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DVD Releases for August 11th, 2009 - Part I

August 11th, 2009

It was a hard slog to get through the spotlight reviews this week. I live in Abbotsford, and this was the weekend of the Abbotsford Air Show and the constant stream of jets flying overhead made it nearly impossible to watch movies at times. (Do you know how loud you have to be to drown out Cutthroat Island?) As for this week's list of home market releases, there are a number that are worth picking up, but none that are must haves, and none rise to the level of DVD Pick of the Week. However, while there are no DVD Picks of the Week, there are enough reviews that the list had to be split into two with the second part found here.

17 Again - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The perfect example of mixed reviews. A lot of the critics who gave the film a positive review complained that the script was light on laughs and heavy on clichés, while a lot of the critics who gave the film a negative review praised Zac Efron's charm and ability to carry the movie. The Blu-ray costs close to 40% more than the DVD, but the latter has absolutely no extras while the former has deleted scenes, outtakes, a handful of featurettes, and a trivia track. The DVD is strictly a rental, so grab the Blu-ray if you are interested in buying.

90210 - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
Hell no. I hated the original and this one looks worse.

Adam 12 - Season Three - Buy from Amazon
One of the most realistic cop shows from its time (the late 1960s to mid 1970s). This is not surprising as it was created by Jack Webb, who was known to value realism over the "empty entertainment calories" of many other cop shows. This does mean it holds up better than many other shows of its day, but it is still shocking how primitive police work was just 40 years ago.

Alien Trespass - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
First a note, I only have the DVD at the moment. If / when I get the Blu-ray, I will update this review.

This movie has both a plot and a faux behind-the-scenes story. The faux behind-the-scenes story is that the film is a lost masterpiece by producer Louie Q. Goldstone and starring M. Eric McCormack (played by Eric McCormack) but a falling out between the two led Mr. Goldstone to destroy all copies of the movie before it was released. Now, 50 years later, a lost print of the movie has been discovered and we get to see it for the first time. This rather superfluous setup exists only to explain why the movie is an homage to B-movie Sci-Fi films of the 1950s without just saying it's an homage to B-movie Sci-Fi films of the 1950s.

The plot of Alien Trespass is simple enough. Aliens crash on Earth, one is called the Ghota and is a ravenous killer that will eat and divide until it has destroyed all life on Earth. The other is called Urp, and it's goal is to capture the Ghota before it can divide, but in order to do so, it has to possess the body of Ted Lewis, an astrophysicist who was studying a meteor shower when the alien spacecraft first crashed. Now with the help of one of the residents of the small town, Tammy, and with the less than helpful assistance of skeptical sheriff, Vernon, Ted / Urp must defeat the Ghota and return to his home planet.

This movie earned weak reviews and utterly bombed during its limited release. The only time it did well on a per theater basis is when it had a special showing at the Fantasia Montreal Film Festival, which is a good way to judge its appeal. If you are interested in genre films like this, then it might be worth checking out; otherwise, stay far, far away. It's a loving homage to a type of film that just isn't made anymore, and for good reason. The special effects are cheesy, the dialogue is corny, the delivery is heavy-handed, the climax is anti-climatic, etc. However, if you grew up with these movies, you will laugh along with the film, which is what the filmmakers intended.

Extras on the DVD start with the ability to watch the movie with or without the introduction. The introduction basically gives the setup I mentioned above and adds a bit to the overall enjoyment of the film. Watch the Skies has the main cast of the movie talking about the film, as if the setup was real. For instance, they talk about how their relatives were the stars of the movie, which is why they look so much like them. Meet the Person is another faux special feature that treats the film as a real historical picture. Here we see an interview with M. Eric McCormack done during the making of Alien Trespass. Continuing this theme is Breaking News and Live News Update, which tells how the print was discovered. Finally, there's a real interview with director, R.W. Goodwin, and the star, Eric McCormack.

I do not have the Blu-ray, but it only costs $4 more, so even if there are no additional extras, and I don't know if it does or not, but even if it doesn't, it's still worth paying the extra amount.

If you've seen The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and liked it, you will almost assuredly like Alien Trespass. Granted, this movie has a much higher budget (I would assume the Ghota cost more to make than The Lost Skeleton's total budget) but it has the same feel. It's a loving homage to a bygone era, and it's a great amount of fun. For a low-budget limited release, both the DVD and the Blu-ray have plenty of extras (but sadly no audio commentary track) and for fans there's enough replay value here to be worth picking.

America's Test Kitchen - Season Nine - Buy from Amazon
This food show not only talks about specific recipes, but also the best deals on the featured ingredient(s) and tools for your kitchen. Definitely worth checking out for fans of the genre and worth picking up for fans of the show.

Are You Being Served? - The Complete Collection - Buy from Amazon
A 14-disc Megaset featuring all 69 episodes from its ten season run. Compared to the prices of the individual releases, this set is a steal and it is definitely worth picking up if the price tag scared you away the first time. However, it is not worth the double-dip.

The Art of War III - Retribution - Buy from Amazon
The first film sucked. The second film went direct-to-DVD. And now they are putting out a third. This one could only be worth checking out as a fluke, as there's nothing in the franchise's history to suggest otherwise.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 28th of July. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Bad Lieutenant - Buy from Amazon
Bad Lieutenant is a rather notorious film from the early 1990s starring Harvey Keitel. It was written to be an NC-17 film, which meant it was never going to be a mainstream hit. But will audiences be receptive to this latest DVD offering?

Harvey Keitel stars as an unnamed police lieutenant working on a case involving two youths who raped a nun. But this isn't a movie about a police case and the effects of crime. This is a movie about Harvey Keitel's character, who is a bad cop. He's a drug user, a drug dealer, a thief, and worse. We watch him solicit prostitutes, steal from criminals, do drugs (repeatedly), drink too much (repeatedly), sexually harass two young ladies he stops for a traffic violation, and slowly get into so much gambling debt that his life is nearly forfeit. While investigating this nun's rape, he learns that she doesn't want them prosecuted, because she forgives them, and this sets him off on an emotional and moral journey where he has to seek redemption. But will it be too late?

Without Harvey Keitel's performance, this movie would have been an unmitigated disaster. With his performance, the movie is very flawed and lacks the emotional weight needed to be worth enduring. And you don't just watch the movie, you have to endure it. First of all, I hated this character, because as far as I could tell, he had no redeeming qualities. When he had his big emotional scene in the church where he's talking to Jesus Christ asking what to do, I just didn't care. I had no emotional response to this scene, because I didn't care what happened to the character. Your main character doesn't have to be perfect; in fact, a flawed hero is more compelling than a perfect one. However, if your lead character is 100% repugnant, like he is here, then there no reason for the audience to ... well ... give a damn. Maybe it's just me, but I don't go into movies automatically caring about what happens to the main character, just cause they are the main character. I have to be convinced that they are worth caring about, and this never happened here. We don't know how he became what he is, so we can't tell if there was some trauma that set him off, or if he was just a worthless human being. If it is the latter, I have no interest in what happens to him. Then again, I hold a minority opinion here, so keep that in mind.

Extras on the "Special Edition" DVD include a three-part making of featurette that runs just over 30 minutes long. It's broken up into the pre-production, the filming, and the film's "post production." While the last section is called Post Production, it is mostly about the film's reception with critics and audiences.

Bad Lieutenant is being remade and that film will be released later this year, so it makes sense that this film is being re-released on DVD. For fans of (unrelentingly) gritty movies, Bad Lieutenant has its strengths. But for most people, it's a movie they won't enjoy. Even those who like the movie probably don't enjoy it. The Special Edition DVD does have a 30-minute making-of featurette that adds enough insight into the movie that it is worth checking out for many, picking up for some.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: 17 Again, About Last Night, Alien Trespass, Bad Boy Bubby, Blue Thunder, Borneo's Pygmy Elephants, Chaos, The Class, Cutthroat Island, Donkey X, Eagles over London, Full Metal Panic! - The Second Raid Box Set, Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue - Music Experience in 3-Dimensional Sound Reality, I Love You, Man, A Kingdom for Dzanga Gorillas, The Ninth Gate, Replicant, Sea Monsters - A Prehistoric Adventure - 3D, See No Evil, St. Elmo's Fire, Starman, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Collection
A strong mix of different types of Blu-ray releases this week, including a couple first run releases, a few limited releases, and a lot of catalog titles. Of these, none jump out as must-haves, which means it could be a slow week in sales for the format. That said, is should be a slow week in DVD sales as well, so the sales ratios won't be hurt. On a side note, every time I try and type the word Blue, as in Blue Thunder, I type Blu instead. An occupational hazard, I guess.

Bounty - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray / DVD Combo
A direct-to-DVD Western written, directed, produced, and edited by Jared Isham, who is making his debut in all four jobs. Not sure why the Blu-ray / DVD Combo is so expensive, but maybe when the official site is back online, there will be some information there.

Chaos - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Made in 2004, but not released until 2008. Now being released on Blu-ray. Strange trip.

Jason Statham and Ryan Phillippe star as Quentin and Shane, two cops working in Seattle. Quentin's the grizzled veteran who is used to bending the rules, and who is just coming off a suspension after a violent incident where someone died. Shane is an educated rookie, whose dad was a legend in the force, but who is trying to get by on his abilities and not his legacy. They are teamed up to catch Lorenz, the leader of a team of high tech criminals who have robbed a bank in an explosive manner. Now the pair have to catch the criminals before the big twist is revealed.

Like I said, this movie was made in 2004 and sat on a studio shelf for four years before being dumped direct-to-DVD in 2008. Normally this would be a horrible sign, but this movie isn't that bad. Granted, it is not a great movie, but compared to most direct-to-DVD releases, it is more than entertaining enough to be worth checking out. There are a few plot points that feel a little forced, and perhaps the surprise twist isn't all that surprising, but there's enough action and suspense to keep you interested.

As for the extras on the Blu-ray, they are a little more mixed. There is an audio commentary track with the director who fills the track with enough information and has enough energy to make the track worth checking out. (On a side note, while talking about reviews, he makes a snide remark about some critics liking Cutthroat Island. Coincidentally, I'll be reviewing that Blu-ray next.) There is also a 12 minute making-of featurette that's the usual mix of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie. As for the film's High Definition presentation, I was impressed. The video is strong, while the audio is among the first 7.1 tracks I've had the pleasure to review. For a bargain price, this was better than expected.

As a movie, Chaos is a solid rental, but for most there's not enough replay value to elevate it above that level. The Blu-ray is well below the price of most. In fact, at just $14, it is cheaper than a lot of DVDs, and that might be enough for many to lift it to the purchase level.

The City - Season One - Buy from Amazon
A spin-off of The Hills. ... Next.

The Class - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
This film earned an Oscar nomination and even won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Foreign Language Film. And it deserved all the accolades. Extras on the DVD include audio commentary track on two scenes and a making of featurette. The Blu-ray has this, plus a look at the actor's workshop and the student bios. However, the Blu-ray also costs 56% more. For a lot of people, that will be too much for the upgrade. Don't get me wrong, it is worth buying, but for most the DVD is the better deal.

Cutthroat Island - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Widely regarded as one of the most expensive bombs of all time. This film is coming out on Blu-ray this week, but has time been kind to the movie?

The film focuses on two groups of pirates, one led by Morgan Adams, the daughter of a legendary pirate who helped capture the largest pirate treasure of all time, with the help of his two brothers. However, the other team is led by her uncle, Dawg Brown, who has killed the other two brothers and is on the search for the final piece of the map needed to find the treasure. Morgan Adams, meanwhile, has that piece of the map, and with the help of an educated slave named William Shaw, they must stay ahead of her uncle while trying to find the treasure before the rest of the crew mutiny or before the authorities catch them.

The obvious question to ask about this movie is... Is it as bad as its reputation? No. Then again, it is considered one of the biggest bombs of all time, and that's not the worst part. It has the reputations of destroying a studio (Carolco Pictures), nearly ending two careers, killing a genre, and perhaps even ending a marriage. There's no way it could be as bad as it's reputation, but it certainly isn't good. It tries hard to be a rousing adventure on the high seas, but it tries way too hard. Nothing in this film feels natural, not the cast, not the dialogue, not the pacing. Nothing. Not once did I feel Geena Davis was a real pirate from the 1600s. Everything she said and the way she said it made her feel like a modern woman. I don't know who is to blame for this, but it is likely a combination of the actor, the director, and the screenwriter. There are numerous other flaws present here, including one-liners that were meant to be witty flop badly. The chemistry between Geena Davis and Matthew Modine in non-existent. And the special effects feel horribly dated at times. The only one who comes out of this movie looking good is Michael Douglas, who reportedly was set to play William Shaw, but dropped out before production began.

The only kind thing I can say about the movie is that it is so over-the-top, that it can be entertaining at times. But even here, at more than two hours it will wear out most audience members long before the end credits roll.

Extras on the Blu-ray include just an audio commentary track and a short behind-the-scenes featurette, neither of which has a lot of replay value. The film does look good in High Definition, even if some of the special effects look rather dodgy by today's standard, while the 7.1 audio is impressive. Or impressively loud, depending on your point of view.

This is a movie that had a bad reputation and hasn't aged well at all. The genre was reinvigorated by Pirates of the Caribbean, and this film feels like a low-budget imitation of that film. Yes, I know it was made nearly a decade before that film and cost close to $100 million, but it still feels like a low-budget imitation when you watch it today. That said, at $14, it's hard for fans of Cutthroat Island to pass up the Blu-ray, but for most people who have never seen it, a rental will be enough.

Designing Women - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
The first season was released in May, the second season comes out this week, and while there's no word on a third season, I would assume it will come out soon. Perhaps before the end of the year.

Donkey X - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A retelling of the Don Quixote story from the perspective of Rucio, Sancho Panza's donkey. There are almost no reviews for this Spanish movie online, at least almost none in English, but from what I can piece together, the animation looks amazing at times, but there's little else here to enjoy. The character design seems 'borrowed' from Shrek and there are no extras on either version coming out this week.

The Final Inch - Buy from Amazon
A short documentary about the quest to eliminate Polio in India. It is only 38 minutes long, but it only costs $7.50, and $2 of that goes to a charity that is part of the quest to destroy Polio. Worth picking up on both accounts.

Gigantic - Buy from Amazon
An Indie comedy that suffers from an overabundance of quirkiness substituting for real humor. This is an issue with a lot of Indie comedies. Enough works that it is worth checking out, but with a DVD that only has three deleted / alternate scenes, a rental will be enough.

I Love You, Man - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
This is not a movie that opened particularly well at the box office during its opening weekend, but unlike so many films do these days, it held on extremely well becoming a solid midlevel hit. It is also one of several R-rated comedies that have done well these past few years. But how does it compare to the likes of The 40-Year Old Virgin and others?

The film tells the story of two relationships, the first between Peter and Zooey, who at the beginning of the movie get engaged. While trying to figure out who should be his best man, Peter realizes he never really had any guy friends growing up, and Zooey encourages to find a guy friend. After a few failed attempts, he meets Sydney, whose honest approach to life is a refreshing change from Peter's more conservative life. However, while at first Zooey is happy for Peter and supports his relationship with Sydney, the situation begins to change when Sydney's wild ways interferes with Peter's job, and woth Peter's relationship with Zooey. Strangest love triangle ever.

They call the relationship between Peter and Sydney a 'Bromance', which would mean this film is like a 'Bromantic comedy. However, that brings up one important question. Would you watch a romantic comedy were one of the leads was an obnoxious jerk? Given the reviews and its run at the box office, either I'm in the minority for thinking Sydney's a jerk, or it doesn't matter to most people. Then again, I will admit I laughed a lot at this movie, but mostly when he wasn't on the screen. (On a side note, apparently the character was modeled after Russel Brand.) It's a very funny movie filled with very funny actors (J.K. Simmons is seriously underrated) and I can easily recommend it to anyone who enjoyed such movies as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Wedding Crashers, etc. However, because of that character, I don't consider it one of the best of the genre and the replay value is more limited.

Moving onto the extras, the DVD has plenty starting with an audio commentary track with the director and the two leads. It's rather chatty and they certainly bring the energy, although it is also informative. Next up is a seventeen-and-a-half minute long making of featurette, which is the normal mixture of talking heads, clips from the movie, and behind-the-scenes footage. Extras has a collection of alternative takes for nine scenes. There are also six extended scenes, three deleted scenes, and just over 11 minutes of outtakes. A very solid line-up of extras.

As for the Blu-ray... It hasn't arrived yet. I hope to get it this week and I will update the review as soon as it does arrive. However, given the type of movie and the 44% increase in price, it better have something more, even if it is just a few additional deleted / extended scenes.

I Love You, Man is a very funny more hampered by a character I found annoying. It is still worth checking out, and the DVD is worth buying. I'm not so sure about the Blu-ray, but hopefully I'll be able to make that call after the screener arrives.

Katyn - Buy from Amazon
A Polish World War II drama that earned impressive reviews and even an Oscar nomination. However, despite its strong start, it never found an audience during its theatrical run. The DVD should do better and with an interview with the director and a featurette on the film's premiere in Poland, it is worth picking up over just renting.

The Last Resort - Buy from Amazon
The film starts with a few scenes filmed in a scratchy fashion, to show it took place a long time ago, in a resort in Mexico where a man cuts out of the tongue of a woman after (we assume) he cut off his own ears. Flash-forward to today, and we see a group of five friends arrive for a little Bachelorette partying at the beach. When four them go off with some 'tourist guides' they are robbed, one is shot, and they are left for dead, but they stumble their way to the resort we saw at the beginning of the film. Now it is up to Sophia (America Olivo) and a fellow American tourist, Rob (Nick Ballard) to find them before the evil from the past can destroy them.

The cover of this DVD has a woman in a bikini holding a bloody knife. Boy, do they know their target audience. This is a slice of 'Low Expectations Cinema' that offers nothing more than the offer than the prospect of Boobs and Blood. The issue here is the film tries to be too clever and doesn't just deliver what it is obviously promising with that cover. While at the resort, the evil causes the four friends to turn against each other and we watch as they bring up petty psychological traumas they suffered in the past. A woman has her tongue cut out at the beginning of the movie, so you complaining that your best friend is a little bossy is not compelling at this point. The film is barely more than an hour in length (not counting the credits) and it takes far too long for the plot to get going, and when it does it is just one cliché after another. Even on the limited front of Boobs and Blood, this film fails to deliver.

As for extras, there are none. The back of the DVD case even has "Widescreen Presentation" as a special feature, so you know there's nothing here.

America Olivo is in an upcoming movie called Bitch Slap. I don't expect that movie to be award-worthy, but it looks about 1000% better than this movie. The Last Resort promises little, but sadly fails to deliver even there, while the DVD is devoid of special features. I can't even rate it a rental.

The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle - Season One - Buy from Amazon
A British TV series starring Jennifer Saunders as the titular character, a nasty TV talk show host while Miranda Richardson plays her producer, Helena de Wend. The show was made in 2007, but they are just starting the second series now and hopefully it will continue.

London to Brighton - Buy from Amazon
Paul Andrew Williams wrote, directed, and produced this film, which is an adaptation of a short film he made called Royalty. After making this movie, he wrote and directed Cottage, which I reviewed previously. This film earned better reviews and will likely appeal to more people. Add in better extras (audio commentary track, making of featurette, deleted / alternate scenes) and it is worth buying over just renting.

We are about halfway done the list and the rest can be found here.


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Filed under: Video Releases, I Love You, Man, 17 Again, Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure, See No Evil, Entre les murs, Katyn, Alien Trespass, Gigantic, Chaos, London to Brighton, Bounty, Donkey X, The Last Resort