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DVD Releases for July 28th, 2009 - Part II

July 28th, 2009

We are starting to see the flood of TV on DVD releases that hit the home market this time every year. It makes sense: after all, what better time to release the previous season on DVD than just before the next season starts? Three such releases, The Middleman - The Complete Series, Battlestar Galactica - The Complete Series - Blu-ray Box Set, and Dollhouse - Season One - on DVD or Blu-ray are in contention for DVD Pick of the Week. The Battlestar Galactica release is a tad too expensive for most people, while I am unsure of the exact nature of the extras on Dollhouse. That leaves The Middleman - The Complete Series as the DVD Pick of the Week, for the second week in a row. With the increasing number of TV on DVD releases, the list is large enough that it has to be split into two parts with part one found here.

A River Runs Through It - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
I saw a review describing this movie as one of the greatest fishing movies ever made. That seems like damning it with faint praise in two ways. Firstly, how many fishing movies can there be? Secondly, this really isn't a movie about fishing, it is a movie about family, using fishing as a metaphor.

The film starts out with the director, Robert Redford, speaking as the adult Norman Maclean about how in his family fishing and religion were one and the same. We then see Norman as a young boy (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and how his Reverend father (Tom Skerritt) raised him and his younger brother, Paul, to revere fishing. Flash forward to just after World War I and Norman and Paul are young men who have a falling out resulting in the two men going in different directions. Norman goes off to university and becomes a teacher, while Paul becomes a drunk and a gambler. The meat of the movie takes place during their adults years and looks at the conflicting personalities / obvious bonds of these two men. Fly-fishing is one such bond,

This movie earned impressive reviews, but not so impressive that it can be considered one of the all-time greats. It earned three Oscar nominations, but only won for Best Cinematography, losing out for Best Score and Best Adapted Screenplay. The only result that surprises me looking back was Tom Skerritt being overlooked for Best Supporting Actor. In my mind, his performance was the best in the movie. (Although I've read others who think Brad Pitt was the best and others that say Craig Sheffer was the heart and soul of the movie.) Some of the film was a little too emotionally manipulative. There's a fine line between being emotional and emotionally manipulative, and for the most part the film avoids those pitfalls, but there are times it steps over. That said, for many, the cinematography alone is worth watching the movie. And it shines in High Definition, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. It is definitely a movie that should be seen by more people, and many who do will like it enough to want to own it.

The previous DVD release was ... Less than acceptable, especially for one being called a Deluxe Edition, and had no real extras on the DVD. What changes have been made for the Blu-ray? First of all, there is a making of featurette called Deep Currents: Making A River Runs Through It, which runs 30 minutes long and details the creation of the book, how Robert Redford gained the rights, and finally how they made the film. An excellent featurette with high replay value. The Blackfoot Challenge: Rescuing A River runs half as long and is about the Blackfoot River, which is in serious ecological danger, but there are a group who are trying to save it called The Blackfoot Challenge. There is a six-minute featurette on Fly-Fishing for beginners. (On a side note, I don't like 'Catch and Release.' I like 'If you catch it, you eat it.' If you have more fish than you can eat, stop fishing so much.) There are seventeen deleted scenes that have a total running time of just over 16 minutes, so there are not a lot here for each scene. Several are definitely worth checking out, on the other hand. Finally, there are four scenes of the Blackfoot River filmed in High Definition that you can watch with or without the score. It's like one of those Scenic Views Blu-rays that you can use to show off your system. Admittedly, they are beautiful scenes, but I'm not sure I'll watch any of the four scenes again. (Also, the disc is BD-Live enabled, but there are no exclusive extras online at the moment.) In addition to the extras on the disc, there is a booklet built into the Blu-ray case that has production notes, images, essays, etc. I'm a bit upset that there's no audio commentary track, but the extras we do get are stellar, for the most part.

As for the film's technical presentation... Wow, this movie looks amazing at times. The fishing scenes especially look amazing, and the Oscar-winning cinematography shines in this movie. There are scenes that look a little more average, but overall I'm very happy with the video. The audio is a little more on the average side, and I'm still waiting for a movie that really pushes my surround sound system.

A River Runs Through It's debut on Blu-ray is a little more expensive than I am willing to pay most catalogue Blu-ray releases are. In fact, it's about twice as expensive. (Generally, I'm only willing to pay $10 to $15 for shovelware.) However, it is not just a catalogue release, as there are extras that are exclusive to this DVD, and the extras are all presented in high definition and includes some that can only be done on Blu-ray. Because of that, the Blu-ray is worth picking up.

Repulsion - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Catherine Deneuve stars as a young women left alone in her sister's apartment over the weekend and who is tormented by spirits. Or perhaps she's just going mad. It is that ambiguity, as well as the film's atmosphere that make it such an effective horror film. The DVD has an audio commentary track, a couple of documentaries, and a booklet. The Blu-ray has no exclusive extras, but actually costs less over on Amazon.com at the moment.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 30th of June. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in this review.

Secret Diary of a Call Girl - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
Billie Piper returns as Hannah / Belle. Hannah is her real name, but professionally she is known as Belle, and Belle's profession is high class call girl. At the end of season one, which I reviewed previously, Belle had a major change in her professional life. She was accepted as part of a high class society of sorts that caters to incredibly wealthy men who want calls girls on call 24 hours a day for up to several months at a time. However, while this could be seen as the pinnacle of her profession, she quickly grew bored with her new life and returns to her old.

Season two starts with a couple of new characters joining the mix, Alex and Bambi. Alex is played by Callum Blue and is Hannah's new romantic interest. While Ashley Madekwe plays Bambi, an inexperienced A HREF=http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/series/Prostitution.php>call girl, who looks to Belle for guidance. Both of these people help change the direction of the show somewhat, as we are less involved with the ... I was going to say, 'the ins and outs of the prostitution business', but that's probably the worst way I could describe it. Season one is a lot like the early seasons of The X-Files, in that it felt like a 'Freak-of-the-Week' show. We are introduced to one aspect of prostitution each week. 'This week on Secret Diary, we learn about S&M Clubs.' This season deals a lot more with the personal and emotional side of Hannah / Belle's life and this is an improvement, and I liked the first season.

Extras are also somewhat better this time around. Over on disc one of the two-disc set there is an 8-minute interview with Billie Piper, while over on disc two there are 8 'Webisodes' that run a total of 14 minutes. That's not a lot for each episode, but some are quite fun (mostly the ones with Bambi).

Secret Diary of a Call Girl carries more emotional depth in Season Two, which should please fans of the show. Those who rejected it sight unseen based on the raunchy subject matter should give it a try, they will likely be pleasantly surprised.

Severed Ways - Buy from Amazon
This film opened with weak reviews and never really found an audience during its limited release. That said, it is worth checking out, even if it is just for a rental.

Sita Sings the Blues - Buy from Amazon
An animated movie depicting the Indian legend tale of Ramayana set to 1920s jazz. You can actually download the movie for free online... legally. (The website has a list of sources.) However, the DVD has an audio commentary track and other extras. It's worth buying to get these extras, and to support the filmmakers.

The Spectacular Spider-Man - Season One - Buy from Amazon
This is a strange DVD for me to review, as it is merely comprised of the four previous volumes of the animated series combined into one 2-disc set. However, while I reviewed Attack of the Lizard in September and volumes two and three in April, the fourth volume never made it to me. (Never figured out why that happened.) So this review deals mostly with the last four episodes starting with...

  • Persona - After the events of The Uncertainty Principle, Peter Parker is eager to take a peak at the alien life form that attached itself to the space shuttle. However, he's not the only one and he runs into The Black Cat attempting to steal it. In the fight, he becomes bonded to the alien ooze, and any fan of Spider-man knows what that means. In the meantime, the Chameleon starts dressing up as Spider-man and committing a one-man crime spree in order to destroy his reputation.
  • Group Therapy - Tired of losing to Spider-man, Electro, Dr. Octopus, Rhino, Shocker, The Vulture, and Sandman team up to form the Sinister Six, a group dedicated to destroying Spider-man at any cost. But the will added power from the alien symbiote safe the day?
  • Intervention - As Peter Parker's life takes a turn for the worse, the alien symbiote becomes a little too attached to him, which could cause even more problems than the myriad of bad guys he has fought the first season.
  • Nature vs. Nurture - It's all been building to this. Fans of the comics and of the movies know what's going to happen, but if you don't, I'm not going to spoil it here.
As the season goes on, the episodes do get better, as there's less 'Freak of the Week' and the stories get more into the overall arc of the series. There's good action and the series is faithful to its roots, at least as far as I can tell (it's been a long, long time since I collected comics).

Extras on the two-disc set include two featurettes: Spider-Man - Reanimated and Stylizing Spidey. The former runs just over 14 minutes and talks about the how the show is created, which is more in-depth than I would have assumed given the target audience. The latter runs 8 minutes and deals with the style of the show, and not just the art, but also the storytelling.

Like I mentioned last time I reviewed The Spectacular Spider-ManM, I knew the full season set would be a better deal. That said, I didn't think it would be this much better. Not only are there two strong featurettes on this DVD, but the price is a fantastic compared to the four volumes. It's like buying one and getting the other three for more than 80% off the original price.

Streets of Blood - Buy from Amazon
Val Kilmer stars in yet another Direct-to-DVD release. What happened to his career? He's still a good actor, but this is not a good movie.

Super WHY! - Jack and the Beanstalk - Buy from Amazon
The latest DVD release from the Super WHY! TV series, which is a PBS series aimed at pre-schoolers to help them learn about the alphabet and basic spelling. This DVD includes the four episodes that deal the most directly with the main characters, starting with...
  • Jack and the Beanstalk - Whyatt's sister, Joy, is having a major tantrum, and he and the rest of the gang have to figure out why, and how to stop it. So they travel into Jack and the Beanstalk and meet Whyatt's brother, and the Giant.
  • The Princess and the Pea - Princess Pea, the daughter of the Princess in the titular story, she needs help solving a very big puzzle to help her pass her princess test. Otherwise she can't become a Junior Princess.
  • The Three Little Pigs - Pig is the youngest of the three Pig brothers who did battle with the big bad wolf. In the episode he is having problems with Jill destroying all of the buildings he is making out of blocks. He has to figure out why she's doing that, so they travel into The Three Little Pigs to find out why the Big Bad Wolf keeps destroying the house.
  • Little Red Riding Hood - Wolfie keeps trying to trick Pig by jumping out and scaring him. So the Super Readers go into the Little Red Riding Hood story to find a way to stop him.
This is an 'Ask and Pause' type show. Throughout the show the characters ask the viewers questions, and then pause for the answer. Each character has a certain 'power'; for instance, Pig builds stuff with letters and he asks the kids to sing the alphabet to get to the right letter. It's repetitive, like all similar shows, but not so much so that parents watching will suffer from extreme mental duress. Extras are limited to a few songs and some DVD-Rom games, but the DVD still represents very good value for the money, especially compared to other, similar releases.

Terry Jones Collection - Buy from Amazon
Monty Python alum, Terry Jones, has a knack for teaching history in an interesting way. I have never been disappointed in one of his shows. This collection has four of them, Ancient Inventions, The Hidden History of Egypt, The Hidden History of Rome, and The Surprising History of Sex & Love. Absolutely worth picking up. In fact, it is worth picking up even if you have half the shows on DVD already.

Torchwood - Children of Earth - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
There was a major change in format for this series this year, as they went from 12 standalone episodes to one five-part miniseries. Depending on who you talk to, this was either a complete success or a tragic mistake. The price-per-minute has actually gotten better, which is a bit of a surprise, while the special features are apparently a trade secret. Not even the press site has information about extras, which leads me to believe there are no extras. I find that hard to believe because this series, and the series it spun-off of (Doctor Who) are known for their impressive extras on the DVD releases. Also coming out this week is Torchwood - Season Two on Blu-ray, which has the same list price as the DVD does. It's very rare that that happens.

A Touch of Frost - Season 14 - Buy from Amazon
A great show, but there's an issue with the price. If you consider the 2-disc set as three TV movies, then the price is very good. If you think of it as three double-length episodes of a TV series, then the price is unacceptable for TV on DVD.


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Filed under: Video Releases, Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America, Streets of Blood