Software Reviews

DVD: City by the Sea—Warner Brothers
Audio: 3
Video: 3
Extras: 2
Uniformly strong performances by the leads, notably Robert De Niro and James Franco, highlight and give added cache to a gritty drama that often looks and feels like an independent production. De Niro is a veteran New York detective who learns that his estranged, drug-addicted son is a murder suspect. Himself the son of a man who was executed for a botched kidnapping decades before, De Niro's Vincent La Marca is determined to save his child from prison and, later, "suicide by cop." But he must first reconstitute his relationship with the teenager in order to help him.

In a short interview, Welsh director Michael Caton-Jones talks about the deteriorating father/son relationship, along with his propensity to highlight such universal themes in his work. The DVD also includes commentary by writer Ken Hixon and producer Matthew Baer, but their numbingly laid-back tone makes it sound like they're on downers. They do deliver some interesting bits of trivia, like the fact that the Asbury Park, New Jersey, boardwalk that subs for Long Beach, Long Island, is the same stretch of planks that we frequently see on The Sopranos. This disc isn't a showcase for audio or visual envelope-pushing, but the 2.35:1 anamorphic picture is generally very good, and the dialogue-driven Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is workmanlike yet delivers some convincing ambient effects when necessary.

Somber but riveting, City by the Sea is worth a look, whether you're a fan of police procedurals or commentaries on familial relationships.—Gary Frisch

DVD: Best of The Muppet Show—Columbia TriStar
Audio: 3
Video: 3
Extras: 1
My initial reaction to the two latest additions to the Best of The Muppet Show DVD series was the same one I had when Columbia TriStar released the first two DVDs last September. The 10-year-old inside of me was thrilled to finally have copies of her favorite show preserved on DVD, while the hard-to-please cynic on the surface snidely remarked, "Really, is this the best you could do?"

The 1.33:1 picture's quality is respectable, considering its age. Colors are vibrant, but the image is soft. In terms of dialogue reproduction, the Dolby stereo soundtrack gets the job done. The extras package is another story: All we get are brief intros from Brian Henson, trailers, and a few humorous vignettes. Surely Columbia TriStar could've convinced a few of the stars involved to provide commentary about their favorite Muppet moments. Simply shameless is the fact that each $20 DVD contains only three half-hour episodes. Please. All of the episodes released thus far could easily fit on one disc. Methinks someone is trying to take advantage of my inner child's enthusiasm. And you know what? They've succeeded. I put the first two DVDs in our December 2002 gift guide, and I'd buy the two new discs, as well—as they feature some of my favorite guest appearances by John Denver, Harry Belafonte, Peter Sellers, and John Cleese.

I guess Columbia TriStar knows that the 10-year-old in our house and our heart is always going to win out, and I'm not so sure that's a bad thing.—Adrienne Maxwell