Shaking up Shakespeare

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Axl (Charlie McDermott), Brick (Atticus Shaffer) and Sue (Eden Sher) are the Heck kids in ABC’s “The Middle.” The third season of the sitcom comes to DVD on Tuesday.
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Whedon takes on ‘Much Ado’ with plenty of to-do

This week we begin with the Bard:

Much Ado About Nothing

(***1/2)

Rated PG-13, 109 minutes. Available Tuesday on DVD. Available now in streaming formats.

Writer-director Joss Whedon (TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly) has ingeniously reconfigured Shakespeare’s play about feuding lovers, transplanting it to modern-day Los Angeles but keeping intact its fresh wit and inventiveness along with dialogue that sounds fitting and completely natural to the settings.

Whedon has recruited a fine cast made up mainly of actors with whom he worked while in television: Amy Acker (Angel) plays Beatrice, the tart-tongued beauty who bedevils the swaggering Benedick (Alexis Denisof, also of Angel).

Their reluctant love plays out against another subplot of estranged lovers, Hero (Jillian Morgese) and Claudio (Fran Kranz), who have been duped by the evil Don John (Sean Maher). Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle) avoids the common mistake of overplaying the role of constable Dogberry, instead infusing his character with warmth and understanding.

The interior confines become a little crowded, and claustrophobic, at times, but Whedeon has obviously undertaken a labor of love, and it shows in his careful staging and filming.

The DVD includes two commentaries, a 22-minute “making of” featurette, the bus-tour-centered, six-minute featurette “Bus Ado About Nothing,” a music video, and more.

The Tin Star (***1/2) Anthony Mann, who turned out a number of fine Westerns (The Man From Laramie, The Far Country), directed The Tin Star (1957), a tough, no-nonsense drama filled with high-pedigree names both in front of and behind the camera. With script from Dudley Nichols (Stagecoach), the film also benefits from a haunting music score from Elmer Bernstein.

Henry Fonda stars as Morgan Hickman, a grizzled bounty hunter who receives a town’s cold reception when turning in a dead body to a green new sheriff, Ben Owens (Anthony Perkins).

Hickman reveals himself to be a former lawman as he takes Owens under his tutelage, warning him against impending dangers and occupational hazards, all while a local drama plays out involving perennial tough guys Lee Van Cleef and Neville Brand. Betsy Palmer plays the local woman who befriends Hickman against the town bullies. Unrated, 93 minutes.

Bad Company (**1/2) As hard as it is to believe, Jeff Bridges was already starring in movies over 40 years ago. Bad Company (1972) reunites the screenwriting team behind Bonnie and Clyde: David Newman and first-time director, Dallas-born, Waxahachie-raised Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer, Places in the Heart).

The story centers on a naive young man, Drew Dixon (Barry Brown, who died at 27), who leaves his Greenville, Ohio, home to avoid the Union draft during the Civil War. He ends up in Jefferson City and somehow joins the loose-knit gang of similarly minded runaways, led by the charismatic, Fagin-like Jake Rumsey (Bridges). The two opposites somehow bond through the succeeding loosely joined sequences from Benton and Newman’s script.

Drew and Jake and their crew meet a gang of robbers, a rifle toting Wells Fargo agent, a prostitute traveling with her erstwhile “business agent,” and other flavorful characters. Benton displays a loose narrative grip, rendering entertaining yet not always related scenes. Bridges reveals a rough draft of the insouciant, silky smooth performer he would eventually become. Rated PG, 92 minutes.

Morning (**1/2) Actor Leland Orser makes his debut as writer-director in this formulaic melodrama with a good cast. Orser and Jeanne Tripplehorn play Mark and Alice Munroe, whose only child has died tragically. The trauma tears them apart, but the film’s serious subject seems overly familiar and follows an expected pattern.

With Laura Linney, Kyle Chandler, Jason Ritter and Elliott Gould. Rated R, 93 minutes.

The Horses of McBride (**1/2) In a twist on the usual holiday movie, this gorgeously filmed family drama sees a father, Matt Davidson (Aidan Quinn), and his young daughter, Nicki (Mackenzie Porter), spending their Christmas joining forces with their small town of McBride, British Columbia, to help rescue two horses.

The two horses have been trapped in the snow in the Canadian Rockies, and they have nothing to eat because of their isolated area that keeps humans away. With Kari Matchett and Edward Ruttle. Not rated, 88 minutes.

And finally, from this week’s TV arrivals:

The Middle: The Complete Third Season The Hecks, the self-described middle-class family from the middle of the country, return in this third season. Mom and pop Frankie and Mike (Patricia Heaton and Neil Flynn) navigate their way through a season filled with adventures and high jinks with their children Axl (Charlie McDermott), Sue (Eden Sher) and Brick (Atticus Shaffer).

The real-life family situations, comedies and dramas include holiday dinner pressures, prom, teen romances and many other scenes taken from what seems to be real life. Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline created the series.

Not rated, 8 hours, 36 minutes. The season’s 24 episodes come on three discs. The collection holds a gag reel and deleted scenes.

Mama’s Family: The Complete Series Vicki Lawrence starred in this series spinoff from The Carol Burnett Show that ran from 1983 to 1990.

Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon created the series in which Lawrence played “Mama,” a.k.a. Thelma Mae Crowley Harper, a 65-year-old widow. Sassy and smart-mouthed, she traded quips and performed some inspired sketches with Carol Burnett alumni Harvey Corman and Tim Conway and others, including Rue McClanahan, Betty White, Ken Berry and Burnett herself. McClanahan played Mama’s sister Fran, and Berry was her son Vint.

The series’ 130 episodes, never before released on DVD, had been offered initially online but are now available on a packaged set of 24 DVDs. The set also holds abundant supplements, such as a cast reunion roundtable discussion, new interviews with Lawrence and Burnett, new interviews with various other cast members, the original movie Eunice, the precursor to Mama, a family album compete with biographies, and much more.

Also available Tuesday on DVD: Berlin Job, After Earth, The Exorcist: 40th Anniversary, The Hangover Part III and The Purge.


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