Saturday, July 17, 2010

White Collar: The Complete First Season

USA Network has carved out a niche of breezy, charming shows over the past few years and White Collar is no exception. Joining the likes of Burn Notice, Psych, and even newest arrival Covert Affairs, the series offers up easily digestible standalone episodes with very little cumbersome ongoing plot to keep track of, allowing viewers to pop in for a brief and mindless visit at any time.

With a flimsy plot device pairing a dashing con artist with no-nonsense FBI agent, the show takes off on a new investigation every week. The nature of those investigations is also light, just like the series title promises, with a focus on crimes like art thefts and counterfeiting that leave very few dead bodies in their wake.

The con artist gains release from maximum security prison to help the FBI agent catch another master criminal, and their success on that first case opens the door for their continuing adventures with only a tracking anklet keeping the con honest. Of course he could easily flee at any time if he really wanted to, but this is TV so he has a heart of gold and the integrity to uphold the terms of his prison release.

The con (Matt Bomer) is a suave pretty boy who uses his looks and charms to wiggle into and out of all manner of sticky situations, while his fed partner (Tim DeKay) is a boring, conservative agent with a stable married life, improbably pairing him with a much better looking wife (Tiffani Thiessen). The con isn't in the romance market as he's still pining for his ex-girlfriend who left a trail of mysterious clues in her wake when she vanished from his life. So, while the odd couple work on their weekly investigation, he also spends a few minutes on his big picture mystery in the hopes of reuniting with his lost flame and their joint hidden treasure.

This is not the show for viewers interested in complex plot mythology or deep character studies. However, for what it is, it gets the job done quite well. There's little to complain about here, other than the con's somewhat forced fondness for Rat Pack era fashion including form-fitting suits, funky fedoras and skinny ties. In the context of their New York City surroundings, he can get away with his fashion choices, but in reality the costume designer's wardrobe choices seem more constraining than defining.

On Blu-ray, the 14 Season 1 episodes really pop compared to DVD, with a rich color pallette, crisp photography, and an immense depth of field that shows off their New York locations so well that the city becomes an integral character of the show rather than just a setting. The sound mix is not noticeably better on Blu, but is offered in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio.

As for bonus features, there's a gag reel, deleted scenes, audio commentaries on selected episodes, and very brief featurettes focusing on the fashion, the two stars, and the New York City location scouting.

White Collar is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: White Collar - The Complete First Season on Blogcritics.

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Saturday, July 03, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine

Hot Tub Time Machine succeeds at truth in advertising, giving viewers exactly what the title describes. There's no high concept or subterfuge here, just a clearly if ridiculously crafted idea carried through to a mostly satisfying end. You may wonder how this project ever got a green light, but you'll likely be laughing along the way.

When a 40-ish loser attempts suicide, his two closest friends and a tagalong nephew try to cheer him up by taking him on vacation to the site of their greatest early exploits. That ski resort was a bustling hive of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll in their college days, but has now turned into a virtual ghost town with broken-down accommodations and residents. The guys determine to make the best of it anyway, and leap at the chance to enjoy the inviting hot tub outside their room. Through the magic of energy drinks and extreme suspension of disbelief, the guys end up back in the '80s and get to experience the highs of their prime one last time.

The film scores a coup with the casting of John Cusack as the lead, sending him and his buds back to the era of '80s comedies where he first became a star. It's amusing just to see the now-mature Cusack go gaga at the silly '80s fashion, music and attitudes he encounters on his trip through time, knowing that he was once a part of documenting and defining the era in his early days.

The rest of the lesser-known leads must have been pinching themselves every day wondering how they were fortunate enough to share nearly equal billing with Cusack. Of the three, Rob Corddry (The Daily Show) contributes the biggest laughs as the suicidal loser stuck in the past, while Clark Duke (Greek) and Craig Robinson (The Office) are largely just along for the ride.

There's no discernible reason to watch this film on Blu-ray, in fact the image quality of the film might discourage viewers from doing so. It's a distractingly grainy picture for some reason, and with no stellar sound design either it's likely that the reduced fidelity of DVD may actually help to mask the film's low quality.

That's not to say the Blu is a total waste, as it includes both the theatrical and unrated cuts of the film on one disc along with a fine array of special features including deleted/extended scenes and featurettes about the production, costumes, and co-stars Chevy Chase and Crispin Glover.

Hot Tub Time Machine is now available.

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Hot Tub Time Machine on Blogcritics.

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