‘Newsroom,’ ‘House of Cards’ out this week

Jeff Daniels plays Will McAvoy, the news anchor in HBO's 'The Newsroom.'
Jeff Daniels plays Will McAvoy, the news anchor in HBO's 'The Newsroom.'

There is the Aaron Sorkin who writes smart, entertaining movies such as The American President and The Social Network, and made television better with much of his work on The West Wing. Then there is the Aaron Sorkin who must convince us how wise and moral he is, who snarls in our ear and belittles our women, in shows such as Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and other parts of The West Wing.

Then there’s the Sorkin of The Newsroom, the HBO series released on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday (HBO Home Entertainment, 10 episodes, $59.99 DVD, $79.98 Blu-ray / DVD / digital combo). In the early episodes, it looked like the annoying, self-righteous Sorkin in full bloom — setting up straw men just so he could knock them down, still demeaning women, making his show seem to be about one thing (serious, fact-based journalism) but actually being something else (lots of liberal opinion) and, in its explanation of the Citizens United decision, just getting things wrong.

It was the kind of show that, even when I agreed with the political points, irritated me because it made them so patronizingly. Yet there were still these moments when I muttered curses at Sorkin because, having endured so much bad stuff, I had to keep watching because he would hit an episode or a scene out of the park.

For those of you tuning in late, The Newsroom involves a fictional news network and its premier anchor, Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels). McAvoy has become weary of the way news is being reported — so much that he loses it during a panel discussion on the first episode — and, with help from some of his network associates, wants to reclaim the high ground. And, to give the show extra resonance, it is set in the not too distant past, the network covers actual stories (such as the killing of Osama bin Laden), and footage of real newsmakers and events is shown.

Although McAvoy is a Republican, he reserves much of his ire for conservative excesses, angering not only politicians on the right but one of his bosses (played, with considerable zest, by Jane Fonda). So hanging over the show is the question of whether Will will go too far — not only in how he presents the news but how he handles his turbulent personal life.

So very often, as I said, it was awful, both in its politicking and its storytelling, including in the first-season finale. (The second season begins on HBO on July 14.) But then there are moments, like Sam Waterston’s performance (as the head of the news division), the first of two episodes dealing with how to cover the Casey Anthony case, and in the one about the death of bin Laden. The second Anthony episode was not good, but the mere fact that I watched it meant that Sorkin had somehow gotten his hooks into me again.

Extras include a discussion of the first season with Sorkin, producers, and cast members Daniels, Emily Mortimer, and Sam Waterston; closeups on each episode, five audio commentaries; and deleted scenes.

Another show dealing with politics, House of Cards, will be seen for the first time by many of you because it originally aired on the streaming-video service Netflix. And the 13-episode DVD set (Sony, $55.99) or Blu-ray ($65.99) is very much worth your attention — in spite of the absence of extras other than what Sony calls “stunning collectible packaging.” It’s nice, but I would have traded it for some commentaries or deleted scenes.

Based on an excellent British series of the same name (which is also on DVD and Blu-ray), the series stars Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood, a congressman from South Carolina who has great ambitions and few scruples. In his attempts to advance, he brings into his orbit another representative (Corey Stoll) and a driven young reporter (Kate Mara), and their ethical struggles or lack of same provide a contrast to Underwood’s efforts.

The story drags in spots, especially when it lingers too long in the life of Underwood’s wife (Robin Wright). But it is often a superior soap, with a clear vision of how the political system works. Spacey, Mara, and Stoll are in excellent form, and the ending leaves plenty in the air for the planned second season. But I’m still waiting for good extras — or any.

Warner Bros. recently announced plans to show a remastered, 3-D version of The Wizard of Oz in selected IMAX theaters in September, with a release of the remastered 2-D and 3-D renditions coming to DVD and Blu-ray in October. The announcement conveniently came shortly before Oz the Great and Powerful arrives in homes Tuesday (Disney, $29.99 for DVD/digital package, $39.99 for Blu-ray/digital, $44.99 Blu-ray/DVD/digital, and the same $44.99 for a 3-D Blu-ray/digital). The movie about a circus magician (James Franco) who lands in the Land of Oz was a huge hit: $233 million in U.S. ticket sales according to Box Office Mojo and a little bit more in overseas sales. But I remain more intrigued by the Judy Garland version.

Down video road

The NBC series Revolution will have its first season on DVD and Blu-ray on Sept. 3. 42, the fine movie drama about Jackie Robinson, arrives in both formats July 16. G.I. Joe: Retaliation will be in Blu-ray, DVD and 3-D Blu-ray on July 30, and a digital download release two weeks earlier. Tom Cruise’s Oblivion comes to DVD and Blu-ray on Aug. 6, following a digital release on July 23.