'Hill Street Blues' defined TV sophistication

New releases: 'Hill Street Blues' helped define TV sophistication

Hill Street Blues: The Complete Series

Shout! Factory, $199.99

For seven seasons between 1981 and 1987, "Hill Street Blues" helped define how sophisticated TV drama could be, telling fast-paced, blackly comic stories about jaded lawmen and vicious criminals while exploring what broadcast censors and the FCC would allow. With Daniel J. Travanti starring as a tough-but-sensitive police captain leading a band of eccentric, multi-ethnic old pros — some cocky, some jittery — "Hill Street Blues" played like a more serious version of then-popular movies like "Stripes" and "Animal House." And creator Steven Bochco's decision to tell open-ended stories, rare for prime-time dramas at the time, established the model that quality TV still follows. Shout! Factory's "Hill Street Blues: The Complete Series" box set is a must for TV fans, collecting all 144 episodes and supplementing them with interviews and retrospective featurettes.

Escape From Tomorrow

Cinedigm, $19.97; Blu-ray, $19.97

Writer-director Randy Moore shot most of his surreal indie drama surreptitiously at the Disney parks, sneaking in a camera crew by posing as camcorder-carrying tourists. The use of real locations makes a difference, lending some satirical sting and specificity to the trippy story of a frazzled middle-class dad (Roy Abramsohn) who sees his family outing take a dark turn. Even better is the "Escape From Tomorrow" DVD and Blu-ray (the latter a Best Buy exclusive until the end of July), which adds commentary tracks and behind-the-scenes footage that document the fascinating saga of how Moore pulled off making this movie.

Labor Day

Paramount, $29.98; Blu-ray, $39.99

Available on VOD beginning April 29

Director Jason Reitman has mostly coasted from success to success with such films as "Juno" and "Up In the Air." Reitman's adaptation of Joyce Maynard's novel "Labor Day" is the first real whiff of his career: a turgid melodrama that Reitman treats like heavy-duty awards bait. (The movie barely figured in this past awards season.) Kate Winslet gives a lifeless performance as a depressed divorced mother who rediscovers some of her inner zest when an escaped inmate (played well by Josh Brolin) holds her and her 13-year-old son hostage over one long September weekend in 1987. The story is told from the perspective of the son, who learns something about how to be a man from his captor. The DVD and Blu-ray include a Reitman commentary, deleted scenes and a featurette.

The Sacrament

Available on VOD beginning May 1

Cult horror director Ti West has made a chase thriller, an atmospheric "devil movie" and a haunted hotel comedy. Now he's back with the found footage picture "The Sacrament," which doubles as a throwback to gamy 1970s exploitation. Kentucker Audley plays a journalist who uses his sister's connection to an African religious cult to launch a covert investigation with his colleagues (Joe Swanberg and AJ Bowen). Amy Seimetz is terrific as the sister, who leads this trio into the dark heart of her organization, and "The Sacrament" admirably follows West's usual slow-build model of storytelling. But the arc of that story is a little too predictable this time out, drawing on the details of several familiar real-life cults.


Bad Country

Sony, $26.99; Blu-ray, $30.99

Gimme Shelter

Lionsgate, $19.98; Blu-ray, $24.99

Available on VOD beginning April 29

The Legend of Hercules

Lionsgate, $29.95; Blu-ray, $39.99

Available on VOD beginning April 29

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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