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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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    Girls: The Complete Fourth Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on February 24th, 2016

    Taking the next step in a series of random steps.”

    Those words are part of a toast near the start of this season, as chronically neurotic and self-absorbed writer Hannah Horvath prepares to embark on a mini-adventure that will temporarily take her away from her natural habitat of New York City. They also double as a tidy summary of the entertaining (and appropriately messy) fourth season of HBO’s Girls, while simultaneously capturing what it’s like to progress through your 20’s.
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    Togetherness: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on February 19th, 2016

    “…Be like we were when we were 28. I think that would be awesome, right?”

    It certainly seems awesome to the four main characters in Togetherness, who are each dealing with their own set of anxieties as they hover around 40. If that previous sentence doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for laugh-out-loud comedy, then you’re on the same wavelength as this impressive HBO dramedy. Togetherness takes a bittersweet, refreshingly humane approach to portraying marriage and friendship.
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    Show Me a Hero (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on February 4th, 2016

    “Justice is not about popularity…”

    “…but politics is.”

    The title of Show Me a Hero is taken from an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: “Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy.”  So it’s not a surprise that in the hands of David Simon — creator of an all-time great drama with The Wire — this HBO miniseries is short on conventional heroics and long on personal, political, and institutional tragedy.
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    True Detective: Season 2 (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Paul O'Callaghan on January 10th, 2016

    Popular opinion and so-called critical opinion often seem to careen off cliffs like lemmings in increasingly unpredictable ways guided by whims and subtle shifts in the proverbial winds. I find myself shocked by things praised and things condemned. Sometimes I feel like a little boy who sees a naked emperor while everyone else is shrieking how much they love the new elegant ensemble. In this case, I’m seeing a lovely presentation while there are many who are whining. Part of the problem is that Season 2 of True Detective is considerably distinct from Season 1.
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    Getting On: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on November 16th, 2015

    The geriatric care wing of a hospital — where the employees are undermanned and overworked, and many of the patients are in a near-catatonic state — is not the most obvious sitcom setting. That’s partly the reason it took me a while to warm up to the first season of HBO’s Getting On, an adaptation of the British series of the same name. The biggest drawback, however, was that those initial episodes didn’t seem very interested in shaking the grim specter of the original show. But what a difference a year makes!
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    The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on September 23rd, 2015

    If ever a show were more aptly named, it would have to be HBO’s The Jinx. It’s a documentary on Robert Durst, who had been charged with three murders and never convicted. The title comes from his own description of why he never had any children. He believed he would be a jinx to any child as a father. It turns out that this HBO series would be a jinx for Durst himself, because he couldn’t quite keep his mouth shut and ends up making potentially incriminating statements.
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    Nightingale (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on September 14th, 2015

    “He is a confused and tortured young man…”

    The “he” in this case is Peter Snowden, a chatty, charismatic, and deeply troubled war veteran. “He” also happens to be the only character who appears on screen in Nightingale, a potentially-fascinating HBO Films experiment that doesn’t quite reach its potential. At least, “he” is played by Selma star David Oyelowo in what is a thoroughly mesmerizing performance.
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    Bessie (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on September 2nd, 2015

    You got the St. Louis blues, the Chicago blues, the gin house blues, the “my man done left me” blues…they all the same song, ain’t they?”

    By now, anyone who’s seen a musical biopic realizes these films also whistle a pretty similar-sounding tune. The bad news here is that Bessie is no exception, rushing from one familiar Troubled Artist Beat (hardscrabble childhood, rise to stardom, substance abuse, troubled marriage, etc.) to the next. The really good news is that this HBO biopic of “Empress of Blues” Bessie Smith is elevated by some truly powerhouse performances.
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    The Knick: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on August 17th, 2015

    “Welcome to The Knick.”

    The Knick is the fictional Knickerbocker hotel in 1900 New York. It’s a hospital that was once part of an affluent neighborhood but now finds itself in an area falling to poverty. Still it’s a place where innovations are being made on a daily basis, thanks to an inspired group of doctors led by Dr. J.M. Christiansen (Frewer) and his relentless search to find ways to decrease the mortality rate in surgery patients.
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    The Comeback: Seasons 1 & 2

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on August 10th, 2015

    What’s this? The Comeback comeback?”

    The most unlikely program to air on HBO over the last year didn’t feature dragons or detectives…it was the story of a diva. Obviously, The Comeback — the rare HBO show that wasn’t granted a second season — isn’t as lavish as Game of Thrones or as ambitious as True Detective. But even for a network with a sterling reputation for taking chances and thinking outside the box, the return of The Comeback as an 8-episode “limited series” was somewhat of a shock.
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    Strike Back: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on August 5th, 2015

    “This ain’t no place for a hero.” 

    Strike Back follows the exploits of an elite and secret British military team called Section 20. On paper they do not exist, but they’ve got all the best new high-tech toys, and they’re going to need every one of them. They’re going after the top terrorist threats. They combine the intelligence-gathering network of a CIA-type organization with the precision strike force impact of a top Navy Seals team.
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    The Casual Vacancy (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on August 3rd, 2015

    How do you follow up the biggest publishing phenomenon of the last 20 years? Well, if you’re J.K. Rowling, you excise all talk of horcruxes and Hogwarts and supplant it with warring parish council members and the idyllic village of Pagford. That’s the setting for The Casual Vacancy, Rowling’s 2012 follow-up to the Harry Potter series. The book has been adapted by BBC and HBO into a three-part miniseries. With its small-town setting and 23(!) main characters, the series simultaneously feels quaint and sprawling. It also made me wish I was able to spend more than three hours with these people.
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    The Newsroom: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on June 19th, 2015

    “We’re not in the middle of the third act. We just got to the end of the first.”

    Aaron Sorkin almost definitely knew The Newsroom had been simultaneously renewed for a third season and canceled when he wrote those words, which come at the end of the season 3 premiere. It’s a winking and bittersweet bit of writing for a show that seemingly infuriated as many more people than it delighted over the course of 25 episodes. (Which apparently amounts to a single season of Pretty Little Liars.) So how else would you expect The Newsroom to go out than with moments of singular brilliance mixed in with a few controversial bangs?
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    The Wire: The Complete Series (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on June 9th, 2015

    “Some things stay the same. I mean the gamer is the game.”

    Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A newspaper reporter and a cop go into a bar… It sounds like a setup for a pretty lame joke. It’s actually the story of how one of the greatest television shows to ever air got started. It was the brainchild of two real-world players who hadn’t yet seen their worlds portrayed accurately in television of film. They set out on a mission to change all of that. And, changing all of that is exactly what they did.
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    Boardwalk Empire The Complete Series (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on May 19th, 2015

    “As you know, in less than two hours liquor will be declared illegal by decree of the distinguished gentlemen of our nation’s Congress. To those beautiful, ignorant bastards. Rest assured that, dry though the country may be, I am in the midst of concluding arrangements that will keep Atlantic City wet…”

    HBO has finally released a full series set of Boardwalk Empire on Blu-ray. This is an HBO trend that has gone full tilt in the last year, seeing such hits as The Sopranos, True Blood and soon The Wire all coming in wonderful full-series releases. They look great on your video shelf. Together they create a tremendous number of hours of quality television. I love having it all in one place. If you’re new to the show, what better time to climb on board?
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    Veep: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on April 2nd, 2015

    For the first time in four years, I can say what I really think.”

    It may have taken four years for fictional U.S. Vice President Selina Meyer to make her boldest political move yet, but Veep was finally able to achieve all-around greatness in just three. I know there are fans of HBO’s caustic comedy series who would argue the show was already great, and I agree there have absolutely been many flashes of foul-mouthed brilliance throughout its run. But it wasn’t until Veep had Selina Meyer try to outgrow the show’s title in season 3 that the series itself ascended to another level.
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    Silicon Valley: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on March 30th, 2015

    There’s money flying all over Silicon Valley, but none of it ever seems to hit us.”

    There’s a lot to like about HBO’s Silicon Valley, which debuted last year with a confident, clever freshman season that took merciless aim the tech capital of the U.S. My favorite thing about the show — besides hyper-specific jokes aimed at geeky targets like the many endings of “Mass Effect 3” — is that it portrays (and makes fun of) each aspect of the cutthroat tech industry, from the self-important, aggressively eccentric billionaires to the scrappy, proverbial guys in a garage.
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    Game of Thrones: The Complete Fourth Season (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on February 19th, 2015

    “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, promos, and the cover of this exemplary-in-every-way Blu-ray set isn’t likely to prepare you for the most devastating and thrilling season of a show that specializes in “devastating and thrilling.”
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    Olive Kitteridge (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by John Ceballos on February 16th, 2015

    Why are you so hateful, Olive?”

    Olive Kitteridge — Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel —has been adapted into a four-hour HBO miniseries. It’s probably the best possible outcome for Strout’s story, which deals with the legacy of depression, along with several other box office-unfriendly themes that would almost certainly prevent any proper Kitteridge adaptation from sniffing a multiplex. The miniseries is well-made, and the acting is top-notch. The problem for me was that, even with that four-hour running time, we don’t get a ton of insight into why the title character is so hateful.
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    Boardwalk Empire: Season 5 (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on January 22nd, 2015

    “If we’re good today, we’ll be better tomorrow.”

    The final season of Boardwalk Empire breaks the mold of what the show has been for the first four years. The action jumps ahead several years to 1931. It’s a necessary plot point if we’re going to be ending the popular series in the fifth season. I understand the jump and why it works. I guess my only real question is: why are we jumping ahead to end what is one of the best shows on television?
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    Banshee: Season 2 (Blu-ray)

    Posted in Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on January 14th, 2015

    “There will be casualties”

    Alan Ball got my attention in 2001 with HBO’s black comedy Six Feet Under. It was one of the most original shows I had ever seen, and to this day I find it hard to characterize the series when asked to do so. It was there that he also introduced me to Michael C. Hall, who continues to amaze me in the role of Dexter over at Showtime. When Six Feet Under left the airwaves, Ball didn’t waste very much time in bringing his quirky style back, this time to the horror genre
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