Hibernating? Chill out with offbeat shows, DVDs
We've had our share of frigid days and snowy nights this winter, times when you just want to curl up on the couch instead of heading into the bitter cold. For those kind of days -- and we're sure there will be more -- we have a few recommendations for shows, movies and Internet videos sure to warm up a night at home. All are available on either DVD, Netflix or online.
So grab a blanket, order some takeout and settle in for a night of chills, thrills and well-earned laughs.
Red Letter Media's 'Best of the Worst'
A group of filmmakers and obsessive film-watchers in Wisconsin who first rose to Internet prominence with their hilarious dissections of the "Star Wars" prequels, Red Letter Media has a wealth of wonderful videos on its website and YouTube channel.
The most entertaining is the regular series called "Best of the Worst," in which a panel incredulously watches and discusses three terrible movies. Episode 7, for example, includes a "Die Hard" rip-off inexplicably marketed as a "Home Alone" rip-off, and a British kids' movie called "Thunderpants" about a boy with excessive flatulence. (I'm sure Rupert Grint of "Harry Potter" fame is proud to have that on his resume.)
Search "Red Letter Media" on YouTube, grab a couple of beers and make sure the kids aren't around.
-- Sean Stangland, Widescreen columnist
'Pride and Prejudice,' on DVD
Swirling winter winds and that hamper full of dirty laundry in the next room will all disappear into the mist as you step into Jane Austen's 19th-century England in the 1995 BBC One and A&E Network television drama "Pride and Prejudice," recently released in a keepsake Blu Ray edition.
In this Emmy-winning six-hour series, adapted from Austen's 1813 novel, Colin Firth plays the wealthy, sullen Mr. Darcy, a role that brought him heartthrob status. Jennifer Ehle is the witty Elizabeth Bennet, who hopes to marry for love. The two heat up the screen as their relationship slowly moves from mutual distaste to something more romantic. Watch Firth's eyes carefully as Darcy begins to have feelings for Elizabeth, and get ready to swoon.
And for comic relief, Alison Steadman is a hoot as the overbearing Mrs. Bennet, whose only goal in life is getting her daughters married to wealthy men.
Don't try to watch just an hour or two -- you'll be hooked for the entire six-hour run.
-- Laura Milbrath Stewart, staff writer
'Top of the Lake,' on DVD and Netflix
Elisabeth Moss' Golden Globe win Sunday for best actress in a miniseries piqued my interest in "Top of the Lake."
The seven-part miniseries was shot and set in New Zealand and ran on the Sundance Channel last spring. Escapism, it's not.
Instead, this beautifully shot and often haunting miniseries centers on Detective Robin Griffin (Moss), who returns home to a fictional New Zealand town to see her dying mother and is drawn into the case of a missing pregnant 12-year-old named Tui.
There is no parade of suspects as there would be in the usual American-made mystery, like AMC's "The Killing." Rather, you meet a cast of incredibly complicated, tragic characters including Tui's father, a violent piece of work named Matt; her half-brother Johnno, a lost soul whose troubled past intersects with Robin's; and Detective Al Parker, who seems more interested in appeasing the town's thugs than arresting them. Meanwhile, GJ (a barely recognizable Holly Hunter) presides over a women's commune where new-age types routinely wander about naked.
A fine cast brings these complex characters to disturbing life, and a sense of menace pervades every scene. It's a bit much at times -- this town's per capita sleazebag rate has to be the highest on earth -- but I devoured five episodes in a sitting. It's chilling viewing for chilly nights.
-- Lisa Friedman Miner, Entertainment Editor
'Sons of Anarchy,' on FX, DVD and streaming on Netflix
So, why would a suburban mom get hooked on FX's violent (sometimes extremely so) and often debaucherous "Sons of Anarchy"? The world of motorcycle gangs is completely foreign to me. But that's precisely why I seem drawn to this drama.
My husband and I gave it a try, and soon discovered that we could rarely watch just one episode at a time. One would easily turn into two or three, leading to some late nights (this is a show that should be watched only after the kids are in bed).
The show is created, written and directed by Kurt Sutter, who cameos as imprisoned Sons member Otto Delaney and is the real-life husband of Katey Sagal, who plays "Old Lady" Gemma Teller Morrow. The plot plays out like an intricate game of chess in the humble town of Charming, Calif., where secrets and past heinous deeds keep coming back to haunt the members of the SAMCRO motorcycle gang and their families. Pawns and central characters are taken out (shot, stabbed, beaten, run over by a van, etc.) at critical times.
What surprised me is how central family is to the series. The show had me from the first episode, when Jackson "Jax" Teller (Charlie Hunnam) gazes at his premature son Abel (whose mother was a junkie) in an incubator. Despite all of the mayhem and fighting that happens between rival gangs and inside the Sons themselves, the tenderness Jax had for Abel gave me hope that there was much more to this series than its violent image. From then on, Jax's determination to provide a better life for his children has been one of the reasons I can't stop watching.
Plus, the ensemble cast has grown on me, including Ron Perlman as despicable, scheming, jealous Clay Morrow (Gemma's husband and Jax's stepfather).
Yes, I'm only on season 5 right now, and unfortunately I accidentally saw a graphic in Entertainment Weekly showing two key characters that get killed off. But, I'm still going to watch the show to see if Jax can get out of the gunrunning, drug-muling life and SAMCRO, which is such an integral part of who is, whether he accepts it or not.
-- Caroline Linden, Assistant Entertainment Editor
'The IT Crowd,' on DVD, Netflix, Hulu
If you know Chris O'Dowd as the bumblingly charming love interest in Kristen Wiig's comedy "Bridesmaids," prepare for a delightful shock. His turn as disgruntled information technology specialist Roy Tenneman at U.K.-based Reynholm Industries is both ridiculous and yet familiar. "Hello, IT. Have you tried turning it off and on again?"
Paired with the socially inept computer wiz Maurice Moss (Richard Ayoade) and led by the computer-illiterate department head Jen Barber (Katherine Parkinson), Roy navigates the minefield of corporate life from his domain in the company basement while trying to ignite the wet kindling of his social life.
What separates "The IT Crowd" from other workplace sitcoms is that the characters aren't necessarily written to be likable. Roy's a bit of a jerk, Moss is a clueless genius and Jen believes herself to be a master manipulator. They (and the upstairs office drones) are caricatures, equal parts appealing and standoffish, which makes the sitcom hilarious without mucking about in any of that sympathetic nonsense; we love the characters and want things to work out, but when they don't, well, these guys pretty much deserve what they get.
The comedy ran for four seasons and a finale special, the best moments of which deal with topics including office romance (Moss spreads a rumor about Jen's death so she can avoid a second terrible date with a co-worker), Internet notoriety (an ill-conceived poll about a visit from Jen's time of the month brings ridicule down on the basement crew), workplace socializing (Moss and Roy join Jen on a date in an episode that almost made me wet my pants from laughing) and technological illiteracy (the guys give Jen "the Internet").
-- Brian Shamie, copy editor
'Much Ado About Nothing' and 'Long Day's Journey Into Night,' streaming and on download from digitaltheatre.com
Not everyone can jet to Great Britain to see outstanding theater on its many celebrated stages. But several acclaimed British productions are digitally available to rent or own via Digital Theatre at digitaltheatre.com.
The catalog is growing, with the critically acclaimed 2013 revival of Stephen Sondheim's musical "Merrily We Roll Along" as one of its most recent additions. There are also several plays taped at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the remarkable London re-creation of an Elizabethan playhouse.
Two Digital Theatre productions, one a comedy and one a tragedy, are definitely worth watching since they allow you to see TV celebrities getting back to their theater roots.
Fans of "Doctor Who" won't want to miss former stars David Tennant and Catherine Tate as the sparring lovers Benedick and Beatrice in the popular 2011 London revival of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing." This production, which updated the action to Gibraltar following the 1982 Falklands War, was completely sold out during its original run, so be grateful Digital Theatre recorded it for those who couldn't snag a ticket.
Most people know David Suchet as the title Belgian detective in "Poirot" and Laurie Metcalf as sister Jackie in the sitcom "Roseanne." But both actors have extensive stage credits, and Metcalf is an original member of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
They show how deep they can go dramatically starring as James and Mary Tyrone in the 2012 revival of Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama "Long Day's Journey Into Night." This searing autobiographical work exploring addiction and painful family recriminations is heartbreaking.
-- Scott C. Morgan, staff writer
Stuff You Should Know podcast, available online
While sometimes flippant and occasionally irreverent, this podcast hosted by Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark is always well-researched and fun to listen to. With hundreds of episodes under their belts, the pair tackle an array of topics ranging from the Lewis and Clark expedition to what to do when you lose a limb. Other topics the show has explored recently include lobotomies, chess, San Francisco's famed Winchester Mystery House, handwriting analysis, diplomatic immunity, the Burning Man festival, Rasputin's death, police sketches, solar sails and HeLa cells. Lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, the show can be enjoyed while cooking, cleaning, lounging or even playing video games. Downloads are available at iTunes or at stuffyoushouldknow.com.
-- Jake Griffin, Tax Watchdog Editor
And now, something completely quirky
Time to tap the Internet for some strange and delightfully odd movie-related entertainment.
Ever seen Stanley Kubrick's dread-filled horror movie "The Shining"? What if it were marketed as a wacky romantic comedy? Here's what the fake movie trailer looks like: bit.ly/lm4L3b3.
How about America's favorite everyman Tom Hanks recast as James Bond? Check out the fake movie trailer at bit.ly/1cnXQNx.
If you're a Muppets fan, how can you not see Cookie Monster as Cookiness Evereat in "The Hungry Games: Catching Fur," or as Richard Parker in "The Life of Pie," or a character in "Lord of the Crumbs." bit.ly/1gCg96e.
With "The Lego Movie" coming up Feb. 7, it might be a good time to take a look at one of the kajillion "Star Wars" animated takeoffs performed with Lego characters and sets. Here's one of the quickest and most elaborate: bit.ly/1fxKeHc.
Then we have an entire subgenre of movies called "sweded movies" established by the Jack Black comedy "Be Kind Rewind." A sweded movie is a famous, regular movie reshot by amateurs on a budget of $2.99 or thereabouts. Some of them can be quite inventive. Others not so much. Here's an overview: yhoo.it/1hquAuG.
Remember the comedy "Mrs. Doubtfire"? Here's the trailer recut as a horror film: bit.ly/1j3YfNp.
-- Dann Gire, film critic