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Big Love: The Complete Fourth Season

HBO

SHOW B-

SPECIAL FEATURES B-

DVD GEEK FACTOR 5.95

(OUT OF 10)

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The most recent season of this normally well-balanced show went a little bonkers, a point made publicly by co-star Chloë Sevigny when she told the press that the season basically sucked. However, Sevigny recanted, and she will be present for the show's fifth and final season, starting Sunday, Jan. 16.

Sevigny wasn't all that wrong with her criticisms. Some of these episodes felt directionless, or just plain badly directed. The run for government office by family patriarch Bill (Bill Paxton) felt forced and weird, as did the foray into television by wife No. 3, Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin). The moment when Lois (Grace Zabriskie) cut off somebody's arm had me momentarily convinced that the show had completely lost its bearings.

Still, when the family joined hands onstage at season's end to the strains of Peter Gabriel's cover of "Heroes," I had a feeling that the story would indeed go somewhere impressive in its next installments.

SPECIAL FEATURES: "Inside the Episodes" featurettes take behind-the-scenes looks at each episode.


Funny or Die Present: The Complete First Season

HBO

SHOW B

SPECIAL FEATURES F

DVD GEEK FACTOR 6

(OUT OF 10)

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This sketch- comedy series is an offshoot of the website made famous by executive producers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (the site that brought you "The Landlord," starring McKay's toddler daughter as a cranky landlord trying to get her drink on).

The show's format varies, with some weeks boasting many short films, and others including longer films or even entire episodes based on a single comic premise. Episode 1 comes on strong with an installment of "Drunk History," this time starring Will Ferrell as Abraham Lincoln and Don Cheadle as Frederick Douglass mouthing a soundtrack provided by inebriated actress Jen Kirkman. Kirkman is the best narrator yet for "Drunk History," because she doesn't vomit, while others do.

Recurring sketches include "Designated Driver," starring Rob Riggle as an obnoxious drunk friend who gets a pal to drive him home, and "Playground Politics," featuring children acting out international tensions (they wear T-shirts that say Africa, North Korea, etc.).

Guest stars include Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim from Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, John C. Reilly and Crispin Glover for another installment of "Drunk History," and a pigtailed Zach Galifianakis.

Tim Meadows, David Spade and Ferrell take part in perhaps the most bizarre episode, a full show devoted to the hilarious web series "The Carpet Brothers." After watching "The Carpet Brothers," I stand convinced that this premise deserves its own movie.

The show begins a second season Friday, Jan. 14, on HBO.

SPECIAL FEATURES: You get nuthin'!


Howl (Blu-ray)

OSCILLOSCOPE

MOVIE B

SPECIAL FEATURES B+

BLU-RAY GEEK FACTOR 7.25

(OUT OF 10)

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Couple his performance here as poet Allen Ginsberg with his stunning turn in 127 Hours, and James Franco easily had his best year on the big screen in 2010.

Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who usually specialize in documentaries, direct the film. Parts of this movie have a pseudo-documentary feel, and that comes as no surprise. Franco inhabits the role with a mature grace; this is probably his most "adult" undertaking to date.

SPECIAL FEATURES: An audio commentary with Franco and the directors, a making-of documentary, and even some director-research tapes showing interviews with real Ginsberg associates. You also get video of Ginsberg reading "Howl" at The Knitting Factory in New York, and audio of Franco reading it as well. The Blu-ray version comes with a copy of the standard DVD version.


Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

IFC

MOVIE B

SPECIAL FEATURES C-

DVD GEEK FACTOR 5.5

(OUT OF 10)

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This sporadically funny, sometimes (appropriately) depressing documentary chronicles the famed comedienne's attempts to get back in the limelight after a career low point.

Watching this film, I realized I had forgotten what a massive comedic influence Rivers was and is ... something that got knocked out of my head with all of her stupid red-carpet commentating and jewelry-selling crap. I also forgot about the tragedies she dealt with (like the suicide of her husband) and her fallout with notorious jackass Johnny Carson. Seriously, that guy was a bastard.

The film follows Rivers to some unsavory comedy dates and includes her victorious run on Donald Trump's The Apprentice. It shows she's still a hard-working entertainer, which she has to be, due to an extravagant lifestyle that demands upkeep. It is hard to watch some passages; she is in obvious pain while subjecting herself to a nasty roast for a paycheck. Yes, many jokes about her plastic surgeries are thrown in her face.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted scenes.

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