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DVD Releases for February 24, 2009 - Part I

February 24th, 2009

Is it national drug dealer week and no one told me? I have four, count them, four spotlight reviews this week dealing with drug dealers. This includes The French Connection, which is making its debut on Blu-ray this week and is a clear contender for DVD Pick of the Week. The other main contender is Futurama - Into the Wild Green Yonder on either DVD or Blu-ray. I can't decide which is better, so both are awarded the DVD Pick of the Week. As is the case more often than not, this week's list of reviews has to be split into two with part two found here.

Badlands - Buy from Amazon
A veteran of the Iraq War can't re-adjust to civilian life, so he plans on killing his family, then himself. But after murdering his wife and two sons, the gun jams on him, so he decides to go on the run with his daughter. A disturbing storyline that just doesn't work. It's nearly impossible to go from that set-up to rooting for this guy as a protagonist.

Warning: This movie does not come out this week and makes its home market debut on the 3rd of March. However, the Blu-ray screener arrived early and I was able to get the review done this week.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
This movie had a very schizophrenic ad campaign. The singing and dancing Chihuahuas in the Aztec ruins drove me up nuts. I hated it. On the other hand, the "Radical Chihuahuas" giving the "No Mas!" speech was rather good. So which way does the movie itself go?

The film has three sets of stars: The humans, the dogs, and the voices. The humans stars are Piper Perabo, as Rachel, the niece of uber wealthy Viv. Rachel is an unmotivated young lady who gets roped into dogsitting for her Aunt Viv, which means taking care of the spoiled Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore). Rachel and her two friends decide to head to Mexico for a little dancing, but when they get there, they accidentally lose Chloe. Now it is up to her, and Sam, the landscaper / romantic interest, and his dog, Papi to find her. Meanwhile, Chloe and her new friends, including a German Shepherd named Delgado are trying to find their way back to Beverly Hills, but the streets of Mexico are not a safe place, especially for a pampered Chihuahua who is used to being carried around in a purse.

So which ad is the movie like? Nether really. It's a comedy / adventure movie featuring a whole lot of talking animals in the lead. Fortunately in tone it is a lot more like the "No Mas" ad than the singing and dancing Chihuahua ad. Yes, it's cheesy, easily digestible entertainment that won't challenge anyone watching, but it's also fun and should entertain its target audience, even if the parents watching would rather be watching something a little more mature.

Extras on the Blu-ray are impressive starting with a director's commentary track. A lot of time is spent talking about the special effects, and there are a lot of them, and there are very few dead spots during the entire film. Up next is Legend of the Chihuahua, a 3-minute short film on the Chihuahua. Pet Pals: The Voices Behind the Dogs runs nine-and-a-half minutes and it is an interview featurette on the voice cast. Hitting Their Bark: On the Set with the Dogs of BHC runs 13 minutes and it is exactly what it sounds like. Rounding things out are 10 deleted scenes with a total running time of 25 minutes and 3 minutes of outtakes. Also, the disc is BD-Live enabled with the usual slate of Disney interactive features (movie mail, movie rewards, etc.).

Next week I'll be able to compared the Blu-ray and the DVD to see which one is the better deal.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua is not a great movie, but it had enough entertainment value to impress its young target demographic. The Blu-ray is a little pricey compared to the DVD and given the target demographic, the latter is likely the better deal.

Blood, Boobs & Beast - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about ultra low-budget filmmaker Don Dohler. The second disc on this DVD includings Don Dohler's most famous film, Nightbeast.It's his most famous movie, but not a good movie in the traditional sense. Good B-movie fun.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Akira, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The French Connection, French Connection 2, Futurama - Into the Wild Green Yonder, Grand Canyon Adventure - River at Risk, Herbert won Karajan - Memorial Concert, Hounddog, Hurricane on the Bayou, Pirates 2 - Stagnetti's Revenge, Samurai 7 - Box Set, Sex Drive - Unrated, Super Speedway, Ultimate HD Experience, Vanishing Point, What Just Happened?, The Who - Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970, and Zulu
Not a good week for DVD releases. Akira is selling well, but there are no extras on the Blu-ray despite there being a Special Edition DVD released not that long ago. Into the Wild Green Yonder is worth checking out on Blu-ray, but I don't think it will be a huge seller. Hell, one of the best-selling releases of the week according to Amazon is Pirates 2, the R-rated version of the porno. Granted, porn is a huge business, but generally no one release sells well enough to chart. On a side note, I've decided to trim to the list by removing imports and the like; there are just too many releases each week to link to them all.

The Brain - Buy from Amazon
I remember taking psychology class and hearing a saying. "If the brain was simple enough to understand, we would be too stupid to understand it." This program is a little ambitious, especially for just 94 minute long, but there's plenty of information given in an easy to understand form and it is worth checking out.

Breaking Bad - Season One - Buy from Amazon
Bryan Cranston stars as Walter H. White, a chemistry teacher who is not satisfied with his life. He just turned 50, he's dealing with a teenage son with a physical impairment and he's got a new kid on the way, he can't reach his students, and to top it all off, he was just diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Now with his time limited, he is looking for a quick way to make cash so he can make sure his family is taken care of. This is when he hits upon the brilliant plan: use his chemistry knowledge to cook up Meth to sell, with the help of a former student.

This turns out to be not the wisest decision he's made.

This show premiered on the AMC network this time last year, and earned excellent reviews, and even went on to win a couple of Emmys, as well as a WGA award. It's a darkly comedic show that is centered by Bryan Cranston; it's no wonder he won the Emmy for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series while the writing is equally strong.

Extras on the 3-disc set include audio commentary tracks on two of the seven episodes. There are also three deleted scenes, which are incorporated into the pilot for the DVD release. Disc two has two more deleted scenes, while the rest of the extras are on disc two. These extras include more deleted scenes, two making-of featurettes, an interview, screen tests, and a preview for season two, which begins shortly. You can choose to watch the episodes without the recaps. Nice work. I know it doesn't seem like much, but giving the viewers the choice is a really nice touch. On the other hand, there are no subtitles.

Breaking Bad is not a series that will appeal to everyone, which is why it's on a cable and not a network show. That said, Season One is worth checking out for fans of edgier TV, and there are more than enough extras to lift this 3-disc set to the solid purchase level.

Canterbury's Law - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
A courtroom drama starring Julianna Margulies, who is most famous for playing Nurse Carol Hathaway on E.R.. Here she plays Elizabeth Canterbury, a defense attorney who takes on all manner of cases while battling the deputy attorney general, Zach Williams, with whom she has quite a rivalry. She is aided by former prosecutor, Russell Krauss; Chester Fields, who is the son of a congressman; and Molly McConnell, who at the start of the show had not yet officially passed her bar exam. (They were waiting for the test results to come back.)

There have been a lot of similar shows on TV over the years; in fact, there are several similar shows on right now. These shows need a hook to survive, and since this show only lasted 6 episodes, that's a sign it didn't have a hook. It's just not that compelling. It's not overtly bad either. It's a show you can watch and be entertained for an hour, but the replay value is weak. Perhaps if the character of Elizabeth Canterbury specialized in one type of case, there would be a better hook. As it is, the crimes are only moderately interesting while the characters don't have enough personality to carry the show.

There are no extras on the DVD, nor are their English subtitles. There are play all buttons and proper chapter placements, on the other hand.

Canterbury's Law started out with weak ratings, but not tragically weak ratings. Solidly mediocre. However, it went downhill from there. If you watched a couple of the shows and wanted to see the rest, The Complete Series is worth a rental. Otherwise, there's little reason to check out a series that ends after just six episodes.

Chris and Don - A Love Story - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about the relationship between author Christopher Isherwood and his much younger artist friend, and lover, Don Bachardy. Its reviews were unbelievably positive, but its never really found an audience theatrically. The DVD has an hour's worth of extra material, including interviews, footage, and even home movies. Worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father - Buy from Amazon
A film that is difficult to watch at times, but many critics feel it is still rewarding. (Others think it was too emotionally manipulative, but they were in the minority.) Extras include deleted scenes, additional footage, and more. Worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

Death Note - Volume 9 - Buy from Amazon
An excellent Anime series, but I'm not happy with single-disc DVD releases. The price per minute is too high for many people. Also available with a limited edition figurine.

Dirty Jobs Collection 4 - Buy from Amazon
Mike Rowe hosts this show about the dirtiest jobs out there, including Alaska Bird Swabber, Dairy Cow Midwife, Turkey Inseminator, and others. It's Reality TV, but not the kind that relies on embarrassing people who are desperate for fame.

Epitaph - Buy from Amazon
A horror anthology from South Korea. It became a midlevel hit in its native market, but its reviews here have been mixed and it is only worth picking up for fans of Asian ghost stories.

Evil Roy Slade / Brothers O'Toole - Collector's Edition Embossed Tin! - Buy from Amazon
I've been meaning to pick up Evil Roy Slade for a while, and it is hard to beat this price for two movies.

Extreme Movie - Buy from Amazon
First the good news... This movie has no connection with the "Movie" series of spoofs. It is a sketch comedy movie on the horrors of teen sex. Because it is an anthology, it's a lot harder to review without getting into major spoiler territory. There are quite a few names in this movie, including Frankie Muniz, as a guy whose girlfriend who wants to take their relationship to the next level, and the level after that, and the level after that. Matthew Lillard stops by for some PSAs. Andy Milonakis and Vanessa Lengies are in a sketch together with Andy playing a guy who falls in love with a sex toy (one of the few sketches that work). Beverley Mitchell (from 7th Heaven) appears in a sketch about weird fetishes, and I mean weird. Michael Cera appears as a guy who gets involved in internet sex chat that goes wrong. This one also features Mindy Sterling (Frau Farbissina from Austin Powers) and it is one of the better skits. Jaimie Kennedy shows up, but that's not a selling point.

Including the wrap-around story as three or four bits, there are about 18 skits in this movie. Of those, four or five work enough to generate some laughs, and even then the endings are usually the weakest part, which is fatal for this type of comedy. Even if the endings to some of the better skits were sharper, the hit to miss ratio still doesn't provide any real replay value.

Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary track, as well as a 9-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. Given its short theatrical run, this isn't bad.

That's not enough to recommend buying the DVD. That's not even enough to be worth renting the DVD, unless you are a hardcore fans of teenage sex comedies, and even then, make sure you have backup.

Four Flies on Grey Velvet - Buy from Amazon
One of Dario Argento's earliest films finally making its debut on DVD the same day The Bird with the Crystal Plumage comes out on Blu-ray. This is not a co-incidence. For fans of the director, it is worth checking out.

The French Connection - Blu-ray Releases: The French Connection and The French Connection II
Both the original and the sequel are making their debut on high definition this week. This could be an easy sell for a lot of people.

The French Connection - Buy from Amazon
The first film earned nearly perfect reviews, as well as eight Oscar nominations and five wins. It stars Gene Hackman as Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle and Roy Scheider as Buddy "Cloudy" Russo, two detectives battling the drug trade in New York City. We also look into the events in France, where a businessman is planning a big deal, which takes us back to the drug trade in New York City. Simply an amazing movie in nearly every aspect. The story, the writing, the acting, the directing, etc. In fact, it helped create a new style of semi-documentary filmmaking and influenced countless similar police dramas, not to mention a sequel and a busted TV pilot (starring Ed O'Neil). If you don't have it in your movie collection it should be. But is the Blu-ray worth the upgrade?

Extras on the first disc include an introduction by the director, William Friedkin, who talks about how the Blu-ray transfer looks better than any print of the film ever did. There are also two audio commentary tracks, the first with William Friedkin and the second with Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider (recorded separately). There is also a trivia track and an isolated movie score track, both of which appears to be a Blu-ray exclusive. Over on disc two we have deleted scenes, with introduction and audio commentary by the director. Anatomy of a Chase is a 20-minute featurette on the very famous car vs. elevated train chase. Hackman on Doyle has Gene Hackman discussing the making of the movie and his character in a 11-minute featurette. Friedkin and Grosso Remember the Real French Connection in a 19-minute featurette on how the real case was broken (it involved a lot of luck, as well as good police work). Scene of the Crime is one of the shorter featurettes at just 5 minutes, and it has William Friedkin talking with Randy Jurgesen about his memories of the movie. Color Timing the French Connection is 13 minutes long and it is a lot more technically oriented than most of the others, talking about the restoration of the film for the Blu-ray release. Cop Jazz: The Music of Don Ellis is a 10-minute featurette on the score. Rogue Cop: The Noir Connection talks about how the film was influenced by classics of the Film Noir genre. The Poughkeepsie Shuffle is a nearly hour long documentary originally produced by the BBC. Finally, we come to Making the Connection: The Untold Stories of the French Connection, another nearly hour-long documentary, this time produced by Fox Movie Channel. The last two were also featured on the previous DVD release.

That's a huge number of extras, many of which are exclusive to the Blu-ray, and more than enough to make this release a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

French Connection II - Buy from Amazon
Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle continues his chase of the French drug smuggler, Alain Charnier, following him back to his home in Marseilles, France. However, he doesn't get far because his reputation precedes him and the French cops refuse to co-operate with him. That and the language barrier prevent him from learning anything, but that doesn't stop Alain Charnier from getting worried, and he takes drastic actions. There are very few Best Picture Oscar winners that earn a sequel. Almost none of these sequels are even close to as good as the original. This is the case here, but with reviews that are 79% positive, it is still damn good.

Extras on the Blu-ray are also weaker on the sequel compared to the original. There are still two audio commentary tracks, but there are more pauses this time. Still worth listening to. Frankenheimer: In Focus is a 25-minute-long featurette on the director, John Frankenheimer. There is also a 7-minute-long interview with Gene Hackman.

If you own both The French Connection and French Connection II on DVD and you are upgrading to Blu-ray this week, there's no reason to not buy both Blu-rays. On the other hand, if you don't have either film in your collection, I can see many getting the first and giving the second one a pass. I think they are both worth the money, but not everyone will feel the same way.

FTA - Buy from Amazon
A documentary / road show about the anti-war movement's response to the USO shows of the time. It's described as political vaudeville, and while it is not subtle humor, it is worth checking out. It is also interesting as a historical document, especially since it hasn't been seen in nearly 40 years. (There are rumors that someone in the Nixon administration forced this movie out of theaters a week into its run; however, there's no way to prove of disprove that.)

Futurama - Into the Wild Green Yonder - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
First a quick note. I only have DVD, but hopefully the Blu-ray will arrive shortly and I will be able to update the review in a timely fashion. Until then, let's get on with the review...

The fourth, and hopefully not last of the Futurama releases starts on Mars with the group hanging out with Mr. Wong as he prepares to blow up the Martian Las Vegas and replacing it with a new Martian Vegas. During the demolition Fry is injured by a falling Eco-Feminist and somehow gains psychic abilities. Meanwhile, Bender falls for Fanny, the wife of Donbot, the leader of the Robot Mafia. In order to run away together, Bender plans to use his incredible luck to win the Poker Tournament, but Fry also joins in hopes of using his new-found psychic powers to win. Most of this in immaterial to the main plot, which is an eco-conscious tale pitting Leela, Amy, and the others against Leo Wong and his plan to destroy 12% of the Milky Way in order to create a giant miniature golf course.

How does this movie compare to the others? I thought the first movie took too long to get started; after all, they had to reintroduce the characters. But besides that, it was great. The second film started out well, but lagged in the middle and is the weakest so far, but still worth picking up. The third film was fantastic, and it is my personal favorite, but I'm a big role-playing nerd, so keep that in mind. I believe for the average Futurama fan, this movie will be their favorite. It has the most consistent level of humor, and there are plenty of references to the TV series, without going all hardcore nerd. Not everything works. For instance, the Mafia / Poker Tournament storylines fizzle out, but they help set up the rest of the movie well.

Extras on the DVD start with an audio commentary track with eight people, which is too many to name here. High energy and lots of information add up to strong replay value. There is also storyboard animatic for the first part of the movie. There is a fake behind-the-scenes featurette showing Lauren Tom as the busiest woman on the show. There is a 2-minute featurette on Penn's guest shot in the movie, which is fun, but too short to learn anything. Up next are five deleted scenes running a total of just under three minutes. Many are just extended scenes or alternative lines. There is a 4-minute featurette on Matt Groening & David X. Cohen's ride on the Zero G Experience, which simulates a zero gravity environment. How To Draw returns and it is the longer than the other featurettes at just over 11 minutes. Here we are taught how to draw the Professor, Nibbler, Hypnotoad, and Fry. There's a 4-minute look at several of the 3-D models from the movie. Up next are two fake PSAs, Bender's Movie-Theater Eitquette and Zapp Brannigan's Guide to Making Love at a Woman. Finally, there is an Easter Egg, which is easy enough to get to that I won't spoil it here.

I don't have the Blu-ray yet so I can't say if there are any exclusives or not. But I can tell you it costs 55% more on Amazon, which is a lot, so there better be something here.

Futurama - Into the Wild Green Yonder is the fourth, and hopefully not the last direct-to-DVD release from this franchise. It is arguably the best release so far and the DVD is certainly worth picking up, and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week. I'm not sure if the Blu-ray is the better deal or not, but it will need some exclusives to overcome that price.

Also coming out this week is the Futurama 4-Pack, but it is only a deal if you don't own any of the movies yet. And even then, it is barely a deal.

Girlfriends - The Sixth Season - Buy from Amazon
The longest-running African-American TV series continues its run on DVD. It has proven popular on the home market, but the lack of extras hurts the overall value.

The Haunting of Molly Hartley - Buy from Amazon
A Halloween release couldn't save this suspenseful tale, as it barely earned above the Mendoza Line per theater average before sinking at the box office. What caused this? Poor marketing? Too much competition? Or was it the reviews?

The movie starts in the recent past with a girl following a string tied to some trees, as she's walking, she hears voices, high pitch buzzing, etc. After a jump scare, or two, we learn her boyfriend is giving her an early birthday gift. When her father interrupts them (for the third jump scare of the movie) he takes her away, but when she says she's turning 18 and he won't be able to control her anymore, he intentionally gets into a car crash and kills her.

Jump to now and we meet Molly Hartley (played by Haley Bennett). She's starting in a new private school and is having trouble adjusting. She's having the nosebleeds, she's hearing voices, high-pitched buzzing, etc. We also learn that her mother tried to kill her recently and she is now locked away in a mental hospital talking about religious conspiracies. Molly is worried that the voices and other symptoms she has are signs that she is developing the same mental illness her mother had. Or is there something more sinister at work?

Quite frankly, by the end I couldn't care less. This is a dull, dull movie that utterly fails at setting up any real suspense and relies far too heavily on jump scares. You get one, maybe two good jump scares in a movie, otherwise they lose their effectiveness. And even if they still work after three or four times, the audience won't feel frightened, just cheated. So there should be no more than two in a movie; this film had three before we meet the main character. So as a horror / suspense film it is a failure. It's not all bad though. For instance, I liked Haley Bennett's performance. I liked it enough that I really wished the movie were better, but not enough to recommend watching the movie just for that.

As for extras, there are interviews with several members of the cast & crew, but they run six-and-a-half minutes long, combined. That's a very slim selection of extras, but considering how fast the film exited theaters, it is not surprising.

The Haunting of Molly Hartley earned terrible reviews and went nowhere at the box office. I would like to say this was unfair, but really it's not. The movie is truly that bad in a dull way. The DVD has nearly no extras and doesn't even rate as a rental.

We are only about half way done, so let's swing over to part two.

- C.S.Strowbridge

Filed under: Video Releases, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, The Haunting of Molly Hartley, Sex Drive, What Just Happened, Chris and Don: A Love Story, Hounddog, Dear Zachary: a letter to a son about his father, Badland, Epitaph, Extreme Movie, Futurama - Into the Wild Green Yonder