March 17, 2010

Breaking Bad: Season Two

Also this week: Dillinger is Dead, Broken Embraces, Good Hair, Ninja Assassin, Astro Boy

Highlight of the Week

Breaking Bad: Season Two (Sony) Breaking Bad, the very best serialized entertainment a living room can offer (silver and bronze medals go to Dexter and Mad Men, respectively), got even better in its sophomore season. Two-for-two Emmy winner Bryan Cranston plays a high-school chemistry teacher turned meth-maker, whose mounting pressures include his untrusting pregnant wife, disabled teenage son, DEA officer brother-in-law, hopped-up partner in crime and terminal lung cancer. Not your everyday mid-life crisis. Extras: commentaries, making-ofs for all 13 episodes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, webisodes, more. Blu-ray-extra extra: interactive guide to the structural elements of an episode. 

Also Available

Dillinger is Dead (Criterion) Don’t feel ashamed if the name Marco Ferreri doesn’t register — he made over 30 films but has never been cited alongside Italy’s all-star auteurs. Despite being Ferreri’s biggest triumph among the Cahiers du cinéma crowd, Dillinger is Dead remained relatively unseen following its 1969 release. A Buñuel-evoking domestic odyssey about a man who cooks dinner, projects home movies and refurbishes a rusty gun that may have belonged to John Dillinger, beneath the film’s deceptive exterior is one of the most unusual and intriguing late-’60s existentialist statements on alienation. Extras: roundtable with Bernardo Bertolucci, Francesco Rossi and film historian Aldo Tassone recorded days after Ferreri’s death in 1997, interviews with Dillinger star Michel Piccoli and film historian Adriano Aprà.

Broken Embraces (Sony) Re-teaming with muse Penélope Cruz, Pedro Almodóvar embraces classic Hollywood cinema yet again. An aura of Sirk and Hitchcock is evident from the get-go, but those familiar with Almodóvar’s catalogue will detect Broken Embraces’ similarity to his international breakthrough, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. The film juggles multiple narratives, timelines and genres, mostly with ease. Though this doesn’t rank among the cream of his crop (everything else since Talk to Her has), Broken Embraces places somewhere around the All About My Mother middle mark. Extras: film-within-a-film short film, Cruz Q&A, Pedro directing Penélope, red carpet footage, deleted scenes. 

Good Hair (Alliance) Funnyman Chris Rock and director Jeff Stilson have put together an entertaining and frequently baffling doc on the multibillion-dollar industry built around black women’s hair. Social, global, economic and chemical consequences are explored drolly. A climactic tournament between hairdressers is almost too good to be true. Extras: commentary with Rock and producer Nelson George, more.

Ninja Assassin (Warner) The title doesn’t leave much to the imagination, but James McTeigue’s Wachowski-certified ninja bloodbath throws a couple of curve-shurikens. Casting ’80s badass Shô Kosugi (this is his fifth appearance in a film with the word ninja in the title) as an evil sensei is an inspired touch — as is the insanely exaggerated, glow-in-the-dark gore. Blu extras: three ninja-rrific featurettes.     

Astro Boy (E1) “I got machine guns in my butt?” is among the lines uttered in the big-screen CG upgrade of the sorta-culty Japanese manga and anime series. For youngsters, Astro is cute, kinetic and failsafe viewing. Everyone else should get by on its minor charms and shades of better films like Pinocchio, The Iron Giant and, um, Gladiator? Alas, voice-lender Nic Cage never goes off the rails like he does in live action, which would’ve been a treat for any demographic. Extras: lotsa featurettes.