DVD 7/14/09: Leverage S1, Eldorado, The State, Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes, Horsemen, Push, Mad Men S2, Reno 911! S6, American Gladiators TOS

Leverage: Season 1 (NR, 2008, Paramount)
Very little about “Leverage” — which finds a badly spurned former insurance company investigator (Timothy Hutton as Nathan Ford) accidentally teamed up with four impossibly compatible and excruciatingly clever thieves (Aldis Hodge, Beth Riesgraf, Christian Kane and Gina Bellman) — is grounded in any rational human being’s idea of reality. But when a show fully realizes that and moves forward with the expectation that viewers both understand and are on board for the ride, great things can happen. And so they do. “Leverage” is ridiculously slick, wrapping some clever storylines and awesome “Sneakers”-style technology around an ensemble cast that’s shockingly democratic in its likability. The dialogue occasionally waltzes along the border of too-cute-for-its-own-good country, and our anti-heroes’ schemes are blessed with a level of good luck even Indiana Jones would find a bit excessive. But it’s entirely deliberate and entirely in the name of entertainment, and all the illogical absurdity in the world doesn’t count for a thing when it has scripts as smart as these continually at its back.
Contents: 13 episodes (commentary on every episode), plus deleted scenes and five behind-the-scenes features.

Eldorado (NR, 2008, Film Movement)
Yvan (Bouli Lanners) doesn’t have a lot, but he does have something, and when he comes home to find that pittance threatened by one sorry excuse for a thief (Fabrice Adde) hiding under his bed … a road trip movie is born? Without spoiling what takes “Eldorado” from A to B, indeed it is. Past that simple classification, though, “Eldorado” becomes a tough movie to put in a nutshell. The setup seems ripe for comedy, and the film indeed is very funny in spots. But “Eldorado” is a story about its characters more than a collection of instances, and it takes a special kind of longing for the story to reconcile what happens in act one with what happens next. That progression happens more naturally in the film that it reads on paper, in no small part due to the film’s ability to delegate and mix moods — darkly hilarious one scene, uncomfortably frank the next, wince-worthy after that, awkwardly heartwarming after that — without feeling like it’s ever doing so. In other words, it takes a threadbare genre that’s been done to death and completely owns it.
Extras: Short film “Icebergs,” director bio.

The State: The Complete Series (NR, 1993, MTV/Paramount)
When a sketch comedy show pops up on DVD a good 16 years after it first aired, there’s bound to be concern over how well the material has aged. But cult sensation “The State” has some advantages other sketch shows do not. On its own terms, it’s aged pretty well. Like “The Kids in the Hall” before it and “Mr. Show” slightly later on, “The State” played on the respective comedic and storytelling strengths of its cast instead of any need to riff on current events. It was subversively funny then, and it still mostly works now in spite of how much growing up televised comedy has done in the interim. But unless you’re already intimately familiar with the show, that’s only half the story. “The State” also is a hotbed of talent done good, including the threesome behind “Stella” (Michael Ian Black, David Wain, Michael Showalter), much of the “Reno 911!” brain trust (Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant, Kerri Kenney) and a few other names and faces fans of cult comedy likely know (Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio, Kevin Allison). Watching all these people work together so early in their careers is a total treat. That their work remains funny all this time later merely is a really nice bonus.
Contents: 24 episodes, plus commentary, the pilot episode, unaired sketches (with commentary), outtakes, interviews, outtakes, promotional content and footage of cast appearances on other MTV shows.

Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes (NR, 2009, Docurama)
Of all the things with which “Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes” comes equipped, the element of surprise is not one. Nor, fans of Keillor’s work would probably argue, should it be. “Shoes” somewhat aimlessly follows Keillor through what presumably is a pretty standard patch in his life — as a writer, stage performer and kingpin of one of public radio’s premiere programs. Keillor speaks frankly about his life and the creative process, a series of audiovisual aids back up all the talk, and “Shoes” is continually (though subtly) bombarded by a one-two-three punch of insights, life experience and the philosophy of entertaining against the popular grain. The sum total never approaches glass-shattering, to say nothing of earth-shattering. But it most certainly is pleasant, and that’s probably suits Keillor’s most devoted fans just fine.
Extras: Outtakes, Robert Altman and Keillor interview, Keillor speaking to students, filmmaker bio.

Horsemen (R, 2009, Lions Gate)
Some movies start hot before petering out. “Horsemen” has the opposite problem, and it isn’t necessarily a better predicament. Things start off like any given episode of any given police procedural, with a victim of a grisly murder on display upstairs while the kids who found her and the husband who rushed home grieve one floor down. Things venture deeper into cookie cutter territory when the full plight of our detective hero (Dennis Quaid) is unveiled: He’s a widower (check), raising two kids by himself (check), and constantly sets his kids up with the prospect of finally spending time with them before the phone rings, another body turns up and he has to break their hearts and leave them with the babysitter (triple check). But things finally pick up once the table is set, and “Horseman” excels in the one department — the big reveal of who, how and why — that it couldn’t really afford to leave to cliché. From there, things snowball, and the story takes a turn that’s crazy but, at least in the bounds of its own weird existence, reasonably explained. The sum total isn’t a great film — at all — but it’s more entertaining (and certainly bolder) that its cardboard beginnings would suggest. Ziyi Zhang and Patrick Fugit also star.
Extras: Crew commentary, deleted scenes.

Push (PG-13, 2009, Summit Entertainment)
As science fiction concepts go, “Push’s” has potential. And it should, because if you count the number of ideas the film flings at a wall, you’ll need all your fingers, all your toes and perhaps a friend’s help. “Push’s” world takes all kinds: There are psychic Watchers like Cassie (Dakota Fanning), who tracks down a telekinesis-enabled Mover (Chris Evans as Nick) to help her recover a government secret that could save their kinds from their predestined extermination. Also in the mix: A Pusher (Camilla Belleas Kira), who can read minds and create memories that didn’t actually happen in order to manipulate people. But there’s also Henry (Djimon Hounsou), who essentially serves as the Emperor Palpatine to the poor man’s Jedi and Sith (including two guys whose power is, no joke, screaming) that comprise the rest of the cast. A maddeningly slapped-together storyline explains why these parties oppose each other and what’s ultimately at stake, but other than send us on some eye candy-laden chases through Hong Kong, all it manages to do is collapse painfully under the combined weight of bad dialogue, soundtrack excess and a system of logic that contradicts itself. The everyman superhero gimmick no longer is fresh, and other than straight off a narrative cliff, “Push” doesn’t take it anywhere it hasn’t already been.
Extras: Cast/director commentary, deleted scenes (with commentary), behind-the-scenes feature.

Worth a Mention
— “Reno 911! The Complete Sixth Season” (NR, 2009, Comedy Central): Three rather major cast members (Carlos Alazraqui, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Mary Birdsong) are no longer with us at the start of the sixth season, and the jury remains out whether their replacements (Joe Lo Truglio and Ian Roberts) can fill those big shoes. Includes 15 episodes, plus commentary, outtakes/extended scenes and profiles of our two newest conquering heroes.
— “American Gladiators: The Original Series: The Battle Begins” (NR, 1989, Shout Factory): If you pine for the glory days of the original “American Gladiators,” you officially are no longer alone. And even if you are, Shout has been kind enough to make this DVD set just for you. Includes 14 episodes, plus gladiator commentaries, a contestant interview and a 10-page color booklet.