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DVD Releases for July 7th, 2009

July 6th, 2009

This is a slow week. Even compared to the recent slow weeks we've encountered, this is a slow week. There are a few first run releases on this week's list, but the best of them earned weak reviews and was only a mid-level hit at the box office. The best release overall is Mystery Science Theater 3000 - Volume 15, but it is a bit of a niche market release, and I'm hesitant to award it the DVD Pick of the Week.

Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Movie Collection - Set 4 - Buy from Amazon
Great movies that are based on one of the most iconic detectives ever created... but an expensive DVD. Even if you consider this a collection of TV movies and not a TV on DVD release, this is still an expensive DVD. There is a bonus disc with less than an hour of extras, including interviews, a look at Agatha Christie, etc. I can still see why a lot of fans will happily pay this amount, but I can also sympathize with those who are less enthusiastic.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: The Deep, Grumpy Old Men, In Memory of My Father, Iron Maiden - Flight 666, Knowing, Legends and Lyrics - Volume 1, Legends and Lyrics - Volume 2, Night Train, Push, The Unborn, and The Universe - Season Two
A bad week for Blu-ray releases. Not as bad as last week, but still bad. The top-selling DVD, Knowing, is also the top-selling Blu-ray. And it's the type of movie that should do well on High Definition, at least compared to its DVD sales. But overall there's nothing here that strikes me as a must-have, or even a top-tier release. It's all filler while we wait for Watchmen and Coraline.

Border Town - Buy from Amazon
Mark Joy stars as Vincent, a man we meet at the beginning of the movie looking over his car, which has broken down at the side of the road. Wandering into a rundown diner down the road, he looks for someone to help him get across the border, saying that a man there has something that belongs to him. However, it turns out this man who knows Vincent is on his way and has put the word out that anyone who stops him will be rewarded, which explains why the cop and the waitress try to take him down.

This is a low-budget independent film made in Virginia, but set in Mexico about a father's quest to rescue his daughter from the people who kidnapped her. No one will claim this is a unique plot for a movie; in fact, it's very much like Taken, which I reviewed not too long ago. This movie in nowhere in the same league in terms of budget, and you can really tell. It takes the same route a lot of similar films have taken recently and is filmed on video using green screen backgrounds. This gives it a style that helps set a tone, but does make it feel like a low budget movie. I am not a film snob, and I do believe that if you take the best video has to offer and compare it to the best film has to offer, video comes out on top. Even the lower end of the scale is alluring to independent filmmakers, since it is easier to set up shots, therefore faster, and cheaper. This is a very powerful selling point to a director with a limited budget and a tight filming schedule. Then again, while this movie uses the same green screen style that a lot of low-budget movies are using, it does look twice as good as Feast II at less than half the budget.

As for the less technical aspects of the movie, as I stated above, no one will be surprised where this movie goes. It is a simple and rather predictable story of rescue and revenge with some good action scenes. The performances are mostly good, especially for inexperienced actors. (For a lot of the main cast, this is their first, or among their first credited performances.) Some of the dialogue can be a little cheesy, but for fans of the genre, the entertainment value is here.

I only have a promotional screener, which has no extras; in fact, it doesn't even have a menu. However, the retail DVD has an interview featurette, and a making-of featurette. That's solid for a direct-to-DVD release.

Border Town is a movie that most likely would have slipped beneath my radar had it not arrived at my door to review. I'm glad it did. Check out the official site and give the DVD a rental. I think most who do will enjoy it, and many will enjoy it enough to buy it.

Doctor Who - Buy from Amazon: Episode 11: The Rescue & Episode 12 The Romans and Episode 138 - Attack of the Cybermen
Two of the earliest Doctor Who stories are coming out on double-shot DVD, and it's the better of the two selections this week. That said, both have more than enough extras to be worth picking up for fans of the franchise. Extras include commentary tracks, retrospective featurettes, and more. Worth picking up.

Warning: This Blu-ray made its home market debut on the June 2. However, the screener arrived late, hence the delay in this review.

Elsewhere - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
First a note. I only have the Blu-ray and won't be able to compare it directly to the DVD. However, it's easy to figure out which format is the better deal.

The film stars Anna Kendrick (Twilight) and Tania Raymonde (Lost) as two best friends living in a small town in the midwest. Anna Kendrick is Sarah, the good girl who gets good grades, is part of her high school track team, and has a future. Tania Raymonde plays Jillian, who is the exact opposite; she desperately wants to get out of the town, but her prospects are much weaker. One day she agrees to meet with a Mr.X she met online, which Sarah warns her against, and that night is the last time she is seen. No one seems to care about where she's gone, and even after Sarah gets a cryptic video message from Jillian, she can't get the police to help her find her best friend.

This film appears to have been overlooked by most critics, which is a shame. It's a good movie, if a bit slow-moving at times. (You could call it "deliberately paced.") It builds on a creepy atmosphere more than gore or violence. (In fact, I'm totally stunned it earned an R rating and I would not have given it anything more than PG-13. I would go so far as to say if this wasn't an independent film, it would have earned a PG-13 rating, if This Movie is Not Yet Rated is any indication.) There's no sex, no nudity, no "torture porn," good acting, a script that is perhaps a little predictable, but effective. Certainly worth checking out, and by itself a borderline purchase.

Extras are strong for a direct-to-DVD release starting with an audio commentary track with Nathan Hope and Vincent Palomino (the writer / director and the producer). Good chemistry together helps keep the energy up, while there's more than enough information to keep you listening all the way through. There is a 12-minute making of featurette, and six deleted / extended scenes with a total running time of close to 23 minutes. Finally, there's a 4-minute slideshow of images.

There are no additional extras on the Blu-ray, nor are the extras presented in High Definition. The video and audio is also just average for High Definition, but it is a low budget independent movie, so I'm not surprised. I am surprised at the price. The list price for the Blu-ray is the same as the DVD, which is nice. However, over on Amazon.com, going High Definition costs 30% less. That's awesome. And at just $13.99, it is easily worth picking up for the movie and the extras.

Elsewhere is a solid suspense film that should be seen by more. The DVD is good value and certainly worth buying. However, the Blu-ray is an amazing deal and worth a blind buy for fans of the genre. After all, at $14 for a new release, it's hard to find a better deal than that.

Evil Bong 2 - King Bong - Buy from Amazon
Oh dear lord! This is a title that makes you stop and take notice, but unless you are a fan of "stoner humor," that's all you need to do. Stop and take notice before moving on.

Flying By - Buy from Amazon
Billy Ray Cyrus stars as a husband and father who goes to his high school reunion and reunites with his former bandmates. The film also stars Heather Locklear as his wife and Olesya Rulin (from High School Musical) as his daughter. The film debuted on LMN and it has a certain TV Movie feel about it, which limits its target audience.

Garrison Keillor - The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes - Buy from Amazon
A documentary look at radio celebrity Garrison Keillor, who is best known for his program A Prairie Home Companion, which was turned into a movie of the same name. Fans of the man or the movie will likely find something to enjoy here, but the lack of extras is disappointing.

Kath & Kim - Season One - Buy from Amazon
This is the US version of the show, and stars Selma Blair and Molly Shannon, but calling it season one isn't quite accurate. It isn't the first season; it is the only season. The show was canceled, and for good reason. It's a pale imitation of the original, and the original does not feature the kind of comedy that would translate well to American network TV. If you liked the original, stick with the original. If you never saw the original, wait for that one to come out on DVD instead.

Knowing - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The latest from Nicolas Cage, who has had a very schizophrenic career. For every National Treasure, he has a couple of Wicker Men at the box office. For every high quality Adpatation he's in, he drops a Bangkok Dangerous on audiences. This film fits nicely in his average in terms of box office and critical response, which is to say its reviews were weak but it still managed to become a mid-level hit. Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary, a making-of featurette, and a featurette trying to convince the audience that prophecies of the apocalypse are real. (Groan. Movies like this are escapist entertainment. Trying to convince me they are real is counter-productive, and an insult to my intelligence.) There are no additional extras on the Blu-ray, but at least they are presented in High Definition. This is the kind of movie that has enough visuals to thrive in High Definition, but it costs 60% more, which is simply too much. Then again, it's merely a rental, so the purchase price is immaterial here.

Matlock - Season Three - Buy from Amazon
This season has a lot more "To Be Continued..." episodes than I remember seeing on TV. Maybe when the show is syndicated, they don't bother with those episodes, because they just annoy fans.

Season three was a year of change for this series, some good, some bad. On the good side, it marks the reunion of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, as the latter appears on the first episode of the season as Matlock's new neighbor, who immediately requires a good lawyer after being accused of killing a used car dealer who sold him a lemon. (A DeLorean!) On the other hand, it is also the last season with Kene Holliday, who left the show for "personal reasons." Of the 20 episodes on this 5-disc set, all are worth checking out, and most have good replay value. (The murder-mystery genre does limit replay value, but they are still fun to see a second time.) Highlights include The Thief, a two-part story where Matlock is forced to hire a private investigator who has important evidence that is required to defend his client, much to the dismay of Tyler. The Other Woman features Nana Visitor in one of three appearances on the show. On the other end of the spectrum, The Thoroughbred is thoroughly skippable.

Sadly, there are no extras on the DVD, nor are there any subtitles. There are "Play All" buttons and proper chapter placements, but that's it in terms of DVD authoring.

Matlock is the kind of show that you can watch repeatedly, but not necessarily the kind of show you need to see on DVD. After all, you could catch random episodes on syndication and it would be just fine. Because of that, I really wish there were extras on the DVD releases, as it would make it a lot easier to recommend purchasing. The quality of the show is enough to say Season Three is worth buying over just renting, but I can't be enthusiastic as I would like.

Murder, She Wrote - Season 10 - Buy from Amazon
Wow. Ten seasons in and this show was still going strong. And we still have two more seasons to go. While it is a good show, the DVDs are lacking and the Murder Mystery genre does limit replay value somewhat. For many fans, they are must-haves and if you have collected the show thus far, there's no reason to stop now.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 - XV - Buy from Amazon
The four movies ripped apart in this volume are The Robot Vs. The Aztec Mummy, The Girl In Lovers Lane, Zombie Nightmare, and Racket Girls. And the extras include some behind the scenes interviews, and more. This includes the earliest produced episode to be released on DVD (The Robot Vs. The Aztec Mummy) and for many that will be reasons enough to buy. (That's not an insult to the other three episodes, by the way, as they are all worth repeat viewing.) Easily worth picking up.

NHL 2009 Championship - Pittsburgh Penguins - Buy from Amazon
On the one hand, I like the Pittsburgh Penguins and have been a fan of the team since before they drafted Mario Lemieux. Yes. Back when they sucked. I would have rather the Canucks won, but that's another story. As for this DVD release, I'm not happy. A single-disc retrospective is not what real fans want. What real fans want is full games. This is doubly so, as the Stanley Cup finals was epic this year.

Near Dark - Buy from Amazon
A vampire flick from the mid-80s that has some cult following. It's being released on DVD before, but if this one has slipped below your radar screen, it's worth checking out. For fans of vampire movies, it might even be worth a blind buy.

Night Train - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Every once and a while I come across a movie that is nearly impossible to review. This is one such movie. There are elements that are either there to enhance the film's sense of style, or just poorly done. For instance, the CG train and snow we see in the movie is obviously fake, and no one can argue otherwise. However, one could argue that it is obviously fake because the producers could not afford to pay an FX company enough to make it look real. Or they could argue it is intentionally fake looking in order to create a sense of "unreality" that is essential to the mood of the film. Having watched the movie twice, I still don't know which side is correct.

The film starts with a train pulling up to a remote station with Miles and another conductor getting out to check on the it. Inside one of the cars a medical student, Chloe, reads over her textbook, while a salesman, Peter, sleeps off the aftereffects of his Christmas party. Just before the train departs, a man comes running up in the snowy night looking for a ride. He doesn't appear to speak English and is acting rather suspiciously (especially concerning a package he is carrying) but Miles lets him on without paying, expecting to get his money before the next stop. But before that can happen, he overdoses on pills and suffers a fatal heart attack. Miles goes to report this death to the authorities, but before he can, Peter peaks inside the mysterious package and sees gems worth at least $5 million. The three decide to dispose of the body and split the gems, but this becomes more complicated when they try to make sure the rest of the passengers don't find out. And this becomes much more complicated when they find out some of the passengers are not what they seem, and are on the train specifically to retrieve this mysterious package.

This is a film that has a very Noir style to it and it borrows heavily from such films as Maltese Falcon and the works of Alfred Hitchcock. These are not bad places to go if you are looking for inspiration. Additionally, the movie feels very much like a play with its limited sets and cast, so much so that I thought the screenplay might be based on a play. This could be intentional as a way of making the film seem "off" and therefore enhancing the atmosphere and the mood. Or it could be bad writing. There is also an otherworldly aspect to much of the story, including a supernatural aspect to this package everyone is willing to kill for, which could explain some of the less plausible aspects of the plot. Or again, it could be bad writing. The acting is also "otherworldly," for lack of a better word. The film is populated with characters that act weird, but as reveals are made, some of this weirdness is explained. Or maybe I'm being too generous to the film, and the characters are just too shallow and poorly conceived. I flat out refuse to believe this was all the result of mistakes made by the cast and crew, but could it all be part of a master plan? Probably not. The real answer is most likely somewhere in the middle. As for the end result, it is something that some will want to watch over and over again, but others will have trouble getting through just once. For that reason, I recommend renting, but maybe bring a back-up, just in case.

Extras on the DVD are a little on the light side with just a 23-minute making-of featurette and 28-minutes of interviews.

I do not have the Blu-ray, but a little of bit of research shows there are no exclusive extras, nor are the extras presented in High Definition. That said, the Blu-ray costs less, substantially less, and it is the better deal.

Night Train is a movie that has to be seen to be judged accurately, which makes this review rather pointless. (At least I can admit when I'm stumped as a critic.) I definitely recommend renting, and if you are really interested in buying, the Blu-ray is the better deal.

Nursery University - Buy from Amazon
A documentary look at the ultra-competitive word of ... pre-school applications. The film only earned mixed reviews and struggled at the box office, but it is worth checking out for fans of documentaries.

One Missed Call 3 - Final - Buy from Amazon
A group of kids received cursed images over their cell phones, and if they don't pass them on to another person, they will become the next victims of the curse. Isn't this called a chain letter? I can't find the idea of a cursed chain letter scary. Then again, with so many similar films in the J-Horror genre, it's more and more difficult to find the plots to any of them truly scary.

Peanuts - 1960's Collection - Buy from Amazon
This collection includes A Charlie Brown Christmas, It's the Great Pumpkin, and four other TV specials. Extras include a documentary featurette, while the price is hard to beat at $20 for six specials.

Petticoat Junction - The Official Season Two - Buy from Amazon
Official Season Two? What does that mean? It's simple really. The first two seasons were released on DVD already, because the home market rights were owned by another company. However, while they owned the home market rights, they didn't own the original masters, so the audio and video quality was poor. Now that problem is solved and it is being re-released. Is it worth the double-dip?

(On a side note, Amazon currently has this DVD coming out on January 7th, 2001. This is obviously a mistake. Hopefully it will be corrected soon.)

As noted in the lyrics to the theme song, Petticoat Junction is a show about the residents of the Shady Rest Inn, which is at the Petticoat Junction in a town called Hooterville. The inn is run by a widow named Kate, who has help from her uncle, Uncle Joe. He doesn't help out as much as he plans his next scheme / scam while trying to avoid work. Also noted in the lyrics, there are lots of curves, mostly supplied by Kate's three daughters: Billie Jo (Jeannine Riley), Bobbie Jo (Pat Woodell), and Betty Jo (Linda Kaye). Billie Jo is the eldest, and entering the workplace (much to the horror of her mother, especially when she becomes the typist to an author who writes "risqué" novels). Bobbie Jo is the middle child and the most academic, although she wants to be a singer. Betty Jo is the youngest and the most athletic; in fact, she's a bit of a tomboy. New this season what a canine actor named Higgins, who also played the original Benji. In this show he plays a dog named... well... Dog. An extremely intelligent dog who plays as a rival for Uncle Joe. On the other hand, this was the last season for both Jeannine Riley and Pat Woodell; in fact, they don't make an appearance in a number of episodes this season.

There are several excellent episodes on this 5-disc collection, including Bedloe's Nightmare, in which Homer Bedloe's attempts to shut down the Hooterville Cannonball, the train that services the Shady Rest and practically nothing else, drives him to nightmares. His therapist says he needs to learn to love the train if he is to ever get a good night's sleep. In Hooterville Crime Wave Uncle Joe gets his first chance to use his bounty hunter's license when two escaped prisoners come to Hooterville and hide out at the Shady Rest. The two-part Bedloe's Most Fiendish Scheme and Bedloe Gets His Comeuppance has Homer Bedloe trying to foreclose on the Shady Rest inn, which means Uncle Joe and the girls have to get outside jobs to raise the money for the mortgage. In Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Jinx? Uncle Joe develops a reputation as a jinx, but instead of letting this get him down, he decides it's a great way to make money. Finally, there's The Umquaw Strip, which has Homer Bedloe trying to shut down the Hooterville Cannonball after he finds out part of the train tracks are on Indian land. This could have been a really horrible episode with really racist stereotypes of Native Americans. The portrayal of the father and son Indian duo is really stereotypical at first, but we learn that it is all just an act, and that the son is a university grad and is just trying to help his tribe earn some money so they can be self-sufficient. Granted, the two "Indians" are not played by Native American actors, but this was the 1960s, so that's not surprising.

Extras on the 5-disc set include... Wow! There are actually extras. Usually CBS releases like this have nothing. Here we get intros to all 38 episodes by Pat Woodell and / or Linda Kaye, as well as an interview featurette with the two actresses. It's not a huge amount, but it is much more than expected.

The two Black & White seasons of Petticoat Junction are public domain and have been released on DVD a number of times. However, they have never looked as good as they do on The Official Season Two DVD, nor have they had any extras. If you are a fan of the show, it is worth picking up. If you have never seen the show, check it out.

Power Rangers RPM - Volume 1 - Start Your Engines - Buy from Amazon
The latest Power Rangers series to make it to the United States. This one is based on Engine Sentai Go-onger and has a Terminator-like feel to it. (The team is trying to protect the world from an computer AI gone wild in a post apocalyptic world. I should be getting the DVD very soon, so hopefully I will have a full spotlight review for next week.

Prodigy - Buy from Amazon
Wow. This DVD cover sure makes it clear they are trying to go after the same audience as Kung Fu Panda. You almost have to admire the shameless nature of it. Extras are better than expected for this type of release (interview, deleted scenes, making of featurettes, etc.) but I would still stick with Kung Fu Panda.

Push - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Buy from Amazon
A Sci-fi thriller that failed to connect with audiences or critics. The DVD has an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, and a short featurette trying to convince us psychic powers are real. (Groan, again.) The Buy from Amazon has no additional extras and costs 45% more than the DVD, which is too much. That said, it is not worth buying, it's barely, barely worth renting, and that's only if you are fan of the genre, so the price difference matters very little.

Reno - 911! - Season Six - Buy from Amazon
The show ended season five as it does most seasons, not knowing if there will be a season six. Season six starts off referencing that fact, but the joke may finally be on them, as so far the show has not yet been renewed for a seventh season. If this is the last season, does it go out on a high?

The first thing to note is the cast changes from last season. Three officers did not return this year: Deputy Clementine Johnson, Deputy James Garcia, and Deputy Cherisha Kimball. Two officers joined the cast: Sergeant Jack Declan and Deputy Frank Rizzo. The show is not quite the same, as the chemistry is a little off. This is made worse by the fact that they are pushing the new characters at the expense of the established ones. Most of the episodes still have funny bits to them, and a lot of the recurring characters are back (including Patton Oswald). The hit to miss ratio has taken a hit this season, and if it turns out to be the last, I won't be that surprised. After all, they've been expecting the show to be canceled at the end of every season so far.

Extras on the 2-disc set include audio commentary tracks on eight of the 15 episodes. There are also uncut scenes, profiles on the two new characters, and a couple of commercials featured in the series.

A lot of long-term fans of Reno - 911! were not happy with the changes that happened in Season Six and this could spell the end of the show. That said, if you have purchased the previous five seasons, it makes sense to complete the collection. The drop-off in quality is there, but it is not catastrophic and it is still funny enough to be worth picking up.

Resolved - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about debating. Okay, that doesn't sound like the most exciting topic in the world, but there is a lot of drama in this world. For one thing, the world of debate has changed from trying to come up with a convincing argument to winning and nothing else. It is much easier to overwhelm your opponents with lots and lots of facts than it is to come up with a logical sound argument. So that's what debaters started to do, but with a limited amount of time, the debaters that could speak the fastest had the advantage, and now top-ranked debaters speak at 300 to 400 words per minute. It's so bad, that most people who are not familiar with modern debates can't even understand what the participants are saying. This movie looks at two teams, including one that looks at changing the system back to its ideal, and it is a fascinating movie to watch. Definitely worth checking out. I can't find any information on extras, but even so, it's likely worth picking up for fans of the genre.

Ruby - A Journey to Lose the First 100 Lbs. - Buy from Amazon
A Reality TV series about a woman trying to lose weight, a lot of weight. As someone who recently lost a lot of weight, I can empathize with her, but if my experience is any indication, losing the first 150 pounds is easy compared to losing that last 10 pounds. This show could be good inspiration for those looking to start a diet, but I worry that it will be a very, very unrealistic look at the weight-loss process, as few people have the support and a TV show when it comes to losing weight. After all, if you hire a nutritionist, it's a lot easier to make wise food choices.

Third Watch - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
Season One of this show came out more than a year ago, which suggests that if this season doesn't sell well, season three might not come out for a long, long time. The lack of extras could explain why they are not selling as well as the studio would like, but if you want season three to come out, this is likely as good as it will get.

The Unborn - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
One of several horror films that came out this past January. The film was panned by critics but still became a solid mid-level hit, especially when you take into account its production budget. The only extras on the DVD are some deleted scenes, while the Blu-ray is BD-Live enabled, but costs 50% more, which is too much to ask. Then again, with reviews that are only 12% positive, it's not worth a rental so it doesn't matter.

Universal Collection - Buy from Amazon: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Beau Geste, Lonely are the Brave, Trail of the Lonesome Pine
Four movies ranging in age from 73 years old Trail of the Lonesome Pine) to a mere 47 years old (Lonely are the Brave). The newest movie is the best known today, no real surprise there, but it is also arguably the best and the only DVD of the four with real extras. Granted, it only has two short featurettes, but that's better than nothing. Fans of cinema from the 1930s and 1940 will want to check out the others as well, perhaps even buy them, but I can't be too enthusiastic due to the lack of extras.

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Filed under: Video Releases, Knowing, The Unborn, Push, Nursery University, Night Train