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Tuesday, July 22, 2014



DVD Releases for March 10th, 2009

First run releases let us down again, as the best they can offer is a couple of midlevel hits. There are a few more in the limited release category, including some Awards Season players. However, from that list the best is Let the Right One In on Blu-ray. The best release overall, and the winner of the DVD Pick of the Week is Pinocchio on Blu-ray.

The Baron - Buy from Amazon
A British spy series about an American antique dealer who is really an undercover agent. It never found an audience large enough on either side of the pond, and only lasted one year, and that year was 1966. So it is more than a bit of a shock it is coming out on DVD. It is even more surprising that the 8-disc set has three audio commentary tracks out of 30 episodes, which is much better than most shows from the era would get. Worth picking up if you are a fan of the show, and worth checking out if you like The Saint, The Avengers, and other such shows.

Batman Anthology - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
All four movies in the Pre-Bale Batman franchise coming out on DVD or Blu-ray box sets. Good value on a per movie basis, but there's a problem. Only the first two movies are really worth watching. What's worse, this is the first time the movies have been released on Blu-ray here, so if you want to watch the first two in high definition, you have to spend way too much money to do so. Wait untill they released the movies separately. It shouldn't be too long.

Battle in Seattle - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A film that was "inspired" by real-life events. Loosely inspired. The 1999 WTO riots in Seattle certainly is fodder for an interesting story, but the results here are only mixed. Too many characters means most are not developed enough to be engrossing, while the ones that are don't have enough screen time to make up for the ones that are not. It is still worth checking out, but even with an audio commentary track and a making-of featurette, a rental will be enough for most people.

Ben X - Buy from Amazon
A Dutch movie about a boy dealing with mental illness. It was the country's official Oscar Submission last year, but the reviews are only good, and not great. Extras on the DVD include a couple of short films, and that's about it. Still, worth a rental.

The Best Years - Season One - Buy from Amazon
This TV series has a few connections with Degrassi: The Next Generation, including some of the same cast and some of the crew. However, despite this pedigree, and some strong reviews, the show was canceled after just one season. (Note to TV networks: Release shows on DVD before you cancel them, as you can use DVD sales as a judge for sustainability. Also, make sure the network has some share in the DVD sales. This is win-win for the studio, as it means a better chance to keep niche market shows on the air.) However, even before the DVD was released, it was announced the show is coming back. So if you are a fan of the show, buy the 4-disc set immediately. Don't wait, because if the show was canceled once, it is on thin ice for the rest of its run. If you have never seen the show, but like Degrassi and would like to see a show like that, but at a college, then check it out.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Another Day in Paradise, Batman Anthology, Battle in Seattle, Brokeback Mountain, Cadillac Records, Let the Right One In, Max Fleischer's Gulliver's Travels, Milk, Pinocchio, Primal Fear, Rachel Getting Married, Role Models, Romeo et Juliette, South Park - Season 12, Stevie Wonder - Live at Last, Synecdoche, New York, and Transporter 3
Not a good week for Blu-ray releases. The biggest first run release is Role Models, which is not the kind of film that does well in High Definition. Nor is Milk, for that matter. Transporter 3 is the kind of film that does well in High Definition, but it did poorly at the box office. The two I'm most excited about are Pinocchio and Let the Right One In, but I don't think either will be major sellers in Blu-ray.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas - Buy from Amazon
This film opened in limited release in early November, which screams Oscar Bait. However, its reviews did not match expectations and were not at the level one associates with the major players during Awards Season. In fact, they were not at the level one normally associates with films that thrive in limited release. That said, it opened very well and it held on during its second weekend of releases, but as soon as it tried to expand wide, it collapsed. Was this inevitable, or was this film overlooked?

It's a bit of both.

The film is set in Germany during World War II and focuses on the family of a kommandant in the German military, who has just received a promotion to take over a "work camp." In the book it is called "Out With", at least that's how Bruno, his 8-year old son, pronounces it. I don't recall it being named in the movie. We spend nearly all of our time with Bruno, his youngest son, but we also see how all four members of the family cope with their situation. The father relies on his sense of duty to get by, the mother slowly loses her faith in what is being done, while the daughter moves in the other direction and becomes dedicated to the Hilter Youth. Meanwhile, after some exploring, Bruno finds the farm, as he refers to it, and meets a boy wearing striped pajamas, who is named Shmuel. They strike up a friendship as any two boys would, not grasping what is happening around them. The movie is as much about the family as it is about the two boys' friendship (it isn't until the 30-minute mark that we first meet Shmuel) and both halves are compelling.

The film earned reviews that were good, but not great. Many critics complained that the film was not very subtle, but it was not a very subtle time in history and within that context, the filmmakers did a wonderful job. The acting was strong, and perhaps the ending wasn't surprising, but it was effective. (I think it was meant to be a twist, but most watching will see it coming a mile away.) It is an important movie to watch, and it is worth watching. That said, the subject matter alone meant it was never going to be a big mainstream success. Films about the Holocaust rarely are, but a film about the Holocaust that is accessible to kids is very important and this one should have performed better.

Extras on the DVD are on par with most limited releases and include an audio commentary track with the writer / director Mark Herman and the author John Boyne. There are five deleted scenes, also with optional audio commentary, which run just over 6 minutes. Finally, there's a 20-minute making-of featurette.

I think it is safe to call this film busted Oscar bait. Given its release date, the subject matter, and more, it is safe to say the film was made to take advantage of Awards Season as part of its marketing. That didn't work out as planned, but the film did do better than most limited releases do, and it could do even better on the home market. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is not a movie made for mass appeal, but the DVD is worth checking out, and with its complement of extras, it is worth picking up over just renting.

Cadillac Records - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The film opened in semi-limited release in early December, which could be taken as a sign it was meant to win Oscars; however, its reviews said otherwise. It isn't a bad movie, and the musical performances are amazing, but the story is very... familiar. Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, and two making-of featurettes. The Blu-ray has no exclusives and costs 35% more, which is right on the line between being worth it and not. Overall I would rate is a solid rental, leaning to a purchase, and go with the Blu-ray.

Caroline in the City - The Second Season - Buy from Amazon
I tend to use the term "Sitcom" as an insult. Sitcom comedy tends to be rather unchallenging humor that is not thought-provoking and meant to be easily digested in 30-minute installments. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but I prefer more. As for this sitcom, it was Lea Thompson's first foray in a weekly TV series and there was a serious amount of hype surrounding the show. However, it never really lived up to this buzz, and it was never more than solidly average in quality. It did finish its first season in the top ten in the ratings, but without the support of Must See Thursday, it quickly plummeted down the charts. The replay value is not high, nor are there any extras, but it is still worth checking out.

Cracker - The Complete Collection - Buy from Amazon
The complete Robbie Coltrane mystery series on DVD... all 11 episodes... for $110! I know, that sounds really bad, but instead of considering the show a TV series, consider it a series of TV movies. Looking at it that way, the price is less than $10 for each 2-hour movie, and that's a good deal, especially considering the quality of the show.

Crowley - Buy from Amazon
This movie is ... I don't want to say based on the life of Aleister Crowley. It's not even inspired by the life of Aleister Crowley. They merely use the name Aleister Crowley as a starting point for a British B-Movie horror film. There is another movie coming out this year called Crowley, but the two have nothing to do with each other.

Family Ties - The Fifth Season - Buy from Amazon
At its peak, this show was pulling in an average of 28 million viewers, something no show could hope to accomplish today. However, despite the ratings and the awards (five Emmy wins alone) watching it today it seems rather lighthearted and unchallenging. For lack of a better word, it's a rather typical sitcom. It's fun to watch, but I don't think it has the same level of replay value as early Scrubs episodes, or M*A*S*H, for instance. It lacks the emotional resonance needed for replay value. At least that was my reaction when seeing the show recently after not seeing it for nearly two decades. Additionally, there are no extras on the DVD, which further hurts its value.

Get Smart - Season 2 - Buy from Amazon
The Full Series Megaset is the better deal.

The Girls Next Door - Season 4 - Buy from Amazon
Reality TV focusing on the lives of people who are too uninteresting to be on TV.

Growing Out - Buy from Amazon
A movie about a musician who hasn't been able to break into the music business, so he takes a job as a caretaker of a mansion. However, one day he sees a hand growing out of the basement floor. ... Yeah, it's definitely a bizarre movie, perhaps too bizarre, but fans of strange cinema should check it out.

Groom Lake - Buy from Amazon
Written and directed by William Shanter. ... Next. Seriously. It's bad even by his standards.

Happy-Go-Lucky - Buy from Amazon
Mike Leigh wrote and directed this film starring Sally Hawkins, who plays Poppy, a woman in desperate need of some Despondex. (Warning: Some NSFW language on that site.)

This movie is almost an anthology, as it deals with several, mostly unconnected threads in Poppy's life. Early in the movie, her bike is stolen, so she has to get driving lessons from Scott, who is a rather nasty man she enjoys needling. One of her elementary school students is acting up in class, and she tries to figure out why. Her sister is pregnant and living in the suburbs and wants to visit her with her other sister. And finally she's decided to take flamenco lessons from a fiery Spanish teacher. ... It's not much of a plot, really. The enjoyment comes watching Poppy interact with those around here. Be warned, she is incredibly chipper and how you react to the overly cheerful can affect your opinion of the movie.

Personally, I liked it. And I am not a fan of overly happy people in real-life. For instance, after watching the clip for Despondex, my first reaction wasn't to laugh, but lament that it wasn't real. Sally Hawkins is very impressive in a role that could have been reduced to an annoying caricature very easily. She earned her Golden Globe win and quite frankly, the movie as a whole deserved to be a bigger player during awards season.

Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary with Mike Leigh, who has a strange way of speaking during the track. "Who is the young woman and what's she all about?" "Where is she going?" "Who is she and how is she?" "What's she like?" At that point I'm thinking, why is he asking me all of these questions? Does he think this is the first time I've seen the movie? Is there going to be a quiz at the end? ... It is still worth listening to, dead spots and all; it's just a little strange. The next extra is a featurette called Behind the Wheel of Happy-Go-Lucky, which runs just four-and-a-half minutes and deals with the central personality clash between Poppy and Scott. (As much as poppy needs Despondex, Scott needs to cut back on the caffeine.) Finally, there's a meatier 27-minute featurette called Happy-in-Character that is mostly talking heads discussing the movie interspersed with clips from the movie.

Happy-Go-Lucky earned unbelievably strong reviews, but it never became a major player at the box office or during Awards Season. This is a shame, but it should find an audience on the home market, and the DVD is worth picking up over just renting.

Howard the Duck - Special Edition - Buy from Amazon
Making its DVD debut more than 20 years after it was released in theaters. Perhaps the filmmakers are hoping the movie will appeal to a new audience that were around to remember the near universal scorn heaped upon the film when it was first released. I think most people who watch the film now will admit that it is not as bad as its reputation, but it is still not good. Extras include a making-of featurette, a featurette about how it was received in 1986, as well as three promotional featurettes from 1986. That's not bad for a box office bomb from the mid-1980s, but not enough to lift it past a rental. And that's only if you are curious.

Let the Right One In - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Just a quick note that I will be reviewing this movie as soon as the DVD screener arrives. In the meantime, given its reviews, it's hard to image the movie will rate anything less than a purchase. In fact, with those reviews any extras at all could rate it as DVD Pick of the Week, and the Blu-ray is the better deal given its price.

Marie and Bruce - Buy from Amazon
A lesser film from Julianne Moore and Matthew Broderick, both in terms of reviews and in terms of popularity. It is simply not very well known. Perhaps if you are a fan of the two leads, or of the Wallace Shawn play it is based on, then it is worth checking out. Otherwise you can safely give it a pass.

Max Fleischer's Gulliver's Travels - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
One of the first feature-length animated movies ever, and it is a fantastic example of the art form. This is a movie every animation aficionado should have in their collection; however, the technical presentation here is weak. Very weak. The film was made in a 1:1.37 aspect ratio, while it is being released in a 1:1.77 aspect ratio, and there' are some thoughts that the top and bottom were cropped, or perhaps the image was stretched horizontally. Either way, it is unacceptable. Five years. I figure in five years they will be able to release a 75th Anniversary Edition that is fully loaded. Pristine transfer, proper aspect ratio, loaded with extras from film historians, the works. Wait for that release.

Milk - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
One of the best movies of the year, while Sean Penn gives one of his best performances. On the other hand, the DVD only has three short featurettes as extras (two on the making of the movie and another on the real life Harvey Milk). The Blu-ray has no additionally extras (it is BD-Live enabled, but there are no exclusives online). Furthermore, it is not the kind of film you break out to show off you home theater system, so it is not worth the 56% more in price. I have a funny feeling that by this time next year, there will be a special edition to take advantage of Sean Penn's Oscar win, and I would suggest waiting until then to pick it up.

The Miracle Worker - Buy from Amazon
Just a quick note that this is the multi-Emmy winning TV movie from 1979 and not the multi-Oscar winning theatrical release from 1962. Both are excellent, as you can tell from the awards they won, but the theatrical release is better.

Nickelback - Live at Sturgis 2006 - Buy from Amazon
I might be getting this DVD to review shortly. I'll get the spotlight review online a.s.a.p. if I do.

Pinocchio - 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
One of Disney's earliest feature-length animated films, and still considered one of their best.

The film tells the story of a marionette created by a woodcarver named Geppetto, who wishes upon a star for Pinocchio to be a real boy. One visit by the Blue Fairy later, and his wish had come true, mostly. While Pinocchio is given life, he will have to prove himself worthy to become a real boy. He will have to show his is brave, truthful, and unselfish, and he will have to listen to his conscience. But he doesn't have a conscience, so Jiminy Cricket is given that task. The road ahead will not be easy for Pinocchio, and he will have to deal with villains like Honest John & Gideon, Stromboli, and The Coachman along the way.

As I mentioned above, this is widely considered among Disney's best films; in fact, many consider it the best Disney film of all time. (Personally, Dumbo is my personal favorite among the early works.) But Pinocchio is amazing. It mixes humor andadventure nearly perfectly, it has Oscar winning music, while the technical quality of the animation is still impressive nearly 70 years after it was made. If it is not in your movie collection at home, it should be. In fact, even if you already own it, you should upgrade to this new addition.

The only real question is which format to go with?

I only have the Blu-ray, but I can point out the features that are exclusive to the format. Extras include an audio commentary track with Leonard Maltin, Eric Goldberg, and J.B.Kaufman and the three of them fill the track with plenty of information. . (On a side note, Leonard Maltin is synonymous with Disney and having him on the DVD means you will learn something new, practically regardless of your level of Disney knowledge. He is to Disney what Bey Logan is to Dragon Dynasty.) You can listen to the audio commentary, or watch it as picture-in-picture with Cine-Explore. I love Cine-Explore and there are plenty of storyboards, behind-the-scenes images, and video clips to go along with the audio commentary track. You can also watch the movie with Disney View, which is for people with widescreen TVs. Because this movie was made in the days before widescreen, there are black bars on the side of the movie if you are watching in on the widescreen TV (and I assume most are). By selecting this, you can watch the movie with artwork by Toby Bluth, which fits in with the design of the film. Next up is Music & More, which includes a music video for "When You Wish Upon a Star" by Meaghan Jette Martin (who?) as well as five songs you can watch with or without lyrics on the screen. Games & Activities has a pop-up trivia track, and a trivia game. The Blu-ray is also BD-Live enabled, with the usual set of Disney extras (chat, mail, challenge, and rewards).

The rest of the extras are on disc 2 starting with Games & Activities. Here we have Pinocchio's Puzzles, which has several jigsaw puzzles and when you complete each one, you are rewarded with a short clip from the movie. Pleasure Island Carnival Games has four mini-games, mostly testing your timing. Better than most DVD games. Backstage Disney starts with an hour-long making-of featurette called No Strings Attached. There are three deleted scenes that run over ten minutes, including introductions. The Sweatbox looks at the how Walt Dinsey used to check on the progress of the film by viewing the storyboard reels, which was revolutionary at the time. There are also a 10-minute featurette on the Live Action Reference Film and how they were made and used. There is an audio recording of a deleted song, "Honest John". There is an 11-minute featurette on toys starting with wooden toys to the cutting edge today. Finally, there are several trailers, as well as plenty of images.

The Blu-ray also comes with a bare bones DVD, which is useful if you only have one Blu-ray player and your kids have a TV of their own. Or you have a TV in your mini-van, for instance.

As for the DVD, I don't have it to compare directly, but it appears the Blu-ray exclusives include the Cine-Explore and the BD-Live extras. Additionally, the Blu-ray looks fantastic, and it is worth paying the extra 44%.

Pinocchio is an absolute classic of the art-form, and both the DVD and the Blu-ray are worth picking up. In fact, the Blu-ray is a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Primal Fear - Hard Evidence Edition - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Primal Fear was released in theaters in 1996 and came out on DVD just over two years later. In 1998, DVDs were still in their infancy and there were no extras. Now more than 10 years later it is making its debut on Blu-ray and a Special Edition DVD. But is it worth the upgrade?

Richard Gere stars as Martin Vail, a high power defense attorney who, while watching the news, sees a case of a brutal killing of a Archbishop, allegedly by an 19-year old alter boy, Aaron Stampler. Aaron says he is innocent and Martin believes him, but has trouble creating a case for his defense. That is until... okay, I can't talk about this, without spoiling the ending.

I'm of two minds with regard to this film. On the one hand, this is a wonderfully acted movie with a huge number of big name stars, or in many cases, actors who would become big name stars. Edward Norton's performance alone makes the movie worth checking out. On the other hand, there are a couple of plot holes in the movie. For instance, when Aaron Stampler was arrested, they found the Archbishop's ring on him. That would be enough to establish motive (failed robbery) which kills the setup to the final showdown in court. Also, multiple personalities as portrayed in the movie just doesn't exist. They do talk about this in one of the featurettes. Overall the film earned reviews that are 71% positive, and I agree with that assessment. It is worth watching, and the ending gives it some replay value, as you can go back and watch it again with the new understanding, but it is not among the great films of the genre.

Extras on the DVD are rather limited for a special edition and include an audio commentary track and three featurettes. The audio commentary track features five people, but even so there are a number of pauses and dead spots, especially early on the track. The first featurette is called Primal Fear: The Final Verdict and it is an 18-minute making-of featurette. Star Witness is an 18-minute featurette on the amazing cast. Finally, there's Psychology of Guilt, which runs over 13 minutes and talks about the realities of pleading not guilty due to mental disease or defect. That's not a lot of extras for a Special Edition.

As for the Blu-ray, I don't know what the extras are like, it hasn't arrived yet. I will update this review when it does.

If you own Primal Fear on DVD already, I'm not sure the Hard Evidence Edition is worth the double-dip on DVD. On the other hand, the Blu-ray only costs $20, which is a good price for a catalog title, and even if there are no additional extras, I can recommend that.

Rachel Getting Married - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Anne Hathaway's performance highlighted this impressive film, which was able to earn some measure of widespread success after opening in limited release, and even because somewhat of a player during Awards Season (most of that centered on Anne Hathaway). The extras on the DVD are equally impressive with two audio commentary tracks, a making-of featurette, a featurette on the music, deleted scenes, and a nearly hour-long featurette with the cast & crew. That's more than many wide releases have. As for the Blu-ray, it is BD-Live enabled, but that's it for exclusives. Then again, it only costs 35% more, which is not too and for this type of release.

Role Models - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The latest in a new wave of R-rated comedies focusing on a cast of manchilds. In this case it's Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott as two adult delinquents who are forced to become big brothers as part of community service. Reviews were good, but not as good as the average Judd Apatow movie, which is an obvious point of comparison. Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary track, deleted / alternate scenes, outtakes, faux-interviews with some of the side characters, and featurettes on the making of the movie and the LARP game seen in the movie. Extras on the Blu-ray include all of those extras, plus a Picture-in-Picture track, and its not just the audio commentary track upgraded to Picture-in-Picture track. Given the presence of exclusives on the Blu-ray, and exclusives that take advantage of the format, I would be willing to pay 40% to 50% more for the Blu-ray. And according to Amazon.com, the Blu-ray costs... 50% more. So it is right on the border of being worth the upgrade. Considering this is not an visually intensive movie, and therefore won't benefit as much from High Definition, I'm going to have to say no. But the DVD is worth picking up.

A Secret - Buy from Amazon
A French film set during both World War II and the decades that follow. It tells the story of a Jewish family and the secrets from World War II that they worked to keep hidden from the now adult son. Reviews were excellent, enough to make the DVD worth picking up over just renting, even though there are no extras to be found.

South Park - Season Twelve - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
First a quick note, I don't have the Blu-ray screener yet, but I hope it arrives this week, and when it does I will update this review.

Season 12 starts with Tonsil Troubles which is one of three episodes that have been released on DVD already. This really hurts the value of this 3-disc set. There are still plenty of strong episodes making their debut on DVD this week, including Major Boobage, which is an homage to Heavy Metal and a satire on the Drug War, with a bit of The Diary of Anne Frank thrown in. Over Logging is about what would happen if the Internet dries up, which apparently would be a lot like The Grapes of Wrath. Breast Cancer Show Ever has Cartman pissing off Wendy so much that she challenges him to a fight, and he's desperate to get out of it. Pandemic - Parts 1 & 2 talks about the epidemic of Peruvian pan flute bands... Huh? While the second part deals with an epidemic of giant guinea pigs, which makes more sense than Peruvian pan flute bands. (On a side note, this two-parter has some really funny moments, but also gets repetitive, and as far as batting average goes, I'm counting it as one hit, not two.) In About Last Night..., we learn the truth behind Obama and McCain's run for president, and it's all a plot to... nope, that's too big of a spoiler. The season ends with The Ungroundable, where Butters wants to become vampire so he can't get grounded anymore. Including two of the three double-dips that I enjoyed, just over half of the episodes have some replay value, which is not a bad hit ratio, but lower that the earlier seasons.

Extras on the three-disc set include mini-commentaries on all 14 episodes with Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Also, each disc has a making-of section and for the first disc it's for Major Boobage. Here we see several of the scenes done in various stages of production (storyboard, wireframe, rough animation, and final animation). Disc two talks about the making of Super Fun Time, one of the double-dip episodes, but arguably the best of the three. This runs an hour and 20 minutes, making it the longest of all of the extras. In fact, I think it's longer than all of the mini-commentaries combined. On the final disc, It's "About Last Night..." that gets the making-of treatment, but we only see the final night before the final show was made.

I want to talk about something the two guys talk about in one of the audio commentary tracks. Actually, it's a message directly to Matt Stone and Trey Parker... The average South Park episode for the past few years has been worse than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. FYI.

There are no subtitles on this 3-disc set, but there are play-all buttons and proper chapter placement.

By season 12, South Park is clearly off its peak, and there are fewer classic episodes. The hit to miss ratio is still good, and with better extras than in many seasons past, the DVD is worth picking up. The Blu-ray costs 50% more, so unless it has some Blu-ray exclusives that take advantage of the format, I can't see it being the better deal. But I will come up with a more detailed review when the screener arrives.

The Starter Wife - Season 1 - Buy from Amazon
A TV series based on the mini-series of the same name, both starring Debra Messing. She plays the former wife of a Hollywood executive who enjoys her life after divorce. The mini-series was nominated for 10 Emmys, winning one of them, while the TV series was nominated for one Golden Globe during its first season. Extras are limited to audio commentary tracks on the first and last episodes of the season, which is disappointing for a current show. Still, for fans it will be worth picking up.

Stash - Buy from Amazon
A bit of torture porn set in the backwoods of Kentucky about two guys who try to steal from a hillbilly drug dealer and are forced to pay a heavy price. Or to be more accurate, are forced to kidnap three women who will be forced to pay a heavy price. Yep, it's torture porn, but as a first time effort from writer / director ... / cinematographer / editor Jacob Ennis, it is better than most in the genre. On the other hand, there's another movie called Stash made at the same time about a business that will go into your home after you die and get rid of all of your porn so your family doesn't discover it. I want to see that movie more, but I have zero details about it.

Storm Force - Buy from Amazon
A Belgian film about an elite coastal rescue squad. Sound familiar? Yes, there are similarities to that film, but while that film was mediocre, all reviews I've seen for this film describe it as much better. Certainly worth checking out for fans of the genre.

Story of India - Buy from Amazon
A 2-disc, 6-hour documentary on India made for PBS. However, while 6 hours might seem long for a documentary, it doesn't even scratch the surface of India's long and varied history.

Synecdoche, New York - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman made his directorial debut with this film, which is not an easy transition to make. And while things didn't go entirely smoothly, there's still more than enough here that works that the movie is worth checking out. Extras on both the DVD and the Blu-ray are limited to a making-of featurette, a couple of interviews, roundtable discussion, and some of the cartoons shown on the TV in the movie. The total running time is roughly 100 minutes, which is impressive given the film's relatively short theatrical run. I would say its worth picking up, especially for fans of the screenwriter, but at 40% more, I'm not sure the Blu-ray is worth the extra money.

Transporter 3 - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc DVD, Two-Disc Fully Loaded Edition, or Blu-ray
Of the three films in the Transporter franchise, I think the first film is the best, while the second earned reviews that were almost as good. This time around the reviews fell below the 40% acceptable level, but it still earned the most at the worldwide box office. It's a guilty pleasure. Extras on the Single-Disc DVD include an audio commentary track, making-of featurette, a look at the stunts, a look at the sets, some storyboards, and a featurette on real-life transporters. The Two-Disc Fully Loaded Edition has all of that, plus a digital copy of the movie. While the Blu-ray is BD-Live enabled and includes Lionsgate's Molog online feature. For most people, a rental will be enough, but if you are intent on buying, go with the Blu-ray, as it is worth the extra couple of dollars to see the movie in High Definition.

Witch Mountain Double-Shot - Buy from Amazon: Escape to Witch Mountain and Return from Witch Mountain
With the remake / re-envisioning / re-adaptation, Race to Witch Mountain, opening this Friday, there's no better time to re-release the first two movies on DVD. But have the years been kind to these movies? After all, it has been more than 30 years since they were originally made.

Escape to Witch Mountain - Buy from Amazon
Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann star as Tia and Tony Malone, two orphans who have a mysterious past, and equally mysterious powers. After saving a man, Lucas Deranian, with her ability to predict the future, Lucas brings the kids to the attention of his powerful boss, Aristotle Bolt who want to use their abilities to make money and so forges the documents making Lucas their uncle. However, while at first they love living in the palatial mansion, soon they escape and are drawn to Witch Mountain, but they don't know why.

By this time Disney's animation department was in a bit of a slump and only released four feature-length movies all decade (one of those was merely four episodes of their TV series cut together and turned into a theatrical release). Conversely, Disney was releasing several live-action comedies every year; however, most of these are all but forgotten today. Escape to Witch Mountain is one of the exceptions, and for good reason. It's a rousing film that balances the adventure in a way that is entertaining to parents, but not too scary for kids. A lot of the film does seem dated, especially the special effects, but that's forgivable given the age of the movie. It's a lot more realistic than most Disney films from the era, and that helps its longevity.

Extras on the DVD start with an audio commentary track with the two stars, Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, as well as the director, John Hough. The first two spend a lot of the time reminiscing and are more active in the chat, while the latter man gives more technical details. There is also a pop-up trivia track as well. Featurettes include Making the "Escape", a 27-minute long making-of featurette that combines talking heads, clips from the movie, and even archival footage. Conversation with John Hough is a seven minute interview with the director. Disney Sci-Fi is a 3-minute montage of clips from various Disney Sci-fi films set to techno music. Not much replay value here. Disney Effects Something Special in an eleven-minute featurette on the special effects in Disney movies throughout the history of the studio. 1975 Disney Studio Album is a three-and-a-half minute montage of what the studio was up to in 1975. Finally, there is the short film, Pluto's Dream House.

Return from Witch Mountain - Buy from Amazon
Return from Witch Mountain has Tia and Tony returning for a few days for a vacation, but the fun is cut short when Tony saves the life of Sickle, a henchman of Victor and nephew to Letha, Victor's financier. At the time they meet Tony, Victor is working on a device used to control human beings; however, after observing Tony, he decides instead to kidnap him and use his powers to take over a nuclear power plant. It is up to Tia to rescue him, with the help of a gang of kids, who are about as menacing as a road-show tour of Little Orphan Annie. "We're the Earthquake gang." "Does that scare you?" No. Not in the slightest.

It is surprising that this sequel seems to miss out on a lot of what made the original fun, because it is made by a lot of the same filmmakers. While the subject matter was fantastical, it was treated in a serious manner. Here, the action chases tend toward the slapstick more than the more threatening nature of the first movie. Also, for most of the movie Tia and Tony are separated, so we don't have their good chemistry as a selling point in the movie. There are still some entertaining aspects of the movie, but too often it seems to devolve into camp and has not aged well.

Extras are also a lot lighter than on the original with just an audio commentary track with the same three participants, a 23-minute long making-of featurette, and a lost interview with Christopher Lee. Interestingly, early in the making-of one of the participants says that they took the "mystery" of the first movie and replaced it with a "buffoon character, or several of them" and also "lighten it up." This is exactly what's wrong with the movie. Adventure and mystery are replaced with campy humor.

Combined, Escape to Witch Mountain and Return from Witch Mountain are entertaining enough to be worth checking out, but I would recommend buying the first film while merely renting the second. It might be worth waiting until this year's Race to Witch Mountain hits the home market, as there might be a better deal available then.

Woody Woodpecker Favorites - Buy from Amazon
More than two-dozen cartoon shorts starring Woody Woodpecker and friends (Chilly Willy, Andy Panda, etc.). I was never a fan of these cartoons as a kid, and looking at them now I enjoy them even less. I find Woody Woodpecker repetitive and annoying, but I do enjoy the occasional Chilly Willy cartoon. On the other hand, if you are a fan, it's not a bad deal, but I would prefer DVDs with better extras, including extras that talk about the significance of Tex Avery on the art form.

- C.S.Strowbridge


Date posted: 2009-03-10

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