TV Nation: Behind the Candelabra, Arrow and Spartacus: War of the Damned
Behind the Candelabra (HBO)
Academy Award winners Matt Damon, Michael Douglas and director Steven Soderbergh serve up a surprisingly biased account of the legendary Liberace's relationship with Scot Thorson, based as it was upon Thorson's 1988 tell-all book Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace. But despite its conspicuous spin, this adults-only movie reveals in lurid detail the inner workings of the celebrated pianist's secret world, while also providing a well-rendered throwback to the swinging '70s, for those who remember it or wish they did. The story doesn't end well for either of them, but there is a strong undercurrent of humor, most notably Rob Lowe's supporting role as a plastic surgeon to the stars, one of the best things I've seen in ages.
With this much talent and such a fascinating topic I was hoping for more bonus material than the short behind-the-scenes featurette we're given. But this package also contains a code for a Digital Copy that works with both iTunes and UltraViolet.
Arrow: The Complete First Season (Warner)
Billionaire playboy Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell, he of the chiseled abs) survives on an uncharted island following the wreck of the family yacht, and there he learns to survive with the use of an old-fashioned weapon. He also develops a newfound sense of right and wrong, and so when he returns to Starling City and civilization, he dons a cloak and becomes the vigilante known only as Arrow. (I guess the creators figured that dropping the "Green" first name from the comics apparently makes him sound a little less goofy to modern audiences.)
Rich kids with daddy issues are nothing new in the superhero world, but this is clearly not the financially ruined, ultra-liberal, borderline hippie Oliver Queen made famous by writer Denny O'Neil and artist Neal Adams in the late '60s. Instead, this version lays on the big business intrigue and family drama as our protagonist navigates the dangerous new world he's come home to. The action is top-notch though, as detailed in the fine bonus features, which also include deleted scenes and a Season One gag reel. The surprising heft of this set owes to Warner's recent and much-appreciated trend of combo-packing select TV Blu-rays with a complement of DVDs as well, in addition to UltraViolet Digital Copy for The Cloud crowd.
Spartacus: War of the Damned (Anchor Bay)
The appropriately bleakly-titled War of the Damned concludes the juicy made-for-Starz series of series (which also include Blood and Sand and Gods of the Arena) that follows the CGI-bloody exploits of the rebellious former gladiator, Spartacus. Liam McIntyre has assumed the title role from his predecessor Andy Whitfield, who reportedly gave his blessing before his untimely passing. The saga ends in grand style as the Roman Empire finally devotes their best and brightest to the campaign to crush Spartacus' slave rebellion once and for all.
It's also quite emotional, finished with a clever twist that echoes back to the 1960 Stanley Kubrick film, although this TV show is now and has always been a very different animal. The extras include the expected retrospective plus looks at the effects and costumes, but exclusive to this handsome Blu-ray book-style package are a total of ten audio commentaries from cast and crew, plus extended versions of every episode.