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DVD Releases for June 9th, 2009

June 8th, 2009

It's another slow week for DVD releases, and that really won't change until late in the Summer when TV on DVD ramps up in time for the fall schedule. There's not much in terms of must-have releases, with Gran Torino topping that short list, but I'm not sure if the Blu-ray is worth the price over the DVD. Also, I'm not sure it's worthy of the DVD Pick of the Week. On a side note, the Canadian release for Corner Gas - Season Six is also coming out this week, and it is the winner of the rarely-presented DVD Puck of the Week.

Adrian Lyne - Double-Shot - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon: Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal
Two films from director Adrian Lyne, both of which made $100 million when they came out, and they came out back when $100 million really meant something. But how well have these movies held up over the years?

Fatal Attraction - Buy from Amazon
The second biggest hit of 1987, this movie stars Michael Douglas as a family man who has an affair with Glenn Close. Turns out, she's a little nuts and when he tries to break it off, she won't let him. When the film first came out, it earned excellent reviews and was a massive hit, topping the charts for nearly two months. But watching it now it feels terribly dated, and more than a little silly at times. Some have complained that the movie is sexist by implying a strong businesswoman will be possessive, obsessive, etc., but I think this is reading too much into the movie. It's not a deep enough movie to judge it that way.

As for the Blu-ray, it is almost shovelware, but not quite. All the extras from the Special Edition are here (a rather dry audio commentary track with the director, a retrospective, two featurettes, and what appears to be screen tests). There is also the original, and superior ending, that is presented in High Definition with an intro. (They really should have kept this ending in the movie. Had they done that, I would have given it an overall positive review.) The movie looks better than it does on DVD, but not by enough to make the Blu-ray worth upgrading for that reason alone. The audio is unspectacular, and doesn't do much with my rear speakers.

Indecent Proposal - Buy from Amazon
Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson star as a young married couple who are overextended financially so they travel to Las Vegas for one big gamble to hope to win the money they need to stay afloat. ... These people are morons. When that plan goes south, they agree to sell the wife for one night to Robert Redford for $1 million. Take the money and run. This movie is a morality tale about what people will do for money, and how it will affect their relationship afterward. Here's the problem, these two people should clearly not be married. When making a movie about a marriage that is falling apart, it is important to show the audiences why these two people got married in the first place. They don't do that here. Their marriage might be passionate, but it is not based on any real solid emotional foundation. Had they not gotten into financial trouble in the first place, their marriage would have ended regardless, so there's little drama to be mined from the premise.

The only extra on the Blu-ray is a rather tepid audio commentary track with the director. Also, the audio and video can be described as average, at best. There really is nothing here that sells the High Definition format.

Two films from director Adrian Lyne are making their Blu-ray debuts this week. One of them was beloved by critics, the other was not, both were big hits theatrically, but neither is really worth the $20 to upgrade. However, if I were to pick one, Fatal Attraction is by far the better movie, and the Blu-ray is at least worth a rental.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Fatal Attraction, Fired Up, Gran Torino, Indecent Proposal, The International, The Predator 2, The Siege, Time Warp - Season One, and Woodstock - Director's Cut
Not a lot in terms of Blu-ray releases this week. But there's not a lot in terms of DVD releases, so that's not a huge shock. Gran Torino's probably the best release this week, but it also costs a lot more than the DVD.

The Cleaner - Season One - Buy from Amazon
Benjamin Bratt stars as William Banks, a man who in real life helped save countless addicts, and who was a (former) addict himself. As his wife (Amy Price-Francis) says, he's traded one addiction for another. Now he spends his time helping those who need to kick whatever habit they are stuck on, which is hurting things back at home with his wife and two kids. With his second-in-command, Gil Bellows, he helps his team of former addicts (Grace Park, Esteban Powell, and Kevin Michael Richardson) deal with users, pushers, prescription addicts, and others. But by the end of the pilot, he's dealt a massive blow, one that might derail his life.

An excellent show that deals with its subject in a way that is both dramatic, without feeling exploitative, which is quite a tightrope to walk. The family drama, the interventions, and dealing with his crew of fellow recovering addicts brings a lot to the show. There are some issues, including the believability of some of the situations. Some of the facts were changed for dramatic purposes, which seems rather unnecessary. Also, with so many addicts on the show, there's not as much variety in the character types as I would like. On the other hand, the performances are almost universally amazing; here's one aspect of the show where it is great to have consistency.

Extras on the 4-disc set are strong with audio commentary tracks on two episodes. This includes the pilot, but only the broadcast version and not the extended cut. I would have rather had it the other way around. Five of the thirteen episodes also have deleted scenes. Over on disc one there is a short featurette on William Banks done by the actors playing their characters. It's one of the more unique featurettes I've seen, and it is definitely worth checking out. There are Music Excerpts on disc two and three. Finally, disc four has interviews, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and outtakes. I would have liked a few more audio commentary tracks, perhaps with a more varied group of cast members, but what we get is worth checking out.

Overall, season one of The Cleaner is an easy recommendation. The show is well written, has a fantastic cast, and the four-disc set has more than enough extras to rate above a rental. Also of note, season two starts on A&E on June 23rd. Check it out.

Corner Gas - Season Six - Buy from Amazon.ca
The final season of what could be considered the most successful Canadian sitcom of all time. On the one hand, this is a great show and I wish it would be continuing. On the other hand, at least it went out on a high and didn't overstay its welcome. Worth picking up, and worth importing from Canada to get.

Crossing Over - Buy from Amazon
This film was pushed back several times before opening in just a handful of theaters to decidedly weak reviews. Now it is coming out on a featureless DVD. Completely forgettable and not worth a rental.

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

CSI - Crime Scene Investigation - Season One - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
TV on DVD is a relatively new market for studios and only really came into its own over the past few years. Now that DVD is on the way out, and Blu-ray is replacing it, it will be interesting to see how fast that market comes into prominence. There are some issues with most similar releases, including the lack of exclusive extras, price compared to the DVD, as well as weakness in the source material when it comes to the audio and video (the High Definition you see on TV does not have the same resolution as the High Definition that is standard on Blu-ray). Are these problems present here?

CSI stars William L. Petersen stars as Gil Grissom, the head of the night shift of the Las Vegas Crime Lab, whose keen analytical mind helps him and his team crack the toughest cases. One of roughly seventeen billion police procedural shows on TV, it is part of the most popular TV franchise going right now. Compared to the oldest current franchise, Law & Order, it deals a lot more with the personalities of the character. You learn more about some of the characters' personal lives during the pilot of CSI than you did about some of the characters that lasted years on Law & Order. And I kind of like that about Law & Order. However, it also doesn't have the "hooks" used by some similar shows, like Castle, for instance, which is a great show, but I don't think it will still be on air in a decade. This does give it better longevity than those that rely on a hook, but a more personal touch than those that rely on the cases. It's an excellent mixture.

I've reviewed a few CSI releases in the past, and I've been impressed by the level of extras. However, season one was a little weak compared to more recent seasons. Don't get me wrong, there are still a lot of extras including the unaired pilot with audio commentary track, deleted scenes, outtakes, and two featurettes. Some more recent seasons have audio commentary tracks on substantially more episodes (roughly one per disc, as opposed to one per DVD) but the extras are still solid here.

As for the Blu-ray exclusives, it's a bit mixed. The discs are BD-Live enabled, but so far there are just a few video clips, as well as text bios. This is not a huge amount, but it is better than a lot of BD-Live discs give you. The video quality is good, but not great. Certainly better than on DVD, and even better than watching it on High Definition on TV, but not as strong as the best Blu-ray has to offer. (It is presented in 16:9 widescreen for the first time, which might be enough on its own for some fans to upgrade.) The audio gets a boost to 7.1 surround sound, which is great news for me, as I just upgraded to 7.1 sound system, so I was really looking forward to putting my new Onkyo 607 and 540 speakers through their first test. The good news is the dialogue was very clear, but there are not a wealth of special effects and the rear speakers were not exactly given a workout.

CSI - Crime Scene Investigation - Season One - Blu-ray is typical of many such releases. Given the improvement in the quality of the audio and video, as well as the few clips presented on BD-Live, I think the $60 price-tag is a little high when compared to the $36 it would cost to buy the more recent season on DVD. That said, this is on par with most TV on Blu-ray releases, and I think that most fans of the show who have made the leap to Blu-ray will be willing to pay the premium for high definition.

Warning: This Blu-ray does not come out this week and mades its home market debut on the 19th of May. However, the screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Eden Log - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
I just have the Blu-ray and the DVD will not be showing up later on. I would much rather have it this way than the other way around.

Normally I review movies using the five-paragraph formula: A short intro, a paragraph on the plot, a paragraph on the quality of the movie, a paragraph on the extras, and finally a conclusion. However, this is nearly impossible here, as there is almost nothing I can say about the movie without spoiling it. When the film starts, you have no idea who the protagonist is, where the movie takes place, or even when it takes place, and neither does the protagonist. For the next 100 or so minutes, you follow the main character as he tries to figure out the answers to those questions, and anything I say about the movie, either it's plot or its quality, will spoil much of it. I will say that the movie does present a certain mystery, one that almost demands being watched more than once, but I don't think most will want to. Visually, the film is interesting, but much of the time the plot is not.

As for the extras, the Blu-ray has the original French version, in Standard Definition, and that's it. This version is about four-and-a-half minutes shorter, so it's not just a matter of a different audio track, but I'm sure with Blu-ray technology, you could create a branching system to showcase both versions in High Definition, which would have been a real boon, because the dubbing on the English-language version is ... less than impressive at times. (Some of the acting is bad enough to ruin the experience for some people. It certainly took me out of the movie more than once.)

Eden Log is a movie that will either draw you into its visual world and you will want to watch it multiple times, in which case the Blu-ray is worth buying. Or it will turn you off and you won't be able to sit through it the first time. Because of this, I'm calling it a solid rental, so you can try before you buy, but go in with back up. Don't make this movie your only selection for the evening.

Father Knows Best - Season Three - Buy from Amazon
This show is more than 50 years old, which means it either represents the "Good Ole Days" or is hopelessly old fashioned, depending on who you talk to. I fall in the latter group.

Fired Up - Buy from Amazon: Theatrical DVD, Unrated DVD, or Blu-ray
A film that lived up to expectations nearly perfectly, but that's not saying much. Reviews were weak, but not horrifically so, while it made enough at the box office to act as advertising for the Unrated DVD / Blu-ray, which is all that the studio was hoping for. They are rewarding fans with a DVD that is better than expected and includes plenty of extras, including an audio commentary track that is being described by some as more entertaining than the movie itself, a couple of making-of featurettes, plenty of outtakes, and more. The Blu-ray is BD-Live enabled, and comes with a Digital Copy, so it's worth the extra cash. However, it's a rental only, so keep that in mind.

Get Smart - Season Three - Buy from Amazon
There has been a full series Megaset released, and that is the better deal.

Gran Torino - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Released at the end of 2008, but made most of its box office during 2009. In fact, it became Clint Eastwood's biggest hit of his acting and directing careers, not counting his cameo in Casper. Add in reviews that were amazing, and I had high hopes for the home market offerings. That didn't pan out. The DVD has just a couple of short featurettes totaling 13 minutes in length. The Blu-ray, meanwhile, has a 19-minute featurette on Clint Eastwood's return to acting and it is BD-Live enabled (although there's no real exclusive content yet). This is not a whole lot of extras, while it is hard to really argue the Blu-ray is worth the extra 56% in price. The movie is worth picking up, and the format you choose comes down to a coin toss, but I was hoping to be a lot more enthusiastic in my recommendation.

The International - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Clive Owen could develop a reputation as being box office poison. Since Inside Man, nearly all of his films earned good reviews, but none of them were hits at the box office. This film earned reviews that were just a hair below the overall positive level, but only managed seventh place during its opening weekend, and finished with barely more than $25 million at the box office. The DVD does have lots of extras, including an audio commentary track, several making-of featurettes, and extended scenes. Meanwhile, the Blu-ray has a picture-in-picture track and it is BD-Live enabled. However, while the exclusives are nice, it costs nearly 60% more to buy. Not sure I can recommend that premium. Regardless of what format you choose, it is worth checking out, and for most is it worth buying over just renting.

Iron Maiden - Flight 666 - Buy from Amazon
Two points: One, the Blu-ray comes out in July and it is worth waiting for, and two, 666 has nothing to do with the devil and it is based on a mistranslation and the "real" number is 616.

The Jack Lemmon Film Collection - Buy from Amazon
Five films from early in Jack Lemmon's career, but unfortunately, all five films are just average. It's hard to look at any one of them and said, "That's a movie you simply have to have on DVD." There is a bonus documentary on the award-winning actor, but I'm not convinced that's enough to warrant the price tag.

Nobel Son - Buy from Amazon
From the same people that brought you Bottleshock, and I mean a lot of the same people. Same director, same writers, one of the same producers, several of the same actors, and probably even more cast and crew connections as you go down the list. Since I bought Bottleshock, I was hoping this movie would be at least as good as that one. And given the kidnapping / heist aspects to it, I had high hopes.

The film focuses on a family headed by Alan Rickman, who learns at the beginning of the movie that he is winning a Nobel Prize. However, his family life is not a happy one. He's cheating on his wife with one of his students, he's constantly disappointed in his son, which probably explains why when his son is kidnapped, he thinks it's a hoax perpetrated by his son to get out of going to Sweden to be at the Award Ceremony. It's not. However, all is not cut and dried for Barkley, as it turns out he and his kidnapper have something in common, perhaps enough to form an uneasy alliance?

This film is a thriller with elements of heist movies and dark comedies thrown in, all wrapped up in so many twists that it either creates a a wondrous plot that is a marvel to watch unfold, or it eventually becomes a mass of confusion that collapses under its own weight. Looking at the reviews, it seems the latter opinion outnumbers the former by about a three to one margin. I'm right down in the middle on this one. I liked several of the performances in the movie, and I thought the writing was good, but I think it needed one more pass to tighten it up, and remove some of the "confusing for the sake of confusion" elements. Worth watching, but with limited replay value.

Extras on the DVD are better than expected, especially given the film's box office troubles, but only average for a limited release. Things start of with an audio commentary track that includes the writer / director, the other writer, the cinematographer, and two of the cast members. Good mix of information and entertainment. There are three deleted scenes, which include option audio commentary, which run just under five minutes. Finally, there is a 13-minute making-of featurette.

Nobel Son absolutely bombed at the box office with one of the worst opening per theater averages for a film playing in that many theaters. It's not as bad as that performance suggests, but it is hard to call the DVD much more than a rental.

Norman Lear TV Collection - Buy from Amazon
Norman Lear created some of the greatest TV shows of all time. This 19-disc collection showcases some of his best work. I hope the screener arrives soon so I can get a full spotlight review done in a timely fashion.

Perry Mason - Season Four - Volume One - Buy from Amazon
This is quite possibly the oldest courtroom drama TV show of all time. It certainly set up a lot of the expectations in the genre. But does this mean it is a classic? Or does it mean what was fresh and original back then now seems hopelessly clichéd?

Raymond Burr stars as the titular Perry Mason, a lawyer who works all manner of cases from wills, to contract work, to finding a little girl's lost lineage. No matter what the case, it always seems to end in murder, with his client at the center of suspicion. Yes, the pattern repeats itself nearly every episode, but for the most part that doesn't really hurt the show. Granted, there were a couple of episodes where the big reveal seemed to come out of left field, and I didn't appreciate that. However, most of the episodes are still very strong. I would rate 12 of the 16 episodes on this 4-disc set as hits, which is a good batting average.

On a side note, on the first episode of this DVD, one of the characters is a irresponsible playboy type and while watching I couldn't get over how much the actor looked like a young Robert Redford. A little bit of research later and I figured out why he looked so much like a young Robert Redford. It was a young Robert Redford. Also, episode three has a guest shot by William Campbell, a.k.a. Trelane and Koloth from Star Trek.

On the downside, there are no extras on this 4-disc set, nor are there subtitles. They do have "play all" buttons and proper chapter placements. Most significantly, the season has been split into to volumes, which is the number one complaint of fans of the show.

Perry Mason is a classic show and it still stands up all these years later. (I do laugh at the state of forensics used here. There's no DNA, no fiber analysis, etc. The cops scratch their mark into the murder weapons to identify them. More than once I thought to myself, "Wear a pair of gloves when you handle that!") Season Four - Volume One is not a good example on how to put out a classic show like this, as there are no extras and the season is split into two volumes, but the show itself is still worth picking up.

The Puppet Master Box Set - Buy from Amazon
Damnit, damnit, damnit. I love this low-budget, direct-to-DVD horror franchise about living puppets and I have been trying to get it on DVD for ever. When I saw this release, I got so excited, till I saw, "This item has been discontinued by the manufacturer." Some day. Some day I will get them all on DVD.

Reaper - Season 2 - Buy from Amazon
A great show that I really thought would not survive more than a season. However, while season two is coming out on DVD tomorrow, the screener has not yet arrived. I'll get to the spotlight review as soon as it does.

Roy Clarke - Double-shot - Buy from Amazon: Last of the Summer Wine - 1979 and Open all Hours
Two British sitcoms written by Roy Clarke. The first is about a group of older men who are not married and don't have jobs, so they can act like juveniles. The second is about a shop-owner played by Ronnie Barker, and his dealings with his nephew, his fiancée, and his customers. Both are amazing shows and both are worth picking up for fans of Britcoms.

Shaun the Sheep - Sheep on the Loose - Buy from Amazon
A stop-motion animated kids show brought to you by the same studio who did Wallace and Gromit, which is arguably the biggest franchise in the medium. Fun for kids, while parents who enjoy this style of animation will enjoy it as well.

The Shield - Season Seven - Buy from Amazon
The final season of this award-winning show that stars Michael Chiklis as a cop willing to bend, or even break the laws in order to get the bad guys. A great show and I'm hoping my screener will arrive soon.

Spinning into Butter - Buy from Amazon
This film has a pretty good cast for a limited release, but a pretty good cast and terrible reviews usually results in a movie that fails to find an audience theatrically. That was the case here. The DVD has no extras, and it is not even worth a rental.

Strike - Buy from Amazon
A bowling movie featuring Tara Reid and directed by her untalented brother and written and starring the equally untalented Ross Patterson. Avoid at all costs.

Survivorman - Season Three - Buy from Amazon
A Canadian Reality TV series staring Les Stroud, who for each episode spends a week alone with his camera and some "everyday equipment" trying to survive on what he can find around him. Because the show isn't faked like a certain other, similar show, the physical demands on Les Stroud meant this was the final season (at least for now). Fans of the show should be happy it's out on DVD, while the 2-disc set includes a bonus episode on surviving a flood in an Urban environment. Worth picking up.

Time Warp - Season One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A "science" show, and I'm putting that word in scare quotes, because this show is less about teaching and more about showing really cool visuals. I don't really have a problem with that. Science as entertainment is still science, and if it intrigues someone enough to go out a learn more, then that's just awesome.

Waiting for God - Season Four - Buy from Amazon
A British sitcom about two residents of a retirement home who are not willing to spend their final years just sitting around. An amazing show that has huge replay value and the DVDs are worth picking up; however, start with Season One.

Were the World Mine - Buy from Amazon: Standard Cover or Alternate Cover
Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream with a gay twist. The film's reviews were better than average, but not by enough to survive in limited release. The DVD has an audio commentary track as its lone special feature, and if you are in the target demographic, then it is worth picking up. If you are a fan of Shakespeare or musicals, then it's worth checking out.

Whose Line is it Anyway? - The Best Of... - Buy from Amazon
I prefer the British version, but this is still a good show. On the other hand, I vastly prefer full-season sets, and not single-disc best-of releases.

Woodstock - 3 Days of Peace & Music Director's Cut - Buy from Amazon: 2-Disc DVD, 3-Disc DVD, or Blu-ray
A massive release for the 40th anniversary of Woodstock that includes the 4-hour director's cut of the movie, as well as hours and hours of additional footage, performances, and more. For fans of the movie or the music, this is a must have. Additionally, the Blu-ray has several BD-Live extras, and it is easily worth the extra $7 on Amazon.

WWE - Macho Madness - The Randy Savage Ultimate Collection - Buy from Amazon
9 hours of old-school wrestling for diehard fans. That's an amazing deal, but I don't know if most causal fans will have the fortitude to get through it all.

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Filed under: Video Releases, Gran Torino, The International, Fired Up, Crossing Over, Nobel Son, Were the World Mine, Spinning into Butter, Eden Log