- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The State: The Complete Series (Paramount/MTV, $69.99) — It seems that all the best sketch comedy is considered cult comedy — “SCTV,” “A Bit of Fry and Laurie” and, many would argue, “The State.” You might not have heard of that sketch series, which ran for four seasons on MTV, from December 1993 to July 1995, but chances are you’ve heard of the movies and television series the show’s cast members went on to direct and star in — “Reno 911!” “I Love You, Man” and “Wet Hot American Summer,” among many others.

“The State” was comedy for the young by the young, with the members of the group founded at New York University all in their 20s. It looked like the show might hit the big time, with ABC in talks with the creators at one point about airing the series opposite sketch stalwart “Saturday Night Live.” It never happened, though, and fans have been waiting more than a decade for the series finally to make its way to DVD. (A film, possibly to be aired on Comedy Central, apparently is in the works, though.)

Less politically oriented than “SNL,” “The State” hasn’t aged too badly. Sketches like “The Adventures of Young God and Wonder Boy” and a funny if slightly predictable look inside a teachers lounge, for example, are pretty timeless.

Plenty of extras are assembled on the five-disc set. All 24 episodes are here, with commentary on every one by various cast members, who also sit for interviews on the show’s origins, characters and catchphrases. Also included are the pilot episode, more than 90 minutes of unaired sketches with commentary, outtakes, “The State” on “The Jon Stewart Show” and more.

The Edge of Love (Image, $27.98 for DVD, $35.98 for Blu-ray) — Welsh actor Matthew Rhys brings Welsh poet Dylan Thomas to life seemingly effortlessly in “The Edge of Love,” but the man is not the main attraction here — it’s the two free-spirited women who loved him, played with hot passion and ice-cold drama by Sienna Miller (as his wife, Caitlin) and Keira Knightley (as his childhood sweetheart, Vera). Extras include a commentary with Mr. Rhys and director Jack Maybury and a making-of featurette.

Leverage: The First Season (Paramount, $39.99) — The premise of the TNT action-drama “Leverage” is immensely appealing: A former insurance investigator (troubled, of course) played by Timothy Hutton leads a crew of computer geeks, con artists and just plain thieves who fight corporate and government malfeasance against regular Joes. All 13 episodes, with audio commentary for each, are here on four discs, as well as deleted scenes and a few behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Kelly Jane Torrance

For All Mankind (Criterion Collection, $24.99 Blu-ray, $19.99 DVD) — One week from today marks the 40th anniversary of man’s first steps on the moon; what better way to celebrate the occasion than with Al Reinert’s stunning documentary about the Apollo missions, “For All Mankind”?

“For All Mankind” is composed entirely of found footage — 16 mm cameras wielded by the astronauts capture the stunning moonscapes, while NASA archives provide the Earth-bound shots — and interviews with Alan Shepard, Neil Armstrong and 10 other members of the Apollo mission. It’s almost an experimental film: Montages of images tell the story in lieu of standard narration; none of the interview subjects is identified; no footage was shot for the film itself.

The extras, as on every Criterion release, are copious. There’s a new making-of featurette, excerpts from the astronauts’ on-camera interview and a fantastic booklet with essays by Mr. Reinert and film critic Terrence Rafferty. “For All Mankind” is visually striking, and the new transfer looks amazing — though those who dislike excess film grain will be driven batty by a few of the archival shots from NASA’s ground operations.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon/Curse of the Golden Flower/House of Flying Daggers (Sony Pictures Classics, $52.99 Blu-ray) — “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” finally comes to Blu-ray for American audiences (it had previously been available overseas), but only as part of this set for now — and the commenting hordes on Amazon are none too pleased.

Still, if you’re a fan of the look that “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” helped popularize in America — highly choreographed, fantasy-based fight sequences aided by extensive wire work — it might be worth your time (and your cash) to pick up this set. Joining 2001’s best foreign-language film are “Curse of the Golden Flower” and “House of Flying Daggers,” similarly stylized martial-arts action pictures. They all look exceptionally good on Blu-ray, with vibrant colors and even more vibrant action sequences.

Sonny Bunch

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