Follow us on

DVD Releases for September 15th, 2009 - Part II

September 15th, 2009

The Christmas shopping season starts early this year, as it seems to do every year. Only 15 days into September we have the first summer blockbuster of the year coming out. While X-Men Origins - Wolverine will easily be the biggest release of the week, it won't be the best. I think the best selections out there are from the TV on DVD categories, which is common this time of year, and I would rank Sanctuary - Season One and Transformers - Season Two - Volume One as the best of the best and both are my pick for the DVD Pick of the Week. There was a large number of spotlight reviews, including a trio that arrived late, so the list had to be split into two. The first part can be found here.

Primeval - Volume 2 (Season 3) - Buy from Amazon
A British TV series dealing an outbreak of temporal anomalies resulting in prehistoric creatures appearing all over England. Seasons one and two combined were only 13 episodes while season three was 10, so it kind of makes sense to sell them as volumes instead of seasons. Kind of. At least the price is nearly identical on a per minute basis, while the extras remain strong with audio commentary tracks and making of featurettes.

Private Practice - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
A spin-off of Grey's Anatomy. Grey's Anatomy jumped the shark this past season, but did the same happen to Private Practice?

Short answer... No. It was this bad season one.

This show is like Grey's Anatomy if you amped up the soap opera sex and toned down the medicine. Worse yet, replaced real medicine with touchy-feely crap like acupuncture. To be fair, some parts of the show improved this season, including giving Dr. Addison a bigger leadership role in the practice after she is voted as the new leader of Oceanside. By being the boss, she has to act like a grown-up, which is nice, because none of the rest of her co-workers are capable of doing that. Also, Dr. Charlotte King interacts with the group more after starting a practice of her own in the same building. This is a nice development for me, because Dr. Addison and Dr. Charlotte are the only two characters on the show I can watch without wanting to impale myself on my remote control.

Extras include a featurette / overview on season two, an interview with Chris Lowell, deleted / extended scenes, and outtakes. That's not a whole lot compared to most concurrent releases.

Private Practice - Season Two is arguably better than season one, but it still tilts too heavily to the soap opera end of the scale for my liking. It's not as bad as Desperate Housewives in terms of soapiness, but it's still too much for me to handle.

Sanctuary - Season One - Buy from Amazon
Started out as an internet program that was picked up by SyFy (I hate that name). The series stars Amanda Tapping of Stargate fame as Dr. Helen Magnus. Dr. Helen Magnus spends her days tracking down strange creatures, like Bigfoot, and taking them to Sanctuary for protection. That's an interesting twist, because in shows like this, they usually try to kill the strange creatures. Reviews have been excellent and those who are fans of Doctor Who, Torchwood, either Stargate, and other similar shows will want to check it out. As for the DVD, the extras are amazing with audio commentary tracks on all 13 episodes, as well as the webisodes, outtakes, and much more. Easily worth picking up for fans, and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Star Wars - The Clone Wars - Clone Commandos - Buy from Amazon
Skip it and wait for the full series set.

The Strawberry Shortcake Movie - Sky's the Limit - Buy from Amazon
A franchise that started in the 1980s and was relaunched in 2002 and has been going pretty strong since then. The latest in a long line of direct-to-DVD releases that have sold rather well, and I don't think this one will be any different.

Transformers - Season Two - Volume One - Buy from Amazon
First a note on the season being split into two volumes. Normally I hate it when they do this; however, while season one was only 16 episodes, season two was 49 episodes, so they could have split the season into three volumes and had the same price per minute, so this is actually a deal and not an obvious cash grab.

This show is firstly a commercial for the toys. Even the most hardcore fan will recognize that. So it comes as no surprise that just as new characters were introduced in season one, season two sees the introduction of several new Transformers, on both sides. The Autobots got Perceptor, Beachcomber, Cosmos, Tracks, as well as the massive Omega Supreme. The Decepticons had a number of new jets added to their ranks (Dirge, Ramjet, and Thrust) as well as the Triple Changers (Astrotrain and Blitzwing). Most of the new characters introduced by the end of season one make return appearances, including the Construticons, Insecticon, and of course the Dinobots. This does mean some of my favorite characters appear less frequently as a result (Jazz) and some of the new characters are either too close to old characters (the new jets hardly stand out, for instance) or are just annoying (Warpath). That said, the quality remains high throughout most of the series and there are several standout episodes, including the two-part Dinobot Island, which introduces many of the new characters. Another two-part episode featuring the Dinobots is Desertion of the Dinobots, and it is another highlight of the season. Unfortunately, the season starts of on a low note with Autobot Spike while another lowlight is A Decepticon Raider in King Arthur's Court, which is just plain goofy.

There are no real extras on the four-disc set, but you can watch the three two-part episodes as they were originally aired, or seemlessly as one long episode. Since you could argue Dinobot Island, Desertion of the Dinobots, and Megatron's Master Plan are among the three best episodes from this season, it's a nice touch. That said, are there no one from the cast or crew that you could ask to do audio commentary tracks? Hell, I bet there are really informed fans out there that would love to do that.

A lot of cartoons I liked as a kid are completely unwatchable today, as my taste in entertainment has become more refined. But going back to see these episodes and it is clear that they are better than the recent movies. I'm disappointed that Transformers - Season Two - Volume One doesn't have extras, but it is still absolutely worth picking up. Now if I could only find a mint Generation 1 edition of Jazz...

Trumbo - Buy from Amazon
A documentary on legendary screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who had his career killed by accusations of communism. The film earned great reviews, but never found an audience during its theatrical run. The DVD should perform better and does have a few extras (mostly additional footage) and it is worth picking up for fans of the genre and worth renting for others.

Truth Hall - Buy from Amazon
College friends reunite at a wedding, but the secrets of their past come to light. Not the most original setup for a movie and with no reviews it is hard to tell how well it is made, which is obviously more important than its originality at this point. However, if you are a part of the target demographic (African-American women) then it might be worth checking out.

The Ultimate Force of Four - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
I don't have the The Ultimate Force of Four box set to review. What I have is the four individual Blu-rays that make up the The Ultimate Force of Four box set and according to the studio press release, the only difference is the price. ... and the box.

The four films included are...

The Blind Swordsman - Zatoichi - Buy from Amazon
The Zatoichi franchise is one of the longest running in all of Japanese cinema history with more than two-dozen installments made, not to mention a TV series. The series had previously made an appearance domestically, sort of, as it served as the basis for blind fury. The Blind Swordsman - Zatoichi is either a remake or a re-booting of the franchise, depending on how you look at things.

In the film, Takeshi Kitano stars as the titular swordsman. Zatoichi pretends to be a helpless masseur when he wanders into town during the middle of a Yakuza war. He helps a poor farmer and her gambling addicted nephew, who are being crushed by the protection rates demanded by the gang. He also encounters a pair of traveling geisha sisters, who are on a mission for revenge. Like Four Dragons that I reviewed above, this film features a lot of CG blood, and it is also done for stylistic reasons. However, here is works. It works because the movie itself is simply better. There's a plot you can follow, characters you can care about, and the action scenes are as important to the plot as they are fun to watch. And they are very fun to watch.

Extras on the Blu-ray are rather light with just a behind-the-scenes featurette and an interview featurette. They are substantial featurettes clocking in at more than an hour combined, but I would have liked an audio commentary track, or perhaps something that pushed the technology more. Or at the very least, present them in high definition. The high definition looks good and but like the rest of the films in this box set, only the English language dub is fully High Definition while the original Japanese is a lossy Dolby Digital track.

Iron Monkey - Buy from Amazon
This film is set during the time of Imperial China when many people from the villages headed to cities hoping for protection from the criminals. However, instead they were oppressed by corrupt government officials. The story centers on Dr. Yang, who by day helps the sick and the poor for free by overcharging the rich. He has allies with the corrupt governor, because he treats the head guard, Master Fox, and his men who are injured by the criminal known as the Iron Monkey. However, Dr. Yang is the Iron Monkey, who along with his wife steal from the rich and give to the poor. One day another doctor, Wong Kei Ying, and his son arrive from outside, and because of the doctor's prowess with martial arts, he is immediately suspected of being the Iron Monkey and arrested. At his trial he, and his fellow defendants, are attacked by the Iron Monkey, thus clearing his name. The governor continues to hold his son, Wong Fei-hong, prisoner until he catches the master criminal. The people hate him for this and refuse to offer him food or shelter, everyone except Dr. Yang and his wife. Now Dr. Yang has to defend his alter-ego from Master Fox and his guards, Wong Kei Ying and his impressive martial arts talents, while trying to help his new friend free his son from jail.

I'm of two minds about this movie. On the one hand, the movie itself is excellent hitting the right balance of story and action. It has excellent fight scenes, characters that you can really care for (even the bumbling Master Fox), and enough humor to help emphasize the more dramatic moment. On the other hand, this Blu-ray only has the shorter American cut and only the English language track has any real oomph to it. Additionally, the only extras are two short interviews, presented in standard definition.

Jet Li's Hero - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Jet Li stars as the nameless hero to returns to the king triumphant in killing the kings three deadliest enemies: Sky, Flying Snow, and Broken Sword. He returns and tells the king the story of how he defeated the greatest fighters of the time, and what we get to witness is some of the most operatically choreographed fight scenes of all time. There's nothing else I can say about the movie without entering unacceptable spoiler territory, and this is a film that must bee seen.

As for the two releases, the DVD has the extras that were found on the previous edition, which include just a making of featurette, some interviews, and storyboards. It also has a new featurette on the making of the action scenes. The Blu-ray has these extras, but nothing exclusive, and none of it is presented in High Definition. Additionally, while the video is good and the film has never looked better on the home market, I was not blown away like I was expecting. For such a visually stunning movie, the video was only better than average for the format. And again, the audio is only lossless in English, and the original Mandarin is given a weaker Dolby Digital track. I have no idea why they would do this, but it has become a habit for the studio. One last note, the Blu-ray comes with a Digital Copy of the movie and if you are fan of these, as I am, it makes the Blu-ray the obvious choice.

Legend of the Drunken Master - Buy from Amazon
Jackie Chan stars as Wong Fei-hong. Some of you might be saying, 'Wait a minute. That name sounds familiar.' It's the name of the son in Iron Monkey, and that is not a coincidence, as both movies are based on the same Chinese folk hero legend. In the movie, Wong Fei-hong gets mixed up in a plot by members of the British consul to steal priceless Chinese artifacts and sneak them out of the country while Chinese nationalists are trying to prevent this. This is mostly immaterial and what really matters are the fight scenes. In the movie, Jackie Chan's character practices Zui Quan, a.k.a. Drunken Boxing, which is a form of martial arts where you pretend to be drunk while fighting. Pretend. However, he learns that when he's actually drunk, he fights better. You can see where this is going.

This is one of Jackie Chan's best movies, as it combined action and humor to a near perfect degree. It also has a degree of creativity that a lot of martial arts do not have, both in use of locations and in characters. For instance, the early fight under the train is still one of my favorite fight scenes of all time and the use of the cramped space is excellent. Even better are the fight scenes with Anita Mui, who plays Wong Fei-hong's step-mother. Being a traditional time in China, she's not allowed to learn martial arts, but without her husband's knowledge, she has become a master herself. In the fight scenes, she has to go from kicking ass to pretending to be helpless in seconds, all to keep up the illusion.

That's the good news, the movie is excellent. Now for the bad news... The Blu-ray is crap. It's the edited, English-only dub. You can listen to it in Spanish and French, but the original Cantonese is MIA. I don't mean the original Cantonese using a lossy Dolby Digital track; there is no Cantonese track. Additionally, the only extra is a seven-minute interview with Jackie Chan.

Of the four movies in The Ultimate Force of Four - Blu-ray Box Set, all four are worth owning. However, it would be much better if they had the original audio tracks with lossless audio. At least three of the four you can listen to with original language, even if it is a lossy audio encoding. If I thought these films would be released on Blu-ray with the original cuts and with the original language tracks is lossless high definition, I would say save your money and wait. However, that's not going to happen for a long, long time, if ever.

Wagon Master - Buy from Amazon
John Ford made some of the best Westerns of all time, and he considered Wagon Master as his personal favorite. However, the film is almost forgotten with only two reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes. The film has been released on DVD before, but this DVD has an audio commentary track and is worth picking up. Also coming out this week is Directed By John Ford, a documentary about John Ford made in 1971.

WWE - The Best of Smackdown - 10th Anniversary - Buy from Amazon
These DVDs are very popular and I wouldn't be surprised if this one opens in the top 30 on our sales chart.

X-Men - Buy from Amazon: Volume Three and Volume Four
Supposed to review these two DVDs, but the screeners are late. Just a quick note for those who bought the first two volume... Due to issues with the animation / production schedule, there were a lot more stand-alone episodes later in the series and fewer multi-episode story arcs. This is disappointing, as multi-episode story arcs allow for more mature stories to be told, but the overall quality remained high.

X-Men Origins - Wolverine - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Special Edition DVD, or Blu-ray
Just a quick note that I should be getting a screener of this movie soon. I expect it will be the fastest selling Blu-ray of the year. It could even break records given the growth in the market place.


Filed under: Video Releases, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Trumbo, Truth Hall, The Strawberry Shortcake Movie: Sky's the Limit