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DVD Releases for February 17, 2009 - Part II

February 17th, 2009

This felt like a slow week to me, but looking at the list there were 15 spotlight reviews, which is a huge amount for one week. There are a large number of DVDs worth checking out, but looking at the top of the list, I think Christopher Titus - Love is Evol is the best DVD coming out this week, and the winner of the DVD Pick of the Week. As has happened pretty much every week this year, there are so many DVDs on this week's list that is had to be split into two. The second part can be found here.

I Served the King of England - Buy from Amazon
This film earned very strong reviews, but it still struggled during its limited release. It tells the story of Jan Díte (played by Ivan Barnev as a younger man and Oldrich Kaiser as an older man). Jan Dite wants to be rich and be surrounded by beautiful women, and in his quest to do so, he gets into bed (figuratively and literally) with the Nazis in pre-war Czechoslovakia. I might be getting a screener for this film, and I will do a spotlight review when it arrives. In the meantime, the DVD is worth checking out, but without any really substantial extras, for many a rental will be enough.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 20th of January. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Igor - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The DVD screener arrived late, and the Blu-ray isn't coming at all.

This CG animated film stars John Cusack as Igor, or to be more specific, one of several Igors in the country of Malaria. Ever since the clouds came to this nation, the once proud farming country has had its economy devastated, and now it has just one industry: Mad Scientists. Every year at the Evil Science Fair, the greatest mad scientists in the land show off their lasted doomsday weapon, and Malaria blackmails the rest of the world threatening to release it. However, this year Igor has a plan to shake things up; he's going to enter the Evil Science Fair, but his "Monster" doesn't turn out exactly how he wanted.

Digitally animated movies used to cost so much money and take so much time to make that only a few were released each year. Because of this, great care was taken to make sure each movie was an event. Now, now these movies are a dime a dozen, and it feels like it. That's not to say this movie is terrible, but it is just so average. A re-telling of the Frankenstein story with a comedic twist, the film is too dark for younger kids (one of the main characters is a suicidal / immortal rabbit, there is a joke about torturing kittens, etc.). But while it skewers films than only adults will be aware of (Frankenstein, Annie, etc.) for the most it's too simplistic to appeal to them. From its animation style, the film seems like it was going for a The Nightmare Before Christmas vibe, but the film doesn't have the charm to get there. It's not all bad, and there's enough here that it will be worth checking out for older kids ('tweens, perhaps) and some parents might like it as well, but that's as enthusiastic as I can get.

Extras on the : DVD include a strong audio commentary track, an alternate opening, and concept art galleries. I don't have the Blu-ray to compare video quality, but it has no additional extras.

I had high hopes for Igor, both at the box office and with critics. It lived up to neither. That said, the DVD and the Blu-ray are worth checking out, but a rental will do.

Kaiser's Lackey - Buy from Amazon
An East Germany political satire about the tendency of Germans to have ultra-nationalism. It was banned in its native country back when it was released, so you know it hit too close to home. Certainly worth checking out.

Law & Order - Special Victims Unit - The Eighth Year - Buy from Amazon
Great show, weak DVD releases. Police procedural shows generally don't need to be watched in order to enjoy then, which is why they thrive on TV, especially in syndication. However, this means the DVDs need something more than the episodes to make the DVDs worth picking up, and I just don't see it here.

A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn - Buy from Amazon
A name like that makes you stop and take notice. Usually the movie doesn't sound nearly as interesting as the name, but that's not the case here. It's a Japanese movie about a widow living with her senile father-in-law. Every morning she wakes up before he does, goes to the barn, and pretends to be his prize-winning cow, which died several years before. Reviews are few and far between, but generally positive, as the movie not only has the weird elements, but real characters and drama to go with it. You don't just say, 'Huh?' but also 'Hmmm.'

Madagascar 2 - Escape to Africa - Buy from Amazon: DVD, DVD Two-Pack, or Blu-ray
Just a quick update from last week's review review now that I have the Blu-ray.

Don't need to recap to movie too much. I will say that the characters feel more fleshed out this time around, but the penguins are the most entertaining characters and when they (or the monkeys) are not on screens, the movie's pace slows. Still, it's worth checking out.

Extras on the Blu-ray include the full slate that were on the DVD, with the audio commentary track upgraded to a picture-in-picture track. There is also a trivia track with the usual assortment of information. Finally, the disc is BD-Live enabled. But there's nothing there at the moment. As for the audio and video quality, it is top notch, as one would expect with a digital source. However, it is not as good as either Wall-E or Kung Fu Panda. But that's like saying it only warrants a nine out of ten instead of a perfect ten. The video is still good enough that many fans of digital animation would be willing to pay extra to get the Blu-ray for the video upgrade alone.

Extras on the DVD start with a crew audio commentary track, which details some of the challenges making the movie, both in terms of writing and technical oriented issues. There are also a couple making of featurettes that run 20 minutes in total. There is a shorter featurette on the making of the plane crash scene, which as the big early action scene, took a lot to plan. Next up is a featurette on the crew's trip to Africa, which sounds like a tax right off / vacation more than a legitimate research trip. (Not that I judging them.) Jambo Jimbo has some lessons in Swahili, at only a couple minutes, there's not much to learn. Finally, there is a game and a sing-along versions of the songs.

The second disc of the DVD Two-Pack is from The Penguins of Madagascar, which is a new TV series starting on Nickelodeon. There are two episodes presented here: Popcorn Panic and Gone in a flash. Each episode is only 12 minutes long and suffers from TV quality animation and 'sound-alike' voice performances (for the most part). There are only 24 minutes of main program, and 24 minutes of featurettes. Not much for nearly 50% more money. Also, you can only get this DVD as part of this two-pack, and can't get it with the Blu-ray.

Madagascar 2 - Escape to Africa is a good movie, one the kids will likely want to watch more than once, which makes it worth picking up. I don't have the Blu-ray yet, but the DVD is the better deal as the DVD Two-Pack doesn't offer enough bang for your buck.

March Madness - The Greatest Moments of the NCAA Tournament - Buy from Amazon
It's almost that time of year when college basketball goes crazy. Personally, I would rather watch curling.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 20th of January. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Max Payne - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc, 2-Disc, or Blu-ray
I only have the DVD, in fact, I only have the Single-Disc DVD and not the 2-Disc or the Blu-ray, so I can't compare the versions.

Mark Wahlberg stars as the titular character, a cop that is dealing with the loss of his wide and baby at the hands of some thugs, now he's been demoted to a glorified file clerk while he obsessively hunts for the one killer that got away. Along the way he is framed for several murders, and draws the ire of a hitman who is looking for a little revenge of her own.

Yeah, it's a plot that won't win awards for originality, but that's not the selling point here. The selling point here is the action. If the action is good, the plot won't matter to the film's target audience. The action was not good. It was stylized, but not good. There were times that the fight scenes were so slo-mo that I had to watch they sped up, and they still seemed boring. Style is one thing, but don't let style get in the way of the action. Additionally, as mentioned in the audio commentary track, The characters were all very one dimensional; this was done to intentionally, at least according to the commentators. This was done to maintain the focus on Max Payne, but he's a cookie cutter cop out for little revenge. It's not a complex character.

Extras on the DVD include the aforementioned audio commentary track. There are also featurettes on the making of the movie and an animated graphic novel about Michelle Payne. That's not much, and the 2-Disc DVD has a digital copy as the second disc, while the Blu-ray has a picture-in-picture track. The last version costs more than 60% more than the single disc, but just 10% more than 2-disc, so it depends on how you feel about digital copies for portable devices.

Max Payne is an action movie that tries way too hard to be stylish and this hurts its effectiveness. In fact, it's downright silly at times. The extras on the two DVDs are weak, while I'm not sure the Blu-ray is really worth the upgrade. Personally, I don't think it is worth anything more than a rental, and even that is only if you are a fan of the revenge genre or of video game adaptations.

Midnight Meat Train - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
There have been very, very few thriller / horror films that have survived limited release. This was not one of them. Granted, it opened in discount theaters and not first-run theaters, but even so, its opening per theater average of $337 is still a disaster, and the film deserved better. Extras on the DVD include a trio of featurettes, while the Blu-ray has no additionally extras, but it costs just 25% more. For fans of the genre, it is worth checking out, and it is worth the extra money to go the Blu-ray route.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 13th of January. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Mirrors - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
First a note, I only have the DVD and I won't be getting the Blu-ray to compare directly.

Kiefer Sutherland stars as Ben Carson, a cop who is off the force because of an incident, which I won't go into in detail. It caused him to lose his job, take up drinking, and eventually lose his wife and kids. Now he has a job as a night watchman at an abandoned shopping mall, a mall that was gutted by a devastating fire. Everything is covered in soot and debris, except the mirrors, which are highly polished thanks to Gary, the previous night watchman, who met an unfortunate end before the openings credit roll.

This movie moves way too slowly. I know, the filmmakers were trying to set up the mood, but it just doesn't work. We see the first kill before the opening credits work, so it is too late to set the mood. We are no longer asking ourselves, "What's happening?" but "When will the mirrors strike again?" Learning about the history of the shopping mall doesn't help matters either, because it uses one of the biggest clichés in horror, the haunted mental hospital. There are some effective scares, and the gore level is increased in the Unrated cut, but overall the movie just doesn't work.

At first glance the extras on the DVD are weaker than expected, even given its lackluster theatrical run. You do get both versions of the movie, as well as a making of featurette, a featurette on mirrors in mythology, and finally some deleted / alternate scenes with optional audio commentary. That doesn't seem like much, but it runs over 80 minutes long in total, which is rather impressive.

I do not have the Blu-ray, but they have two picture-in-picture tracks, one with making of featurettes, and the other with storyboard comparisons. But it does cost nearly 50% more, so keep that in mind.

Mirrors is yet another Asian horror remake, and like most such recent films, it doesn't work. I can't recommend buying either the DVD or the Blu-ray, and even renting might be too much, unless you are a hardcore fan of these movies.

Moving Midway - Buy from Amazon
A personal documentary about the filmmaker's family home and the attempts to move it to escape urban sprawl. Perhaps it was a little too personal, as the film never found an audience, despite the excellent reviews. The DVD has the typical selection of extras for documentaries (deleted scenes and bonus interviews) and it is worth checking out.

Murder, She Wrote - The Complete Ninth Season - Buy from Amazon
And fans of the show can finally breath a sigh of release. After releasing three seasons in 2007, but only one in 2008, the show it back on the release docket. This is an amazing show, it would have to be to last 12 years. However, as good as the episodes are, the DVD releases have been weak. With stand-alone episodes, there's little need to watch a season in order, so these releases rely on extras for replay value. There have been some extras on the previous releases (mostly) but the official site has no information on extras, which is a shame.

New Manager of the Sumo Club - Buy from Amazon
The official synopsis starts with, "When you wake up half naked and covered with graffiti, your week’s bound to go downhill quickly..." As strange as that may seem, the movie is not that bizarre in terms of plot. It's a underdog sports movie, only the sport is Sumo Wrestling. The DVD is being released by Switchblade, which specializes is Japanese films that combine a number of genres, usually with some erotic element.

Out at the Wedding - Buy from Amazon
A screwball comedy. Most such movies are based on mistakes or misunderstandings. Perhaps a little white lie that gets out of hand. Or perhaps mistakes mistaken identity. This one is about mistaken sexual identity.

Andrea Marcellus stars as Alex, a single woman who lives in New York City, who at the beginning of the movie gets engaged to her boyfriend of three months. She hasn't seen her family in South Carolina in three years; however, she has to return for her sister's wedding. Here's where the little white lies start to pile up. First of all, she's told her fiancée that her family is dead. And while at the wedding, Jonathan, her best friend accidentally convinces some of the guests that she is a lesbian, make that all of the guests, she decides to go with it, because it's easier than telling her family she's marrying a black Jewish man. The plan works, but when her sister decides to visit her in New York City, things really get a lot more complicated. Especially after Alex decides to hire a lesbian to pretend to be her girlfriend / fiancée.

Like romantic comedies, farces tend to be a little on the predictable side, and this is certainly true here. These films have to rely on their charm and the chemistry of the cast, and fortunately, this film has plenty of both. Yes, it's light and fluffy, but it is very entertaining as well, regardless of your sexual orientation.

On a side note, this is the second film I've reviewed recently where a character has given up a meatless diet as part of a coping strategy. I wonder if this is part of a new trend.

Extras are limited to an audio commentary track with the director, and an interview featurette wit the cast. It is also in non-anamorphic wide screens, which is disappointing.

Out at the Wedding is being markets to gays and lesbians as part of the Logo line, but fans of the genre should be entertained, regardless of their orientation. The DVD doesn't have a huge amount of extras, but it is still worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

Paul Newman - Film Series - Buy from Amazon: The Helen Morgan Story, The Outrage, Rachel, Rachel, and When Time Ran Out
Hopefully these DVDs were planned before the actor's recent death, otherwise this is all very ghoulish.

Quarantine - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A remake of the Spanish horror film, [REC]. That film earned outstanding reviews and was a major hit in its native market. This film earned good reviews, but not great reviews, and struggled at the box office. Because of its box office struggles, I'm not surprised the extras on the DVD are light. There is an audio commentary track, a making of featurette, a featurette on the make-up, and a third on the stunts. However, those three run a combined 20 minutes. The or Blu-ray has no additional extras, none of the extras are on high definition, and because the movie is supposedly shot on a small video camera, the video quality doesn't shine in High Definition. The movie is worth checking out, but it is not worth the extra 40% to gohigh definition.

The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest - Season One - Volume One - Buy from Amazon
I wonder if the popularity of the Venture Brothers helped revise this cartoon. If so, that would be hilarious.

Religulous - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about religion starring Bill Maher, starring the outspoken Bill Maher. And it's directed by Larry Charles, who previously made Borat. Oh boy. The film earned good reviews and was able to beat expectations at the box office. That said some have described the movie as preaching to the choir, and there's almost no chance it will convert anyone. Although it could start a few conversations, which could be the goal here. Extras consist of an audio commentary track with Bill Maher and Larry Charles, as well as deleted scenes and monologues. Worth picking up for most, even if you don't agree with Bill Maher's position.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch - Season Five - Buy from Amazon
This was a season of big changes on this show. There were always some changes, but this time around the changes were huge. Including a change in networks moving from ABC to the WB (or as it is now known as, CW).

The season starts with Sabrina leaving for college and moving out the house leaving Hilda and Zelda alone with Salem. She moves in with her roommates: Miles, Roxy, and Morgan. But Hilda and Zelda don't fade away from the show, as the former buys the coffee shop where the college kids hang out, and Zelda becomes a professor of quantum physics. Perhaps the biggest change from last season was the loss of Harvey, who found out Sabrina was a witch at the end of season four. This is also the season Sabrina turned 20, at least if my math is right (and she started out as a 16-year old in season one). A lot of people wondered by they kept the name Sabrina the Teenage Witch when the character was no longer a teenage. Why not shorten it to Sabrina? Simple, they were contractually obligated to use the full name of the comic book the show is based on.

While there were a lot of changes during this season, but for the most part the TV series was in a groove and there were a lot of strong episodes. This includes Sabrina and Roxy breaking a big story, Miles falling in with a cult, Sabrina throwing a Halloween party and every monster in the universe crashes it. Sabrina start dating a witch whose parents are prejudiced against mortals, Sabrina spends Christmas with Morgan's family and they are not as perfect as she imagined. Sabrina loses Hilda's biological clock, Zelda moves in with Sabrina and starts to enjoy college life too much. Sabrina and her roommates go on Spring Break but her aunts want to make sure its 'wholesome' so they zap them into some 1960s Beach Blanket movie. Amanda's back, and she's going to stay in the mortal realm for a while. (This particular episode was clearly an attempt at a spin-off, but nothing came of it.) Miles spots Hilda in a flying care and thinks he's spotted aliens, but when he presents it to class, he becomes a laughing stock and decides to quit science and become an accountant. That doesn't last long as the next episode, as the next episode he's trying to detect ghosts, which is a bit of a problem as his gizmo also detects witches.

There are no extras on the 3-disc set, nor are there subtitles. However, there are play-all buttons and proper chapter placements. Just like every other season so far.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch - Season Five should please fans of the show. The episodes are as strong as usual, while unfortunately there continues to be no extras. If you purchased the previous seasons, there's no reason to stop now.

Screamers - The Hunting - Buy from Amazon
A direct-to-DVD sequel to Screamers, which was released in 1996 and virtually ignored by moviegoers. That film was based on the short story by Philip K. Dick, who was an amazing Science Fiction author; however, most adaptations of his work turned out to be crap. I don't think Hollywood knows how to handle his work. Buzz has this film being even worse than the original, which means even fans of the 1996 flick should stay away from this one.

Sexy Battle Girls - Buy from Amazon
The debut film from Japanese director, Mototsugu Watanabe, who went on to make Amorous Ninja and of course the Sexy S.W.A.T. series of films. It's a camp classic of Pink Cinema, and if you don't know what that is, avoid this movie. Also of note, it is not coming out on the 17th, but later in the week.

Still Waiting... - Buy from Amazon: R-rated or Unrated
A direct-to-DVD sequel to Waiting... The original wasn't a big hit, nor did it wow critics, but I liked it, for the most part. Will I like this one? Don't know yet, as the screener hasn't arrived. As soon as it does, I'll get to work on the spotlight review.

Tired of Kissing Frogs - Buy from Amazon
A romantic comedy from Mexico about a woman who catches her boyfriend cheating on her, so she decides to play the field instead of trying to settle down. The film earned mixed reviews over on Rotten Tomatoes, and by mixed I mean there's one positive review and one negative review. And given its sales ranking on Amazon, it appears it will be ignored on the home market just as it was by critics and by moviegoers. This is a shame, because it is worth checking out, especially for fans of the genre.

Touch the Top of the World - Buy from Amazon
A TV movie based on the real life of Erik Weihenmayer, who went blind in his teens due to a very rare eye disease. Peter Facinelli stars as Erik, while Bruce Campbell has a supporting role as Erik's father during the flashbacks to Eriks childhood. It is during these segments of the movie we see how Erik didn't let his blindness keep stopping him from living. He joins the wrestling team in school, he learns to rock climb, etc., all culminating in his attempt to climb Mount Everest.

The movie was clearly going for inspirational adventure, but I don't think it got there. There are some good performances and the story is amazing, but it still feels too much like a TV movie of the week to have much in the way of replay value.

Additionally, there are no extras on the DVD.

Touch the Top of the World is worth checking out if you missed it on TV the first time it aired. However, the DVD is bare bones and worth just a rental. Those who are really interested in the story should watch Blindsight as well.

Your Mileage May Vary - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about people who obsessively clip coupons. A few years ago, these people might a have seems strange, not they might be able to recruit an army of followers.


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Filed under: Video Releases, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, Max Payne, Quarantine, Mirrors, Igor, Religulous, Deadly Blessing, Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále, Moving Midway, Still Waiting..., Tired of Kissing Frogs