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New DVD Releases 24 July 2007: Cranking Up the Seasonal Machine

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The winds are gradually shifting—you can’t quite smell the holiday scent in the air, but you know it’s heading this way, just beyond the horizon. All the hoopla surrounding the iPhone is wafting away, and adults across the globe are putting their Harry Potter costumes in mothballs. The summer blockbuster theatrical releases have pretty much come and gone. Kids are heading back to school soon, giving parents a perfect opportunity to treat themselves to a little something as they trudge through the big box stores, school supplies lists in hand. The studios know this, and they’re tentatively releasing bigger titles—nothing that major, but enough to whet the appetite for the onslaught of boxed sets and special editions coming just in time for the holidays.

In other words, the good times have begun. So, with no pun intended, it seems only right that Weeds: The Complete Second Season should be the new release I choose to herald in the DVD highlights this week. Mary-Louise Parker stars as the soccer mom forced to deal, well, weed — to make ends meet after the death of her husband. It’s one of the most original comedies on television, and the second season is edgier than Season One, rife with social comment among the suburbs. I’ll have a full review of Season Two later this week, but in the meantime, this one is heartily recommended.

As high as I am on the DVD release of Weeds, it’s not the only TV DVD release this week. The trial attorney formerly known as the superhero Birdman, is featured in a handsome boxed set titled Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law (Vol.1-3). This six-disc set features Harvey’s highest (and lowest) moments as he defends fellow toons at their most litigious moments. While Harvey Birdman turns Hanna-Barberra characters on their heads, updating them for adults, The Ultimate Underdog Collection (volumes 1-3, sold separately) stands on its own, with no tweaking. They are digitally remastered, though, and each disc contains six full episodes of the sixties cartoon series, meaning you also get Go-Go Gophers and Tennessee Tuxedo shorts. Let’s see the Disney live-action “update” top that!

I’m hesitant to call Renaissance animation for fear that it might render it dismissable to some. Like Sin City and Through a Scanner Darkly, this futuristic crime thriller from France was originally shot with live actors against green screen, with animation effects added later. The result is a hyper-stylized noir story in the tradition of Bladerunner. It’s worth a look, if for the visuals alone.

Trying desperately for style, and achieving it at the cost of any substance is The Number 23. In Joel Schumacher’s latest directorial jumble, Jim Carrey plays dog catcher Walter Sparrow, whose growing obsession with the mystical properties of the number 23 send him into a spiral of madness. It could have been an interesting psychological thriller, but it only illustrates Schumacher’s growing vision of himself as an artiste, and showcases Carrey’s own vision of himself as a “serious” actor. On the plus side, it may well make several “worst of 2007” lists—and that almost always ensures some sort of cult status.

Zodiac, on the other hand, will undoubtedly be on several “best of 2007” lists, not the least of which could be more than a couple of Oscar nods. From director David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club), Zodiac is ostensibly about the Zodiac serial killings that plagued the San Francisco area in the late sixties and early seventies. Rather than focus on the grisly aspect of the still unsolved murders, Zodiac weaves a complex procedural drama that’s ultimately more about the journalists who worked on the story than about the killings themselves. It’s a fine piece of film, with outstanding performances by all involved.

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