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DVD Releases for March 24th, 2009 - Part I

March 23rd, 2009

Technical difficulties with Amazon's site meant this column was a lot harder to get done than usual. However, I won't hold that against this week's releases, and there are a number that are worthy of the DVD Pick of the Week from practically every category. TV on DVD has Andy Richter Controls the Universe - The Complete Series, from the classics we have The Odd Couple - Centennial Collection, from new releases we have Bolt - Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, Blu-ray offers us James Bond Blu-ray Collection - Volume 3. We even have a late entry, as Let the Right One In - Blu-ray arrived. All five are worthy of the DVD Pick of the Week, but if I was forced to chose just one, Bolt - Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack would probably please the most people. After a couple of "slow" weeks, we are back to splitting the column into two parts. The second part can be found here.

(Update from last week, The Blu-ray for Hounddog has been delayed and not canceled. Hopefully a new release date will be announced shortly.)

The 400 Blows - Criterion Collection - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
It turns out the previous Criterion Collection Blu-ray releases were more popular than many were expecting, so look for more such releases in the future. Perhaps Brazil will be coming soon? Also coming out by Criterion Collection is The Last Metro on DVD or Blu-ray.

Andy Richter Controls the Universe - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
This is one of the shows I had been waiting to come out on DVD since TV on DVD first became popular. I had given up on the show years ago, so it came as quite a shock when the complete series was announced at the beginning of the year. I was expecting a rather bare bones release, since the show didn't last a full season. Will I be shocked again?

Andy Richter first became famous for being Conan O'Brian's sidekick on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, but after nearly 500 episodes, he left the show and decided to strike out on his own. This was his first attempt at being the lead in a show. It didn't go so well, at least with the ratings. The show earned some amazing reviews back when it first aired, but the show was just too out there to survive.

Andy Richter plays Andy Richter, a technical writer for Pickering Industries, but he wants to write short stories, and his job leaves him creatively unfulfilled. So he tends to let his imagination run while, and fortunately, we are along for the ride. Working with him is Keith, his best friend and handsome man, who Andy assumes has it easy because of his good looks. He's got a great job, a nice office, and the girl of Andy's dreams, Wendy McKay. Wendy was played by Irene Molloy, who's first TV series was another short-lived show, Grosse Pointe. (She was really good in both shows, and I wish she would get a part in another show.) Andy's boss is Jessica Green, played by Paget Brewster during the height of her TV jinx phase. (She had so many failed TV shows / pilots that people were starting to have second thoughts about casting her. Fortunately that didn't last too long, as she has immense talent.) Finally, Andy is introduced to his new co-worker, Byron, who will be sharing his office, much to his dismay; however, by the end of the first episode, they are fast friends.

Some of the plots in the show's 19-episode run include someone in the office dying, and the company forcing the rest of the workers to see a grief counselor. Andy starts dating a beautiful woman, but she's anti-Semitic, which is not a problem for "Little Andy." Jon Cryer stops by in a guest spot as a cost-cutting V.P., but when they get revenge, it backfires. After too much drinking at a wedding, Andy wakes up in one of his co-worker's bed, and he must piece together how that happened. After Andy makes disparaging remarks about the Irish, everyone has to go to sensitivity training. Wendy's short on cash, so she becomes a test subject in a pharmaceutical research, but it turns her voice very, very deep, which she then uses to her advantage. Jessica starts dating twins, only she doesn't know they are twins and thinks she's dating one man. Wendy becomes an understudy in an off-Broadway play, and Andy and Keith conspire to make sure she gets her big break. One of the definite highlights of the show's short run was when Pickering Industries' new CEO, guest star Conan O'Brian, decides to shake things up and promotes Andy; there's a minor problem, he's insane. There's a good hit to miss ratio here with all episodes worth checking out and a solid majority having real replay value.

Extras on the 3-disc set include audio commentary tracks on two episodes with Andy Richter and creator Victor Fresco. We get enough information about the series in general, as well as specifics about the two episodes. And for more there's two featurettes on disc three: How Andy Richter Controlled the Universe and What If Andy Richter Controlled the Universe. The first is a 25-minute featurette about the creation of the show and features the entire main cast, as well as Victor Fresco. I'm impressed everyone came back, although given how much praise they give the show and each other, it's not surprising. The second featurette is short at just 4 minutes, and it has the cast talking about what it would be like if Andy Richter really did control the universe. Apparently most agree there would be more nudity. ... He's got my vote. There are no subtitles on the DVD, but there are play all buttons and proper chapter placements.

Andy Richter Controls the Universe had great writing, a superb cast, and a set-up that was strange enough to ensure the show would never last. High concept comedies rarely do. However, fans will be happy to finally be given the chance to own The Complete Series on DVD. And if you have never even heard of the show, check it out. Personally, I think it is worth a blind buy, especially if you like shows like Scrubs or My Name is Earl.

Big Stan - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Rob Schneider plays a man about to go to prison, so he trains himself so he won't be raped. Prison rape as the central point of a comedy. No real surprise that this is going direct-to-DVD. That's one reason. The other is its distributors went bankrupt. So far the reviews are terrible and it is only worth renting if you are curious enough to see Rob Schneider's directorial debut. I would advise against it.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: The 400 Blows - Criterion Collection, Big Stan, Bolt, The Fast and the Furious Trilogy, James Bond Blu-ray Collection - Volume 3, James Bond - Goldfinger, James Bond - Moonraker, James Bond - The World is Not Enough, The Kite Runner, The Last Metro, A Mighty Heart, Never Say Never Again, Quantum of Solace, Things We Lost In the Fire, Twilight, Twilight Gift Set, The Venture Bros. - Season Three, and Watchmen - Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood
The best week for Blu-ray releases all year. Not only did Bolt come out on Sunday, but Quantum of Solace comes out on Tuesday, along with the next wave of Bond Blu-rays. I'm hoping this is the biggest week in Blu-ray for the year, even topping the post-holiday sales at the beginning of the year. On a side note, Akira is coming out on Blu-ray in Canada. So for fellow Canucks who were waiting, now is the time to grab it.

Warning: This Blu-ray / DVD Combo-Pack does not come out on Tuesday, but made its home market debut on the Sunday. Because it straddles two release dates, I'm including it both on this week's list, as well as last week's list.

Bolt - Buy from Amazon: DVD, DVD + Digital Copy, or Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack
This film earned excellent reviews and was even nominated for an Oscar, a PGA Award, and two Golden Globes. It is arguably the best non-Pixar Disney digitally animated movie ever (although that's not a big list). So does the High Definition release live up to these accolades?

In the movie, Bolt is both the name of the lead character (voiced by John Travolta), and the name of the TV series he stars in. Every episode, his owner Penny is put into peril by the Green-Eyed Man, and at the end of every episode, he saves here. However, sagging ratings means they have to do something new and end an episode in a cliffhanger with Penny kidnapped. Bolt, who thinks all of this is true, escapes from the studio and tries to rescue her. Along the way he captures a cat, Mittens, whom he thinks is working for the Green-Eyed Man, and an overly enthusiastic hamster named Rhino. They must travel from New York City to Hollywood, while having plenty of adventures along the way.

Like I said, this is the best non-Pixar Disney digitally animated movie ever, and among the top ten digitally animated movies ever. There is a great mix of comedy and adventure and it will certainly entertain kids and their parents. It does get a little sentimental at times, but never so much so that it hurts the film. Having reviewed all three Oscar animated movies from last year, WALL-E is still the best, but unless you are a fan of Jack Black or martial arts, then I think Bolt is better than Kung Fu Panda.

Extras on the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack are impressive; however, there is no audio commentary track, or Cine-Explore track, which was a disappointment. There is a short film called Super Rhino, which is fun to watch, but a couple of the jokes are borrowed from the movie itself. There are two deleted scenes with introductions, but they are in animatic form. There's a minute long featurette on the song sung by Miley Cyrus and John Travolta, as well as the 2-minute music video. There are also a trio of meatier making-of featurettes on the two directors, on the voice actors, and the look of the movie. Combined they run just over 21 minutes long, which is still a little light.

The Blu-ray exclusives include a game called Be-Awesome Mission, which has three levels of a platform game. It's not bad. In fact, it's one of the better Blu-ray games I've played, but I was hoping there would be a reward for winning. There are also plenty of images in the BD exclusive image gallery, and the disc itself is BD-Live enabled with the usual selection of goodies (movie chat, mail, challenge, and rewards). The Blu-ray also comes with a digital copy of the movie, as well as a DVD copy of the movie. (The DVD edition has no extras, however.) Finally, it looks and sounds fantastic, as most Disney digital movies do in High Definition. All this and it only costs about 20% more than the equivalent DVD edition. There is almost no reason to buy the DVD edition over the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, unless you are planning on never making the jump to High Definition.

Bolt was better than I expected it would be, and I was expecting a top notch movie, since it was produced by John Lasseter. Also, the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack has an excellent selection of bonus materials, including several BD exclusives. It is easily worth picking up, and even a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

The Cake Eaters - Buy from Amazon
The directorial debut of Mary Stuart Masterson, and starring Kristen Stewart The film was made a couple years back, and won a few Film Festival awards, but never found a theatrical release. Excellent reviews suggest it is worth checking out, but lack of extras means it's a try before you buy.

Care Bears - Cheer, There & Everywhere - Buy from Amazon
It has been a while since the Care Bears had a theatrical release, but the franchise is alive and well on the direct-to-DVD and on TV. This single-disc release has 8 11-minute episodes from the new series, which is making its debut on DVD. There are no extras on the disc, but the DVD comes with a Care Bears Spring greeting card, and the price is in line with most kids show releases.

Columbus Day - Buy from Amazon
A direct-to-DVD movie starring Val Kilmer. He has starred in a lot of those recently, and very few have been well received by critics. With this film, I don't know if that's true, because I haven't seen many reviews online. At least that lowers expectations.

Val Kilmer plays John Cologne, a man who has just pulled off a heist against someone very powerful. This should have been the job of a lifetime, but something has gone wrong, and the fence he was going to use turned on him. Now he's waiting in the park trying to figure out his next move. In the meantime, he's on the phone trying to talk to his estranged daughter, his ex-wife, his current girlfriend, an associate whose is trying to broker a deal, all while dealing with a kid in the park who decides to strike up a conversation.

There is an important note I should make to start things off. While this movie involves a heist, it is not a heist movie. We don't get to see the planning of theheist, and we only get to see bits and pieces of its execution, mostly in flashbacks. This is in fact a character study where the object of the theft is purely a MacGuffin. There are some action scenes that were apparently added into the movie against the wishes of the director and cast, but for the most part this is a character drama and that's where it shines. There a lot of great acting here, but those looking for and fast action film to waste an afternoon with will want to look elsewhere.

I received a screener which had no extras. In fact, it didn't even have a real menu, so I have no idea if the DVD has any extras, or if it is a featureless disc.

Columbus Day is a movie that will sink or swim based on a lot on expectations. If you are looking for a character study, then check it out. If you are looking for a heist movie, then look elsewhere. Regardless, unless the DVD has more extras than the screener I have, a rental will be enough.

Craig Ferguson - A Wee Bit o' Revolution - Buy from Amazon
This just arrived, and by "just" I mean a few minutes ago. However, with the technical difficulties at Amazon.com today, I won't be able to get to the review this week. Next week for sure.

Doctor Who Megaset - Volume Two - Buy from Amazon
This costs more than $700 on Amazon right now, and there are no details. Zero. Maybe that's why no one is buying it.

Down in the Dirt - Buy from Amazon.ca
This is a Canadian movie set in the underbelly of Newfoundland. It stars Joel Hynes as Keith Kavanagh, a drunk poet, but more of the former than the latter. In fact, he keeps his poetry secret from everyone but his girlfriend, Natasha (played by Mylene Savoie) and spends more time passed out than writing. I was only able to find a few reviews, and they were mostly mixed, but hearing it compared to the works of Charles Bukowski is probably all most will need to know. If you like Charles Bukowski, it might be worth checking out. On the other hand, if you have trouble seeing the appeal of watching a drunkard fumble through life, you might want to give this one a pass.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 10th. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Family Ties - Season Five - Buy from Amazon
The fifth season of this show was arguably its peak, both in terms of ratings and in terms of critically acclaim (it won three Emmys and was nominated for four others). This bodes well for this 4-disc set.

The end of season three saw the birth of Andrew Keaton, while sometime between seasons four and five he went from a baby to five years old and starting pre-school in the season opening. This is not the only major change this year. The show's producers decided Tracy Pollan didn't have the right chemistry with Michael J. Fox to play his girlfriend, so they fired her. He retaliated by marrying her a couple of years latter. Mallory decides to marry her long-time boyfriend, Nick. Nick needs help graduating in order to become a teacher, and Mallory convinces Alex to tutor him. The parents have episodes where they are in the spotlight, including when a fellow 1960s radical comes to town, and they realize they are a lot more moderate than they were in college.

The highlight of the season is the two-part episode "A", My Name is Alex, which details the aftermath of a tragic accident. In this episode, a classmate asks for Alex's help, but when he arrives late, Alex refuses to help because he's thrown off his schedule. So in a rush to get all of his chores done, he gets into a car accident and dies. At first Alex tries to mask how he feels, but his erratic behavior gets to the point where he goes into therapy. This was the episode that earned this series the Emmy for writing and technical direction (as well as a nomination for directing) and it certainly helped Michael J. Fox win his second of three Emmys in the row for his role as Alex P. Keaton.

The only extras on the 4-disc set is a four-and-a-half minute long gag reel. There are also proper chapter placements and play all buttons, but no subtitles.

Season five of Family Ties saw the show earn its highest ratings, the most Emmy nominations, the most wins, and there's even a funny gag reel on the 4-disc set. For fans of the show, this DVD is a must have. Even more causal fans will want to watch enough of the episodes more than once that it is worth picking up.

The Fast and the Furious Trilogy - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Wait until the new movie comes out on Blu-ray. There will likely be another box set that will be cheaper on a per movie basis. Also coming out this week are The Fast and the Furious Special Edition, 2 Fast and 2 Furious Special Edition, and Tokyo Drift Special Edition.

Forbidden Hollywood Collection - Volume Three - Buy from Amazon
Six pre-Code movies that dealt with subjects mainstream Hollywood wouldn't touch again for decades. Extras include audio commentary tracks on some of the movies, vintage shorts, and two documentaries. Worth checking out for more, picking up for many.

A Galaxy Far, Far Away - 10th Anniversary Edition - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about the obsession that is Star Wars. It is obviously aimed at fans of the movies, but others should also enjoy it.

Happily N'Ever After 2: Snow White - Buy from Amazon
The first Happily N'Ever After didn't wow critics, nor was it a big hit in theaters, so I'm I bit surprised it is earning a sequel. I'm not surprised this sequel is going direct-to-DVD. The DVD has three games. You can also buy it with the first movie as part of a package deal.

In Treatment - Season One - Buy from Amazon
An HBO series starring Gabriel Byrne as a therapist who is also in therapy. This Emmy and Golden Globe winning series is coming out on a 9-disc set with all 43 episodes from the first series, which means the price per minute is quite a bit lower than most HBO shows. However, lack of extras still hurts the value.

James Bond Blu-ray Collection - Volume 3 - Buy from Amazon
Nope. Not a spotlight review. I didn't get a chance to review the latest wave of James Bond Blu-ray releases. Damn. This time around we have Goldfinger, which is widely considered one of the best Bond movies ever; Moonraker, an average outing for Roger Moore, but one I like more than most critics, and The World Is Not Enough, arguably the weakest of the Pierce Brosnan era. You can buy them individually, but the package deal is essentially buy two get one free.

A Jihad for Love - Buy from Amazon.ca
A documentary about Islam and its treatment of gays and lesbians. A powerful film that doesn't come out on DVD in the States until April, but it can be imported from Canada tomorrow.

Kung Fu Panda - Secrets of the Furious Five - Buy from Amazon
This is a shorter than usual spotlight review, as I've already reviewed this release when it was part of a package deal with Kung Fu Panda.

The main feature is less than 25 minutes long with Po helping Shifu by taking over the beginning Kung Fu class. Instead of teaching them techniques, he spends the class telling the students of the origins of the Furious Five and how they had to overcome their weaknesses. Mantis had to learn patience, Crane needed courage, Tigress needed to control her strength, etc. Each story is only about 4 minutes long, but that helps keep the pace going and there's plenty to enjoy here.

As for the extras, they are found in two sections: Po's Power Play and Land of the Panda. The first has instruction on how to the main character of the movie, a game called Dumpling Shuffle, and DVD-Rom features you can print out and some game demos you can install. Land of the Panda teaches you how to dance and how to Kung Fu. There is also info on the different years in the Chinese Zodiac and the different animals of Kung Fu. Finally, there's a personality quiz on what fighting style fits you best.

Kung Fu Panda - Secrets of the Furious Five is only 25 minutes long, but there's plenty of extras to back it up. However, for $10, the DVD feels a little overpriced and it was a better deal as part of the package deal. I just wish it was included with the Blu-ray originally.

Warning: This DVD and Blu-ray did not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 10th. However, the screeners arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Let the Right One In - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
First a note, I only received the DVD screener; however, I pre-ordered the Blu-ray, which managed to get to me first. So I figured why not review that one instead.

The film tells the story of Oskar, a 12-year old boy who is bullied in school and who wants to fight back, but doesn't have the will. One night he sees a new neighbor moving in, which includes an older gentleman, and a girl, Eli, who looks to be the same age as he is. As they become friends, he starts to notice strange things about her. Like how she doesn't feel cold, like how she is only out at night, etc. Combined with the unusual series of murders that have been occurring in the town since she moved in, he begins to suspect there is something odd about her. However, instead of shunning her, he is drawn to her plight. Conversely, she brings out his inner strength and encourages him to stand up for himself.

This is a horror movie, but after watching it, I remember the character interactions a lot more than the violence. That's not to say there is no violence, it's just that the movie has a lot more than gore going for it. The writing is top-notch, as is the acting, and the film creates a sense of mood that enhances every aspect of the film. It's as much a coming of age movie as it is a vampire movie, and the friendship between Oskar and Eli is just as important as and any blood.

Extras on the DVD include four deleted scenes, with a total running time of just under six minutes and a seven-and-a-half minute making-of featurette. There are also two image galleries.

The Blu-ray has no additional extras, nor are any of the extras presented in high definition. However, it only costs a dollar more, so it is worth the upgrade.

Let the Right One In is one of the best movies from last year that I have reviewed, and even though I would have preferred more extras, the DVD or the Blu-ray are worth picking up. In fact, given the price of the Blu-ray, it is DVD Pick of the Week material.

Lilo and Stitch - 2-Disc Big Wave Edition - Buy from Amazon
Lilo & Stitch was the last hand animated film to reach $100 million at the domestic box office. That alone makes it of historical significance; however, the real question is whether the movie is more than just a curiosity and is the 2-Disc Special Edition worth picking up?

The movie starts in deep space at the meeting of the Galactic Council where a scientist by the name of Jumba Jookiba stands trail for illegal genetic experiments, including the creation of one such creature, referred to as Experiment 626. Experiment 626 is nearly indestructible and possesses the ability, and the desire, to destroy. In fact, that's it's sole purpose: Destroy anything it touches. While being transported into exile, it escapes and steals a spaceship, but when it activates hyperspace, it crash lands on Earth. Meanwhile on Earth, Lilo and her sister, Nani, are having trouble adjusting after the death of their parents and it appears social services are going to take Lilo away. As a last ditch effort to find stability, Nani agrees to let Lilo adopt a dog, and she just happens to pick out Experiment 626, who she decides to call Stitch.

As I stated above, this was the last hand animated film to reach $100 million domestically, and it deserved its success. The film deals with themes that are darker than most Disney films (and not just the "Rampaging Monster" part, but the troubled home life of Lilo and Nani). The writers didn't try and make the film too light and have the characters break out into song and dance to avoid the tougher, emotional issues. It feels more mature because of that, but it will still appeal to kids. It is just that it will also appeal to their parents.

This is not the first time this movie has been released on DVD, but the first release was a single-disc effort with little in the way of extras. There was a DisneyPedia look at Hawaii, Create Your Own Alien Experiment Game, Stitch in Time featurette discussing the faux history of Stitch's attempts to get into movies. There were also a featurette on animating the Hula dance, instruction on how to do the Hula dance, and two music videos. All of these extras appear on disc one. New to disc one is an audio commentary track with the producer and the two directors. There is also a third music video, and a trio of mini-games.

Additional extras can be found on the second disc, starting with a two-hour making-of documentary, as well as several deleted scenes. The documentary is massive and it begins before the movie begins. In fact, it starts with the creative force of the film, talking about how they first got into animation. Anyone interested in the history of Disney animation will want to see this. As for the deleted scenes, there are eight presented here, including two that were on the previous release.

My only complaint: Why no Blu-ray? Last $100 million hand animated film. It earned amazing reviews. It was even nominated for an Oscar. Perhaps the studio has decided when it comes to hand animated film, they are going to release them on Blu-ray in Chronological order, which means it is going to take a while for this film to get there.

It has been years since Lilo and Stitch was first released on DVD, and it still is as good as it was when it was first released. The 2-Disc Big Wave Edition is a significant step up from the previous release, and it is worth picking up while you wait for the Blu-ray to come out. At this rate, it shouldn't take more than decade to come out. (I'm joking. Sort of. At this pace it would take a decade, but I assume Blu-ray releases will accelerate after the success of Pinocchio.)

Living With the Wolfman - Season 1 - Buy from Amazon
A TV series about Shaun Ellis, wolf expert, and his fiancée, wolf novice. I believe this guy was featured on Martin Clunes: A Man and His Dogs. It's a fascinating subject, and worth checking out.

Locked Up Abroad - Buy from Amazon
A 4-disc set detailing 12 stories of people who, while traveling in a foreign country, were either arrested and imprisoned, or captured and held hostage. The lesson here is: Never leave your country, or if you do, travel somewhere safe and dull... like Canada.

Midsomer Murders - Set 12 - Buy from Amazon
Four more mysteries from the British TV series. The quality of the episodes is excellent; however, the price is dicey. I guess if you called them TV movies instead of a TV series, it would be a good price, and given the nature of the show (100-minute mysteries) this would be fair.

NHL - The History of the Boston Bruins - Buy from Amazon
This DVD tells the history of the Bruins? It's a 2-disc set, how in-depth can it be? While this should please fans of the team, I prefer the various greatest games sets they have released. I'd love a set like that for the Canucks, but I don't think you could find 10 games worthy of such a release. At least not 10 games that they won.

After a couple of "slow" weeks, we are back to splitting the column into two parts. The second part can be found here.

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Filed under: Video Releases, Twilight, Quantum of Solace, Bolt, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, The Kite Runner, A Mighty Heart, Things We Lost in the Fire, Låt den rätte komma in, A Jihad for Love, Big Stan, 2 Fast 2 Furious