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Friday, July 25, 2014



DVD Releases for May 1, 2007

It was a tough week to write this column, partially because of the selection of DVD coming out tomorrow, and partially because my DVD player had a meltdown while I was in the middle of reviewing Dinosaurs - The Complete Third and Fourth Seasons . (And then today my mouse stops working while my Internet connection has been sporadic all day. It's like my electronics are conspiring against me.) There were a few DVDs that were contenders for DVD Pick of the Week, but in the end I went with Dreamgirls - 2-Disc Showstopper Edition while giving Michael Palin's Around the World in 80 Days an honorable mention.

Alice, Sweet Alice - a.k.a. Communion - Buy from Amazon
A little known slasher from the 70s that is actually better than most of the genre. The film was first released a while back on a DVD that contained a few extras and is worth hunting down.

Alpha Dog - Buy from Amazon: DVD or HD-DVD
This film was released during the January dumping grounds but despite earning better than expected reviews, it failed to live up to low expectations. The DVD should perform better, but only because it would be so difficult for it to perform much worse. Extras are light, with just a making-of featurette, and in the end I can't recommend anything more than a rental.

The Best of the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet - Buy from Amazon
A TV series from the 50s and 60s that is usually brought up now in sociopolitical discussions about how the media of the day portrayed something that just didn't exist as a whitewash over the turmoil and inequality that was prevalent during the era. On the other hand, the show itself is pretty good (although certain aspects haven't aged very well). Back to the original hand, this is a best-of TV on DVD release and I don't think I need to repeat how much I hate those. Returning to the other hand once again, the 4-disc set is well done with more extras than most shows of its era and with no full-season sets on the horizon, this may be as good as it gets. If it was the first season coming out I would recommend picking it up, even if it only had half as many extras. As it is, I can only recommend a rental.

Beverly Hills, 90210 - The Second Season - Buy from Amazon
Teenage soap operas. Ugh. Granted, I do like these shows, however, even if I did I couldn't recommend this 8-disc set. It just looks ugly, at times second-hand VHS ugly. Completely unacceptable for a TV on DVD release for a show that's not that old. As for extras, there are only three featurettes with a total running time of 30 minutes, which is a step back from season 1. Skip it.

Clint Eastwood Western Icon Collection - Buy from Amazon
Three films starring Clint Eastwood: Two Mules for Sister Sara, Joe Kidd, and High Plains Drifter. However, while High Plains Drifter is excellent, the other two are just average compared to the rest of Eastwood's career.

A Collection of 2006 Academy Award Nominated Short Films - Buy from Amazon
All five live action Oscar nominated shorts (including both winners), as well as two of the animated ones. In addition, there are six bonus shorts. I love short films and wish there was a commercially viable market for them. This is a great step to building such a market as it is a great deal for the money.

Diggers - Buy from Amazon
Opened in theaters on Friday. Out on DVD by Tuesday. The film is better than most and the DVD is loaded with an audio commentary track, hour-long look at real clam diggers, half-hour interview, and half-hour of deleted scenes. Certainly worth checking out, although most will want to give it a rental before deciding if they want to buy it.

Dinosaurs - The Complete Third and Fourth Seasons - Buy from Amazon
A strange sitcom that is reminiscent of The Honeymooners, except all the main characters are dinosaurs. Not a revolutionary idea, since both the The Flintstones and The Simpsons are based on the same premise. However, this show works better than most and even has a message or two to give.

The first things you will notice when watching the show are the animatronic Dinosaurs created by the Jim Henson Creature Shop. I know that digital animation has made this kind of filmmaking nearly obsolete, but there's something about the way these look and move that I really like. Then again, I grew up on the Muppets and never really grew out of them. I know they don't move as smoothly as you can get with animation and there are things they can't do, but there's something about the style I really like.

On the other hand, there are some issues with the show, including the messages that I previously talked about. While having something to say adds to the overall quality of the show, sometimes the way they said it was a little ham-fisted. In fact, it was so heavy-handed at times that it not only hurt the entertainment value of the show, but hurt the message as well.

As for the extras, they are quite good for a show that was never a mainstream hit. The 4-disc set has 36 episodes, including seven that were not aired the first time around, there are audio commentary tracks on two of these episode, and two features, I'm The Baby, Gotta Love Me!! and Creatures With A Cause: The Issues of Dinosaurs. The first runs 6 minutes and discusses the most popular character, the Baby, which I never really liked. I found him irritating when the show was first on, and I still find him irritating now. The second featurette is just over 9 minutes long and talks about the issues dealt with on the show, especially environmentalism, which was the big one. Neither of these offer amazing insights into the show, but they are worth checking out.

Overall this is a good show that gets a deserving send-off on DVD. It's worth picking up for those who grabbed Seasons 1 and 2, and worth checking out for everyone else.

Dreamgirls - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc Edition, 2-Disc Showstopper Edition, Blu-Ray, and HD-DVD
Dreamgirls is the story of three women with dreams of musical stardom. These three women, played by Jennifer Hudson, Beyonce Knowles, and ... the other girl. (I feel sorry for Anika Noni Rose because she's great in the movie but out of the three actress she's gotten almost no attention for her performance.) But their travels from back-up singers to headliners is not a smooth rise.

This film had an Oscar buzz surrounding it for a year before it opened, and that's a lot of heightened anticipation to deal with. This is something that most films would crumble under, and while I do believe the film wasn't quite able to live up to expectations, it was still something special nonetheless. Since it is a musical, the most important aspect to the success of the movie are the songs. They are a strong mix of Motown, blues, jazz, and gospel and anyone who is a fan of these songs will be blown away. The acting is also strong as practically every member of the cast could have been nominated for awards, and a lot of them did (including a SAG nomination for best cast).

As for the film's faults, they are a little harder to put your finger on. Out of all of the major players on Oscar night that I've seen, and I've seen nearly all of them, this one wasn't able to grab me emotionally like The Departed or The Queen did. I'm not sure why and I'm not sure how the movie could have been changed to fix that, but that something that has to be mentioned.

Extras are divided between the two discs. The first disc is pretty bare bones with just some expanded and alternate scenes as well as a music video. There are 12 scenes with a total running time of 36 minutes and extended musical numbers.

Disc two starts with a feature-length making of documentary, Building the Dream, that follows the creation of the movie from its beginning as a musical, to writing the script, to the casting, etc. right up to the movie's premiere. And we are talking feature-length as it clocks in at just shy of 2 hours. This is an incredibly in-depth documentary and its more than 45 minutes over before you see the first frame being shot. Dream Logic: Film Editing is just what it sounds like, a 4-minute look at the editing of the movie. Dressing the Dreams: Costume Design is 8 minutes long and is about, you guessed it, the costume design. The aptly named Center State: Theatrical Lighting run almost 9 minutes long and is about the lighting. This doesn't sound like it would be as interesting as the previous two featurettes, but it is. Next up is Auditions and Screen Tests, which has three parts: Beyonce Knowles, Anika Noni Rose, and Fatima Robinson's Choreography audition. They run a total of 10 minutes and have some replay value. There are also seven Previsualization Sequences that include a mix of storyboards, audio and test shots. This is an interesting look at the pre-production of the movie with some bits running only a couple minutes, others are closer to ten with a total of 36 minutes, give or take. Finally, there are four image galleries.

Overall this was a good movie, but not quite up to the level of the other major players on Oscar night. As for the DVD, the 2-Disc Showstopper Edition is packed and easily worth picking up and depending on your love for musicals, and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky - Buy from Amazon
Three films from the Chilean director, Fando y Lis, El Topo, and The Holy Mountain, two of which have never been released on DVD until now (and the third appears to be out of print). Extras are good for films that are 30 to 40 years old, and imports as well. These are also available separately, but the box set is the better deal and any one interested in any one of them, it is worth grabbing them all.

Fletch - Jane Doe Edition - Buy from Amazon
One of Chevy Chase's best movies, and as much as that might sound like an insult, it was meant as a compliment. This loose adaptation of a Gregory McDonald novel is filled with sharp, witty dialogue and a plot that is as engaging as it is convoluted. As for the DVD, the extras are better than the previous releases, but not up to the level of a Special Edition with just a couple of featurettes running about 30 minutes. I like this movie, I really do, but I can't recommend this DVD. However, I do have hope that, with Fletch Won coming out, a real special edition will come out later on.

The Girls Next Door - Season 2 - Buy from Amazon
Reality TV at its worst. Skip it.

Happily N'ever After - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
One of the worst reviewed movies of the year. The DVD is well done with more than enough extras like an audio commentary track, making of featurette, etc. However, that's not nearly enough to make up for the quality of the movie. Skip it.

Hee Haw with George Strait - Buy from Amazon
A uniquely American show that was created by two Canadians. This was you typical variety show filled with sketches, musical acts, lots of bad jokes, etc. The DVD has a running time of just under an hour and no special features and isn't worth the low price.

The Hitcher - Buy from Amazon: DVD or HD-DVD
A horror remake, and like so many other such films released recently, this one failed to impress critics or moviegoers. Extras are about average with a few featurettes and deleted scenes, but no audio commentary track. Had the movie been decent, it would have been worth checking out, but it is not.

The King of Queens - The Complete Eighth Season - Buy from Amazon
A sitcom that has lasted nine seasons (the current one being its last), but has been coasting for quite some time. There are some good episodes this season, but overall it is not one of the strongest. As for extras, there are none and that seriously affects the value, limiting it to a rental.

Little Children - Buy from Amazon
Released early in the awards season, this film was able to earn a number or nominations, but despite earning excellent reviews, was shut out of the major awards. This was a good movie and even an average selection of extras (audio commentary track, making of featurette, deleted / extended scenes, etc.), would have made it worth picking up, or even a contender for DVD pick of the week. However, there are no extras. None. Call it a rental and hope that they release a special edition later on.

Mahogany - Buy from Amazon
I wanted to like this film, but I thought the acting was too wooden. Ha, ha, ha. Get it? Mahogany. Wooden. No? Never mind.

Matthew Barney: No Restraint - Buy from Amazon
An interesting but flawed look at Matthew Barney, an avant garde filmmaker. The film had a narrow path to follow trying to give enough to satisfy fans of Matthew Barney's work while being accessible enough for newcomers. It worked well enough to be worth checking out, but not well enough to have high replay value needed to buy it.

Melrose Place - The Second Season - Buy from Amazon
The second Aaron Spelling TV to have a DVD release tomorrow and if anything, I hate this one even more than Beverly Hills, 90210. However, that said, I will admit this is a better DVD package. The 8-disc set not only has better audio and video quality (although still sub-par), it has audio commentary tracks on two episodes, and several featurettes on the relationships and big events of season 2. I still can't recommend it, but it should satisfy fans of the show.

Michael Palin's Around the World in 80 Days - Buy from Amazon
Michael Palin undertakes the challenge to replicate the journey Phileas Fogg made in the Jules Verne's novel that inspired two movies. This was the first of six travelogues that Michael Palin made, and it is arguably the best. (Although that could be said of practically all of them, they were that good.) Even though the only extras on the 3-disc set is a 20 minute interview, it is still worth picking up. In fact, it is so good that I'm tempted to give it the DVD Pick of the Week.

An Officer and a Gentleman - Special Collector's Edition - Buy from Amazon
The film that solidified Richard Gere's stardom. It earned amazing reviews and more than a few awards. However, looking back, the film is incredibly predictable and is filled to the top with cliches. Extras on the DVD are adequate for a Special Edition with an audio commentary track, retrospective, interviews, etc. Fans of the film should consider picking it up, but give it a rental first as I don't think it has aged very well.

Old Joy - Buy from Amazon
One of the strangest runs for a limited release I've seen. The film opened poorly with just $3,310 it is solitary theater during its opening weekend before nearly disappearing the weekend after that. However, instead of packing it up, the film actually got a second wind and lasted several more months in theaters. This is good news as the excellent reviews show that this film deserves to be seen, and even with light extras (audio commentary track), it is worth more than just a rental.

The Sandlot 3 - Heading Home - Buy from Amazon
I really like Sandlot but when I heard they were making a direct-to-DVD sequel I was skeptical. Even though The Sandlot 2 wasn't as bad as I had feared (although it was more of a remake than a sequel), I really don't think they needed to milk the franchise any more.

Shirley Valentine - Buy from Amazon
Pauline Collins plays the titular character, a middle-aged housewife who goes with her friend on a vacation in Greece and finds a new lease on life. It's a mid-life crisis movie but for women. Yes, it is predictable at times, very predictable, but it is also very charming. It's worth checking out, especially for fans of British cinema, but I can't say it's worth more than a rental.

Suicide Killers - Buy from Amazon
A fascinating and scary look at suicide bombers and what would make them want to destroy themselves in order to kill as many civilians as possible.

This documentary is mostly footage of suicide bombers, including some failed ones who were captured, current ones who are preparing to attack, and young kids who are being trained to become the next generation of bombers. There are also interviews with a few survivors (including one Israeli Arab who narrowly avoided death twice), and experts. We almost never hear the interviewer and there's very little in the way of narration. On the one hand, this gives the documentary a very raw feel, a very unfiltered feel. On the other hand, it does hurt the film's focus. You are led from one topic to the other based on what the interviewee says.

This also leads to the second big complaint most critics leveled against this movie. While it purports to look for answers, it doesn't give any. This is probably because there are no easy answers. It does mention a number of potential causes for the life-long anti-Semitic training, to the misogynistic culture, to the very strict interpretation of Islam they live under, to, as the filmmaker says in an interview included on the DVD, a system of organized poverty. It seems that from a very young age kids there are trained to hate Jews and hate their life and are led to believe they can never be happy until they get into paradise. This is not true of all Palestinians, as the movie notes there are many moderates who just want peace. However, the extremists have also taught their followers to hate anyone who doesn't hate the same people as they do and it was mentioned that people who speak out again suicide bombers have been executed by the extremists.

Extras on the DVD are mixed. There is no audio commentary track, for instance, but there are a number of extra clips including the aforementioned interview, as well as clips taken from Arab TV, which was enlightening and frightening at the same time. One small complaint, not all of these extras clips were subtitled.

This film is certainly worth checking out and I can easily recommend renting it. I don't know if the re-play value is high enough for it to be worth buying, but it is close.

Tyrone Power: The Swashbuckler Box Set - Buy from Amazon
Five movies from Tyrone Power, swashbuckler extraordinaire. The box set is a good deal, a very good deal, but for the most part these movies are only average compared to Tyrone Power's career.

Van Damme Collector's Set - Buy from Amazon
Three films from Jean-Claude Van Damme. They are better than average for him, but that's not saying much.

What I Like About You - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
A sitcom starring Amanda Bynes and Jennie Garth as two sisters, Holly and Valerie. Holly moves in with Valerie when their father movies to Tokyo for business reasons, and despite the fact that Valerie is uptight and organized and Holly is wild and unpredictable they get along, 'cos gosh darnit, they're family. Yes, at times it is that corny, but to be fair, Bynes and Garth work hard to propel the show above that level and most of the time they succeed in producing an entertaining product. As for the DVD, the 3-disc set only has one extra and that's a bunch of outtakes, which are average. It's hard to rate it above a rental, but I'll probably be picking it up.

Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about a trucker, Teri Horton, who buys a painting at a thrift store only to learn it might be a genuine AJackson Pollock worth big, big bucks. Really big bucks. 50,000,000 of them. The problem is no one can tell if it is legitimate or not. (On a side note, if not even experts can tell if a painting is real or just random squiggles, then the artist is question probably isn't very talented and their art isn't worth $50 million.) A fascinating look at the art world that Teri Horton smacks into in her quest to prove the $5 painting is worth 10 million times what she paid for it. Unfortunately, there are no extras on the DVD. I would have loved an audio commentary track or two, may extra interviews, etc., but we get nothing.

Will & Grace - Season Six - Buy from Amazon
A sitcom that lasted eight years and probably overstayed its welcome by at least two years. Even the more hardcore fans of the show will admit the show was losing a lot of its charm by this time (although it didn't really fall apart until season seven). As for the 4-disc set, the only extras are some outtakes. I guess if you have been collecting the series up to this point, there's no reason to stop now. And if you haven't, I can't imagine this is the season that makes you want to start.

- C.S.Strowbridge


Date posted: 2007-04-30

Movies 
 Dreamgirls
 Alpha Dog
 Diggers
 Happily N'Ever After
 The Hitcher
 Little Children
 Matthew Barney: No Restraint
 Old Joy
 Suicide Killers
 Who the #$^% is Jackson Pollock?