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DVD Releases for January 20, 2009 - Part I

January 20th, 2009

A terrible week for first run releases. There are five such releases on this week's list, but they has a combined haul of around $130 million, and nearly $100 million of that came from two films. With no big releases, we had to look other places for the DVD Pick of the Week. Repo! The Genetic Opera on Blu-ray is a clear contender for that title, but its lack of mass appeal is troublesome. This American Life - Season Two is a safer pick, but it is a Borders Exclusive release. Regardless of these issues, both releases are worthy of the DVD Pick of the Week. Despite the weakness at the top, there are still more than enough total releases to cause this column to stretch into two parts. The second part can be found here.

Amusement - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
This slasher flick was originally scheduled for a November, 2007 release. However, it was pushed back. And back. And back. And now it is being dumped on a featureless DVD because the distributor went bankrupt. This is a shame, as I've seen more than a few genre critics give the movie at least somewhat positive reviews. Also, the movie stars two Canadian actresses (Jessica Lucas and Katheryn Winnick) and I was hoping that they would get more exposure. I have read reviews that praise their performances, so hopefully we will see more of them.

Back at the Barnyard - Cowman - The Uddered Avenger - Buy from Amazon
A TV series based on the movie, Barnyard: The Original Party Animals. That film earned awful reviews, but still managed a healthy profit, hence its continued life on TV. Usually the TV show isn't as good as the movie, which is really bad news here.

This disc has four or five episodes, depending on how you count them.

  • Cowman - The Uddered Avenger
    Usually there are two stories per episode, but things start off with a story that is two episodes long. Cowman ignores the usual continuity of the show and has Otis and the rest of the barnyard animals dressing up as Superheroes to battle the evil Mertin Fargleman who wants to steal a Jurassic corn kernel so he can use it to win first prize and the county fair.
  • Hypno-a-Go-Go
    Otis amuses himself by hypnotizing all of his friends by making them believe they are a cheerleader, kung fu rivals, pirate, parrot, ballerina, and a microwave. (Huh?) But the fun and games ends when he accidentally hypnotizes himself into trying to destroy farmer.
  • Fowl Play
    After a strange night, Freddy the ferret wakes up covered in Peck's feathers. But would he really eat his best friend? On a side note, how many kids watching this show are going to get the Law & Order reverences in this episode?
  • Barnyard Games
    Otis and Abby compete in the Barnyard Games, but their competitive natures get the best of them and they look for a way to win at all costs.
  • War of the Pranks
    Otis tries his hardest to prank Bessy, but as the pranks get more elaborate, it is only a matter of time before someone gets over their head.
The only extras on the DVD is an animatic for the first part of The Uddered Avenger.

Granted, I'm not in the target audience for Back at the Barnyard, but I've seen enough shows like this that I can tell when one is working, and this isn't. The Uddered Avenger was a complete bust, while at best the rest of the episodes only offered one or two genuine laughs. Back at the Barnyard is simply not as funny as Steve Oedekerk's previous creature, Jimmy Neutron. This is no surprise as the original movie was much better as source material. Additionally, the extras on Cowman - The Uddered Avenger are rather weak, and for most fans a rental will be enough.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: 13 Going on 30, 13 Going on 30 (Alternate Cover?), 50 First Dates, Amusement, Antone Fisher, As Tears Go By, Beethoven - Mendelssohn - Violin Concertos - Acoustic Reality Experience, Click, Cruel Intentions, The Deal, Domino, Election, The Express, Henry Poole is Here, Hitch, Igor, King Kong (2005), The Machinist, Max Payne, El Norte, The Notebook - Limited Collector's Edition, The Pink Panther, Poison Ivy 4 - The Secret Society, Rent, Repo! The Genetic Opera, Saw V, Stomp the Yard, Unfaithful, and Wagner - The Best of Overtures & Preludes - Acoustic Reality Experience
An... interesting mix of Blu-rays coming out this week. On the one end, we have King Kong, which was one of the most expensive movies ever made. On the other end, we have direct-to-DVD releases like Amusement and Poison Ivy 4. In my mind, the best High Definition release of the week is Repo! The Genetic Opera, but it is not a release that is for everyone.

Boogeyman 3 - Buy from Amazon
One of several direct-to-DVD sequels on this week's list. This one is rather unique as it is arguably better than the original. That's not that surprising, as the original was terrible. Fans of direct-to-DVD horror films could do worse, but that's hardly high praise and I can only recommend a rental.

Center Stage - Turn It Up - Buy from Amazon
A direct-to-DVD sequel to the ballet film, Center Stage. That film was not a hit with critics, and it performed even worse at the box office, so it is a bit strange that nine years later this film is coming out. There are almost no reviews online, but expect a similar film to the first one, only not as strong in either the dancing or the acting.

The Children of Huang Shi - Buy from Amazon
Set during the late 1930s just before the outbreak of World WarII, the film takes place during the the Japanese invasion of China and tells the story of a British journalist who, while posing as a Red Cross driver, sneaks to get into Nanjing, a city that the Japanese have cut off from the west. There he witnesses and photographs atrocities committed by the Japanese army against unarmed civilians, but before he can get out and tell the world what he saw, he is caught and is set to be beheaded. Fortunately, he is rescued by a resistance leader before he can be killed. While he wants to continue covering the war, the resistance leader instead sends him to an orphanage in Huang Shi, where he meets an American nurse, Lee Pearson played by Radha Mitchell. Together, with the help of a local business lady, they help the children of this orphanage survive the atrocities of war.

This story, which is based on real life events, is emotionally powerful, but sadly it falls flat here. When we first witness war crimes being committed, there is a scene where a crowd of Chinese are lined up and shot with machine guns. The scene ends with a slow motion shot of one of the victims falling onto the muddy ground. This struck me as emotionally manipulative, and this scene set the tone for the rest of the movie. What's worse is, it was unnecessary. After that, each beat of the story felt less authentic and it felt too common to be as effective as it could be. We see George Hogg struggle to win over his charges, slowly build trust, calm them emotional trauma, and even fall in love, it feels like the filmmakers were simply checking off boxes in a list they needed to complete before the film's 2-hour running time was over.

The film never really found an audience during its limited release, which explains why the only extra on the DVD is a 12-minute making of featurette.

The story that is the basis for The Children of Huang Shi has all of the elements needed to be great, but the film doesn't do enough with them to be more than a melodramatic misfire. Add in a DVD that has nearly no extras, as it equals no more than a rental.

Children of the Stones - Buy from Amazon
A British TV mini-series that first ran in 1977. In the mini-series, a scientist and his son move to a sleepy British town only to have to do battle with an evil psychic presence, thus proving once again that there is no place more dangerous than a sleepy British town. The mix of Sci-Fi and fantasy create a compelling story, and while some of the effects have not aged well, overall it is still worth checking out today. Extras include two interviews with a total running time of around 30 minutes, while the price is right considering the running time / import nature of the show.

Chris Rock - Kill the Messenger - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc Edition of Three-Disc Collector's Edition
The latest stand-up concert film from Chris Rock and his first in four years. He hasn't lost his touch in the meantime. As for the difference versions Single-Disc Edition has the original HBO version of the set, while the Three-Disc Collector's Edition also has the set done at the Apollo Theater in New York City, Johannesburg, and London, as well as a Digital Copy of the HBO special and some additional interviews / behind-the-scenes. Definitely worth picking up, and worth spending the extra money.

City of Ember - Buy from Amazon
A movie that isn't coming out on Blu-ray. Weird. Then again, given how poorly the film did in theaters, perhaps this isn't that surprising.

City of Ember is a Steampunk adventure movie set in an underground city founded 200 years before the beginning of the movie. The city was built to house humanity underground because of an unnamed disaster that took place above, however, by the time the movie starts, the people of Ember no longer remember why they live there. Worse yet, the generator that powers their city and helps grow their food is breaking down, and soon their storerooms will run out. However, there is hope as Lina Mayfleet and her friend Doon Harrow may have found something left by the Builders, and the builders may have left instructions on how to get back to the surface. But most of the citizens of Ember have lost any inquisitive nature and are convinced the Builders will return to their city to rescue them when the time comes. And they are more than content to wait for that to happen, instead of trying to solve the problems themselves.

This movie earned mixed reviews when it debut theatrically, with even most of the negative reviews complimenting the film on its visuals. And I certainly concur there. I've always been a fan of the Steampunk motif, and it is put to great use here. However, while most critics felt the story was too slight to justify the sets, I was drawn into the film. Granted, at times it did feel like a theme park ride (especially during the end boat ride) but for the most part I enjoyed the puzzles presented.

Sadly, I only have a burned screener, and not the final product to review. What I do have has absolutely no extras, and I think this is true of the final product as well. If I get the final DVD to review later, I will update this review.

City of Ember became the latest in a long line of Fantasy / Adventure movies with kids as their main characters that flopped at the box office. It seems too many are trying to recreate Harry Potter success, but I don't think that's going to happen for a long, long time. In the meantime, films that would otherwise be decent hits are being killed because of the competition and the recent losing streak. City of Ember is one such box office failure. This is a shame, as it deserved to be seen by more; however, with a featureless DVD, for most a rental will be enough.

Criss Angel Mindfreak - The Complete Season Four - Buy from Amazon
Don't like this series, as the 'magic' is present as if Criss Angel actually has real powers, when in fact it is done with camera tricks and many times in front of plants.

The Deal - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A movie starring William H. Macy and Meg Ryan that never found a theatrical distributor. That's not a good sign. The movie itself isn't bad, at least that's what the few reviews I've seen online say. But unless you work in the movie business, some of the jokes will be lost on you.

Warning: This Blu-ray does not come out this week and makes its home market debut on the 6th. However, the Blu-ray screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Disaster Movie - Unrated Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
The latest, and hopefully last film from the writing / directing team of Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg. The duo have made four movies to date: Date Movie, Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, and now Disaster Movie. Combined these four films have earned a total of eight positive review on Rotten Tomatoes. Eight. This particular installment earned one positive review. One. Quite frankly, That's one more positive review than this film deserves.

Usually this is the part of the spotlight review where I describe the plot. But there's no point with this movie, because the movie really has no plot worth talking about. It is merely a collection of reverences to other movies, many of which were not even out in theaters while this movie was being made. So essentially, they were spoofing movie trailers. And given that issue, they still made the film feel shallow in comparison. The writing was awful, with every single attempts at humor falling flat. What's worse, most of these jokes are usually then held for a beat too long, which turns a lame joke into something that was painful to experience. This, however, was expected. What I found that was shocking was how poorly the film looked. The special effects were terrible, especially the parody of Alvin and the Chipmunks. They didn't have the budget for computer animation, so they instead used puppets. Cheap looking puppets. I've seen YouTube videos with better production values than this movie. It reportedly only cost $20 million to make, but even that seems at least $10 million too high.

I don't have the DVD to compare it to, but the extras on the Blu-ray are better than the movie deserves, at least in quantity. Things start off with the Picture-in-Picture commentary track with the producer and the two writer / directors, who don't say much, and the three main members of the cast, who don't add anything of substance. There are six featurettes starting with Straight from the Ladies, which has three of the female cast members in character talking about the movie. Mostly annoying, but still funnier than G-Thang's Tour of the set. This is How We Do It spends 9-minutes talking about the making of the movie, with pop-up trivia. Girl Fight runs just under 2 minutes, which will disappoint the target audience. Sitting Down With a Stand-Up is 8 minutes with G-Thang, who is not funny, but very talkative. This is a deadly combination. Who's Spoofing Who? spends 4 minutes talking about how many of the people in the movie have been spoofed. The final two extras are Sing Alongs for the two main songs in the movie. Neither of which are funny, and neither of which do I want to hear again. Technically, the movie neither looks nor sounds particularly good for a High Definition release. No bad, but just average.

On a side note, when you movie around the menu, it screams at you. Loudly. This is annoying and I question why it was done.

When Meet the Spartans didn't live up to expectations at the box office, Fox dropped the series only to have Lionsgate pick it up. This was a huge mistake, not only creatively, but also financially. Disaster Movie is one of the worst movies I have ever seen, and I can't recommend the Buy from Amazon for buying, renting, watching for free. Or standing too close to. Run. Run away from the movie and don't stop.

Emergency! - Season Five - Buy from Amazon
We hare halfway through this Jack Webb created TV series, which focuses on the lives of Los Angeles County Fire Dept. Station 51. Great show, but the extras are light. (There's a bonus episode from Adam-12 that features a cameo from some of the cast of this show.) Also, it appears that the film prints have been stored in a garbage dump for the past three decades, because the audio / video quality is again below acceptable standards at times.

The Express - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
An inspirational sports story based on real life events. Usually these movies are very reliable at the box office, but this one bombed hard. The reviews were better than most films, and the DVD has better than expected extras (audio commentary track, deleted scenes, and four featurettes). Meanwhile, the Blu-ray has these extras and a featurette on the 50th anniversary of Syracuse's National Championship and the disc is BD-Live enabled. However, it also costs more than 50% than the DVD. The movie is worth checking out, and picking up over just renting, but I'm not sure the Blu-ray is worth the extra money. It is too close to call.

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention - In the 1960's - Buy from Amazon
Adocumentary about musician and composer Frank Zappa, who is arguably one of the most influential American musicians, ever. The 2-hour film contains a lot of rare footage and interviews with is bandmates and others, and is a must have for fans of the artist or musical historians.

Ghost - Special Edition - Buy from Amazon
A re-release of the DVD that I reviewed when it originally came out in 2007. The fact that this re-release is the seventh best seller on this week's list (according to Amazon) just shows how slow of a week it is.

Girls' Night In - Buy from Amazon: 13 Going on 30, 13 Going on 30 (Blu-ray), 50 First Dates, 50 First Dates (Blu-ray), Blonde Ambition, Bye Bye Birdie, Center Stage, Click, Click (Blu-ray), Cruel Intentions, Cruel Intentions (Blu-ray), Dick, Funny Girl, Hitch, Hitch (Blu-ray), Ice Castles, Only You, Rent, Rent (Blu-ray), Stomp the Yard, Stomp the Yard (Blu-ray), and You Got Served
This week Sony is releasing a line of Girls' Night In DVD and Blu-ray from 15 movies. Some of these are award winning movies, like Funny Girl. Others, like Hitch and 13 Going on 30 are fun 'Chick Flicks'. Others, like You Got Served, have no business in this collection.

Henry Poole is Here - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Luke Wilson plays Henry Poole, who we meet buying a home from a real estate lady, and insisting on paying full price. He doesn't plan on staying there long, but he wants to stay there alone. His plans go awry when a neighbor (Adriana Barraza) sees what she thinks is the face of God in a stain on the stucco of his new house. Far from being left alone, Henry Poole is drawn into the lives of all of his neighbors, including a single mother and her daughter that lives next door, the aforementioned nosey neighbor, and even a nearsighted young lady who works at the grocery store he frequents.

A movie about a man without faith surrounded by true believers could work either as an edgy comedy or as a philosophical drama. What it doesn't work as is a preachy, maudlin mess, which is exactly what we have here. It's a movie about faith where the evidence is presented in a ham-fisted way destroying any ambiguity. It doesn't take faith to accept valid evidence, so this hurt the cause of the filmmakers. At one point Patience, the nearsighted grocery clerk, touches the face of God and suddenly she has perfect 20/20 vision. When she describes the event as a miracle, Henry Poole recoils from that word, but she says, "Come on, Mr. Poole, what else could this be?" Bad writing. That's what this is. Also, this bad writing was too often delivered in a clumsy way, usually with close-ups of a character's face while they delivered an emotional speech, complete with tears. (Also, you should only have one scene with a character wandering around while the audience listens to a lyrically appropriate song. One. Anymore and they lose their effectiveness and quickly turn to self-parody.) This is a shame, because with a more deft touch, and a lot less predictability, it could have a good movie. I certainly liked some of the performances. For instance, newcomer Rachel Seiferth was great in the film, and I hope she has a long career ahead of her.

Extras start with two audio commentary tracks, both with the director. In the first he is joined by the writer and they talk about story elements, while in the second he is joined by the D.P. and they talk about the more technical aspects of making the movie. There are 31 minutes of deleted scenes (with audio commentary track), much of which deals with the life of Henry Poole that he had before he found out he had a terminal disease. There is a 16-minute long making of featurette and a music video. The Blu-ray is BD-Live enabled; however, there are nothing online at the moment. Also, currently on Amazon the Blu-ray is actually cheaper than the DVD by a significant margin.

Henry Poole is Here is a movie with a lot of flaws from the heavy-handed script to the overuse of music video like music sequences. Extras on the DVD and the Blu-ray are better than expected, but I can't rate this one past a rental. Even a rental is being very generous here.

Igor - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A CG animated film released this past September, which is a bad month to release a movie. It opened with weak reviews and went nowhere at the box office. Neither the DVD nor the Blu-ray screeners have arrived yet, and I will go into more detail when they do. However, it doesn't appear that the extras are particularly strong, while the Blu-ray doesn't do much to make the 40% premium worth it.

Jonathan Creek - Season Three - Buy from Amazon
The penultimate season for this British mystery series starring Caroline Quentin as an investigative journalist and Alan Davies as an inventor for stage magician. Anthony Head was supposed to star as said stage magician, but when he got the role on Buffy, he left. Even so, it is still a great show to watch, especially for those who like their mystery shows closer to the brain twister puzzles, and less police procedural.

Max Payne - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc, 2-Disc, or Blu-ray
The latest video game adaptation stars Mark Wahlberg as the titular character. The movie earned terrible reviews while it made enough at the box office to be considered a midlevel hit. As for the home market releases, I should be receiving my screeners shortly, and I will go into more detail when they arrive. My initial reaction is a rental, at the most, while the Blu-ray is a better value than the DVD.


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Filed under: Video Releases, King Kong, Hitch, Click, 50 First Dates, The Pink Panther, The Notebook, Stomp the Yard, Saw V, Max Payne, You Got Served, Rent, Igor, Disaster Movie, Domino, The Express, City of Ember, Henry Poole Is Here, The Machinist, The Children of Huang Shi, Repo! The Genetic Opera, Blonde Ambition, Boogeyman 3, Amusement, 13 Going On 30, Antwone Fisher