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    Big Little Lies (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on August 10th, 2017

    Big Little Lies — HBO’s star-studded and (deservedly) Emmy-nominated limited series — is structured like a typical murder mystery. We know someone has been killed, but we don’t know the perpetrator or even identity of the victim. On top of that, the limited series format promises that we’ll actually have an answer by time these episodes wrap up (**cough** The Killing). But the reason Big Little Lies shines— other than top-notch performances and stellar direction — is because beneath the murder-mystery veneer lies a darkly funny drama about all manner of adult relationships: husband/wife, ex-husband/ex-wife, mother/daughter, mother/fellow-mother, and so on.
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    Crashing: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on August 4th, 2017

    It’s not all it’s cut out to be…it’s not about being on stage all the time. It’s about the killing of time.”

    There certainly hasn’t been a shortage of sitcoms starring stand-up comedians. Many of them (Roseanne, Home Improvement, Everybody Loves Raymond) have grafted the comic’s persona onto a family-friendly format. Even the shows that have depicted the life of a comic tend to take a surreal approach (Louie) or fast-forward to the part where the star is an established comedian (Seinfeld). HBO’s Crashing stands out because it honestly (and painfully) depicts the struggle of an aspiring stand-up…and makes it look very, very funny.
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    Girls: The Final Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on August 3rd, 2017

    My persona’s very, like, witty yet narcissistic.”

    These self-aware words are spoken by Hannah Horvath, the on-screen alter ego of Girls star/creator Lena Dunham during the premiere of the show’s final season. Of course, anyone who’s watched Girls knows the “witty yet narcissistic” label applies to practically every character in Dunham’s often flawed (and even-more-often brilliant) HBO dramedy. So while this final batch of episodes includes some superb moments, it’s not a total surprise that this polarizing series concludes its run with a frustrating finale that is more satisfying for the show’s creators than it is for its fans.
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    The Young Pope (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on June 15th, 2017

    “Have you ever seen two priests wearing tracksuits?”

    The highest praise I can offer for The Young Pope — the staggeringly extravagant and deeply strange co-production between Sky Atlantic, Canal+, and HBO — is that I can guarantee you will see something you have never seen before. (A pair of priests in tracksuits is the least of it.) The show is bold in both its style and storytelling, although it only unequivocally succeeds in one of those two areas. Given all the Vatican-centric politics and power plays, it’s easy to see why this show was dubbed “House of Cardinals.”
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    Divorce: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on May 17th, 2017

    Look, as lousy as the marriage is, the divorce is going to be much, much worse.”

    The subject of divorce isn’t exactly a laugh riot in real life, so the makers of HBO’s comedy series tracking the dissolution of a decade-long marriage had their work cut out for them. Divorce (not surprisingly) takes a darkly comic approach to the hostile material; the problem is the show seemingly forgot about the part where we’re supposed to want to spend time with these people every week. The series also marks the HBO return of star/executive producer Sarah Jessica Parker…call this new show No Sex in the Suburbs.
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    Veep: The Complete Fifth Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on April 20th, 2017

    As it turns out, there’s a virtually unprecedented tie in the Electoral College.”

    If you thought the latest U.S. presidential election cycle was a soul-crushing and unpredictable mess, you should take a peek at what’s happening on Veep. (At least we got a definitive real-life result…eventually.) The show’s outstanding fifth season begins with President Selina Meyer — who assumed the office after her predecessor resigned — locked in a frustrating Electoral College tie as she seeks to become the first woman to be *elected* to the highest office in the land. President Meyer sums up her predicament in a manner befitting HBO’s caustic, constantly-cussing comedy: “didn’t those Founding F—ers ever hear of an odd number?!”
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    Silicon Valley: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on April 13th, 2017

    “Think inside the box.”

    One of the major through lines in season 3 of Silicon Valley is that our heroes at Pied Piper have created a product so ahead of its time that it is failing to connect with consumers, which puts the start-up company in peril. Fortunately, HBO’s brainy and bawdy tech comedy hasn’t had any problems connecting with its audience: the show’s confident and hilarious third season seamlessly mixes talk of “compression algorithms” with outrageous sight gags involving horses getting, um, familiar with each other.
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    Insecure: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on March 24th, 2017

    “Black women aren’t bitter. We’re just tired of being expected to settle for less.”

    When people talk about racial and gender equality, they typically point to notions like everyone having the right to vote or the same opportunity to pursue their personal or professional passion without fear of discrimination. The premise of Insecure — HBO’s funny and insightful comedy series about modern relationships — is not quite that lofty, but no less worthy: black women reserve the right to be just as neurotic and lead love lives that are every bit as messy as their white counterparts.
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    Quarry: The Complete First Season

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on February 22nd, 2017

    I’m not as comfortable as you are with the notion of killing other human beings.”

    Remember that time about six months ago when NFL star Colin Kaepernick set off a firestorm of controversy by repeatedly kneeling during the national anthem as a form of protest? A big part of the outrage was tied to the notion that Kaepernick’s actions were disrespectful to members of the U.S. military. One of the most striking things about Quarry — Cinemax’s compelling, well-rounded Vietnam War-era drama — is how it depicts a period not that long ago in our country’s history when veterans were openly treated with venom and vitriol that went way beyond someone taking a knee.
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    Vice Principals: The Complete First Season

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on February 10th, 2017

    Danny McBride managed to inhabit the role of Kenny Powers to such an extent that I do appear to have trouble keeping them separate. I thought that the arrival of a new series would finally put that issue to rest. I’m discovering there was a reason I had trouble telling them apart. They are indeed the same person. Add to the situation that Vice Principals uses the same writing and production team headed by McBride and Jody Hill, and there are moments when you will think that you’re still watching Eastbound And Out. The wild card that changes things up enough happens to be Walter Goggins. Goggins came to notice as the cold Shane in The Shield and the quirky Boyd Crowder in Justified.
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    Girls: The Complete Fifth Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on January 11th, 2017

    “I don’t want to be in this relationship anymore, and I don’t know how to get out.”

    A TV show’s fifth season is around the time it starts to feel like you have to see things through to the bitter end. I mean, it seems downright irresponsible to ditch a series after five years of investing in its characters’ lives, no matter how flawed and frustrating they are. And there’s no doubt the self-absorbed millennials on HBO’s Girls are among the most flawed and frustrating people on TV; so I was delighted to find that the series produced one of its strongest seasons as it nears its conclusion.
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    Looking: The Complete Series and The Movie (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on December 1st, 2016

    The most remarkable thing about Looking might have been how thoroughly unremarkable it was. The HBO dramedy — which followed the love lives of three gay friends in San Francisco — sidestepped any sort of headline-grabbing sensationalism. However, Looking was often low-key to the point that it bypassed being funny or particularly entertaining. The latter point was a bigger issue early on since the show’s naturalistic tone made Looking more engrossing as the series progressed and deepened its roster of characters. You can see for yourself how the show got better as it went along now that HBO has released the entire Looking saga — two seasons and a movie — in one handy Blu-ray set.
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    Game of Thrones: The Complete Sixth Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on November 18th, 2016

    Does death only come for the wicked and leave the decent behind?”

    Throughout its first five seasons, Game of Thrones has been relentlessly cruel to its viewers heroes in a way that shocked audiences and upended genre expectations. But as Thrones edges toward its conclusion — and as the TV adaptation becomes more unmoored than ever from the George R.R. Martin novels that inspired it — certain storytelling conventions seem to be inevitably taking over. I seriously doubt this saga will have a traditional “happy ending,” but season 6 is as close as the show has ever come to being a full-blown crowd-pleaser.
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    The Night Of (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on October 21st, 2016

    You know, I miss James Gandolfini. I know that HBO misses him as well. When The Sopranos finished, Gandolfini signed a development deal with HBO. He would not only work in front of the camera but help find and produce material for the network. We all know what happened next. Gandolfini passed suddenly, just when it seems he was breaking out of his Tony Soprano typecast, and one gets the feeling that he was going to do great things. One solid indication of that promise comes in the HBO series The Night Of… which was one of those passion projects that the man never got to see through.
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    Banshee: The Complete Fourth Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on October 7th, 2016

    “Did I miss anything while I was gone?”

    Did you ever. Banshee came to an end with this, the fourth season, and it did not go quietly, to be sure. But it’s not how it ends, but how this final season begins that’s a bit of a mystery. There is a time jump of a little over 18 months that will cause you to feel like you might have missed something. If that doesn’t confuse you, the season’s constant tripping around in time will turn this season into a show very different from the Banshee we’ve come to know and love.
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    All The Way (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on September 14th, 2016

    Accidental president…that’s what they’ll say.”

    Lyndon Baines Johnson became the 36th President of the United States under the most tumultuous circumstances imaginable. Besides being thrust into office after the shattering assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Johnson had to immediately contend with multiple political crises. Most notably, LBJ faced pressure from several different fronts as he worked to pass what eventually became the Civil Rights Act of 1964. All The Way, buoyed by a funny and ferocious lead performance, offers a thought-provoking and entertaining look at a truly complex figure.
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    The Knick: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on August 16th, 2016

    There has been no shortage of medical dramas dating back to the infancy of television. Many have become classics. Most have dealt with the use of modern (at least for that time) advances and cutting-edge science. That’s exactly what you get with The Knick. You get cutting-edge medical advancement… for 1902. The Knick is the fictional Knickerbocker hotel in 1900’s New York. The hospital exists in a poverty-stricken neighborhood where few of the patients can pay for their care. This has been a problem the board has been trying to turn around. Now ground is being broken on a new location in a much more affluent part of New York City. It’ll be an opportunity to finally turn a profit and also one of corruption for the man handling the new construction. But what of Dr. Thackery, played by Clive Owens?
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    Ballers: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on June 26th, 2016

    American football has been making the news of late, and not just in the sports pages. For the last couple of years there has been an increasing concern for players’ safety. From our president declaring he wouldn’t let his fictional son play the game to the hard-hitting Will Smith film Concussion, football has taken some heat over its violent nature. Players are retiring early, and the subject of life after football becomes more of a social question than ever before. That’s where HBO’s Ballers comes in. It’s a half-hour look at the NFL from the player perspective, both current and retired. It’s intended as a light bit of dramedy, and it certainly is that. Even so, the series doesn’t hide from some of the brutal realities of the sport, from the trappings of fame and fortune to the realities of its eventual end.
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    Vinyl: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on June 8th, 2016

    “I started at the bottom working every club in New York City. I mopped floors. Swabbed ashtrays. Hauled kegs. You think you work hard? Try scraping Chubby Checker’s vomit off the inside of a toilet stall.” 

    Martin Scorsese is a man who has worked very hard over the years. His list of film accomplishments is too big to list here. On television his recent teaming with Terrance Winter produced Boardwalk Empire. It’s not much of a surprise the two would team up again for another HBO series.
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    Game of Thrones: The Complete Fourth Season — Limited Edition Steelbook (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on June 6th, 2016

    “All men must die.”

    The official tagline for Season 4 of HBO’s Game of Thrones also doubles as a helpful reminder of author George R.R. Martin’s no-character-is-safe philosophy. But even plastering that quote all over posters and promos isn’t likely to prepare you for the most devastating and thrilling season of a show that specializes in “devastating and thrilling.” Those thrills have now been given an extra kick: Game of Thrones is the first TV show to be offered in all-encompassing Dolby Atmos. After re-releasing seasons 1 and 2 in a pair of handsome Steelbook cases late last year, HBO has given the next two chapters in Martin’s saga the same treatment.
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    Game of Thrones: The Complete Third Season — Limited Edition Steelbook (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on June 6th, 2016

    Even if Game of Thrones had inexplicably wrapped its run after two stellar seasons, the fantasy series would’ve gone down as a landmark in television history because of its unprecedented scale and audacious storytelling. Those qualities have been brought to thrilling life in each of the show’s Blu-ray releases, but HBO still decided to kick it up a notch. Game of Thrones is the first TV show to be offered in all-encompassing Dolby Atmos. After re-releasing seasons 1 and 2 in a pair of handsome Steelbook cases late last year, HBO has given the next two chapters in George R.R. Martin’s saga the same treatment.
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    Veep: The Complete Fourth Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on April 25th, 2016

    We’re making history with the first woman president.”

    That statement may or may not become a reality in a matter of months, but HBO has real-life politics beat either way. Season 3 of Veep, the caustic, constantly-cussing comedy series, concluded with U.S. Vice President Selina Meyer ascending to the highest office in the land. But lest you think the show jumped the shark by having VP Meyer outgrow the show’s title, there’s more than enough sharp-tongued mayhem to go around once Selina and her staff — referred to as “an infection of mediocrity” in season 4 — have their finger on the button.
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    Silicon Valley: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on April 20th, 2016

    Billionaires are people too.”

    HBO’s Silicon Valley, which takes merciless aim at the tech capital of the U.S., was impressive right out of the gate. The series struck comedy gold in its debut season by making fun of both self-important, aggressively eccentric billionaires and the bumbling “guys in a garage” who are trying to get to their level. Season 2 is both nerdier and more confident in its skewering of corporate soullessness and the scrappy underdogs who often can’t get out of their own way. (I’m not sure there’s another show on TV that would use a SWOT analysis to decide whether a douche-y stuntman lives or dies.) The result is a very funny sitcom that has gotten even better.
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    Banshee: Season 3 (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on April 7th, 2016

    “There’s always room for improvement.”

    Banshee is one of those improbable plots that finds a way to pull us into the action all the while ignoring how unlikely any of this might really be. Of course, we do that all the time. It’s certainly unlikely we’re going to face a zombie apocalypse or run into a super-powered hero. That’s a different kind of unlikely. This kind of real-world fantastic is usually a bit harder to accept. Credit folks like Allan Ball for keeping us engaged with some of the most entertaining sleight of hand on television.
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    Game of Thrones: The Complete Fifth Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on March 16th, 2016

    “Perhaps we’ve grown so used to horror, we assume there’s no other way.”

    Given the quantity and quality of death and destruction we’ve witnessed over the previous four years, the most shocking thing Game of Thrones could do in its fifth season was offer a tiny glimmer of hope. After all, optimism in Westeros and Essos is an even rarer commodity than dragons. Yet this batch of episodes probably gives us the clearest glimpse at the endgame of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” saga. (Even as the author’s deliberate pace continues to drive book readers mad.) That being said, don’t think for a second the show has gone soft in its old middle age: Thrones still has the unmatched ability to dazzle and devastate in equal measure.
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