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Party Down: Season One (NR)

Starz/Anchor Bay

The Starz channel is quickly on its way to becoming the next Showtime, as far as entertaining original comedy series go. Between Head Case and now Party Down, they're doing an admirable job of delivering pay-cable laughs. Co-created by actor Paul Rudd and writer Rob Thomas, Party Down follows a Hollywood catering company that manages to employ a volatile mix of struggling/failed actors and imbecilic ne'er-do-wells, all coming together with an array of L.A. bigwigs in need of their services. The cast is great, but the true star is Glee's Jane Lynch as an air-headed, brain-fried, former '80s sex-comedy star who always seems one step behind the conversation. Every time she's on screen Party Down really shines. The show might not be enough reason to subscribe to Starz, but it's definitely worth picking up on DVD. — Louis Fowler

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The Story of Math (NR)

Athena

"I'm Marcus du Sautoy," he announces early on, "and I'm a mathematician." Then follows four fabulous hours of geekery — barely enough, as our narrating Oxford prof has much ground to cover. Just relating the most basic concepts of space and quantity, he'll need to be seen gazing contemplatively from a gondola on the Nile, hiking China's Great Wall, roaming rainy Paris and getting sauced in Switzerland by toasting to the postulations of Leonhard Euler. As for imparting a sense of math's rise from pragmatism into high abstraction, that'll require tolerably silly establishing shots, some no-frills graphics and a few mind-expanding "whoa" moments. But if the nerdorable du Sautoy can't quite explain the eerily precise-seeming correlation between quantum system energy levels and the Riemann zeta function, well, neither can God. — Jonathan Kiefer

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The Yes Men Fix the World (NR)

New Video Group

If only we could somehow merge Michael Moore's genial and visual expositional style with Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum's (the Yes Men) uproarious yet suspenseful knack for elaborate pranks on corporations. Moore can't pull off those stunts anymore — he's too well known and, frankly, snide — but neither can the Yes Men hold our attention in between their ruses. This documentary is like a greatest hits of the Yes Men's pranks, the best of which is when they pretend to be Dow Chemical spokesmen and go on BBC to apologize for a chemical disaster in India 20 years ago and pledge $12 billion in reparations, causing Dow's stock to plummet for a brief time. The flop sweat and trembling hands just moments before pulling it off is the stuff of genuine drama. Their "show" is stellar, but the "tell" could use some work. — Justin Strout

Mad Men: Season Three (NR)

Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Yes, the critics all agree that Mad Men is one of the best shows on TV. And I, being a contrarian, usually find myself contradicting them. This time though, I've got to agree. Season three continues to unravel ad man Don Draper's already tumultuous life, with his icy wife Betty (January Jones) discovering his biggest secret shortly after the birth of their third child. This leads to an even bigger upheaval at work, with unexpected "God closing a door, opening a window" results. Jon Hamm, as Draper, remains the quintessential guru of televised early-1960s cool, taking on every obstacle in his structured life with a steely gaze, cigarette clenched in his lips, scotch in hand. How accurate a picture is this of the time? Probably not very, but man, is it ever entertaining. — Louis Fowler

Red Cliff: Original International Version, Parts I & II (NR)

Magnolia Home Entertainment

Do you have five hours to spare? Yes? Then turn off the phone, pull down the shades and enjoy one of the best films ever made about the battle for supremacy between warlords at the end of the Han Dynasty, circa 208 AD. Directed by John Woo — I guess he's left America and returned to his Asian filmmaking roots — Red Cliff is an extraordinarily powerful epic that, even with its massive running time, maintains a brisk pace, with heart-wrenching drama and ultra-bloody battle sequences. Part I is very much the lush historical epic you might expect, but Part II is pure adrenaline warfare, right up there with Saving Private Ryan for its battlefield intensity. Even better, Woo does a great job of returning to the forefront of world filmmaking, a position which was sadly tarnished by his recent time-wasters like Mission: Impossible 2 and Paycheck. — Louis Fowler

  • Party Down: Season One, The Story of Math, The Yes Men Fix the World

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