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DVD Releases for June 16th, 2009 - Part II

June 16th, 2009

A strangely busy week for spotlight reviews with ten of them representing nine DVDs and seven Blu-rays. It would have been a bigger list, but several are late. As for the best of the best, I'm giving an tentative DVD Pick of the Week rating to Transformers - Generation One - 25th Anniversary Edition - Season One. However, those will to wait for the retail version of Matrix of Leadership - Complete Series, or willing to spend more on the limited release will want to give this one a pass. Additionally, we have a DVD Puck of the Week, as the Canadian release, Murdoch Mysteries - Season One, is a must have for all loyal Canucks. With the number of spotlight reviews, the column had to be split into to, with the second part found here.

Miracle - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
In what is a slice of (near) perfect timing, this movie hits High Definition just after the Pittsburgh Penguins completed their own hockey miracle becoming just the third team to win the Stanley Cup after losing the first two games. I've also seen reports that the TV ratings for the Stanley Cup finals were the best in nearly a decade, which also bodes well for the sales of this Blu-ray.

Kurt Russell stars as Herb Brooks, who in 1960 was a play cut from the United States hockey teams just before it went on to win the gold medal at the Olympics. Now 20 years later, he is put in charge in order to get a team together to challenge the might of the Russian teams, which had won the gold in the four Olympics since that victory. He assembles a team, but right from the start his methods seem unorthodox and include grabbing players that have personality conflicts, bypassing some of the most talented players, and completely cutting out the board in terms of player selection. Then once training gets underway, his methods are even more extreme. But is there a method to his madness? Since it is based on real life events, you probably know the answer to that.

Miracle is the highest grossing hockey movie of all time. That's not saying a lot, and it could be best described with the term, 'midlevel hit', and no more. This is a shame, because it is a better movie than that. It is easy to see why it wasn't a bigger hit, on the other hand, because the film doesn't not have major star power, and it is about a sport that is mostly ignored by Americans. Worth seeing, and even with a few sports clichés thrown in, it has replay value.

Extras on the Blu-ray are identical to the DVD and include an audio commentary track that is filled with information and has more than enough energy for 2+ hours. There are three making of featurettes, the first runs 28 minutes and is about the cast of mostly unknown actors while the second runs 18 minutes and is a more general look at the making of the movie. There is also an 11-minute featurette on the sound design, which is a very import aspect of any sports movie. There is a 41-minute TV special that was used to promote the movie, ESPN Roundtable, which features Kurt Russell and three of the real-life teammates from the gold medal winning team. There is a 21-minute interview with the real-life Herb Brooks, who sadly passed away before the film was released. Finally, there are five minutes of outtakes. A solid package. As for the technical presentation, the audio and video it great here, especially for the hockey scenes. I'm not surprised there's a featurette on how they created the sound design.

Miracle is a slice of shovelware, and at $24, the Blu-ray is pricier than I would like for this type of release. If you don't own it on DVD, check it out. If you are a fan of hockey or sports movies in general, you will likely want to add it to your collection.

Morning Light - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A Disney documentary about a group of young adults recruited by Roy Disney to partake in the TRANSPAC, the Transpacific Yacht Race, which goes from Los Angeles to Honolulu and had been run since 1906. Normally, the crews of these ships are comprised of only the most experiences sailors, so the 15 members of the Morning Light crew are in an enviable position. The film focuses on training of these 15 people and how they come together as a team and how the do in the race. So there are basically two aspects of this movie: the first part where they choose the team, and the actual race. Sadly, neither work 100%, but the latter is definitely better than the former. Part of the problem with the early part of the movie is its tone. It feels like a reality TV series, but with personalities that are not as well defined or interesting as in most such shows. When they finally picked the crew, it had almost no emotional impact, because I had not learned enough of the people to tell them apart. Also, I didn't learn enough about sailing during this time either. They talk about jibing, which is a maneuver you perform while sailing because you can't sail directly downwind. And my thought is, 'Why the hell not?' (Apparently you don't get as much speed, at least according to my father, who is into sailing.) This is emblematic of the problems with this documentary. The filmmakers assumed its audience would know all these facts, which is not a wise decision, and it cut back on its potential audience.

There are only two extras on the DVD. The first is a nearly 30-minute long making of featurette hosted by Jason Earles of Hannah Montana. (A little bit of Disney cross-promotion there.) The second extra is the hour-long ESPN Special, which talks about the 30 people who were originally selected, and who were cut down to the 15 we saw in the movie. (That's an hour long, including commercials. Here its 42 minutes long.) That's 70 minutes combined, which is close to as long as the movie is. But that's still not a whole lot.

One of seven Blu-rays I'm reviewing this week. And the only one that is coming out day-and-date with the DVD. Because of this, I was hoping for more from the Blu-ray, but there are no exclusive extras to be found. The movie looks and sounds good, but I wasn't blown away. (The night shots were not as sharp, but that's to be expected given the limitations in the camera.) Likewise, the audio does the best with what it has, and often the sounds of the ocean overwhelm the dialogue, while the rear speakers are put to good use. Looking at the price, it costs 30% more than the DVD, which is a tad high given upgrade, but still acceptable.

I'm going to add my voice to the chorus of critics who have come to the same conclusion: Morning Light was made for sailing enthusiasts without much care in how neophytes would react. If you love sailing, you will likely love this movie, even if you are like me and find the personalities dull and nondescript. On the other hand, if you are not a fan of sailing, not even the gorgeous shots at sea will be enough to draw you in. If you are interested in buying, the Blu-ray is only a marginally better value, but I would rent first.

Murdoch Mysteries - Season One - Buy from Amazon
A great Canadian TV series that has been described as a combination of Sherlock Holmes and CSI. Yannick Bisson plays Inspector William Murdoch, a police detective in late 19th century Toronto, who using a scientific approach to solve crimes, but he is greeted with skepticism from his superiors, despite his results. The series was nominated for 14 Gemini Awards for its initial season, winning two of them. (The Gemini is like the Golden Globes of Canada dealing with cinema and television.) Extras on the 4-disc set include an audio commentary track, interviews with the cast, and an interview with Maureen Jennings, whose novels serve as the basis for the series. Worth picking up for fans of police procedurals, and a must have for all loyal Canucks.

One Week - Buy from Amazon
A Canadian movie starring Joshua Jackson as a man who learns he only has one week to live, so he decides to take a road trip across Canada. One of three movies coming out on DVD this week that deal with similar topics. There are not a lot of movies that deal with 'medical death sentences', for lack of a better term, but to have three of them make their DVD debut on the same day is more than a little freaky. As for this movie, it is worth checking out, but I have a hard time calling it more than a rental. Also available on Blu-ray, but only as an import. An expensive import.

RiffTrax- Buy from Amazon: Shorts Volume 1, Shorts Volume 2, Carnival of Souls, House on Haunted Hill, Little Shop of Horrors, Missile to the Moon, Night of the Living Dead, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Reefer Madness, and Swing Parade
From the people who brought you Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Film Crew comes RiffTrax. A collection of audio commentary tracks to movies that deserve to be mocked. In these collections, they three guys (Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett) aim their sites on several educational shorts with dubious educational value. If you have purchased MST3K or The Film Crew DVDs in the past, you will know what to expect from here, and you will want to add these to your collections. Also coming out this week are eight RiffTrax movie releases for films ranging from the unintentional hilarity of Reefer Madness to classics like Night of the Living Dead. Not all of these single movie releases hit the mark, and a few just are not ripe material for riffing, but all are at least worth a rental and most are worth picking up. I just wish there was a 10-disc box set as a cheaper price.

Saving Grace - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
It might have been a mistake to accept this DVD for a review. Most of the time when I receive a screener, it's the final retail package, so what I get is exactly what everyone else gets when they buy it in the store. But often times it's a DVD-R with the review material burned on, complete with bugs and other anti-piracy bits. However, more than 90% of the time, it's otherwise exactly the same as the final retail version. Here, here the DVD screener is just the final disc of the four-disc set. I knew this would bethe case going in, but it was a bigger problem than I thought it would be.

The first episode I got to review starts with Holly Hunter, Laura San Giacomo, and Kathy Baker drinking had having a good time. The last two are also trying to convince Holly Hunter to try on a dress that is so hideous, that it must be a bridesmaid's dress. Jumping into the show at this point was so jarring, that I was lost. I don't have TNT, so this was my first introduction to the show, and it started I wasn't sure who these characters were, or even if they were regulars on the show. (I knew Holly Hunter was the star, but that was all I remembered about the show when I started watching.) I only have the last two episodes of season two, and I have no way to judge the series as a whole, and I'm still very, very confused about the overall plot. That said, and this is a huge compliment to the show, but even having just a tiny taste of the show, I was hooked. I wanted to go back and blind buy the first season just to figure out what's happening.

Extras on the disc I have are limited to two featurettes, the first is a seven-minute interview with Holly Hunter and Nancy Miller, the creator. The second has Dylan Minnette, one of the young actors on the show, interviewing a number of his fellow cast and crew members of the show. I don't know if there are any audio commentary tracks on the other three discs, but I don't think there are.

I am not surprised Saving Grace has earned so many nominations during its two year run, especially for Holly Hunter's performance, as it is a great show. Season Two doesn't have a lot of extras, but it is still worth picking up.

The Secret Life of the American Teenager - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
It hasn't been that long since I reviewed season one of this show, but I don't remember the first season being this bad.

The first season has Amy Juergens, played by Shailene Woodley, finding out she was pregnant after having sex for the first time. There's a lot of drama to be mined from that setup, but the execution was a little too O.C. for my taste. I.E. it's a teenage soap opera. The second season has Amy going from shy high school kid whose life is thrust into a direction she wasn't prepared for, to a rather spoiled brat. She was one of the few bright spots in a rather dismal show, and even that's taken away. Additionally, the other main storyline of this season is the further disintegration of her parents' marriage. And it's clear where here lack of maturity comes from, as her father is portrayed as some kind of manchild. Total sitcom manchild here. If I were a fan of the show, his character would be enough to make me change the channel. As it is, he is one more reason to be disappointed.

Extras on the 3-disc set are better than last time with two interview featurettes and a music video. That is better than last time, but still far from great.

The Secret Life of the American Teenager went from good setup with a mostly strong cast, but poor execution, to rather tedious for Season Two. That said, it is a ratings winner and apparently popular with the target demographic, but even then, there are not enough extras to warrant purchasing over just renting.

The Seventh Seal - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Some would argue this is Ingmar Bergman's greatest film. In fact, some would argue this is the greatest film of all time. (This is not true. The greatest film of all time is Strange Brew, which also stars Max won Sydow.) The most recent release of this film on DVD includes a number of extras, including Bergman Island, a documentary of / interview with the legendary director that is also being released as a separate Criterion Collection DVD. Unfortunately, The original Swedish version of this program was nearly 3 hours long, while this version is just 85 minutes. The DVD does have a 35-minute primer on Ingmar Bergman that should help neophytes get up to speed with his career, as well as a booklet, but what I really what is the full version on DVD. Regardless, while we in the West wait for all three hours, this DVD is worth picking up for most, and worth the upgrade for many, especially if you are making the leap to Blu-ray.

Skid Marks - Buy from Amazon: DVD or DVD with Digital Copy
A comedy that opened in limited releases and had such a short run in theaters that it is practically a direct-to-DVD release. Reviews are terrible with those critics that bothered to review it calling it juvenile. And not just juvenile, but juvenile and poorly made. The only interesting note is the two versions of the DVD, as you can but the movie with our without the Digital Copy, and fore the same price. It's not worth buying, it's not worth renting, but it is interesting.

South of Nowhere - Season 3 - Buy from Amazon
An excellent show for teens with a lesbian theme to it. It's worth checking out, but as part of the CreateSpace program, it's rather pricey on a per minute basis, and there are no extras.

The Three Stooges - Volume Six - Buy from Amazon
The sixth volume of this chronological collection runs from 1949 to 1951 and while a lot of causal fans think the post-Curly era is inferior, there are more hits here than misses. Some of the best include...

  • Who Done It? - The Three Stooges run the Alert Detective Agency and are hired by a Millionaire to protect him a recent rash of kidnappings. That was a mistake, as he's grabbed before they can get there. Now Larry, Moe, and Shemp have to try and fine out who took him and how, while dealing with the Femme Fatal and the three accomplishes who were involved.
  • Fuelin' Around - The Three Stooges are carpet layers working for a Professor Sneed, the inventor of a revolutionary rocket fuel. He is the target of international spies who want the formula for themselves, but they accidentally grab the Three Stooges instead. Now they need to come up with the rocket fuel, or it will be lights out for them. The Three Stooges and volatile chemicals. Fun stuff.
  • Vagabond Loafers - The Three Stooges are plumbers who are hired by a rich lady to take care of a problem while a party is going on. A remake that is not as good as the original, A Plumbing We Will Go, but better than the third version, Scheming Schemers.
  • Punchy Cowpunchers - This Western has the three men in the military sent on a suicide mission to stop the Dillon gang, who have been terrorizing the locals. Now they have to outwit the gang and stop them from cracking a safe. Outwit? Oh boy.
  • Dopey Dicks - The Three Stooges play movers who are mistaken as private dicks by a damsel in distress who is being pursued by a mad scientist looking to make a robot army using human brains. And he decides the three men have just the right brains to use.
  • Three Hams on Rye - The three men are stagehands who are put in charge of tossing out a nasty critic from the playhouse. However, when that goes awry, they have to make sure the rest of the play goes smoothly, or they will be fired for sure.
  • Studio Stoops - Another showbiz short with the Three Stooges mistaken as PR men and they are hired to give a boost to the career of Dolly Devore. Their plan is simple, fake a kidnapping. However, a real kidnapping gets in the way, and they have to rescue the starlet.
  • Slap Happy Sleuths - The Stooges run a detective agency put in charge to figure out if an organize gang is robbing the Onion Oil Company gas stations. So they go undercover as gas station attendants. This way they can fail at two jobs at the same time.
  • A Snitch in Time - The Stooges are makers of antiques who deliver some furniture to a boarding house, only to get involved with some jewel thieves.
  • Three Arabian Nuts - The gang are in charge of a warehouse and are shipping some Arabian goods, including a lamp with a genie. Three Stooges plus magic wishes is a bad combination.
  • Scrambled Brains - Shemp is suffering from hallucinations and has been under treatment at a sanatorium. He thinks he's cured, but under the effects of hallucinations, he's fallen in love with his nurse. But without enough money for an extended stay, they have to take him home and cure him themselves.
  • Pest Man Wins - A remake of Ants in the Pantry, this short has the three guys working as exterminators at a fancy high society party. Not as good as the original, but still one of the best on this set.
The hit to miss ratio is still very high, and even most of the weaker shorts, like Self Made Maids, has something worth checking out. On the other hand, there are no extras on this 2-disc set. Nor are there any subtitles. That said, if you purchase the previous volumes, there's no reason to stop now. If you haven't give these a rental.

Tom and Jerry's Greatest Chases - Volume 2 - Buy from Amazon
I was never a fan of Tom & Jerry. Also, I don't like the small number of extras found on their DVD releases.

Transformers - Generation One - 25th Anniversary Edition - Season One - Buy from Amazon
Woo hoo!

First of all, I have to admit I'm a major Transformers Fanboy and I considered this cartoon to be the greatest 1980s cartoon. Greatest by a huge margin. (Although I was also a fan of Dungeon & Dragons, MASK, and a few others.) However, it was with more than a little trepidation that I went into this review. After all, it had been a long, long time since I had seen the show (probably two full decades) and I was more than a little worried that my nostalgia had clouded my judgement and that reality wouldn't live up to my memory.

In short, I was worried the cartoon would suck and I would feel like an idiot for likely it. This wouldn't have been the first time something like this had happened.

Fortunately my worrying was for nothing, and watching the show for the first time in 20 years and I have to say it still kicks ass. It kicks major ass. Right from the opening theme song, this show rocks. Not only is it a classic story of good versus evil, it is also a classic story of the underdogs. While the Autobots are courageous, brave, and cunning the Decepticons are fighters designed for combat. Partway through season one, when an experiment by Wheeljack and Ratchet results in the creation of the powerful, if a little uncontrollable Dinobots. Dinosaurs and robots. That's awesome squared.

Granted, the show's not perfect, and some of the animation is a bit choppy, the dialogue can be a bit corny at times ('Like leading Antroids to a picnic.' Ugh.), while the video quality is showing its aged.

Extras on the 3-disc set are a little strange. There are none of the two discs that contain the 16 episodes from season one, which is a shame, as I would have loved an audio commentary or two. But on disc three we find a 20-minute long featurette on the evolution of the Transformers from a series of (mostly) unrelated transforming toy lines in Japan that never really made it to the United States. Hasbro then took these toy lines, created characters and stories for a comic book. And then the cartoon. And the rest is history. For fans of the show, it's great to watch, but you will wish it was longer and more in-depth. There are also three of the original commercials, mostly. The faces of the kids are blurred out, probably because they have no idea who these people are and can't get releases for them. There is also a PSA with Bumblebee, and finally, there's a printable script for Transport to Oblivion.

As for the big three, there are no subtitles, but there are play-all buttons and proper chapter placements. Not that you would want to skip the theme song.

Final judgment... Skip it. I know, after all that praise I'm saying, 'Don't bother', and I sound like a total freak. However, the Matrix of Leadership - Complete Series is coming out in July, and it's worth the $140.00 cost, especially if you are a total freak like me. (It is also coming out retail in the fall, likely at the usual discount.) If, on the other hand, you are a more casual fan, or the number of functioning brain cells you possess is higher than your bank balance, then Transformers - Generation One - 25th Anniversary Edition - Season One is a must have, and the DVD Pick of the Week.

What Goes Up - Buy from Amazon
A film that tries too hard to be too many different things and ends up succeeding at almost none. (Interestingly, Hilary Duff's previous movie also suffered from trying to do too many things resulting in an uneven tone, but I rather enjoyed that movie.) Even a lot of the negative reviews were able to praise various members of the cast (Steve Coogan, Hilary Duff, and Olivia Thirlby) and if you are a fan of their work, it might be worth a rental.

What's Up, Tiger Lily? - Buy from Amazon
Woody Allen's directorial debut. Sort of. The movie is actually a comedic re-dubbing of a couple of Japanese spy movies from the International Secret Police franchise. Arguably the best 'Comedic Redubbing' movie ever, although there are not a lot in the genre, certainly not as many as there should be. Worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

Zoey 101 - Buy from Amazon: Season Three and Season Four
A good show that sort of petered out in the end. The chemistry between Jamie Lynn Spears and Sean Flynn was good in the show, so when the latter went from central character to part of the supporting cast, and then gone, the show loses a lot of what made it good. Additionally, the Amazon CreatSpace catalogue of 'Burn-On-Demand' DVDs tend to be a little pricey, especially since there are no extras, but usually still worth picking up for fans of the show.


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Filed under: Video Releases, Miracle, Morning Light, Skid Marks, What Goes Up