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DVD Releases for May 26th, 2009 - Part II

May 26th, 2009

It's a slow week, not that you can tell from the number of spotlight reviews. Over the past week, I received close to a dozen DVDs that were late. Fortunately, I was able to get to all of them, at least I till this afternoon when a couple more arrived late. (It never ends.) As for the DVD / Blu-rays coming out this week, there's not much of a selection. The best is Jeeves & Wooster - The Complete Series, but the lack of extras prevents it from being awarded the DVD Pick of the Week. On the other hand, the best on this week's list is Star Trek - Original Motion Picture Collection, which actually came out a couple weeks ago. Even so, it is deserving of the DVD Pick of the Week. A slow week plus a lot of late reviews still results in a list so long it had to be spit into two. The first part can be found here.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 3rd of March. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in this review.

Scarlett Johansson Collection - Buy from Amazon
A 3-disc collection that was release at the beginning of March. Just received the screener last week, so let's jump right in.

Girl with a Pearl Earring
Scarlett Johansson is Griet, a young girl whose family has fallen on hard times and goes to work as a maid for Johannes Vermeer, an artist who is much more famous now than he was when he was alive. (This is true of many artists, sadly.) The movie tells the (mostly) fictional story of the origin of his most famous painting, "Girl with a Pearl Earring", and has Griet as his inspiration, which does not sit well with his wife.

The film moves slowly at times, and there are long stretches with very little dialogue, but that helps build the mood of the film. It looks incredible, and the acting is great. The film was nominated for three Oscars (all in technical categories), while Scarlett Johansson earned several nominations for her work, including a Golden Globe.

Extras include a 24-minute long making of featurette and a music video.

A Good Woman
Based on a play on Oscar Wilde starring Helen Hunt as Mrs. Erlynne, a woman with a reputation for seducing married men. A well-earned reputation for seducing married men. When the wives of these married men conspire to cut her off from their money, she leaves New York City to travel to Italy. Once their she sets her sights on Robert Windermere, but his young fiancée, Meg is quite unaware. Meanwhile, Meg starts hanging out with an English nobleman. The final twist, Mrs. Erlynne has to deal with the unwanted advances of Lord Augustus, who has his eyes set on her.

This film was made in 2004 and wasn't released until 2006. This is not a good sign. It was bumped from a spot during Awards Season to a release date in early February. This is an even worse sign. Sadly, this was deserved. None of the wit of the original play is there, the dialogue too often feels like people trying to sound witty rather than people who are actually witty. It's not a total waste; for instance, Tom Wilkinson is great. But there is not enough here that works to recommend buying.

The only extra on the DVD is an audio commentary with the director and one of the producers.

An American Rhapsody
Kind of a strange film to include in a Scarlett Johansson box set, as she's not in half of the movie. She stars as Suzanne (or Zsuzsi) whose parents fled Hungary back in the 1950s, but because she was just an infant at the time, she was left behind. Six years later, she finally joined her family The first half of the film will follow the young Zsuzsi in Hungry, and her family living in America, before she is finally able to get to the states. Early adjustment doesn't go well, but her father promises her that if she tries to like it here in the States, he will buy her a plane ticket to Hungry when she's older. But will she find what she's looking for when she gets there?

The earliest film in this box set, it was only able to earn mixed reviews and struggled at the box office. While it is true that the emotional scenes are a little overdone at times, and Suzanne doesn't come across are rebellious as much as spoiled, there's still more that enough here that works that it is worth checking out. Replay value puts the film right on the border between rental and purchase.

The only extra is an audio commentary track with Eva Gardos, the director, and Colleen Camp, the producer. It's a solid track that goes into plenty of topics regarding the making of the movie and its origins. And while I would like more, it's enough to lift it from a solid rental to the purchase level.

The Scarlett Johansson Collection contains three movies, of those three, two are worth picking up, while the other is a rental, at most. If you have either An American Rhapsody or Girl with a Pearl Earring on DVD already, then it is better just to grab the other separately. If not, this DVD is worth picking up.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 12th. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
So far I only have the DVD, while there's a chance the Blu-ray might arrive later, I wouldn't bet money on it.

When you look up the word, 'Cavalcade' you find the word means, 'a procession of people on horseback.' Here, it is being used to describe a procession of short comedy bits, most of which are barely more than 60 seconds long. Unfortunately, they are not short enough, nor is there enough comedy. As Shakespeare said, "Brevity is the soul of wit." When you tell a joke, you want to end at the punch line. The longer the joke goes on after the punch line, the less funny it is. Moutain Climber is guilty of this. On the other hand, having a longer than necessary set up can heighten the humor, if done correctly. This is true of Cat Staff Meeting, which has an incredibly long set up, and the joke is so obvious, but it is still funny. However, it's only one of eight, maybe nine shorts I laughed at. And some of those still suffered from lack of brevity. (The Frog Prince tells the story of a princess meeting a talking frog, but when her kiss doesn't turn him into a prince, he asks for a little more. This is a funny, but the back-and-forth banter could have been trimmed by 10 seconds and been made funnier.)

The only real extra on the DVD is a 4-minute look at the red carpet premiere, while there are a few image galleries as well.

I don't have the Blu-ray so I can't describe the sound or video, but given the nature of the program, I seriously doubt they will be major selling points. There are no extras, but on Amazon.com, it costs exactly the same as the DVD.

Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy is under an hour long, and that includes extras. The DVD and the Blu-ray are not expensive, but there's not enough replay value here to warrant anything more than a rental. I was really hoping for more.

Warning: These Blu-rays do not come out this week and made their home market debuts on the 12th. However, the screeners arrived late, hence the delay in this review.

Star Trek - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon: The Movie Trilogy or Original Motion Picture Collection
Star Trek on Blu-ray. Awesome. Also of note, I reviewed the DVD of The Motion Picture Trilogy just a couple weeks ago, so I won't be going into those movies today. I will talk about the differences between the two versions.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture
First a confession... This is the only movie in this collection I had to watch. (I did watch them all, but it was the only one I couldn't remember the plot in enough detail to write about it.) I think that's because it is so similar to The Voyage Home, as well as an episode from The Original Series. In the movie, a massive cloud is moving towards Earth destroying all in its path, and it is up to the crew of the Enterprise to intercept it. However, the Enterprise has just gone through a massive retrofit and it has a couple new crewmembers (Stephen Collins as Will Decker and Persis Khambatta as Ilia). So they have to deal with technology that isn't working, and a crew that doesn't have experience working together at a team.

That doesn't seem like much of a plot, and it's not. I think had it been made for TV, it could have been made to fit a single hour episode with room for commercials. (If they removed some scenes like the wormhole scene.) The film, which runs more than 2 hours long, feels padded out with long, sometimes slow special effects shots. This is easily the biggest complaint critics have of this movie; however, while I agree with it in part, the movie is still better than its Tomatometer score would otherwise indicate. It feels epic, and in High Definition, it looks epic. Granted, not every shot is perfect and there are some flaws with the transfer, but the movie is 30 years old, so that is forgivable.

Extras include an audio commentary track with several people, including Michael and Denise Okuda, who are quite possibly the two most knowledgeable people when it comes to Star Trek. Library Computer is a pop-up trivia track that constantly shows information on the various subjects in the movie (sublight speed, transporters, even the library computer). All the information is text-based, but it is still a solid extra, and it is better than a lot of trivia tracks. The Longest Trek is an eleven-minute featurette on the writing of the movie, which took years and years to make. Star Trek Universe has two featurettes: Special Star Trek Reunion and Starfleet Academy Scisec. The former runs just under 10 minutes and it talks to several of the extras in one scene, while the latter is just over 4 minutes and it talks about the V'Ger probe, as if the events of the movie were real. There are eleven deleted scenes running eight minutes in total. These are presented in Standard Definition, and they look quite rough at times. They are the only extra presented in Standard Definition, on the other hand. There are three scenes you can watch in storyboard form. And finally, the disc is BD-Live enabled (so far there's just a trivia game you can create and share).

The Wrath of Khan
The best movie in this collection, I reviewed it a couple weeks ago, so I'll just jump right to what makes the Blu-ray special. Extras exclusive to the Blu-ray include the Library Computer pop-up trivia track, and the BD-Live functionality, which is limited to the trivia game at this time. But this is something that pushes the technology, which is a bonus. Additionally, the film looks and sounds great in High Definition, especially given its age. Taking into account the added extras, the nature of these extras, and the visual nature of the movie, I would be willing to spend 30% to 40% more for the Blu-ray compared to the DVD.

The Search for Spock
Again, just reviewed the DVD, so there's no need to go into the overlap. Exclusive special features include the Library Computer pop-up trivia track, and the BD-Live functionality. Again, the video and audio look great, especially for a film of its age.

The Voyage Home
Like the previous two films, the only exclusives on the Blu-ray are the Library Computer pop-up trivia track, and the BD-Live functionality. And again, the video is better than expected for a movie that is more than two decades old. Absolutely no complaints about this Blu-ray.

The Final Frontier
Ugh. The movie focuses on Sybok, Spock's half-brother, in on an obsessive quest in order to find god, which he believes is at the center of the galaxy. In order to reach the center, he hijacks the newly launched, and still not functioning, Enterprise NCC-1701-A. In the meantime, a Klingon vessel captain by Kaa learns of this, and seeks to capture or kill Kirk for personal glory. These two forced collide when they traverse the great barrier and meet the being that could be god.

Easily the worst movie on this set. The story is weak, the action scenes are uninteresting, the attempts at humor fail, and the special effects were much weaker than the previous films. There is almost no redeeming value here, except for the early scenes with Kirk, Spock, and Bones. Seeing the crew interacting with each other was fine, but once the story gets going, nothing truly works.

Extras include two audio commentary tracks, a featurette on NASA, another on James Doohan, and a Starfleet Academy Scisec look at Nimbus III. Blu-ray exclusive extras include the usual Library Computer pop-up trivia track, and the BD-Live functionality. The transfer is solid, but some of the special effects are dodgy. Can't blame the Blu-ray for that.

The Undiscovered Country
It's the beginning of a new era for the United Federation of Planets, as they are beginning peace talks with the Klingons that should end the decades long war. The Enterprise is given the mission to escort Chancellor Gorkon, who will be negotiating for the Klingons. However, someone doesn't want the war to end, and in an attempt to preserve the hostilities, they cause the Enterprise to fire at the Klingon ship, and in the chaos that results, Chancellor Gorkon, is assassinated. In the aftermath, Kirk and Bones are arrested by the Klingons, while it is up to Spock and the rest of the crew must discover what really happened. They must discover what really happened, and hope they can rescue the peace process.

Of the three films on the Original Motion Picture Collection that are not on The Movie Trilogy, this one is clearly the best. It has the best script, which is the heart of any good movie. The script presents the characters and scenarios in a believable way, and gives them issues with real weight to deal with. Because the script is so strong, this film has some of the best acting as well (it's easier to act when the dialogue is good). Add in some of the best action and special effects for The Original Series era Star Trek, and this is an excellent movie. Top-notch.

Extras are inline with the other releases starting with two audio commentary tracks. The Perils of Peacemaking is a 27-minute featurette on how the plot of the movie paralleled the events in the real world. This is very interesting to watch, but sadly it is in standard definition. Stories from Star Trek VI has six parts running a total of nearly an hour. Topics include the making of the movie, the obvious racism dealt with in the movie, Christopher Plummer's performance in the movie, and more. Again, very interesting to watch, but also just in Standard definition. The Star Trek Universe has eight section includes interviews with the director, a look at the Klingons, actors who have played multiple roles in the franchise, performing Shakespeare in Klingon (highly nerdy), and finally the Starfleet Academy Scisec look at Praxis. All told it runs about 77 minutes, and all but the last section is in Standard Definition. There is a 13-minute tribute to DeForest Kelly in Standard Definition. There are eight interviews with much of the cast that run a total of 44 minutes, all in standard definition. New to Blu-ray is the Library Computer trivia track and the BD-Live trivia game.

Finally, there is...

The Captain's Summit
A bonus disc containing a 70-minute round table discussion with William Shatner, Leonard Nemoy, Patrick Stewart, and Jonathan Frakes, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg. This is the only place to get it, and it is in High Definition, and for fans it is just as valuable to this collection as one of the movies.

Taking a look at the direct comparison between the Star Trek - Motion Picture Trilogy on DVD and Blu-ray, the Blu-rays have additional extras, they have extras that push the limits of the technology, and most have the extras in High Definition. Given that, I would be willing to spend 30% to 40% more for the Blu-ray; however, the actual cost is just 27% more, which makes it a deal. Meanwhile, the Original Motion Picture Collection does cost twice as much as the The Movie Trilogy, but it has twice as many movies, plus the bonus disc.

In conclusion, Star Trek - Original Motion Picture Collection is the best deal of the three releases, and it is clearly worth picking up, and even a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 12th. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Taken - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc DVD, 2-Disc DVD, or Blu-ray
First a note, while the DVD finally got here, it's just the Single-Disc DVD and not the other versions. I'm not sure they will arrive later, but I'm not willing to bet money on it.

Liam Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, a former secret agent whose has to deal with a broken marriage and competing with his wife's new husband for the affections for her daughter. His daughter, who is only 17, wants to travel to France with her friend, but her father doesn't think that's safe, but eventually relents. However, it turns out his instinct was correct, as his daughter and her friend are kidnapped by a gang that is planning on getting them addicted to drugs and selling them into prostituion. Now it is up to Bryan to use his skills, and some of the contacts, he developed during his days as a CIA agent to rescue his daughter.

This movie only earned mixed reviews, but damn, for what it is, it is great. And it is a pretty simple tale of revenge and rescue that presents an emotionally weighty hook; who couldn't feel sympathy for a man trying to rescue his daughter? The film was co-written and produced by Luc Besson, who knows his way around an action / thriller movie. Sure, some of the action scenes tend to... stretch the suspension of disbelief. (For instance, the bad guys tend to be bad shots and cars are not bullet proof, so using them as cover is a dumb idea. But these problems are common in most such movies.) I'm still a little surprised it earned as much as it did theatrically, as it will end its run as the second highest grossing January release of all time. (Paul Blart is number one.) But it is a great film.

Extras are also strong with not one, but two audio commentary tracks, both on the Unrated version. The first is with the director and two other members of the crew, but it is in French with English subtitles. The second is with the other co-writer, Mark Kamen, who handles the solo track with ease. There are very few dead spots and gives plenty of information. There is a making of featurette that runs just over 18 minutes, which is in a mix of English and French. Avant Premiere is a footage of the premiere of the movie and runs close to five minutes. Finally, there's Inside Action, which looks at six action scenes from a behind-the-scenes perspective and the final film.

I don't have the 2-Disc DVD, but I believe the second disc is just the digital copy, while the Blu-ray has no additional extras. That said, at just 9% more on Amazon.com, it is certainly worth the upgrade.

Before this year, there were no films that opened in January that reached $100 million at the box office. (The Special Edition of A New Hope opened in January, but that's a re-release and not a true opening.) This year, there were two such films. But while Paul Blart made more at the box office, Taken is the much better film. It is definitely worth checking out, and it is worth picking up over just renting. Additionally, the Blu-ray is worth the extra money.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 12th. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in this review.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Season Seven - Buy from Amazon: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
I went into this review with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was a fan of the original series when it first aired; however, I stopped watching the series before it got to season seven. Also, I've noticed a lot of shows I liked back when I was a kid kind of... well... they suck. Hopefully my recollection of this show isn't entirely based on nostalgia.

Season Seven isn't really season seven, as the episodes were made before season four, and take place before the events of that season. Confusing. In the first episode of this season, the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Leonardo, the leader who fights with a pair of katana; Donatello, the smartest of the group who fights with a bo staff; Raphael the rebel who fights with a pair of sai; and Michelangelo, the party animal who fights with nunchaku, at least in this version) win a trip to Europe, which that take with their master, Splinter. By some strange coincidence, they arch-nemesis, Shredder, and his two henchmen, Bebop and Rocksteady, are also in Europe committing a number of crimes in order to bring Kang and his Technodome back to Earth from Dimension X.

If at this point you are saying to yourself, "Huh?" it's probably time to move on, as the show doesn't make a whole lot more sense than that. For instance, why is Shredder so interested in Europe all of a sudden? And why is April covering so many European events for a local New York TV station? And is stealing the Eiffel Tower really an efficient plan? I don't care what your goal is, there has to be an easier way than that to get it done.

For fans of the show, the quality was still strong here, but it does suffer from some of the flaws that were common for cartoons of the era. For instance, the animation can be quite weak at times. Despite the new settings, there's not a lot of changes in the stories, which almost all consist of Kang and Shredder coming up with a new scheme, which is to take place in whatever European city the Turtles are in at the moment, April gets captures, there's a climatic battle, and everything it set back to the way it was before the episode started. (April getting captured so often was really getting on my nerves by the end of the season. I would have preferred it if she was more proactive in the adventures.)

There are extras on each DVD, which is a bit of a surprise, as a lot of shows from the era are devoid of extras. On Part 1 we find A Shellabration With Points of Articulation, which is a six-minute look at the various toys from the series. Part 2 has A Shellabration of the Turtles Creation, which is an eleven-minute long interview with Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, a.k.a. the co-creators of the TMNT. Part 3 has A Shellabration of the TV Sensation, which runs eleven minutes, and it is exactly what it sounds like. Finally, Part 4 A Shellabration of a Fan Nomenon Sensation, a 12-minute look at the fans of the show.

If that were it in terms of extras, I don't think I could recommend the DVDs. After all, to get the full season, you have to spend $40, which is too much. However, each part also comes with a figurine of one of the Turtles, and these add more than enough value to the total package to be worth the money. In fact, to some they might be worth more than the DVDs themselves. I won't go that far, but it could be close for some.

(You know what I want to see on DVD? Samurai Pizza Cats. That was a definite Turtles clone that was based on a show from Japan. However, when it made the transition to the United States something was missing. Namely the scripts. The American producers had no idea what was happening, so they had to come up with plots and dialogue to match the action. I don't know how close they came to matching the original, but the end result sure was funny.)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Season Seven comes in four parts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4) for a total cost of $40. For fans, this is a little steep, till you realize they also come with the figures. The four figures alone have to be worth $10, if not twice that, and that makes the DVDs a real deal. I just wish they had a combo pack that didn't take up so much room.

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers - Buy from Amazon
One of Wayne Wang's best movies since the Joy Luck Club. However, it still didn't earn strong enough reviews to thrive in limited release. It's worth checking out, and if you want it buy it, the combo pack with The Princess of Nebraska is a good deal.

The Universe - The Complete Season Three - Buy from Amazon
One of History Channel's best TV shows, this one looks at the universe and space related topics. These include light speed, what would happen if there was a disaster on a deep space mission to Mars, what would other aliens look like, parallel worlds, etc. The lack of extras is disappointing, but there's more than enough information on this 4-disc set to be worth the price.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 3rd of March. However, the DVD screener arrived late, very late, hence the delay in this review.

Wildfire - Season Three - Buy from Amazon
This series, which recently ended its four-year run on TV, is about Kris Furillo (Genevieve Cortese), a former juvenile delinquent who in episode one is sent to Raintree ranch as part of her rehabilitation. There she befriends a horse named Wildfire, and the two of them bond after she saves him from the slaughterhouse. She then works hard to overcome her past and help turn Wildfire into a championship racehorse.

I'm of two minds on this show. On the one hand, it is a good setup, and there should be plenty to mine here in terms of drama and action. On the other hand, the show is mostly a teenage soap opera complete with love triangles, jealous (and rich) rivals, etc. There is some really good drama here, including the continuing financial troubles of Raintree ranch, but I lost track of the number of romantic entanglements that happen over just 13 episodes.

While watching the show, I couldn't help being reminded of a Canadian show called Caitlin's Way, which starred Lindsay Felton as a juvenile delinquent who is sent to a ranch run by distant relatives and bonds with a horse named Bandit. You can see why I thought there were similarities. However, Caitlin's Way is the much better show and never devolved into better soap opera drama, which this show relishes. I want that show to come out on DVD. Also, I want to see Lindsay Felton in more roles. (She did place third in the first season of Scream Queens, and hopefully that will get her additional roles.)

Extras on the three-disc set are weaker than previous DVDs with just audio commentary tracks on four of the 13 episodes, which is more than most shows have, but there are no featurettes like in season one had, for instance.

Wildfire is a teenage soap opera set in the world of horseracing. I will admit it is a very well made teenage soap opera, but it is a soap opera nonetheless. The 3-disc DVD release for Season Three does have solid extras, and if you are a fan of the show it is worth picking up. If you've never seen the show, but enjoy this genre, then give it a rental, starting with season one.

We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story - Buy from Amazon
I'm rather surprised that this is the first time this movie is being released on DVD here. Granted, it didn't earn good reviews and it bombed at the box office, but even so, given its target audience, this is the kind of film that should thrive at the home market. However, since it has been 16 years since it was first released, its target audience of today were not even born when it came out, and their parents probably don't even remember the movie. But with a transfer that's showing its age and zero extras, a rental is all that is needed here.

World War II - Behind Closed Doors - Buy from Amazon
A BBC documentary series about the closed door dealings Joseph Stalin had during World War II.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and makes its home market debut on the 21st of April. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Wolverine and the X-Men - Heroes Return Trilogy - Buy from Amazon
The latest animated series based on the ever popular X-Men comic book series. This one starts with an attack against Professor X and his school, which resulted in the disappearance of both him and Jean Grey, as well as the dissolution of the X-Men. Now a year later, the X-Men are to be reunited under the leadership of Wolverine, which is a prospect that neither the team's old leader, Cyclops, nor Wolverine are particularly keen on. They have to deal with Senator Kelly and his mutant registration program, which will be enforced by the Sentinels. The Brotherhood of Mutants are around to cause trouble, including tempting away former teammate, Rogue. In additional, a lot of other mutants are spotted throughout the 3-episode arc that started the series.

I really liked this show. Some complained about making Wolverine the leader, as it is not in his personality, and it was just a way to cash in on the popularity of the character. However, the writers didn't just make him the leader and change his personality to match, they thought of a logical way to make him the leader, and showed what would happen if he was forced to become the leader. Those that are familiar with the comic books will certainly recognize a lot of the elements presented here, but it will also entice neophytes. One of the best comic book cartoons to come out in a while.

Extras on the single disc set include two audio commentaries, the first with two of the writers (Greg Johnson and Craig Kyle, who is also supervising producer) and the second with two of the directors (Steven Gordon and Boyd Kirkland). The former is more energetic than the latter, but both are worth checking out. Next up are a couple of making up featurettes; however, at just over 5 minutes and just over 2 minutes, they are not very in-depth. There are also 8 character profiles, but the run just 36 seconds each, and of that 36 seconds, the 7 seconds at the beginning and the roughly 10 seconds at the end are all the same.

As I said when this DVD first came out, some are calling Wolverine and the X-Men the best X-men cartoon ever. I'm not sure it's better than the original from the 1990s, but it does have the potential. On the other hand, Heroes Return Trilogy is $10 for a running time of just 68 minutes, which is way too much for TV on DVD. It does have strong extras, but I still think it is worth just a rental, while you wait for the full season set.

Zabriskie Point - Buy from Amazon
A counter culture movie for 1970 that bombed at the box office and didn't fare any better with critics. At least at the time. Now its reviews have improved to the point where they are overall positive, but a lot of critics who gave the review a thumb's up still have a lot of complaints about the film. Curiosity is probably the best reason to watch this film, perhaps the only reason.


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Filed under: Video Releases, Taken, Girl with a Pearl Earring, A Good Woman, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers