Crackerjack popcorn entertainment done overwhelmingly right, “Iron Man 3″ is a robust example of what Hollywood can do right when it puts its mind to it — bringing tremendous resources to bear upon a larger-than-life story, entrusting it to smart, capable people, and turning them loose with fully invested confidence. A fun ride brimming with nice character details that fit together in comfortable and occasionally savvy ways, writer-director Shane Black takes over the franchise reins with a breezy aplomb, delivering a movie packed with both thrills and amusement.
Working from a screenplay co-written with Drew Pearce, Black deftly walks the line between being true to his established leading man (Robert Downey, Jr., still owning every frame) and telling a story more rooted in a post-”Avengers” world. References abound to the “events in New York” from that smash summer movie, but Stark also wears a sheen of post-traumatic stress disorder that seems properly to scale, and sized to his own ego and peccadilloes. Even in a deeply divided present day, Stark can be seen as a metaphor for reformed and re-energized American patriotism, shaken free from doubts and missteps of the early millennium, and pointed upward and onward with vigor and clarity of purpose. The “Iron Man” films have each picked up on this theme to varying degrees (“Failure is the fog through which we glimpse triumph,” this movie even asserts at one point), and “Iron Man 3″ is shot through with this type of focus.
The biggest, most pleasant surprise of the movie, however, may be just how well the action filmmaking works, from a purely entertaining standpoint. Black — in a huge step up, budget-wise, from his only other directing credit, 2005′s slick “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” — imparts a nice sense of spatial recognition throughout, and all of the set pieces seem to fit smartly within the story, instead of as adjunct showcases for CGI gimmickry. Downey, meanwhile, holds things together, rescuing the “Iron Man” franchise from a sludgy second offering.
“Iron Man 3″ arrives on Blu-ray presented in a 1080p AVC-encoded 2.35:1 widescreen treatment, with a seven-channel master audio track whose deft layering is most readily showcased in aggressive battle sequences where crunching metal and other atmospherics combine in an immersive swirl. I had a bit of loading/buffering problem upon disc insertion, and the main menu seemed to take forever to boot, but no edge enhancement, artifacting or other problems were present during playback of the feature. As far as bonus features, Pearce and Black share an audio commentary track that nicely splits the difference between thematic talkiness and a look at the more practical aspects of filmmaking. Two dedicated behind-the-scenes featurettes are heavy on the special effects work that went into “Iron Man 3,” but 16 minutes of deleted scenes (featuring more of Ben Kingsley’s enormously entertaining Mandarin, as well as Bill Maher) and a five-minute gag reel are among the real highlights. Marvel completists, meanwhile, will spark to “Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter,” a 15-minute segment starring Hayley Atwell that picks up a year after the events of “Captain America.”
As we head into autumn, of course, there’s plenty of horror movies hitting home video. “Shiver,” starring Casper Van Dien, Danielle Harris and Rae Dawn Chong, is a grisly, passably effective serial killer tale, adapted from the acclaimed novel of the same name by Brian Harper. These novelistic roots help give the film a greater depth and character shading than many of its genre brethren. The story centers around a murderer known as the Gryphon who gets more than he bargained for when he attempts to add an unassuming young secretary (Harris) to his collection. Director Julian Richards showcases a nice touch with both menacing mood and more conventional stalking horror, while composer Richard Band’s score aids in the tension. Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case in turn stored in a complementary cardboard slipcover, “Shiver” comes to DVD presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track and English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing. Apart from chapter stops, there are unfortunately no supplemental materials.
“Fright Night 2: New Blood,” meanwhile, offers up little more than the chance to see the bared breasts of a couple Eastern European strippers/actresses — something, presumably, that teenagers can do already do on the Internet. This weird, wan straight-to-home-video offering — neither a sequel to 2011′s remake nor a remake of the original’s follow-up — serves up a new Charley (Will Payne), who’s landed in Romania along with his ex-girlfriend Amy (the attractive Sacha Parkinson) and douchey friend “Evil” Ed (Chris Waller) as part of some art history study tour. When Charley discovers their professor, Gerri Dandridge (Jaime Murray), is a vampire and then starts trying to alert everyone to the fact, the blood begins to flow.
The one nominally interesting thing about “Fright Night 2″ is that it connects this female iteration of the character of Gerri to Countess Bathory, a historical figure of some note. The manner in which it does this, however, is muddled and lame, with Ed setting up an animated segment by explaining to Charley that one of his horror e-magazine subscriptions has “a quick history of each vampire of the month, in comic form.” Otherwise, the plot here is a yawning collections of clichés and telegraphed reversals. It doesn’t help that director Eduardo Rodriguez trades entirely in copped style, save for one peeping-Tom scene in which Charley spies on Gerri; otherwise, Rodriguez and cinematographer Yaron Levy deploy all manner of lazy canted angles, and when they cycle through the strip club tracking shot that introduces debauched reality show host Peter Vincent (Sean Power), it really drives home just what a piece of unimaginative product this entire hapless endeavor is.
The film’s Blu-ray, presented in 1080p and 1.78 widescreen, includes both the rated and unrated versions of the movie (though the difference between the pair amounts to a single minute, seemingly involving a bloody bathtub sequence that owes a nod toward “Hostel: Part II”). Split into two dozen discrete chapters underneath a motion menu screen, “Fright Night 2″ includes a feature-length audio commentary track with director Rodriguez and producers Alison Rosenzweig and Michael Gaeta, in which the trio heap undeserving praise on Matt Venne’s screenplay and talk about the movie’s locations as well as its considerable gore and special effects work. The other bonus features consist of a dozen minutes of webisodes featuring Power in character as the host of the monster-baiting show-within-the-show that gives the movie its name, plus a six-minute featurette look at some of the inspirations for the Dracula legend.
There’s also “V/H/S 2,” the follow-up to last year’s horror anthology. Searching for a missing student, two private investigators break into his abandoned house and find (and watch, of course) a collection of mysterious VHS tapes. Dread, madness and — perhaps most of all — gore naturally ensue. “V/H/S 2″ holds together as a single narrative a bit better than its predecessor, even if its high points don’t match 2012′s offering. There’s some projectile zombie vomiting and quality stomach chomping that would make Tom Savini proud, and the unraveling of an Indonesian cult that achieves a creepy hold. Mostly, though, a home viewing of “V/H/S 2″ serves to reinforce the fact that a movie of this sort deeply requires the shared darkness of a large, communal viewing experience in order to fully realize its potential. Watching it alone, no matter how late at night, simply doesn’t cut it.
In addition to separate formats, “V/H/S 2″ comes to home video in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, inclusive of both the movie’s R-rated and unrated edits. A slew of behind-the-scenes photo galleries, theatrical trailers, filmmaker commentary tracks and mini-featurettes anchor the release, as well as an AXS TV look at the making of the movie in aggregate.
If the escalating Nielsen numbers for “Breaking Bad” over its final weeks proved anything, meanwhile, it was that plenty of viewers embrace, if not outright prefer, their episodic serials in binge fashion. Among a slew of titles coming over to DVD and Blu-ray from the small screen is the fifth and final season of John Rogers and Chris Downey’s TNT crime dramedy “Leverage,” from Dean Devlin’s production company, Electric Entertainment. Truth be told, the series — starring Timothy Hutton as Nate Ford, a former insurance investigator turned crusading, anti-corporate Robin Hood con man and power broker — hit its creative peak a while back, but Hutton’s wry charisma and centeredness help give “Leverage”‘s swan song some pop.
In the fifth season, Ford continues to struggle with the requisite inner demons, while his team of thieves has to cope with changing personal dynamics between colleagues Parker (Beth Riesgraf) and Hardison (Aldis Hodge). The roster of guest stars, meanwhile, is a veritable who’s who of oily, smarmy charm — Treat Williams, Cary Elwes, Matthew Lillard, all great — giving the upended corruptions and other various comeuppances no small amount of effective catharsis. Housed in a clear plastic Amaray case with a snap-in tray, the multi-disc “Leverage” set includes audio commentary tracks on every episode by Rogers and Downey, joined by many of the other writers and directors, as well as select cast members. There’s also a collection of deleted scenes, as well as a nice little gag reel that includes Hutton joking about stealing a sixth season for the series.
“2 Broke Girls,” a sitcom co-created by stand-up comedian/actress Whitney Cummings and “Sex and the City”‘s Michael Patrick King, became a solid Monday night hit for CBS in the 9pm time slot during the 2011-2012 season. The series’ second season sees odd-couple Brooklyn roommates Max Black (Kat Dennings) and Caroline Channing (Beth Behrs) settling down a bit — just a bit — as they try to work closer to their dream of opening their own cupcake shop. Along the way there’s a celebrity review of one of Max’s quirky creations, a lucky break in real estate, a surprise influx of capital and of course plenty of ex-boyfriends, as well as a new flame or two. The regular assortment of coworkers and neighbors — in this case chiefly cook Oleg (Jonathan Kite) and sexpot neighbor Sophie (Jennifer Coolidge), who hook up — are also on tap to to provide plenty of humor.
The show’s laughs, which are filtered through Cummings and King’s penchant for saucy banter aplenty, are mainly funneled through the contrast between Max’s sarcasm and Caroline’s more pragmatic, grounded nature. If the show’s snarkiness seems like an assumed pose at times, and its rapid-fire repartee feels like it would benefit from a single-camera re-imagining, the cast at least exhibits crackerjack timing, while Dennings and Behrs’ salty-sweet pairing makes for an engaging watch. “2 Broke Girls: The Complete Second Season” comes to DVD spread out over three discs, in a clear plastic Amaray case stored in a cardboard slipcover. Of the hour-plus of supplemental material — inclusive of a gag reel, deleted scenes and a pair of featurettes — easily the best inclusion is a 28-minute chat from Paleyfest in which King and the cast talk about the series and dissect what makes it tick.
Those peddling Matt Bomer in that online petition for the role of Batman, over Ben Affleck, have in their hip pocket as supporting evidence “White Collar,” USA’s crime-solving-and-heists drama. As convicted con man Neal Caffrey, Bomer (think Brad Pitt by way of Dan Futterman) oozes a certain rakish, devil-may-care charm. The series’ fourth season finds Caffrey, uncertain about the future of his forced partnership with FBI agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay), shedding his tracking anklet and disappearing. While he becomes involved with Maya (Mia Maestro) while on the lam, an undercover agent (Treat Williams) whose past intersects with Caffrey’s is also interwoven throughout the season.
Housed in a clear plastic Amaray case with a snap-in tray, “White Collar: The Complete Fourth Season” (season five kicks off this week) is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, with an English language Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track and optional English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles. Bonus features consist of a gag reel, a small selection of deleted scenes, a featurette and an audio commentary track with Bomer, DeKay, Willie Garson and Jeff Eastin.
Fox’s “Bones,” meanwhile, is its own streamlined thing. Now in its ninth season, the police procedural — centered around FBI agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) and forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel), whose nickname gives the show its title — is kind of like “CSI” by way of “Castle,” which is to say serious… but not really. It’s lo0sely based on the life and writings of novelist Kathy Reichs, a producer on the series, but built up its loyal audience early on chiefly through the winsome appeal of its leads. The eighth season finds Bones, finally acquitted of a wrongful murder accusation, reunited with Booth, but both of them still under the threat of madman Christopher Pelant (Andrew Leeds), a fugitive from justice. Booth’s mother (Joanna Cassidy) also shows up after an absence of a quarter century… oh, and Cyndi Lauper also guest stars as a psychic. Episodic highlights include “The But in the Joke,” “The Shot in the Dark” and “The Survivor in the Soap.”
“Bones: The Complete Eighth Season” comes to Blu-ray spread out over five 50GB dual layer discs. All two dozen episodes are presented in 1080p, with a English language DTS-HD master audio 5.1 audio track and optional English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles. Special features include a gag reel, deleted scenes, an amusing selection of answered viewer questions, an audio commentary track, and an additional brief featurette that highlights the show’s devoted fanbase.
Written by: Brent Simon