as we follow the action around the theater.

But the original score by Victor Reyes is one of the film’s failings. Mancini, who scored many Hitchcock films, was a master at drawing viewers into the story. The primo number in “Grand Piano” is modern classical – a particular taste – full of discords and percussion. The rest is so similar to other “thriller” scores as to be forgettable. At one point, the conductor (Don McManus) talks about Bach. We could've used some Bach – Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Mozart – anything more accessible to get us into the world of classical performance. Also, we could have used some cue to understand that master pianist Tom Selznick, played by Elijah Wood, actually loves his craft and is as good as purported.

But we don’t and that’s the biggest problem with “Grand Piano”; we aren’t allowed to care about the characters. Selznick is returning to the stage after a five year absence. Stage fright drove him off after he froze during a performance of “The Unplayable Piece,” La Cinquette, written by his mentor. Now, at the insistence of his movie star wife, Emma (Kerry Bishé), Selznick is back in Chicago, playing to a sold-out crowd on the same stage he ran from years earlier. He’s also playing on the grand piano, specially designed by his recently deceased tutor.

All we get from Wood is varying levels of fear and anxiety – which are heightened when, as Selznick performs, he is contacted by a sniper (Cusack) who threatens to kill him and his wife if he doesn't play every note perfectly. Naturally, the killer insists Selznick play La Cinquette.

The Blu-ray provides nine extras that explore how “Grand Piano” was conceived and made, as well as the hopes and inspiration of Spanish director Eugenio Mira and Wood. In separate interviews, they cite the influences of thrillers past, especially Hitchcock and De Palma. And much of the movie’s visuals reference theater drama as seen in many Hitchcock films, such as “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” (1956), starring James Stewart and Doris Day, whose singing is heard over “Grand Piano’s” end credits.

Among the bonus extras, “AXS TV: A Look at ‘Grand Piano,’” a near-thee minute PR piece, covers the highlights of making the film. That it’s less painful to watch than the others makes it the best. The making-of gives us 20 minutes of dashed hopes. Additional featurettes – “Interviews”; “Soundtrack” with Mira and Reyes; “Coaches” about how Wood and McManus were taught to look like classical professionals; “Following Eugenio”; “Stunts” and “Visual Effects” – offer added information, much of it in Spanish with English subtitles. — Kay Reynolds


Journey to the West [Blu-ray]
Journey to the West [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Zhang Wen
Price: $16.99
25 used & new from $11.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly fractured fairy tale, June 14, 2014
ONCE UPON a time, a young Buddhist monk – Chen Xuanzhang – traveled the Chinese countryside to rid the people of bloodthirsty demons that plagued their villages. Armed only with a book of “300 Children’s Nursery Rhymes,” Chen wasn’t very good at it, but his heart was pure and his determination boundless. He met other demon hunters along the way; some were phonies and some were genuine, but all were in it for the money – the reward offered by the poor villagers (who could be really nasty once riled up).

Along the way, Chen finds out the demons were once human. But because of terrible, unjust deaths, they were transformed into vengeance-seeking monsters.

The path to enlightenment is full of irony. And in this case, lots of laughs and a few tears.

Director/writer Stephen Chow – “Shaolin Soccer” (2001), “Kung Fu Hustle” (2004) and “CJ7” (2008) – spins the 16th century Chinese literary classic, “Journey to the West,” into a fantastic blend of hilarity and tragedy. He keeps the laughs coming. Ever imagine what it might be like to beat up a life-sized squeaky toy? Chow will demonstrate – although, in a following sequence, you could be swallowing the lump in your throat from a heartbreaking sequence.

How does he do this – balance slapstick with tragedy? Chow’s is a one-of-a-kind, international talent. There’s no predicting what he’ll show us.

The HD picture is exquisite. Visuals blend camera work and CQI into something like a mix of realistic animation. Color is extraordinary, beginning with the turquoise lagoon and golden ochre village of the opening scene. A monster fish – part carp, part tiger, all big-eyes and dragony-teeth – torments the fishermen and their families shades of Spielberg’s “Jaws.” We meet Chen (Zhang Wen, “The Emperor and the White Snake,” 2011) here. The acrobatics come crazy fast as he enlists the help of a very reluctant holy man. But it’s Miss Duan (Qi Shu, “The Transporter,” 2002) who takes the monster out, with her martial arts skills and weapon of choice, the Infinite Flying Rings.

Tomboy-like Miss Duan falls in love with Chen, who protests he’s on a spiritual quest. She becomes more determined, enlisting the help of her sister and, eventually, The Monkey King, the trickster of Chinese legend played with disarming panache by Bo Huang. (Andy Serkis, meet your soul brother!)

Whether the scene is in daylight or night, the picture is clean, detailed and lush with color. Sound is robust, thundering through speakers during fight scenes with a monster fish or a giant boar, pinging and zinging everywhere with Miss Duan’s bracelets. Mandarin – with English subtitles – comes through cleanly along with a delightful musical score. The climatic duel featuring The Monkey King is awesome!

Chow usually acts in his films, but because of the complexity of “Journey to the West,” we see him as the director among the short featurettes – only 12 minutes long in their entirety. Mostly, Chow and his cast and crew try not to crack each other up during filming. But we also get a glimpse of wire-work, green screen sets and stunts in “Stunts and Special Effects,” “Cast & Characters,” “Director Stephen Chow,” “The Laughs,” “Production Design” and “Choreography.”

I won’t spoil anything about this masterpiece. You should discover it all for yourself – and, possibly, some kids. (Sad parts are no more disturbing than those found in “Bambi” or “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.) “Journey to the West” received a 92% rating on Rottentomatoes.com, so that tells you something, too.

If you need a great laugh that will also tug your heartstrings, this is it. — Kay Reynolds


Suits: Season 3
Suits: Season 3
DVD ~ Gabriel Macht
Price: $19.96
15 used & new from $13.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Lookin' good, June 14, 2014
This review is from: Suits: Season 3 (DVD)
THE TAGLINE for “Suits’” Season 3 is “The half-truth and nothing but” – and that pretty much sums up the series that began with a partnership between legal shark Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) and Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams), who has the ability to remember everything he’s ever read or experienced. Mike never graduated from Harvard Law and has never passed the Bar, but he is a legal whiz – and is masquerading as an associate with Specter’s prestigious law firm.

And every season since the first, stories have evolved around who will discover their secret. Every year the circle has grown bigger and bigger – along with the consequences. At the least there’s fraud; at most, all of the firm’s cases could be open to review. Hardly seems worth it – but Harvey’s hubris knows no bounds. Neither does his partner in law, Jessica Pearson, played by the brilliant Gina Torres. “‘Suits’ is about trust. It’s about who do you trust and how far can you trust them – and what is the point at which that trust can be broken,” Adams says in the bonus feature, “Trust and Betrayal: A Look Inside ‘Suits: Season 3’”
This year, Mike pings the radar of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and a mad dog of an agent played by Zeljko Ivanek. Invoking the NSA, he goes after Mike because of a shady deal made by Harvey.

Season 3 is blessed with outstanding guest stars from “Game of Thrones”: Michelle Fairley, who plays Lady Catelyn Stark, and Conleth Hill, who plays eunuch spy Lord Varys in the HBO hit. Hill’s “Suits” character, Darby, is the head of a British law firm that merges with Pearson’s. Fairley is the client in trouble because of her international oil company. Their story arc is the biggest plotline of the season.

“Season 3 took kind of a turn to a darker place and we really enjoyed blaming that on the ‘Game of Thrones’ actors,” says Sarah Rafferty, who plays Donna Paulsen, Harvey’s Sherlock-like assistant.

With the dark storyline, we need fun – and that’s to be had through Rick Hoffman’s pugnacious, detail-obsessed financial attorney, Louis Litt. “The writers just have this fantastic ability to make Louis more and more human as time goes on. As an actor, it’s the best job you could possibly have,” Hoffman tells us.

Litt was the awkward little man of power everyone loved to hate in Season 1. All he wants is a friend – and superstar Harvey Specter is at the top of the list. Litt broke my heart when his beloved cat died in a story that was as funny as it was heart wrenching. He captured it again this season when he sues for permanent guardianship of a cat he’s cared for while the owner was on a business trip. Add a love interest and a possible new partnership with Mike, and I’m watching the show to see what’s next with Litt – who bulls in to rescue the day for his firm more than once.

The DVD is loaded with extras – a rare manifestation for a show’s third season. We pretty much expect the extended/alternate scenes and gag reel, but there are two features of note as well: “Trust and Betrayal: A Look Inside ‘Suits Season 3,’” which provides a deeper look at the characters and the season’s story, and “Shooting Suits,” which goes into the cinematography and sets of this posh-looking show. “Sharp people, sharply dressed” in gorgeous settings are a hallmark; characters are always on the move, too, and intricate, uninterrupted tracking shots rule. “Suits Recruits: Class Action” webisodes are 10 skits featuring the actors in original comic scenes and, yes, they are funny! One, where Harvey reinacts a scene from "Clueless" deserves to go viral - hilarious!

Closing remarks: The presentation of “Suits: Season 3” is well worth the money, whether you’re already a fan or looking for new entertainment. The writing – as well as acting and production – is sharp and smart. It's sexy, but never seems to rely on profanity or bedroom scenes. How rare is that? I hope it continues.

“When I first created Suits, it really was a show about loyalty,” show creator Aaron Korsh of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” explains. With the trouble brewing for Season 4, we might get a chance to find out. — Kay Reynolds


Longmire: Seasons 1 & 2 (Blu-ray)
Longmire: Seasons 1 & 2 (Blu-ray)
DVD ~ Robert Taylor
Price: $39.49
20 used & new from $39.49

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Looking for Western justice?, June 14, 2014
SEEN ANY good cop shows lately? How about a Western? A&E’s “Longmire” combines the best of both genres and, now that the Blu-rays of Seasons 1 and 2 are available in a double-season set, it’s a great way to binge-watch.

The series is based on Craig Johnson’s bestselling novels set in Absaroka County, Wyoming. (Shades of “Shane,” a personal favorite.) Sheriff Walt Longmire, played by Australian Robert Taylor, knows his way around his county and his people, both in town and on the Reservation. Capable of great violence as well as great sensitivity, he’s moved to tears in the pilot when he has to notify a woman that her husband has been killed. He’s also able to hold calling for medical help on a suspect who’s been shot until he gets the information he needs.

It’s Western justice – and Walt Longmire knows who deserves it. Point of fact, he’s not fond of litter either.

Taylor is surrounded by excellent co-stars including Katee Sackhoff (Deputy “Vic” Moretti, a five-year homicide detective relocated to Wyoming), Lou Diamond Phillips (Henry Standing Bear, local bar owner and Longmire’s pal of 30-plus years), Zahn McClarnon (Officer Mathias of the Reservation police and definitely not a friend) and Bailey Chase (Deputy Branch Connally, son of local judge, Barlow Connally, played Gerald McRaney).

Branch is still wet behind the ears, as they say out west, but eager to challenge Longmire in the upcoming election for sheriff. Branch believes Walt’s ways are too old fashioned; he wants the department to use more modern tech, such as updated computers instead of relying on instinct, experience and folklore. But it’s A Martinez as the well-to-do and politically powerful Jacob Nighthorse who is Walt’s greatest enemy, supporting Branch in the election and thwarting the sheriff any way he can.

The election is one of the running stories of the series along with the mystery surrounding the death of Longmire’s wife. We learn she’s been gone for more than a year in the pilot, but, like a ghost, she lingers into the third season. The sheriff is just getting back into action in the first episode, investigating a murder. Abductions, drug smuggling and other crimes are explored throughout the two seasons, the same kind of problems – including cultural bias – we’d find in Chicago, L.A. or New York City.

New Mexico substitutes for Absaroka County and the cinematography is stunning, especially on 1080p Blu-ray. Color, depth, and detail are near-movie quality. But it’s not just the scenery that sets the tone, it’s the weather, too. Adam Barley, who plays “The Ferg,” another Longmire deputy, tells us it’s not unusual to be filming in knee-deep snow one day and in 90-degree heat the next in the “The Camera’s Eye: Realizing the World of Longmire.” If it snows or hails, they keep filming. In one scene, we see Vic using a generator and a hair dryer to thaw snow, looking for evidence at a crime scene. Filmmakers also had to "chase the snow" to maintain continuity when weather changed.

Elements of the setting were discussed in the initial pitch, executive producer Greer Shephard (“The Closer,” “Major Crimes,” “Nip/Tuck”) tells us. “You have this incredibly lush, grand, beautiful landscape that for many people is romantic and very, very peaceful. And yet it is riddled with danger and violence.”

Sound comes to us through a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Dialogue, effects and score come through clearly, although we don’t have the immersive experience of surround-sound.

Bonus features are good and detailed for Season 1 and 2 – although it’s startling to hear that Australian accent come out of “Walt Longmire.” In the “Longmire Justice: Exploring the Cowboy Detective” feature, executive producer/writer Hunt Baldwin (“The Closer”) says they wanted to put something on the air [a Western] that people haven’t seen in a long time.

Season 2 has extended versions of “Sound & Fury,” a “Western noir in the spirit of ‘Blood Simple,’” and “Election Day,” “the most emotional of the episodes,” with intros by Baldwin and Shephard. We also have the “Testing Courage: The Storm Defines the Man” feature about what it means to be a hero in Longmire’s world.

Barley says the appeal of detective shows is that viewers long to put themselves in the role of solving the mystery and bringing criminals to justice. And what better place to do this than in the contemporary West, with an iconic American hero?

Don’t miss it, pardner, this series comes highly recommended. — Kay Reynolds


Falling Skies: Season 3
Falling Skies: Season 3
DVD ~ Noah Wyle
Price: $17.99
28 used & new from $13.21

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Juggling plots & new characters, June 14, 2014
This review is from: Falling Skies: Season 3 (DVD)
LIFE GETS complicated when alien invaders overtake Earth. In the first two seasons of the science fiction series created by Robert Rodat and produced by Steven Spielberg, we see how the Espheni have destroyed our cities, killing adults and making slaves of children, all to steal the planet’s resources. A desperately brave band of humans led by former history professor, Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) and retired U.S. Army Captain Dan Weaver (Will Patton) use guerrilla warfare tactics in a largely futile effort to take back their own.

The Season 2 finale hinted the odds might improve when a new alien species, the Volm, appeared. They don’t like the Espheni either and we already know there are rebels among the Espheni minions, the spider-like Skitters. But – and it’s a big one as usual – can the humans put aside their anti-alien bigotry to let the Volm and Skitters help? Or will they just let themselves be eradicated?

The 10 episodes of “Falling Skies’” Season 3 are the most complicated yet. Tom is elected president of a now-ginormous group of survivors and military in Charleston. Newcomer Gloria Reuben is his advisor/vice-president, Marina Peralta, and Doug Jones, Abe Sapien of the “Hellboy” movies, is warrior poet Cochise, the Volm representative who bonds with Tom. Each of Tom’s three sons have their own subplots going, particularly Hal (Drew Roy), who is the center of a romantic triangle with girlfriend Margaret (Sarah Carter) and evil Espheni henchwoman Karen (Jessy Schram). We have a mole in our group; someone assassinating human leaders and giving battle plans to the enemy. Renegade leader Pope (Colin Cunningham) and his gang are pretty much relegated to his new outlaw digs, The Nest, where drinks are on the house, but “only the cheap stuff.” And Tom’s lady, Anne (Moon Bloodgood), gives birth to their child – who has alien DNA.

Really? All this and an alien baby, too? (What’s next? Ewoks?) My head was spinning throughout Season 3. Re-watching on DVD helped a little, but must say I miss the old days of small band of humans vs. alien predators.

I used the DVD for review and, yes, Virginia, there is a difference in picture and sound compared to the Season 1 and 2 Blu-rays in my collection. Visually, it’s most noted in color, detail and depth, even if Season 3 looks somewhat dull with a cool, blue-gray palette throughout … except for the notably color-rich sequences in “Strange Brew,” a heart-breaker of an episode. Previous Blu-rays gave the series a movie-quality look I don’t find here.

And, for the first time ever, Turner Home Entertainment used a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, hopefully to provide the immersive surround-sound experience lacking in previous releases. But I can’t tell you about that either since the DVD only offers compressed sound around 500K per second. Blu-ray is uncompressed sound with 3 to 5 mgs per second and, so, not the same.

I'm guessing the extras are standard for both Blu-ray and DVD; we have some good ones. The highlight is Wil Wheaton’s “TNT 2nd Watch” series, which offers an analysis of individual episodes plus input from the actors and directors. Most of each feature has Wheaton saying how much he liked the episode and the actor’s work, but there are good bits to enjoy. It’s fan material made for fans – and that’s fun.

Then there’s a series of super-short featurettes falling under the “Behind-the-Scenes” banner: “Pope Town,” “The New Charleston,” “Gloria Reuben,” “Doug Jones,” “Shout out: Two Popes,” with a “hello” to Cunningham’s stunt double, and “Stunt Man Bradley.” Did I say short? Blink twice and they’re done.

Still, “Warrior Poet: Creating the Character and Emotion of Cochise” with Jones, and “Karen: The Overlord Next Door” with Schram offer decent technical and character studies of two fascinating creations. We learn more about how Jones developed the heart – and believability – of the creature he inhabits. That’s a lot of rubber Jones wears along with a face mask. He sees through tiny slits near the mask’s nostrils; peripheral vision is gone although he rides a horse with the best. He also acts in each scene; we hear his voice, deliberately set in a deep register. Effects, such as eye-blinks, are added in post-production.

Schram has spent three seasons playing the villain we love to hate. Initially captured by the Espheni and forced to do their will, Karen eventually joins the dark side in the war against humanity. Fascinating. Kudos go to the producers and writers who give us such strong and engaging female characters. But gotta say – Marge, it’s time to kick Hal to the curb, girl. Sure, he looks good on a motorcycle, but you can do better than that narcissistic jerk.

The new season of “Falling Skies” airs June 22 on TNT – and I’ll be watching. This is still some of the best sci-fi on TV today, alien baby or not. — Kay Reynolds


Klondike Blu-Ray
Klondike Blu-Ray
DVD ~ Richard Madden
Price: $14.49
21 used & new from $9.22

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thar's gold in that that miniseries!, June 14, 2014
This review is from: Klondike Blu-Ray (Blu-ray)
DISCOVERY’S FIRST scripted miniseries for television scores with its story about America’s last gold rush. Joining Discovery’s modern reality shows like “Gold Rush” and “Gold Fever,” it’s based on Charlotte Gray’s “Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike.” Her source material came from memoirs, newspaper articles and letters
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Despite a good looking cast that includes Richard Madden, Abbie Cornish, Augustus Prew and Johnny Simmons as writer Jack London, author of “White Fang” and “The Call of the Wild,” this isn't a pretty chapter of American history. Brutal characters and events are similar to series like “Deadwood” and “Hell on Wheels,” although many characters are easier to like. Madden’s young Bill Haskell heads up north with pal Byron Epstein (Prew). They quickly find themselves in a fight in a Chinese gambling house; trapped on a wild, white water ride, and running from a deadly avalanche. But these college grads are up for it, brushing off danger with a grin and shrug – until they reach the muddy environ of Dawson City, Canada. Now it’s not only the elements the boys have to face, it’s greed, prejudice, disease, starvation and death.

HD fans will enjoy the 1080p transfer; the series looks much better on Blu-ray than what we saw on broadcast, providing richer colors and good detail. There are many night scenes, and black levels, while dense, maintain realistic color and detail. This is Discovery, after all, responsible for a variety of beautiful, award-winning documentaries. Their camera crews are expert. The DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack is also superior, with its immersive soundtrack providing active effects, ambient sound and clear dialogue.

“Klondike” was shot in Alberta, Canada, frequently filming at -20 and -38 degree weather. The cast wades through actual knee-deep snow; that frosty air coming from their lips is not CGI; it’s the real thing.

Executive producer Ridley Scott describes the rigors of filming in the 20-plus minute bonus feature, “Klondike Behind the Scenes” and in “Discovering Klondike,” a shorter version with much the same material. “It is stultifyingly hard,” Scott tells us. “You've got to be dressed properly even to be able to think properly. The conditions at that level are really difficult. Everything is cold; the camera freezes up.”

Producer Clara George says, “Our biggest challenge was just the weather and the locations. We approached it using minimal visual effects … so what you’re seeing is real. We did climb the mountains, we did cross the rivers, we did live in mud.”

A third extra, “Cast Interviews,” is exactly what it claims. Actors, who also include Tim Roth, Sam Shepard and Tim Blake Nelson, provide an analysis of the character they portrayed. Madden, who played Robb Stark in “Game of Thrones,” says “Klondike” was “the most physically demanding job I've ever had.”

That’s quite an endorsement from The King of the North. — Kay Reynolds


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