FREAKS AND GEEKS: YEARBOOK EDITION (Shout Factory, 1999) Rating: NNNNN; DVD package: NNNNN
This is the high school I remember: a grim and funny struggle to figure out myself and my world and find a place to fit in.
It's 1980 Michigan. Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) is the nascent freak, 16 and blowing her honours-student status to hang with the underachievers. Her younger brother, Sam (John Francis Daley), is the geek, already an outsider and looking to get in. Creator Paul Feig runs them through the usual high school tribulations - bullies, friends, dances, dates, beer, parties, gym, dope and adults who don't get it - and each time, he subverts the usual TV conventions.
These kids aren't pretty, noble or monied, and things don't work out as expected. The ensemble cast go for easy naturalism and unforced humour, and get time to develop rounded characters.
It lasted a mere 18 episodes, all here along with six hours of extras on two bonus discs. Every episode has a commentary; many have two. The set comes in a very cool hardbound 80-page yearbook filled with photos, trivia, a good essay by exec producer Judd Apatow and more.
$129.99 at HMV (333 Yonge), 416-586-9668.
COCAINE COWBOYS: ULTIMATE GANGSTER EDITION - COCAINE COWBOYS, COCAINE COWBOYS II: HUSTLIN' WITH THE GODMOTHER (Mongrel, 2006, 2008) Rating: NNNNN; DVD package: NNNN
Money, murder and drugs always make a good story. Director Billy Corben makes them into a great one with outstanding and extensive interviews with the crooks who turned 1970s Miami from a sleepy retirement town into the kill capital of America.
When the pot market bottoms out, Jon Roberts and Mickey Munday set up as smugglers for hire, moving cartel product from Colombia to Miami. Before long they're multi-millionaires, and America's coke epidemic is under way. Corben allows lots of screen time for their tales of excess, adventure and smuggling how-to.
Meanwhile, Jorge "Rivi" Ayala becomes chief enforcer for top dealer Griselda Blanco, a seriously brutal woman with a taste for mass murder.
Corben stitches interviews, archival footage and a few cheesy dramatizations into a fast-paced dramatic narrative. The commentary and deleted scenes expand the story and fill in more details.
In Hustlin' With The Godmother, street dealer Charles Cosby develops a relationship with Griselda Blanco that takes him to the top of the cocaine world, until her bizarre plan to kidnap John F. Kennedy Jr. convinces him it's time to get out.
It's a smaller story than its predecessor, but just as strange and violent. Again, Corben gets excellent interviews and delivers a rich commentary.
$19.99 at HMV (333 Yonge), 416-586-9668.
BURN AFTER READING (Alliance, 2008) Rating: NNN; DVD package: NNN
Like No Country For Old Men and Fargo, this is one of those Coen Brothers movies that doesn't so much end as stop in its tracks, leaving everyone wondering just what the hell happened - an appropriate response since this is the spy business and we're dealing with idiots.
Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) is an aging personal trainer desperate for cosmetic surgery. She gets hold of some secret data belonging to newly fired CIA intelligence analyst Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich), whose wife (Tilda Swinton) is having an affair with his friend Harry (George Clooney). Linda and her friend Chad (Brad Pitt) go for blackmail. Paranoia and disintegration ensue.
It's fun watching the high-powered cast ham it up for comic idiocy yet deliver believable characters at the same time.
The extras are thin, less than half an hour in total, but they give some insight into the Coens' approach to writing and directing.
In stores Tuesday, December 19. $37.99 at HMV (333 Yonge), 416-586-9668.
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.: THE COMPLETE SERIES (WB, 1964) Rating: NNN; DVD package: NNNN
Every week for four seasons, secret agents Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) emerged from U.N.C.L.E. headquarters to battle the minions of the evil Thrush.
For the times, this was radical. The heroes were young, slim, smart and deadpan funny. Hand-held camera amped up the action. Swish pans kept up the pace. Extensive use of MGM's back lot gave it scope, and Jerry Goldsmith's jagged score made it feel oh so hip.
It still plays well today, if you don't mind the occasional clumsy staging and cardboard prop. Everyone's having fun, and the scripts are smart.
Extensive interviews with Vaughn, McCallum, director Joseph Sargent and writer Dean Hargrove plus some good docs provide the backbone for over 10 hours of extras for a look into the hard work and frantic schedule, the attitudes of working actors and the series' phenomenal popularity.
Available for $179.99 at HMV (333 Yonge), 416-586-9668.
MASTERS OF HORROR: SEASON TWO (Anchor Bay, 2005) Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNN
On one of the commentaries, Masters Of Horror creator and occasional writer/director Mick Garris describes the series as an attempt to broaden the genre while still providing fans with their beloved splatter.
He succeeds spectacularly. There's tons of inventive, effective gore in the 12 one-hour and one 85-minute movies here, but it all stems from original, well-written stories that exist worlds away from clichéd teen-slasher crap.
Helmed by some of the best genre directors, including Dario Argento (the spectacularly gruesome Pelts), Stuart Gordon (The Black Cat) and John Carpenter (Pro-Life), they're well acted, well made and offer effective practical effects and artful lighting.
Weirdest of them all is Valerie On The Stairs, directed and scripted by Garris from an outline by Clive Barker. It spins off from what looks like a ghost story to explore unwholesome love and the inner life of the unpublished writer.
Each episode has informative commentary and a making-of doc, and the whole thing comes inside a highly cool package that looks like a skull.
$109.99 at HMV (333 Yonge), 416-586-9668.