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Tuesday, September 2, 2014



DVD Releases for October 2, 2007

Busy week, at least for me with seven spotlight reviews (including one double-shot from previous weeks). Of the DVDs I've reviewed, several are easy recommendations, including 1408 - Two-Disc Collector's Edition, which is the DVD Pick of the Week. The NHL Stanley Cup Champions 2006-2007 6-disc set would have also have been a DVD Pick of the Week if the Canucks had won and not the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

1408 - Buy from Amazon: Theatrical Version or Two-Disc Collector's Edition
Recently John Cusack said that he's only made 10 good movies during his entire career. This is one of them.

(On a side note, John Cusack has an average Tomatometer rating of 72% positive, which is very strong and I think he's underestimating the number of films he's been in that are good.)

John Cusack stars as Mike Enslin, a author who writers books about the most haunted places (Ten Most Haunted Hotels, Ten Most Haunted Mansions, etc.). However, he himself is a skeptic having never seen a supernatural event. One day he receives a postcard from the Dolphin hotel in New York City telling him not to stay in room 1408. ... He immediately ignores this piece of advice.

This is an old school horror film, one that creates scares through mood and character, not through gore and sadism. And as someone who has felt left out of the genre for a long, long time, I welcome this movie. (Just a word of warning, while Samuel L. Jackson seems to be given equal billing on the cover of the DVD, he's barely in the movie. However, he is incredibly effective in his short role and without him, I don't think the movie would be half as scary.)

I don't want to discuss the specifics of the movie too much since I don't want to spoil the film for others, but I do want to mention two points. Firstly, there is a brilliant fake-out part way through this movie. It worked so well that I thought it might be the real ending to the movie. The only reason I didn't completely fall for it was because I knew the movie wasn't that short. When the reveal was finally given, I went from totally pissed off, to very impressed in a second. Excellent move. Secondly, and this is my only real complaint about movie, I really want more movies where the skeptic is right. Scooby-Doo did it right; whenever you see a ghost, monster, alien, it is a man in a mask. Movies rarely even provide the voice of skepticism, and when they do, almost always they are proven wrong.

As for extras, the 2-disc set presents both the theatrical version and the extended cut (which is billed as a director's cut, but it's not). On the first disc there are just a couple short webisodes that don't have a whole lot of replay value. On the other hand, disc 2 has an audio commentary track on the extended cut with the director and the two writers. There's an excellent mix of information given including discussing the process of adapting the short story by Stephen King, which is very short, and what they had to add to flesh out the movie. The track moves along nicely without too many pauses and has replay value (I particularly like how they just keep talking right through the end credits as it shows they were enthusiastic about the movie). Additionally, there are a few deleted scenes with optional commentary, and a quartet of short featurettes. (On a side note, there is talk about a different ending showing Tony Shalhoub that is not on the disc at all. Shame.)

An excellent old school horror film that sets up the mood and delivers the scares while having one of the best-executed twists of the year. Overall, the level of extras are not as high as other 2-disc sets, but that's because there are two versions of the movie and getting to see the alternate (or should that be original), ending is worth spending the $3. Highly recommended and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Blu-Ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Bram Stoker's Dracula, Dawn of the Dead, The Day After Tomorrow, Day of the Dead, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Galapagos, Halloween, and A Room With a View
Big list of Blu-Ray releases this week, many of which are horror films, and many of those are good ones as well.

The Blue Planet - Seas of Life - 5-Disc Special Edition - Buy from Amazon
The predecessor to Planet Earth, this series isn't earning quite the same level of praise, but it is still earned overwhelmingly positive reviews (and more than a few awards). With Planet Earth's success on DVD, it should come as no surprise that the studio is releasing their earlier work in a packed 5-disc set or that this set is a big seller as well. Can also be purchased with Planet Earth as part of a 10-Disc Mega Set.

Bram Stoker's Dracula - Collector's Edition - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring some of the hottest actors of the day, this seemed like a sure hit. It didn't turn out that way. It did earn good reviews and a healthy box office, but it wasn't able to live up to perhaps unrealistic expectations. Because of this, the film has never really been treated well on DVD, until now. This two disc set has a good selection of extras including an intro and audio commentary track by the director, deleted scenes, and four featurettes with a combined running time of roughly 75 minutes. This includes a making-of featurette, another on the special effects, and two on the look of the film. If you have been waiting years for the rumored Special Edition DVD, now is your chance and it is nice to know it is worth the wait. On a side note, according to Amazon, the Blu-Ray version is outselling the DVD version. If this turns out to be true, it would be a major step in ending the format war.

Caligula - Buy from Amazon: R-rated, Unrated, or 3-Disc Imperial Edition
Billed at the most controversial film of all time. While controversy may sell tickets, it doesn't mean it's a good movie. It doesn't work as historical fiction and it doesn't work as adult entertainment. It just doesn't work. However, it doesn't work in such an over-the-top fashion that fans of schlock will be enthralled. The 3-Disc Imperial Edition includes both the R-rated, and Unrated editions plus a disc of bonus features that include three massive featurettes that go into great depth with regards to the troubled production. (Additionally, there are two audio commentary tracks on the R-rated version and additional deleted scenes on disc 2.) I am sure there are plenty of people who remember this movie and the controversy it caused when it was first released, but I'm not sure they replay value is high enough to warrant purchasing over just renting.

Christmas DVD - Buy from Amazon: A Christmas Celebration, Christmas Comedy Collection, Christmas Miracle at Sage Creek, Christmas Television Network, Craziest Christmas Collection, Elf Bowling: The Movie, A Flintstones Christmas Carol, I Believe in Santa Claus, Max & Ruby - A Merry Bunny Christmas, Tom and Jerry - A Nutcracker Tale, The Usual Children, Wonder Pets - Save the Reindeer, and A The Year Without a Santa Claus - Deluxe Edition
Apparently is Christmas. It's way too early to be pushing Christmas and this is why by the time December rolls around I hate the holidays.

Civic Duty - Buy from Amazon
Peter Krause stars as Terry Allen, an accountant who has recently lost his job and who has developed an unhealthy obsession with his new Middle Eastern neighbor, whom he is convinced is a terrorist. The film earned only mixed reviews, but opened way too wide for a limited release and floundered. Given this quick exit, it comes as no surprise that there are no special features on the DVD, but it is still worth a rental.

Criminal Minds - The Second Season - Buy from Amazon
The final season with Mandy Patinkin, and if the buzz about the 3 season opener is any indication, the second season will also be the final season worth owning. In addition to the high quality of the episodes, the 6-disc set has audio commentary tracks on four episodes and four featurettes (one on the characters, one on the show, one of real life profilers, and one on Kirsten Vangsness), as well as some outtakes. Worth picking up.

Day Night Day Night - Buy from Amazon
A woman in Times Square prepares to commit a suicide attack in this tense drama, but while the film earned good reviews, they were perhaps not good enough to sell to the demanding art house crowds. The DVD is average for a limited release with an audio commentary track with the director, which is enough to lift it past the rental level.

Elf Bowling - The Movie - Buy from Amazon
This movie is based on a video game, and not even a good video game, but one of those cheap flash games that became inexplicably popular for a short time. The game didn't have a plot, so how can you make a movie from it? As you can probably guess, the movie sucks. Skip it.

Entourage - Season 3 - Part 2 - Buy from Amazon
Why, why break up season 3 into two volumes? There were only 20 episodes in season 3, so dividing it up into two releases seems like a cash grab and its per minute cost is very high for TV on DVD. There are a few extras (audio commentary tracks on three episodes, behind-the-scenes, Q&A session), but nothing to justify the price.

Fantastic Four - Rise of the Silver Surfer - Buy from Amazon: Sinlge Disc DVD, The Power Cosmic Edition, or Blu-Ray
A lot of people had very low expectations of Fantastic Four when it came out in 2005, but despite very weak reviews, it managed to beat expectations while helping end a record-setting slump at the box office. Fantastic Four - Rise of the Silver Surfer had higher expectations, but were they too high?

Fantastic Four - Rise of the Silver Surfer adds quite possibly to two most recognizable characters the Fantastic Four ever dealt with, The Silver Surfer and Galactus. However, like every movie with a lot of Fanboy appeal, this was both a blessing and a curse. While fans generally liked how The Silver Surfer was portrayed (there were some minor concerns over his powers displayed in the movie), Galactus faired poorly. I think it was that issue that hurt the movie the most at the box office.

On the other hand, the overall film was an improvement over the first in most areas. This includes the drama, but I think the action wasn't as strong as in the original (or perhaps it just didn't grow enough to justify the sequel. (Also, when it came to the final battle I was not as happy with it as with the first movie. Part of the problem is the lack of team play as Johnny Storm went all Super Skrull in the final fight.)

Moving onto the extras, the 2-disc set is very well done with two audio commentary tracks on the first disc (although neither features the cast). Disc two starts off with a handful of extended and deleted scenes with optional audio commentary, but the majority of the extras are featurettes including a healthy 45-minute long making-of featurette called Family Bonds. There are also several shorter featurettes on the Fantasticar, the powers of The Silver Surfer, the new makeup / suit for The Thing, and the scoring of the movie. Finally, there's a featurette on the comic book origins of The Silver Surfer, which is in my mind the best extra on the DVD.

Fans of the movie will certainly appreciate the 2-disc set and will want to pick it up. Granted, the film isn't as dramatically strong as some other recent super hero films, but it is entertaining.

Felix the Cat - The Complete 1958-1959 Series - Buy from Amazon
Felix the cat and his bag of tricks! It can do anything, except make the cartoons more interesting.

Felix the cat started in the 1920s during the silent era and is one of, if not the first cartoon characters to become popular enough to have real star power. However, the 1950s TV series lacks all of the charm that made the originals successful. There were two major problems with these cartoons. Firstly, they were made on a small budget and secondly, they were made for kids. The first problem led to a lot of repetition in the animation while the second led to a lot of repetition in the plots.

In the second episode on the DVD, Felix the Cat was trying to escape from the Professor's lab, but every time he reached a door or a window, bars would slam down. The fourth time this happened he said, "This is getting monotonous." Tell me about it. It was only the second cartoon and I had already grown bored with the repetitive nature of the show.

As for the extras, there are three in number. The first and most interesting is the original Felix the Cat short from 1920 called Feline Follies. This is the oldest cartoon I've seen, which certainly adds a sense of history. Next up is a brief, nine-minute look at the history of Felix the cat and finally, 2 minutes of promos for the show. It's not a lot, but it's better than most cartoon collections get.

There are a lot of fans for this show, but I can bet almost all of them grew up watching the show as kids. As an adult enthusiast, the show is just too cheap to be enthusiastic about and the level of repetition kills any replay value it might otherwise have. I can't recommend anything more than a rental, and that's purely for nostalgia.

The Film Crew - Buy from Amazon: Killers from Space and Wild Women of Wongo
DANCE!

Two more direct-to-DVD releases from the folks that brought us MST3K. This time they are giving audio commentary tracks to Killers from Space and Wild Women of Wongo. DANCE!

Killers from Space is your typical low budget 50s sci-fi offering featuring invading aliens. You can tell they are aliens because their eyes bug out. Well, either that or they are related to Marty Feldman. There are a lot of great jokes in this episode, but the movie does get tedious and repetitive at times, which slows the pace of the humor somewhat. As for extras, the lunch break is marginally better than in Hollywood After Dark as was the end of the show bit. The only extras on the DVD was Did you know...?, which gives some humorous alternatives to the backward speech heard in the movie.

Wild Women of Wongo, on the other hand, is a film about a tribe where all the men are ugly and all the women are beautiful while their neighboring tribe has all beautiful men and all ugly women. I would say it's some complex social commentary, except it's just really bad. (Strangely in the end the tribe of ugly men fall for the ugly women preferring them to their own beautiful women. This makes no sense. Then again, none of the movie makes a whole lot of sense. It does provide more opportunity for mocking than the previous film and it even gets a little creepy during the skinny dipping scene, which adds to the enjoyment. The host segments are arguably the best with the Map of the World being explored during the lunch, while there's the find-a-mate at the end (again, the beginning bit is the weakest of the three). There are also two short bits as extras Goodbye, Wongo Style and the more surreal and funnier Make Film Crew Dance. Clearly these people have not been on a dance floor in a long, long time. DANCE!

As a fan of MST3K, I'm very happy these three are back mocking movies. I also enjoy the more adult edge to the humor (that's not to say it's R-rated, or anything like that, but there are some innuendos here). The extras are light, but the they are still worth picking up.

And, as an added bonus, this Friday we have a contest featuring all three of the releases so far, which we will be giving away, one each to three different winners.

And, one more time...

DANCE!

Flight of the Living Dead - Outbreak on a Plane - Buy from Amazon
You have got to be joking. Surprisingly, a movie called Flight of the Living Dead is a bad movie. And not even a bad movie in a funny way, it's just boring and bad. Skip it.

Funny Face - 50th Anniversary Edition - Buy from Amazon
Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn team up for one of the best musicals of the 1950s. The DVD, on the other hand, is a little disappointing with just three featurettes. I was hoping for an audio commentary track by a film historian, and perhaps some more vintage features to live up to the Special Edition label. Even so, it is worth picking up for fans of musicals from the era, or of either of the two leads. Can also be purchased as part of the Audrey Hepburn 5-Pack.

HD-DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: A Room With a View, Top Gun
Slow week for HD-DVD releases. There's only two, and neither is worth picking up.

How I Met Your Mother - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
A sitcom in every sense of the word and I could never get into the show despite being fans of a couple of the cast members. That said, the show is popular and the 3-disc set is loaded with extras like audio commentary tracks, making-of featurettes, outtakes, and more. Worth picking up for fans of the show.

I Love New York - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
I hate reality TV.
Seriously, this is the kind of show that makes me wish some aliens would just come and end the human race. ... Or at least the people who keep making shows like this.

Jindabyne - Buy from Amazon
Stewart Kane and his friends are on a fishing trip in Australia when they find the body of a murdered girl. But instead of returning to town to report it to the police, they continue their trip and only tell the authorities days later. The film opened with better reviews than most wide releases earn, but not strong enough to survive in the competitive limited release market. As for the extras, they are light with just a making-of featurette and some deleted scenes. I would have liked an audio commentary track, but it is still worth a rental.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull - Buy from Amazon
The film is based on the book by Richard D. Bach that combined Christianity and Eastern philosophy into... What's the term? Oh yeah, hippy crap. I would say it takes banality to an art form, but the writing is anything but artistic. Add in a DVD with zero extras and I can't even recommend renting it.

The Jungle Book - Two-Disc 40th Anniversary Platinum Edition - Buy from Amazon
Another special edition release from Disney that is only going to be out for a limited time before being locked back in the vault. I'd be a lot happier with these releases if they didn't used that particular marketing strategy.

The movie is a very loose adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling story; in fact, Walt Disney instructed the crew not to read the book while they were working on the movie. However, while this might upset purists, the resulting story is one of the last Disney classics. (This was the last film Walt Disney worked on before his death.) Because of this, the film became something more than just a movie for the filmmakers and it shows in the end product.

Since this is a special edition, the extras are of the utmost importance in determining the value of the DVD, and here we have lots of extras that are divided between those aimed at adult collectors and those aimed at kids, with an emphasis on the former. Things start off with an audio commentary featuring several participants (including some archival audio). The first disc also contains a featurette on the lost character and a short look at Disney's conservation effort. The rest of the features deal with the songs and include the music for the original, darker version as well as karaoke versions of the songs and a music video that I couldn't even make it through just one time. Disc 2 starts off with a making-of featurette that clocks in at a healthy 45 minutes while there is a 15-minute featurette that goes over the differences between the movie and the novel. There are two additional featurettes on the animators, one archival with Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, who were the primary force behind the movie, and the other with a few of today's animators talking about how the movie influenced them. Finally, there's a look at Bruce Reitherman, who voiced Mowgli in the movie, and his career as a nature documentarian.

Additionally there are several games / educational sections for younger kids.

The Jungle Book wasn't one of Disney's biggest hits or most-remembered classics, but it deserves to be included in the golden age of Disney animation and this 2-disc set is worth the upgrade.

Little People, Big World - Season 1 - Buy from Amazon
I know I've said in the past that I hate reality TV, however, this is not the soul-crushing kind but more of the documentary kind. A slice of life looking in on the Roloff family, who are just like everyone else except the mother and father are little people. The show could have seem exploitive, or at the very least voyeuristic. However, for the most part the creators have avoided that.

Metalocalypse - Season One - Buy from Amazon
A cartoon about the most popular heavy metal band in history that was co-created by the same man that brought us Home Movies... Huh. The comedy is extreme, but it fits in well with other Adult Swim shows. Fans of the show will want to pick up this 2-disc set, as the extras are strong with interviews, instructional video and more. However, this is not a cartoon for everyone and unless you've seen it, rent it first.

Misery - Collector's Edition - Buy from Amazon
One of the best Stephen King adaptations ever, and yes, that means something here. In fact, this is the role that won Kathy Bates her Oscar. She stars as the deranged fan of author Paul Sheldon, played by James Caan. After a car crash, she takes care of him but when she finds out he is killing off her favorite character she reacts... poorly. The DVD lives up to its Special Edition label with two audio commentary tracks and more than half-a-dozen featurettes (most on stalking). Worth picking up if you don't already have the movie in your DVD collection, and even if you do, it is worth the upgrade.

NHL Stanley Cup Champions 2006-2007 - Anaheim Ducks - Buy from Amazon
Now this is how you celebrate a championship. 20 hours of game footage, interviews, etc. spread over 6 discs. Now if only I like the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Maybe when the Canucks win the Stanley Cup this year they will put out an equally impressive DVD set. Ha, ha, ha... That's good for a laugh. On a serious note, I'm am tempted to pick up this DVD just to ensure they keep making them each year.

Prom Night - Buy from Amazon
With a remake on its way, this films should finally get the DVD it deserves. This isn't it.

The Sarah Silverman Program - Season One - Buy from Amazon
I wanted to like this show, I really did. I like Sarah Silverman's stand up routines and I have Jesus is Magic on DVD, but this show just didn't work for me. I like some of the random humor of the show, but I think the constraints of a plot, what little there is, hurts it overall. On the other hand, this DVD is great. The first season was only 6 episodes long, so the price per minute is high, however, there are seven audio commentary tracks on five of the six episodes (if you can figure out why, you're a better man than me). Also included on the DVD are some storyboards and more than a dozen songs originally from the website and even more in either Karaoke or Sing-a-long versions. Fans of the show should certainly pick it up, and maybe I'll give it another try with a rental sometime down the road.

The Secret World of Alex Mack - Season 1 - Buy from Amazon
Larisa Oleynik stars as Alex Mack, a young girl who comes in contact with a chemical that gives her superpowers. This series also featured Jessica Alba in one of her first roles, but while she's on the cover she's only a secondary character in the show and was only in three episodes. In addition to that little bit of deceptive advertising, the 2-disc set has no special features further reducing the value. If you are a hardcore fan, it is still worth picking up, but if you just want some nostalgia, give it a rental.

Shark - Season One - Buy from Amazon
James Woods stars as Sebastian Stark, the most feared defense lawyer who has a crisis of confidence and decides to start fighting on the other side. Part police procedure, part courtroom drama, the show's biggest asset is the personality of James Woods who commands attention. (There have been a lot of comparisons between this series and House, M.D., and I can see why. But that said, the show survives on its own.) As for the 6-disc set, there are audio commentary tracks on 2 episodes, a making of featurette, deleted scenes, and outtakes. That hits all the bases and raising the DVD to a solid purchase level.

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
You have got to be kidding me. This series has been released in full-season sets, a full series set, and even as part of a full franchise set. Now they are releasing another box set! The price, even with Amazon's discount, it a mind-blowing $300 for one extra disc of extras. That's just not acceptable. In fact, that's a higher price per minute than most single season TV on DVD releases are and with fewer extras. Combined with the rumor of a HD-DVD set that will be out next year, there is not a single reason to buy this 49-disc set.

Top Gun - HD-DVD - Buy from Amazon
Tom Cruise stars as fighter pilot Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell in this ode to all things macho. Oh boy, has this film not aged well.

Scenes that were meant to show how tough Tom Cruise is come off as corny now. The dramatic scenes are laughable, as is the romance. Yes, the dog fighting scenes are still cool to watch, but the rest of the movie can't support them. After watching this movie, I has an uncontrollable desire to watch Hot Shots! to cleanse the pallet. I can't believe I liked this movie when it first came out, but in my defense, I was only 12 years old at the time.

Moving onto the extras... there are none. And I mean none. There's not even a menu. What the hell? If you are trying to push a new format, you don't release a movie with fewer features than the previous DVD release. If this is the kind of release we're going to get from Paramount, they were overpaid when they were given $50 million to become HD-DVD exclusive. Hell, this kind of release may help Blu-Ray win the Format war.

Skip it.

The War - Buy from Amazon
A seven-part mini-series documenting World War II, which is probably the most documented war in history. However, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick find new ways to talk about it.

The mini-series is arguably the most in-depth look at the war, and considering its 15 hours long, it should be. Its greatest strength is telling stories that are not normally told. Veterans and others tell stories that really show the reality of war, which is the heart of the show, but there are also an incredible amount of still footage, vintage newsreel footage, home movies, radio broadcasts, etc. The sheer amount presented here can become overwhelming at times. (This is not a program that you can watch in one sitting.)

Extras are also impressive with an audio commentary track featuring co-directors Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, who fill the track with information on how they made the series, the process of finding the footage, getting the interviews, etc. Additionally, there is a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, extended interviews, and image galleries. Everything you would expect from a documentary.

This is not the kind of documentary that tries to praise World War II, as one interviewee states, as a good war, but shows it to be a necessary war. It is powerful and worth repeat viewing. The only concern is the price, however, you get what you pay for and it is certainly worth buying.

- C.S.Strowbridge


Date posted: 2007-10-01

Movies 
 1408
 Civic Duty
 Day Night Day Night
 Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
 Jindabyne