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DVD Releases for March 24th, 2009 - Part II

March 24th, 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 first part can be found here.

The Odd Couple - Centennial Collection - Buy from Amazon
The first of two Centennial Collection releases for Paramount today, and the seventh in the series. So far the films have been mostly romantic movies. In fact, four of the previous five have been romances starring Audrey Hepburn (the Film Noir masterpiece, Sunset Boulevard, being the lone exception). I'm not complaining about that, but there has been a lack of variety. This week, we have a two more releases from the series, including this movie, which has almost no romance in it at all.

The film starts with Jack Lemmon playing Felix Ungar walking down the street. We don't know much about him (we don't even learn his name for quite a while) but it is obvious he is depressed about something, so much so that he is suicidal. After a failed attempt due to a pulled back, we cut to a poker game at Oscar Madison's where five men are playing (including John Fiedler, a.k.a. Piglet). We learn that the reason Felix is depressed and wandering the streets is because his wife kicked up out of the house. Afraid that he might try to kill himself, again, Oscar insists Felix stay at his apartment. Oscar the slob insists Felix the fastidious clean freak stays at his apartment. This will not end well.

There's not much of a plot to this movie, as it is mostly a character study of two opposites trying to live together. But it is amazing at this task and Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are perfect in their respective roles. This was one of ten movies that the pair acted in. Amazingly, this is only the second time they acted together, but their chemistry was already flawless. Add in an Oscar nominated script that was based on the Tony Award winning play by Neil Simon. The movie had all of the right parts, and it would have been a shock had they not fit together so perfectly.

Extras on the 2-disc set start with an audio commentary with Chris Lemmon and Charlie Matthau, the sons of the two stars. Granted, they don't get into the technical aspects of the film's production, after all, the were preschoolers when the movie was made. But they do have some fun stories to tell, and it's worth listening to. The rest of the extras are on disc two, starting with In the Beginning..., a 17-minute-long featurette on the creation of the play and how it became one of the greatest movies of all time. Inside The Odd Couple runs 19 minutes and deals with more of the making of the movie. Memories from the Set is 10 minutes long and have more anecdotes on the behind-the-scenes of the movie. Matthau & Lemmon talks about the two actors' collaborations over the years for ten-and-a-half minutes. The Odd Couple: A Classic is just three minutes and talks about how the movie is a classic. Finally, there are two image galleries and the theatrical trailer.

The Odd Couple is one of the best movies ever made, and the Centennial Collection is an excellent presentation. If you don't have it in your DVD collection, you should.

Passengers - Buy from Amazon
Anne Hathaway leads an impressive cast in an unimpressive thriller that has a surprise ending that won't surprise many. Extras on the DVD are better than expected (audio commentary track, deleted scenes, two making-of featurettes) but that still adds up to no more than a rental.

Praying with Lior - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about Lior Liebling, a young Jewish boy with Down Syndrome who is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. Its reviews were good, but not good enough to survive in limited release. Extras include deleted scenes, as well as follow-up interviews, which is a feature that should be found on more documentary DVDs. If you liked the movie when you saw it the theaters, buy the DVD. If you never saw it, give it a rental.

Quantum of Solace - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc Edition, Two-Disc Special Edition DVD, or Blu-ray
After Casino Royale reinvigorated the franchise, the expectations were extremely high for Quantum of Solace. Perhaps too high, as the reviews slumped. Was this a case of the curse of high expectations, or is this movie significantly weaker than its predecessor?

The film starts off where Casino Royale ends... Actually, the movie starts with a car chase, but the plot starts with James Bond, M, and others "interrogating" a captured member of Quantum, a new secret organization that has nefarious plans. After learning they have members everywhere, including M's personal bodyguard, Bond is off on a worldwide quest to stop them, whatever their plans may be. So far this is typical Bond. In fact, I could have written this without watching the movie. The hook here is, after the events of Casino Royale, namely the death of Vesper, M thinks he is taking the mission too personally and his desire for revenge is overriding his desire for duty. And because of this, he is being tracked by his own secret service, as well as the CIA, and of course members of Quantum.

First of all, this is a true sequel, unlike most Bond movies. Case in point, they are releasing the previous Bond films on Blu-ray in random order, which shows you don't need to have seen the previous one to enjoy the next one. However, if you haven't seen Casino Royale, there will be more than a few plot points that will pass you by. The whole revenge angle is poorly explained here. Then again, if you haven't seen Casino Royale, there's little chance you are interested in this movie. For fans of Bond, this movie does have most of the requisite parts, including great action scenes, several exotic locations, etc. There are some things missing here, though. For instance, the movie does take itself a little too seriously at times. Also, I miss Q. ... And Moneypenny. A little more humor, a little more gadgets, and it would have been perfect. Then again, the movie is still better than most Bond movies that have been made the past few decades, and I think it is much better than its 65% positive reviews indicate.

Extras on the Single-Disc Edition are limited to a single music video, so it is for a rental only.

The Two-Disc Special Edition DVD has the music video on disc one, and several featurettes on disc two. These start with a 25-minute long making-of featurette, which is your typical mix of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie. Next up are a series of short featurette (each running 2 to 3 minutes) on various subjects: The locations, the music, the boat chase, etc. Finally, there are 45 minutes of video blogs from some of the less glamorous cast members like Second Assistant Director, Casting, Stunts, Executive Producer, etc. There are more than 30 in total, so each crewmember doesn't get a lot of time, but we learn what each of them does in a basic sense. In total, that's less than 90 minutes of extras, and I'm not sure that's worthy of second disc.

Finally, the Blu-ray has all of those extras, and they are all presented in High Definition, but there are no additional extras. The movie does look and sound fantastic, and at barely 10% more money, it is worth picking up.

While critics were less enthusiastic about Quantum of Solace compared to Casino Royale, I think most fans of the franchise will be impressed. Although the balance between realism and the Bond of old needs to swing a bit more to the Bond of old, that's a minor complaint overall. Those interested in the movie should grab either the Two-Disc Special Edition DVD or the Blu-ray, with the latter being the better deal. However, the short supply of extras leads me to believe there will be a double-dip when the next Bond comes out in 2011.

The Riches - Season 2 - Buy from Amazon
Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver star as husband and wife conmen. The show is still great, perhaps a little darker than the first season, but season two was shorter at just seven episodes. Also, the extras are lighter, but the price compensates for this. Still worth picking up.

Room 222 - Season One - Buy from Amazon
It has been forty years since this show first aired, and it hasn't aged a bit. The mixture of humor and drama was great for most of the show's five-year run (although it tilted to the former during the first season) while the 4-disc set has interviews with the creator, James L. Brooks, and several of the cast members, Denise Nicholas, Karen Valentine and Michael Constantine. If you remember the show, it is worth picking up. If you have never seen it, check it out and you will likely become a fan.

Runaway - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
A TV series starring Donnie Wahlberg as a man framed for murder who goes on the run with his family. It debuted on CW a couple years ago, but only lasted 11 episodes with a ending that suggests the creators were expecting it would be picked up. On the one hand, fans of the show will be happy to get it on DVD so they can check it out again. On the other hand, if you haven't seen it yet, it is hard to recommend get into a short-lived show like this.

Side Effects - Buy from Amazon
Katherine Heigl stars as Karly Hert, a pharmaceutical rep who is questioning the ethics of her job. The film earned terrible reviews, bombed at the box office, and is currently at #48,295 on Amazon's DVD sales chart.

Star Wars - The Clone Wars - A Galaxy Divided - Buy from Amazon
The first four episodes of the TV series coming out on a single-disc set for $13. Even if you are interested in the show, wait. A full-season set has already been announced.

Stephen Hawking and the Theory of Everything - Buy from Amazon
A 90-minute documentary on Stephen Hawking (both his scientific theories, and him as a person). Those who enjoyed A Brief History of Time will likely find something here worth checking out.

Taggart - Set 1 - Buy from Amazon
That's set one. Not season one. Ugh. It's actually season 19, and at least it's in chronological order, but who knows if they are going to be releasing the earlier seasons, or in what order they will be coming out.

To Catch a Thief - Centennial Collection - Buy from Amazon
The latest Centennial Collection release is the sixth in the series, but the seventh one I've reviewed. As I mentioned above, most of the previous films were romantic movies starring Audrey Hepburn, but we are getting more variety now with an Alfred Hitchcock thriller.

Cary Grant stars as John Robie, a former cat burglar who was a hero of the French Resistance during World War II. He's retired now, but a string of copycat robberies have the police convinced he's come out of retirement. Now the only way to clear his name, is to catch the thief himself. In order to do that, he decides to get close to one of the potential victims, a woman named Jessie Stevens, and her daughter, Frances Stevens. Now he has to keep up his charade and make sure Frances doesn't figure out who he is, catch the person trying to frame him, and deal with the feelings he is developing for Frances.

Alfred Hitchcock was a master of his craft, even if Oscar voters never saw it that way. Many would argue that the 1950s represented Hitchcock's peak in terms of creative output, and this film was created right in the middle of that peak. This is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, this is a fantastic movie. The writing is great, the chemistry between the two leads is amazing, and the French locations are beautifully shot. On the downside, it's a little lighthearted compared to some of the other films Hitchcock made during this era, films like Rear Window and The Man Who Knew Too Much. This film earned 97% positive reviews, and one could argue that it is not in the top third of Hitchcock's filmography. It is definitely worth owning, as is most of Hitchcock's catalogue.

Extras on the two-disc set starts with an audio commentary track with Dr. Drew Casper, who is a Hitchcock film historian. It can be a little dry at times, but there's a huge amount of information. Over on disc two, there are a series of featurettes, starting with A Night With the Hitchcocks, which is a 23-minute featurette on the class put on by the University of Southern California about the career of Alfred Hitchcock, and the night each year where his family shows up. Unacceptable Under the Code is a 12-minute featurette on the Hays Code and censorship in Hollywood, and how Alfred Hitchcock got around it. Writing and Casting: To Catch a Thief runs 9 minutes and The Making of To Catch a Thief runs 17 minutes, and they are pretty self-explanatory. Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly is a 6-minute look at the two leads' careers. Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch a Thief: An Appreciation is seven-and-a-half minutes long and has more interviews. The final featurette is Edith Head: The Paramount Years, which is a 14-minute look at the legendary costume designer, Edith Head. There is an interactive travelogue of France that you can explore, as well as galleries and a trailer.

To Catch a Thief is an excellent movie and it is definitely worth owning. The only question is whether it is worth grabbing the Centennial Collection over the previous special edition. The audio commentary is new, replacing the old one, while there are twice as many featurettes, and the travelogue is also new. That's more than enough to be worth the upgrade.

Twilight - Buy from Amazon
Not much to add from last week. The DVD came out on Saturday while the Blu-ray and Gift Set come out on the 5th of May. Hardcore fans will likely want to wait. If they can wait.

The Venture Bros. - Season Three - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The third season of this Adult Swim spoof of adventure cartoons comes out this week, on DVD and Blu-ray. TV releases have not maintained pace when it comes to the high definition. The episodes are definitely worth checking out, while extras include audio commentary tracks and deleted scenes. The prices on Amazon.com have the Blu-ray clocking in at 62% more than the A HREF=http://www.amazon.com/Venture-Bros-Season-Three/dp/B001NOMO2Y?tag=thenumbers target="_NewWindow" rel="nofollow">DVD, which is too much to ask for a release with no additional extras. But the DVD is worth picking up, and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Watchmen - Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Buy from Amazon
Wait. And if you can't wait... Rent. I'm 90% certain this material will all be included in the director's cut of Watchmen when it comes out on the home market, and I'm equally sure it will be a better deal then.

A Woman Called Golda - Buy from Amazon
A biopic from 1982 starring Ingrid Bergman as Golda Meir, who was the Prime Minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974. This TV movie earned seven Emmy nominations and won three awards, including one for Ingrid Bergman. The lack of extras hurt, but it is still worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

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Filed under: Video Releases, Twilight, Quantum of Solace, Bolt, Låt den rätte komma in, Passengers, Praying with Lior, Side Effects