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DVD Releases for May 19th, 2009 - Part II

May 19th, 2009

Strange week when it comes to spotlight reviews with a lot of pairs. We had a pair of Ben Affleck releases, a pair of Westerns from the Centennial Collection, a pair of Philip K. Dick releases, a pair of World War II films, a pair of two stand up concert DVDs. We even have a spotlight review featuring twins. Besides that quirk of fate, there were a few releases that were contenders for the DVD Pick of the Week, including Terminator 2 - Judgement Day - Skynet Edition, True Blood - Season One, A Bug's Life - Blu-ray, all of which are coming on Blu-ray. In fact, the only contender for DVD Pick of the Week that is actually on DVD is The Guild - Season Two. That said, the best on this week's list is A Bug's Life - Blu-ray, and it is this week's DVD Pick of the Week. With all the double-shots, it comes as no surprise that this week's list had to be split into two, while the first page can be seen here.

Labou - Buy from Amazon
Might get this DVD to review in a few days. I know almost nothing about it, and really can't add anything else at this moment.

The Machinist - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Paramount is releasing a catalogue title on Blu-ray. ... and it's not shovelware. Is that even medically possible?

Roughly two thirds of Christian Bale star as Trevor Reznik (it is said he went from 180 pounds to just 120 in order to make this movie) a machinist who has been suffering from insomnia for a year. In the process, physically he is wasting away and mentally he is having breakdowns. The film starts with him trying to dispose of a body, so you know his plight doesn't end well. But the story begins with him in relatively good spirits joking with his co-workers, even spending time with Stevie, who is a prostitute, but still a friend. But we learn a few details, like how he hasn't slept in a year, and he doesn't eat anymore, and he doesn't really hang out with his friends anymore. Progressively things start to get worse for him, especially when he meets a co-worker named Ivan. Suddenly there are post-it notes showing up in his apartment, and he thinks Ivan is stalking him. Distracted by Ivan, Trevor causes an accident that costs a co-worker his arm. It is at this point, he is told there is no Ivan, but that's when the paranoia really kicks it.

This is the movie that cemented Christian Bale's reputation as an actor willing to go to extremes for a part. In fact, it is said that his 63-pound weight loss is a record. Fortunately, the physical extremes he went through were not the only amazing part of this movie. It has an excellent script, even if the surprise twist is not really a surprise. The direction is good, and the film's Noir look helps it immensely. (This might hurt the Blu-ray, but more on that in a second.) Acting is excellent all around, not just from Christian Bale. This is a movie that under-performed, both with critics and at the box office, but also during Awards Season, but now it should get its due.

Extras start with an audio commentary track with the director, who is impressive in the solo track. There is a making of featurette that runs 23 minutes, and another featurette on the hidden clues that runs 14 minutes. Both are presented in High Definition, and are new to the Blu-ray. Up next is a 25-minute featurette called Breaking the Rules, which is a behind-the-scenes / making of featurette that covers some of the same topics as the previous featurettes. Finally, there are eight deleted scenes that run 12 minutes in total. Two of them have audio commentary tracks. That's a good selection for a limited release, and certainly worth picking up. As for the film's technical attributes, it doesn't look particularly great, but that's mostly by design. Colors don't pop here, and there are some scenes that have some noticeable grain, but I'm quite sure this is not a problem with the transfer, and it works with the overall look of the film. This is certainly the best looking the film has been on the home market.

More people should see The Machinist, and not just for Christian Bale's physical transformation. The Blu-ray looks great, within the confines of the style of the movie, and there are a couple of exclusive extras as well. Easily worth the $20 price tag.

Man Hunt - Buy from Amazon
A World War II film about a British man who tries to assassinate Adolf Hitler, but who is captured and must escape and make his way back home. The film appears to be mostly forgotten, but worth checking out. Extras include an audio commentary track, making of featurette, restoration featurette, and more, which is enough to lift it to a solid purchase.

Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus - Buy from Amazon
With a name like Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, you know it's going to suck. That said, it might be so bad it's good. I'm not willing to spend any money to find out.

My Bloody Valentine 3D - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
In a strange twist, the DVD and the Blu-ray arrived during the same week, which doesn't sound that strange, but for some reason that rarely happens these days.

The film starts with a mining accident, which was caused by Tom Hanniger who didn't vent the methane gas, which caused an explosion. Several miners were trapped, including Harry Warden, who killed the other men in order to have more air to breathe. By the time he was rescued, he was left in a coma, but he awoke killing more than 20 people looking for revenge on by Tom. He failed in his goal, but now ten years later Tom has returned to town, and it appears Harry has followed him, as the attacks have started again. But has Harry returned? Or is there a new killer?

A remake of a Canadian Teenage Slasher that I reviewed when it came out on a special edition DVD. (Actually, I reviewed it two weeks after it came out, as the DVD screener was late. ) I thought it was better than its Tomatometer Score would indicate; not great, but an effective low budget horror film with some old school charm. This movie earned better than expected reviews, but I don't consider it a better movie. It is still just an effective Teenage Slasher. I like how the mystery surrounding the identity of the killer is played up, and the psychological angle is appreciated. The 3-D effects are gimmicky, but fun at times. (They filmmakers didn't give the movie a really strong sense of depth, outside of the specific scenes (mostly during the kills). On the other hand, while the special effects were better, the kills were not, as most did not have much imagination put into them. Also, I didn't like the climatic final battle, which would have been better had the heroine not been such a panicky bad shot and had be more proactive in defending herself. She was the one with the gun, why did she need to be rescued by the unarmed guy?

Looking at the extras, the DVD starts with both the 2D and the 3D versions on a flipper disc. (I hate flipper discs, but I guess it's better than not including the 3D version, or charging a couple extra dollars for a second disc.) There is an audio commentary present on both versions. Over on the second disc, we find two making of featurettes with a total running time of just 13 minutes. There are more than a dozen deleted and extended scenes, including an alternate ending, which run just under 20 minutes. Rounding things out is a 2-minute long gag reel. That's not a lot of extras for a two-disc set, but having two versions of the movie takes up a lot of space.

Moving to the Blu-ray, we have all of the above extras, which fit onto one disc. (The extras are in Standard Definition.) You can set your own bookmarks, and the disc is BD-Live capable, but there's no content online yet. As for the quality of the High Definition transfer, the 2D looks a whole lot better than the 3D, but that is usually the case. Also, the sound is good, but not great. It only costs 13% more, which is a low premium to pay for High Definition.

My Bloody Valentine 3D earned better than expected reviews, and was a bigger hit that expected. That said, the extras on the DVD are not great for a 2-disc set. For fans of the genre, it could still be worth picking up, but the Blu-ray is the better deal.

Outlander - Buy from Amazon
A film that opened in limited release back in January, but this turned out to be a mistake, as it failed to find an audience. Its reviews were weak, but not as weak as its box office, while the extras include audio commentary track, deleted scenes, and more. Worth checking out.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A Christmas movie not released till January. That's a really, really bad sign; however, despite this, it still managed to become the first January release in history to earn more than $100 million. This was not due to any inherent quality, on the other hand. Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary track, 12 minutes of deleted scenes, and 50 minutes of short featurettes. The Blu-ray is BD-Live enabled, but it still costs a bit too much for this SitCom quality film. Call it a rental for most, maybe worth picking up for fans of Kevin James.

Peyton Place - Part One - Buy from Amazon
This is apparently the first prime time soap opera starting in 1966. If you are a fan of soap operas, this could be enough to make you want to check it out. I am not a fan of such shows, so... moving on.

Russell Brand - In New York City - Buy from Amazon
The second stand up concert DVDs on this week's list. It features Russell Brand in his first comedy special in the United States.

The show starts with Russell Brand explaining that he is famous, amazingly famous in his home country, so much so that some prank phone calls he made on air became a bigger story than the Global Economic Meltdown. (He didn't actually mention that story. I read about it while doing research on him.) A lot of his early jokes are about his fame, and his need to feed his ego, and his controversial persona. Speaking of controversy, a lot of his early act was also about his hosting of the MTV VMA, which went poorly. I never saw the MTV VMA show, because I don't care about 90% of awards shows. (If I didn't have this job, I wouldn't watch the Oscars. I would merely Google the results the next day. I don't care about the pomp and ceremony; I only care about the results.) So while I didn't watch the show, or even Google the results the next day, I heard about the controversy, especially the jokes about the Jonas Brothers. I especially loved his recitation of the death threat he received and the British press's reaction. Other topics include his acting career, which at this point consisted almost entirely of Forgetting Sarah Marshall (although I'm looking forward to St. Trinian's coming here, even if it just goes direct-to-DVD (I'm not saying it will, but I wouldn't be too surprised if it did)). Not every joke hits its mark, then again, I don't think I've seen a comedy act where that's true. In this case, I would say it is close to 90%, if not higher. That's a hit percentage that ranks this DVD as a solid purchase for fans of stand up even before we get into the extras.

Extras start with fours short clips of a woman in the audience who was... well, she's described on the DVD menu as Loose Cannon Drunk Girl, which is apt. There is also a 10-minute featurette of Russell Brand interacting with the crowds in New York City. Finally, there's the infamous MTV VMA monologue that got him into such hot water to begin with. In total it is about 22 minutes, which is better than most stand up concert DVDs have, and it is all good material, not simply filler.

For fans of Russell Brand, In New York City is a must have. For fans of stand up comedy in general, the DVD is absolutely worth picking up. Even for those that are more ambivalent to the form should at least give it a rental. The comedy it top-notch, while the extra are better than most similar releases.

Schwarzenegger Collection - Buy from Amazon
Four movies from the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger likely coming out to take advantage of upcoming release of Terminator Salvation. This 6-disc set includes four movies, starting with...

Red Heat
Here Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Capt. Ivan Danko, a tough and disciplined Russian detective who travels to the United States on the trail of a drug kingpin. While in the United States, he is forced to team up with an American cop, Art Ridzik, played by James Belushi, who is anything but tough and disciplined. Now they have to overcome their differences and work together to capture the bad guy.

That's pretty much it in terms of plot. It's a Cold War Buddy Cop Action / Comedy, heavy on the action. It would be impossible to argue that this is a highly original movie. Let's face it, there have been countless movies about two cops were conflicting personalities that were forced to work together, both before this movie was made and since then. Practically the only thing that sets it apart is the Cold War angle. It is also the thing that dates the movie the most. I would suspect many people watching this might not get the significance of an American movie filming in Red Square (It was apparently the first American film to do so). However, while it is not a particularly original in its set up, the execution is great. Much better than its Tomatometer Score would indicate.

As for extras, the DVD comes with four featurettes, including a featurette on the making of the movie / the production company. There's a featurette on Bennie Dobbins, the stuntman who helped choreograph and film some of the fight scenes who tragically died of a heart attack while making this movie. I'm Not Russian (But I Play One on TV) talks to Ed O'Ross, who played Viktor Rosta. Finally, there's a TV special / making of featurette from 1988. In total, these four featurettes run just over 40 minutes. That's not bad, but not great either.

The Running Man
Based on a novella by Stephen King, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Ben Richards, a helicopter pilot in the military convicted of a crime he did not commit. The government even used doctored footage to make it seem like he was a monster shooting innocent civilians over the protests of his crew. After escaping from the prison, he is recaptured, but this time there's a witness, Amber, whom Ben kidnapped in order to aid his escape. But when she realizes the government altered the footage to make it seem like he killed innocent people during his escape attempt, she becomes an ally. Now Ben is forced to participate on a game show where it will be hunted by stalkers and if he can escape them, he will win his freedom. But the game is rigged and once he starts winning, Killian starts to tilt the odds back in his favor.

This movie earned good reviews, but not great reviews. But it is in many ways a prototypical Arnold Schwarzenegger action film from the era. It's got a great setup, thanks to the story by Stephen King, but it doesn't rely on a smart story, but the action to carry it. This is why it has good reviews, but not great reviews. The dystopian future where the government uses sadistic game shows to mollify its citizens has some real sociological weight to it, as does its look at Reality TV. Sadly, it doesn't do enough with either of these topics to be truly great, but it still has some action scenes that should entertain most.

As for the extras, disc one has not one, but two audio commentary tracks, as well as a rather controversial documentary. (At least it was controversial when it came out in 2004.) It talks about the post-9/11 world and the attacks on freedoms and privacy. At the time, some thought this was left-wing paranoia that had no place on the DVD. Now, I think a lot more people are open to that position. Over on disc two, there's the Pan & Scan version of the movie (huh?) and two more featurettes. Game Theory talks to many people involved in Reality TV, including those who made these shows, including some contestants, and even scholars who talk about it. Very interesting to watch. Finally, Meet the Stalkers is the only extra about the movie, and it introduces the stalkers with short clips and trivia. If it wasn't for the wasted space for the Pan & Scan version, this could have easily fit onto one disc.

Terminator 2 - Judgement Day
I'm not going to review this movie, as I reviewed the Blu-ray release below. I will talk about the extras, on the other hand.

One the first disc we have an audio commentary track with James Cameron and the co-writer William Wisher. There is also an interactive version of the movie that includes two trivia tracks, and a huge number of video clips you can check out at various times in the movie. You do have to hit enter to get to them, and I don't like watching movies with the remote control in my hand. However, it is still a great extra, especially for DVD, and would make a great extra for the Blu-ray. Over on disc two, there are two featurettes. The first is a 24-minute look at the special effects, which were groundbreaking at the time. They still look pretty cool today. The second featurette is shorter at just 8 minutes and it is a montage of behind-the-scenes shots from the filming of the movie. There are also several DVD-Rom extras, including a couple of interactive features and the movie in high definition. With Blu-ray, these extras lose their appeal.

Total Recall
Based on a story by Philip K. Dick and set in the year 2084 where man has colonized Mars. In it Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Quaid, a construction worker with a seemingly normal life. The only oddity about him, is his recurring dream, which is about him exploring Mars with a strange woman he's never met. After seeing an ad for a company called Rekall that can implant memories, so he could explore Mars without ever leaving Earth. Everyone seems to warn him against it, but he decides to go anyway. This could be a mistake, as there's a problem during the procedure, and the folks at Rekall discover someone has already messed with his memory. The people at Rekall decide to zap his memory of the company, dump him on a cab, and send him back home. However, when he gets home, his friends try to kill, as does his wife. Now he has to figure out who he used to be, and why these people are trying to kill him.

One of the better adaptations of a Philip K. Dick story. Yes, the interesting cerebral nature of the movie is at times buried under the action, the sometimes over-the-top action. There's a pseudo-Surprise Twist at the end that's a highlight of the movie. (I call it pseudo, because we never get a real answer to the question whether or not the events of the movie are real, or just a product of the Rekall implant.) You can appreciate the movie based on the story or the action, and regardless of which you choose, it is entertaining.

Extras start with an audio commentary track with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paul Verhoeven, who fill the track with information on the making of the movie, as well as the themes it addresses. There are also featurettes on the making of the movie (30 minutes) a featurette the real world exploration of Mars (5 minutes) and three storyboard-to-screen comparisons (7 minutes total). That's it for the substantive extras, but there are trailers, galleries, etc.

The Schwarzenegger Collection has four movies, none of them duds. The only question is how many of them do you own on DVD already? If the answer is two or less, then the DVD is worth the price. My only concern is whether or not it is worth waiting for Blu-ray versions of the movies, which is already happening T2.

Sister, Sister - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
Season two of this show was the last season for its ABC run, but it was then picked up by the WB for the final four seasons. The general plot didn't change much.

Tia and Tamera Mowry star as twins separated at birth and adopted by different families. Fourteen years later, they accidentally bump into each other Tia is the smart and reliable twin, who was adopted by Lisa (played by Jackée Harry), who was more wild and impulsive. Tamera, in the other hand, is the wild one who is more impulsive and less likely to hit the books. She was adopted by Ray Campbell (played by Tim Reid) who is a conservative businessman, and whose personality conflicts with his daughter's personality. In the pilot, Lisa and Tia might be forced to move away, Ray agrees to let Lisa and Tia move in with him, setting up the conflicting personality types, in both generations.

While a lot of the show deals with the personality conflict, it also deals with typical high school topics, like boyfriends, fashion, cliques, grades, after school jobs. The shows start with Tia and Tamera introducing these topics directly to the audience, which is a good way to set the show apart. And it needs it. Outside of the twin angle, this is a pretty standard sitcom in terms of writing quality, both in terms of topics and in the level of humor. That's too bad, as Tim Reid is an amazingly funny person, while Tia and Tamera Mowry have enough charm to carry a show like this. (On the other hand, the character of Lisa always got on my nerves, and I don't know the actress outside of the show, so I can't tell who is at fault, the actress of the writers.)

Like many CBS releases, this one has no extras, and no subtitles (come on, people, that's not acceptable). There are play-all buttons and proper chapter placements, on the other hand.

Sister, Sister - Season Two is a bare bones release; however, fans of the show will want to check it out. Perhaps it is worth purchasing over just renting, but it is close.

Terminator 2 - Judgement Day - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
This is not the first time I've reviewed the same movie more than once. It is not even the first time I've reviewed the same movie twice in one week. It is still odd when that happens.

This film takes place ten years after the events of the first film. Sarah Connor is in a mental hospital after she makes the mistake of telling people what she knows. Her son, John Connor, is living in a foster home and spends much of his time committing petty crimes. Like the first movie, Skynet sends a robot from the future to kill John Connor, but it's the new T-1000 version. The rebels again send someone back from the past to protect him, but the twist is, it is a capture and reprogrammed series T-800 model 101. Can they defeat the newer, deadlier model of Terminator? Can they prevent the apocalyptic future? And just how much can they blow up in the process.

They don't make films like this much anymore. They didn't make a lot of films like this at the time. In fact, back in 1991, this was the most expensive film ever made, costing $100 million. It was the biggest hit of the year, and is still considered by many to be one of the best science fiction films ever made, one of the best action films ever made, one of the best sequels ever made. It is still the biggest hit in Arnold Schwarzenegger ever made, and with good reason. Not only is the story top-notch dealing with many themes, from that of family to technology to time travel and more. There's the visual effects, which were ground breaking at the time. And they don't look bad now. I knew the story would hold up, but I wasn't so sure that the special effects would. But they do, for the most part. The film is nearly two decades old now, and while some of the shots look dated, there's almost nothing here that feels so dated that it interferes with the enjoyment value of the movie.

Before we get to the extras, I would like to write a long-winded rant about in fallibility of technology and all of the problems I've had over the last week or so. I would like to, but I don't have time. Short version relating only to this review... when I put this Blu-ray into my player, it told me it couldn't connect to the internet and therefore a lot of the extras wouldn't work. I double-checked my connection, which was fine. I downloaded the latest system update for my PS3, but the Blu-ray still said it couldn't connect, even though it did connect to download the patch. While checking out the extras, it said I needed to connect to the internet for the data tracks. And when I tried... it worked. So frustrating.

Moving onto the actual extras, I'm happy to report there are a ton of them, including both versions of the movie. Other extras start with two audio commentary tracks, one from 1993 with 28 people, and the other from 2003 with 2. (In the upper bar it tells you who is speaking, otherwise there would be no way to keep track of all 28 people. A very nice touch.) There is a picture-in-picture track with behind-the scenes / interview clips, a trivia track, a production data track, a track with the script, a 'linked date module' track, and a storyboard track. There is a trivia game and mini-games, and that's just the stuff you can check out while watching the movie. (You can't have them all on at once, but you can do most of them.) Other extras include two deleted scenes that are in neither the theatrical, nor the extended version. Finally, the disc is BD-Live enabled, but so far there's nothing there.

You could literally spend days exploring all of the extras, and I'm sure there are some hardcore fans who will do just that.

As for the technical specs, the video is great, especially for a film that is nearly 20 years old, and the audio is even better. The audio is good enough to use to show off your home theater system.

This is not the first time Terminator 2 - Judgement Day has been released on the home market. It's not even the first time it has been released on Blu-ray. That said, the Skynet Edition is the best version you can find, and it is worth picking up, even if you have the previous release(s).

True Blood - Season One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A TV series from HBO about vampires. It stars Anna Paquin, among others, and earned good reviews when it came out. Extras include audio commentary tracks on six of the twelve episodes, an in-world 'documentary' on vampires and in-world commercials and PSAs. The Blu-ray has Picture-in-Picture tracks and only costs 36% more than the DVD, which is very cheap for TV-on-Blu-ray. Definitely worth picking up.

Valkyrie - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc Edition, Two-Disc Edition, or Blu-ray
First a note, I only have the Single-Disc Edition. In fact, I only have a burnt screener, and not a full version of the DVD. The Blu-ray might arrive later, but I wouldn't count on it.

Tom Cruise stars as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a real life officer in the German army who, along with numerous other high ranking members of the military and government, hatched a plot to assassinate Adolf Hilter to help bring about an end to World War II. We see the disillusionment in the conspirators, the arduous planning of the attack, and finally the attack and the outcome. Given the nature of the movie, any discussion of the plot in any greater detail would be too much of a spoiler for my comfort level. Then again, given the source, odds are you already know how it ends. But I'd rather err on the side of caution in these cases.

While doing research for a movie, one of the site I always check out is Rotten Tomatoes. I did the same here after watching the movie and looking at the consensus, I marveled at just how apt it is. This is a movie that could have been great, but it seems at every turn decisions were made that ensured the film would be just average. There are a lot of great performances in this movie, and even Tom Cruise, who gives one of his best performances and mostly vindicates the decision to cast him. Mostly. And I say that as someone who dislikes his acting style (I think he plays the same role too often while taking his roles too seriously). Overall it lacked the emotion oomph to resonate with most audiences. It will be forgotten not long after the end credit role.

Looking at the extras, the Single-Disc Edition has two audio commentary tracks, both of which have enough information and energy to be worth checking out. There are also two featurettes: The Journey of Valkyrie and The Valkyrie Legacy. The former runs 16 minutes and deals with the making of the movie, while the latter runs nearly 43 minutes and deals with the real world legacy of the events depicted in the movie. It is the more interesting subject, but it is a little overdone.

As far as I know, the Two-Disc Edition has the above extras, as well as a digital copy of the movie, while the Blu-ray has the above and nothing else. That said, it only cost 13% more, so unless there is an issue with the transfer, or you don't like digital copies, then there's little reason not to upgrade.

Valkyrie is a movie that could have been great, but only managed to be average. It is worth renting, but if you want to buy, the Blu-ray is the best deal.

Yonkers Joe - Buy from Amazon
This gambling / con man film stars Chazz Palminteri. It opened in limited release to mixed reviews and went nowhere at the box office. The DVD has five featurettes and the end result is a solid rental.


Filed under: Video Releases, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Valkyrie, My Bloody Valentine, The Machinist, Outlander, Yonkers Joe