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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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    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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