"CASTLE: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON"
DVD Review
by Kevin Carr


    MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Nathan Fillion as RICHARD CASTLE
    Stana Katic as KATE BECKETT
    Seamus Dever as KEVIN RYAN
    Ruben Santiago-Hudson as ROY MONTGOMERY
    Molly C. Quinn as ALEXIS CASTLE
    Jon Huertas as JAVIER ESPOSITO
    Susan Sullivan as MARTHA RODGERS

    Rated TV-PG
    Studio: ABC Studios

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Ever since he starred in the series “Firefly,” Nathan Fillion has been a favorite of genre fans the world over. Unfortunately for Fillion, outside of the sci-fi conventions, he’s never had a really big hit. That is about to change with his role on “Castle.” And although I don’t consider myself a “Firefly” fan in the least, I’m glad to see he’s getting some big-time recognition after secondary stints on everything from “Waitress” to “Desperate Housewives.”

Fillion stars as Rick Castle, a wildly popular mystery writer who has struck a deal with the NYPD to shadow Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) for a limited amount of time as research for his next book. Of course, there’s an instant sexual tension, but the relationship works out well because Castle brings his unique insight as a novelist to help solve the crimes.

As a short mid-season replacement, “Castle” was a fresh look at the detective genre. Sure, it had certain similarities with other shows (like the teenage daughter of a single parent subplot we’ve seen in “Eureka” and “Lie to Me,” the mother trying to keep her youth we’ve seen in “Two and a Half Men” and the brilliant consultant to the police we’ve seen in “The Mentalist”), but the power behind Fillion and Katic’s chemistry is what makes the show work.

The series falls into formula pretty quickly in the first season, but that’s been toned down a bit in season two, which premiered before this DVD set streeted in September. Overall, “Castle” is as lighthearted as you can make a show about murder, and Fillion leads the show very well. He has a cool nature that makes him a popular guy yet he is protective of his daughter, making him an honorable man.

The detective stories are less predictable than “The Mentalist,” but equally as enjoyable. Still, it is the tension between Castle and Beckett that provides the fuel for the series.

The first season DVD includes bloopers, audio commentaries on selected episodes and three featurettes. “Whodunit: The Genesis of Castle” shows how the creators developed the series. “Castle’s Godfather” introduced the audience to legendary writer/producer Stephen J. Cannell. But the best featurette by far is “Write-Along with Nathan Fillion,” in which Fillion takes a whimsical journey shadowing Cannell, showing his very healthy comedic side.



"LIFE ON MARS: THE COMPLETE SERIES"
DVD Review
by Kevin Carr


    MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Jason O’Mara as SAM TYLER
    Michael Imperioli as RAY CARLING
    Gretchen Mol as ANNIE NORRIS
    Jonathan Murphy as CHRIS SKELTON
    Harvey Keitel as GENE HUNT

    Rated TV-14
    Studio: ABC Studios

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Based on the popular BBC series, “Life on Mars” comes to the U.S. in a slightly stumbling way. The show tells the story of Sam Tyler (Jason O’Mara), a detective in modern-day New York City. After being hit by a car, he finds himself mysteriously transported back to 1973 where he must learn to adjust to being a detective in the era.

Sure, it’s a great set-up, but that made the series wrought with problems, not the least of which was the ending. No worries... I’m not spoiling anything, but I will say that it is one of the worst choices of an ending I’ve seen in a long time. Not that I haven’t seen it before... and that’s the point. It’s an ending that has been done – and often very poorly – many times over the years.

The concept of the weird time-travel experience that Sam Tyler has lends itself to some interesting stories. But here’s where the series doesn’t always work properly. There are times when the focus is on Tyler trying to get home. There are other moments that focus on him interacting with himself and loved ones in his past, possibly changing the future.

“Life on Mars” doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. It’s not really a cop show because the crimes to solve are often secondary and rather lame. It’s not a retro show because the series keeps reminding itself that Sam Tyler is from the future. And it’s not a science fiction time travel show because it just isn’t written well enough for that.

There are some solid performance, mainly from O’Mara and Gretchen Mol, who plays the too-often dumped-upon police woman in the precinct. Harvey Keitel is fun in the series, but he overdoes it, just not as much as Michael Imperioli as one of the detectives. Like “That 70s Show,” “Life on Mars” doesn’t really exist in the 70s but rather as a memory of the 70s. It’s just not done as effectively.

The DVD comes with a wicked-cool animated menu that leads you to deleted scenes and audio commentaries as well as some set bloopers. Featurettes include “To Mars and Back” which looks at the creation of a setting 25 years in the past, “Sunrise to Sunset with Jason O’Mara” which shows the daily life of the star on the set and “Flashback: Lee Majors Goes to Mars” which features an interview with Majors by O’Mara about the set of a cop show in 1973 (when Majors hit it big with “The Six Million Dollar Man”).



"ADVENTURELAND"
DVD Review
by Kevin Carr


    MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Jesse Eisenberg as JAMES BRENNAN
    Kristen Stewart as EM LEWIN
    Ryan Reynolds as MIKE CONNELL
    Bill Hader as BOBBY
    Martin Starr as JOEL
    Kristen Wiig as PAULETTE

    Rated R
    Studio: Miramax
    Directed by: Greg Mottola

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To me, “Adventureland” was very similar to this summer’s indie hit “(500) Days of Summer,” which a lot of people in my circles seemed to like but never clicked with me. As a follow-up to Greg Mottola’s “Superbad,” the film fails to deliver, opting for angst and depression to raunch and laugh-out-loud comedy.

“Adventureland” follows James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) through his summer after graduating college. Because his father gets demoted at work, James must get a crappy summer job at a low-rent amusement park called Adventureland. However, while suffering through his terrible job, he falls in love and learns a lot about life by dealing with his co-workers.

There are some very funny moments in the movie, although the cast is what brings the movie down. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are too busy acting in their stock character mode to give us anything more from their acting talents. The characters are pointlessly depressing, wallowing in their own negative emotions laced with pot-smoke and messy post-teenage sex.

Of course, if you’re someone who has worked in said crappy summer job, especially recently, you might get a kick out of the film. I just got irritated with watching people mope around and refuse to rise out of lame situations.

The “Adventureland” Blu-ray offers more than the DVD release does. Both the DVD and Blu-ray give you deleted scenes, a commentary track with Mottola and Eisenberg as well as a music selection and the “Just My Life” making-of featurette.

Exclusive to the Blu-ray are the better features, including “Lisa P’s Guide to Style” and “Frigo’s Taps,” which documents the character’s strategy to hit unsuspecting people in the balls. Finally, the best features are in the “Welcome to Adventureland” segment which includes lame videotape-era training spots for the new Adventureland employee (after all, it is Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig who are the funniest folks in the movie; why not give their characters a spotlight on the Blu-ray?).



"CHERI"
DVD Review
by Kevin Carr


    MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Michelle Pfeiffer as LEA DE LONVAL
    Kathy Bates as MADAME PELOUX
    Rupet Friend as CHERI

    Rated R
    Studio: Miramax
    Directed by: Stephen Frears

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Stephen Frears, who gave us “The Queen,” comes back for a costume piece with “Cheri.” the film tells the story of the provocative courtesan Lea (Michelle Pfeiffer) who falls in love with a young spoiled man named Cheri (Rupert Friend). Coming from completely different lifestyles but living a bit outside of the accepted mainstream, the two lovers must learn to resolve their feelings and relationship.

I’m not a huge fan of costume dramas, though Miramax has a tendency to release a lot of them (especially since the Weinsteins took their genre releases away). This film reminds me a lot of last year’s Miramax flick “Brideshead Revisited,” which I enjoyed to a degree but never loved.

The key to this movie is Michelle Pfeiffer, who gives a fine performance and manages to be both alluring in a mature woman’s way and also be a little too motherly at times. As the title character of Cheri, Friend holds his own, but he did seem a bit whiney for my tastes.

Also giving a solid performance is Kathy Bates as Lea’s rival. Still, for a movie that is so steeped in sex and carries an R rating, there’s a pretty scant amount of titillating sex. Sigh... such is the case with costume dramas.

The DVD includes deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.



    

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