Eastbound & Down: The Complete Second Season
Coolest extra: “Big Red Cockfighting” featurette, which takes a closer look how the directors handled the brawling birds scenes (DVD/Blu-ray)
Complex says: The public seems to love Kenny Powers, Danny McBride’s brash former MLB star on HBO’s Eastbound & Down, for his disrespectful one-liners, unfortunate self-delusions, and marketability for sporting goods companies. After the half-hour show’s first season ended in March 2009, the dark comedy’s frontman felt like nothing more than that, in a totally acceptable way—when a show’s as funny as McBride and Observe And Report director Jody Hill’s brainchild was during its initial six-episode run, who needs more than surface-level laughs?
By the end of Eastbound & Down’s risky second season, however, Kenny Powers evolved into something not many, especially us, ever expected: one of TV’s most complicated characters. Set almost entirely in Mexico, Powers’ road to redemption gets shaken up as he discovers facets of himself that give him pause: He’s not just a breast-man, but also a fan of fat asses (particularly that of curvy love interest Ana de la Reguera); his sleazy, estranged father (Don Johnson) is a bigger prick than he is; and his own arrogance is to blame for the failed pitching career. Eastbound & Down isn’t The Natural, of course, so Powers’ revelations aren’t schmaltzy, but Season Two’s ability to layer McBride’s role, in turn leading to a more dynamic performance, challenges any illogical criticisms about the show being too one-note.
The features included in Eastbound & Down: The Complete Second Season aren’t dissimilar from other TV show DVD/Blu-ray packages, with five commentaries (featuring McBride, Hill, hilarious co-star Steven Little, and other behind-the-scenes players), sixteen minutes’ worth of deleted scenes, and various outtakes. The episodes themselves are the real draw here.
Buy it now: Eastbound & Down: The Complete Second Season
Stake Land (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Coolest extra: Character Prequels: 7 Short Films (DVD/Blu-ray)
Complex says: Don’t be fooled by all of Stake Land’s familiar points. Plot-wise, director/co-writer Jim Mickle’s independent, post-apocalyptic horror flick has much in common with the flesh-eater comedy Zombieland, though Mickle’s film is wholly serious. And its central antagonists are the genre’s current villain of popular demand, the other type of living dead: vampires. Furthermore, the film’s grungy, dirt-caked aesthetic resembles that of the similar end-of-the-world survival pic The Road.
So it’s all the more impressive that Stake Land’s biggest strengths lie beneath its conventional exterior. Visceral, tightly paced, and well acted, Mickle turns his and co-writer (and also star) Nick Damici’s character-driven script into a gorgeously shot, intimate epic. Damici plays a guy simply known as Mister, mentor to a young orphan (Connor Paolo) whose parents were ripped to shreds by ferocious vamps; together, they travel across an American wasteland overrun by growling, feral bloodsuckers, not pretty-boy Twilight types or horny True Blood charmers. The undead in Stake Land have more in common with fanged demons than pop culture’s more traditional creatures of the night. Not even your boy Alcide could fuck with them.
Wisely, the filmmakers don’t rely solely upon vamps to push the conflict, introducing a religious cult known as the Brotherhood, a pack of demented, hooded sociopaths that use the bloodthirsty monsters as their very own henchmen. Stake Land has a number of memorable horror sequences, specifically an edit-free set-piece in which ravenous vampires get dropped out of unseen helicopters and onto an unsuspecting block party like kamikaze parachuters. It’s the film’s sympathetic and interesting characters, though, that really drive the story.
With Eric now banging Sookie instead of killing people, and Edward Cullen getting ready to start a family and, yes, still acting like a passive-aggressive bitch, it’s refreshing to watch vampires truly raise hell for a change. That alone makes Stake Land a horror fan’s delight.
Buy it now: Stake Land (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Coolest extra: “Saving The Species: One Voice At A Time” featurette (DVD/Blu-ray)
Complex says: Try as you might to attack it, Rio, the latest animated non-human adventure from the folks behind Ice Age works extra hard to satisfy. So hard that it’s borderline desperate to entertain, stringing together a playlist of kid-ready Latin jams, obnoxious yet, once again, kid-ready voice work from Tracy Morgan and Will.i.am, and a bright, Brazilian color scheme that should capture little ones’ attention like a mother waving a Twinkie in front of a young chub rock. Rio hardly stops for a breath, sprinting to the inevitably pleasant finish line and knocking down every standard children’s movie beat along the way.
Only in a kids’ movie can such predictable ticks remain enjoyable. Brisk, harmless fun, Rio is the kind of kids’ flick that’s not a chore for adults to simultaneously watch (Sony Pictures Animation should pay us to endure those unfunny Smurfs). Jesse Eisenberg brings his now-credible brand of awkward neurosis to the main character, a Macaw named Blu, who takes a vacation away from his loving owner, four-eyed little girl Linda, to track down the only other living member of his species, Jewel, voiced by Anne Hathaway. Yeah, Rio is basically about a socially inadequate male bird looking to get to know a feisty lady bird better—who else would you call but Eisenberg for the role, especially now that Michael Cera’s star has dipped behind a cloud.
The animation is sharp throughout, and both Eisenberg and Hathaway bring unique life to otherwise traditional parts. By year’s end, the chances of Rio making any “best of” lists seem lean, with far stronger new-age toons Rango and Kung Fu Panda 2 leaving it obsolete on the not-live-action ballot. As a lively way to kill time, though, the kids in your life, as well as you, could do a lot worse, i.e. Smurfette and her party of blue sausages.