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DVD Releases for November 3rd, 2009 - Part I

November 2nd, 2009

Another week with a large selection of great releases, including several contenders for DVD Pick of the Week. (There are also more than a few releases that could have been contenders, but the screeners still have not yet arrived. I fear they will all arrive on the same day and the sheer number of them will cause my head to explode.) The best new release this week is Food, Inc. on either DVD or Blu-ray. Classic releases like North By Northwest on Blu-ray and It's a Wonderful Life on Blu-ray are must haves, as is the James Bond Blu-ray Box Set. Despite there being more than a dozen releases this week where I'm still waiting for the screener to arrive, the list as still too long to fit on one page. The second part can be found here.

Aliens in the Attic - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A kids movie that came out during the latter part of last summer earning poor reviews and went nowhere at the box office. Granted, kids movies rarely earn good reviews and kids movies rarely do well that late in the summer season. But even so, this film struggled. Was is fare? Or is this an undiscovered gem?

The movie starts with Tom Pearson (Carter Jenkins) being dragged off by his parents for a family vacation. Once there, he have to deal with his older sister Beth (Ashley Tisdale) and her obnoxious boyfriend Ricky (Robert Hoffman) his annoying younger sister Hannah (Ashley Boettcher) his cousin Jake (Austin Robert Butler) and the twins (Henri and Regan Young). If that's not enough to ruin his summer, he discovers there is a group of aliens that are preparing to lead an invasion. Now it up to the kids to battle these diminutive aliens, because the adult can't seems to figure out there's something wrong. Despite their small size, the aliens easily outclass the kids, but when one of the aliens, Sparks (Josh Peck) befriends Hannah, perhaps that's the event that will turn the tide in the battle? And perhaps the kids will learn to work together to save the Earth.

Looking at the reviews over on Rotten Tomatoes and the reviews are a lot more mixed than its Tomatometer Score would otherwise indicate. Most of the critics who gave the film a negative review said that the film was harmless entertainment for kids. And really, it's hard to describe it as anything more or less than that. The script is functional, but hardly brings any originality or charm to the whole enterprise. There are a couple morals jammed into the movie (being smart isn't a hindrance and of course the family bonding) but form the most part it's just goofy action scenes being a bunch of child actors and some CG bad guys. If you are a kid of the right age, it's a perfectly acceptable way to waste away an afternoon, while if you are a parent of a kid of the right age, there are at least a few jokes that you should be able to appreciate. (For instance, it was funny watching the kids look at the rotary phone as if it was a piece of alien technology.)

Looking at the extras on the DVD we find the normal selection, mostly. There are deleted scenes, alternate ending, outtakes (many of which are also seen in the end credits), etc. There's an introduction to the movie by Ashley Tisdale, who also does an introduction to the special features. Ashley Tisdale and Ashley Boettcher are the focuses of the behind the scenes featurette called The Ashley Encounters. Behind the Zirkonians is a 15-minute prequel to this movie that shows how the four aliens were selected for this mission done in a limited animated fashion. Meet the Zirkonians is an interaction featurette on the four aliens that gives a series of facts while showing some behind-the-scenes clips. Finally, Kung Fu Grandma is a fake commercial for the alien mind control device seen in the movie.

As for the Blu-ray, I don't know if there are any High Definition exclusives, because the screener hasn't arrived yet. Normally Fox doesn't ship these till street date, so hopefully I'll be able to update the review for next week. That said, given the relative price between the two versions, it's nearly impossible for the Blu-ray to not be the better deal.

Aliens in the Attic is worth checking out if you have kids of the right age, but even then I'm not sure the replay value is high enough to be worth anything more than a rental. If you are intent on buying, then the Blu-ray appears to be the way to go.

The Answer Man - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
This film opened in limited release this past summer but went nowhere for two main reasons. Firstly, its reviews were poor. Secondly, it had opened on Video On Demand before it came out in theaters. That's a deadly combination. Both the DVD and the Blu-ray has an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, and making of featurette, which makes them worth a rental. If you are interested in buying, then the Blu-ray is the far better deal, as it only costs $1 more.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Aliens in the Attic, The Answer Man, The Botany of Desire, A Christmas Carol, Command Performance, Direct Action, Earth 2100, Food, Inc., Forrest Gump, Forrest Gump - Chocolate Giftset, G.I. Joe - Rise of Cobra, Howard's End - Criterion Collection, I Love You, Beth Cooper, IMAX - Mummies - Secrets of the Pharaohs, It's A Wonderful Life, James Bond - 10-Pack, Love Actually, The Narrows, National Lampoons - Christmas Vacation - Ultimate Collector's Edition, North by Northwest - 50th Anniversary Edition, Rocky - Undisputed Collection, Say Anything, Star Wars - Clone Wars - Season One, Talking of Pelham 1 2 3, Transformers / Transformers - Revenge of the Fallen, Two Girls and a Guy, Wings of Desire - The Criterion Collection, and Witchblade - The Complete Series
A huge list of Blu-rays coming out this week, including the last blockbuster to come out this past summer, G.I. Joe - Rise of the Cobra. There are also numerous classic releases, including a few Christmas titles, and a massive James Bond Box Set.

Charles Darwin Double-shot - Buy from Amazon: Charlies Darwin and the Tree of Life and The Genius of Charles Darwin
There are a lot of recent releases coming out to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. Personally, I don't care. As someone with a scientific mindset, I don't care about the person, only their discoveries. In fact, since most people are deeply flawed, by talking about the person, you leave an opening for those who don't accept the science to attack it. Regardless of my personal view, those who want to see the personal side of Darwin are certainly in luck.

Christmas Releases - Buy from Amazon: A Christmas Carol (Blu-ray), Christmas in Wonderland, Christmas Story, Christmas Town, Disney Holiday 3-Pack - Playhouse, Dora the Explorer - Dora's Christmas Carol Adventure, Dora the Explorer - Dora's Christmas Carol Adventure / Dora's Christmas, Fraggle Rock - A Merry Fraggle Holiday, Home for Christmas, It's a Wonderful Life (Blu-ray), It's a Wonderful Life - Limited Edition Giftset, Merry Sitcom! Christmas Classics from TV's Golden Age, Mickey's Magical Christmas, National Lampoons - Christmas Vacation - Ultimate Collector's Edition, National Lampoons - Christmas Vacation - Ultimate Collector's Edition (Blu-ray), One Christmas, Scruff - A Christmas Tale, TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection - Holiday, Thomas & Friends - Holiday Express, and White Christmas
I really hate it when stores push Christmas before Halloween is over. However, this is the first Tuesday after Halloween, so it is the perfect time to release Christmas DVD and Blu-rays. Speaking of 'Christmas', 'Perfect', and 'Blu-ray'... It's a Wonderful Life comes out on Blu-ray this week and it is a must have for the holiday season.

Christmas Story - Buy from Amazon
A Finnish film telling of the story of Santa Claus's childhood. The film, which cost nearly $4 million to make, was the highest grossing Finnish film of 2007 earning $2.6 million, as well as a couple Jussi Awards. But how well does it translate to North American audiences?

The film starts with a seven-year old Nikolas learning that his parents died after falling through the ice-- A film about Santa Claus starts by killing off his parents? They do things differently in Finland. Since he lives in a small fishing village in Finland, no family is able to take him in, but one family, the Thomases, come up with a plan, each family in the village will take care of little Thomas for a year to spread the cost around. (Another person, crazy Isaac, comes up with an alternate plan, throw him in the lake with his family. By the way, this is being discussed on Christmas day. Merry Christmas.) Each Christmas he moves in with a new family, while he carves little wooden toys for all of the Children of his previous families as gifts. At first he misses this works out well, but a poor harvest and lack of fish means no one can take care of him. No one except crazy Isaac, who considers his woodcarving talent competition. So he takes in Nicolas, but not as family, only as labor. Will this harsh treatment break Nicolas's spirit, or will his kind-hearted nature rub off on Isaac?

I'm of two minds on this film. On the down side, it is quite depressing for a holiday film. Then again, so it A Christmas Carol, which deals with a lot of crushing poverty. The film won an award for its cinematography, but the video quality of my screener copy is weak, so I can't judge that aspect accurately, but there are some shots that still look fantastic, even in non-anamorphic widescreen, with a slightly fuzzy feel, and the words, 'For promotional use only' stamped in the corner. The story is a little predictable, after all it is a Christmas Story, so you know that Nicolas will turn Isaac from a misanthrope to a caring father-figure by the end of the movie. Also, the dubbing in this movie is terrible at times. I really wish I had the option to watch the movie in the original Finnish with English subtitles. Perhaps the DVD will have that option, but all I have is the press screener, which doesn't even have a menu. (You pop it in your play and the trailer plays automatically followed up the movie.) There are a lot of issues with this movie, but by the end, I was drawn into the film. Depending on the extras, including the audio options, this could be a solid rental, or a solid purchase. Sadly, not even the studio site gives that information.

If you enjoy the Charles Dickens' classic story of Christmas, then I think you will also enjoy Christmas Story. The DVD is definitely worth renting, but I would hesitate recommending purchasing unless you can get the original language track.

Command Performance - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The latest direct-to-DVD action film from Dolph Lundgren. He's made a career of these films and most of them have been pretty bad. That said, I've seen a couple reviews online that were mostly positive, so if you are a fan, it might be worth checking out. If I get a screener, I'll do a more in-depth review later on.

Crutch - Buy from Amazon
A coming of age story set within a dysfunctional family that was written and directed by Rob Moretti, who based it in part on his life. (He even plays the older man that seduces the character that represents himself as a teenager. That's kind of weird.) Reviews were weak, but this is the Director's Cut, which could improve the overall quality. Worth checking out if you are part of the target audience, but perhaps start with a rental.

The Dead - Buy from Amazon
Released in theaters in 1987, but this is the first time this Oscar nominated movie has come out on DVD. The reviews are unbelievable but I won't be able to give a full rating till after the screener arrives.

Doctor Who - Buy from Amazon: Episode 50 - War Games and Episodes 126 to 128 - The Black Guardian Trilogy
Two top notch Doctor Who releases are coming out this week. War Games is important in the history of the series for a number of reasons, including the fact that is it the last one filmed in Black and White. The Black Guardian Trilogy is from the 20th season and has the Black Guardian returning from the Doctor's past to try and assassinate him for denying him the Time Key. Both sets are loaded with extras and fans of the franchise should be more than happy with what they get for the price.

The Donna Reed Show - Season Three - Buy from Amazon
Amazon has this coming out tomorrow, while other sources have it coming out in December. I would check the official site to find the tiebreaker, but I can't seem to get through to the site.

Dora the Explorer - Dora's Christmas Carol Adventure - Buy from Amazon
A not-quite a feature-length Christmas adventure starts with Santa telling the elves about his naughty and nice lists. He's happy to report there are a lot more boys and girls on the nice list than on the naughty list, but there is a someone on the naughty list that Santa has a story about, Swiper the Fox. He has warned Swiper that if he doesn't stop swiping gifts on Christmas, he will get on the naughty list. (Does that mean he's allowed to swipe things the other 364 days of the year?) But when he swipes the Chirstmas Star from Dora's tree, it is up to Dora and the rest of the travel with Swiper to the past, present, and future to discover the true meaning of Christmas. But it could be a problem trying to convince Swiper to not swipe anything.

Obviously this is an adaptation or the Dickens' tale, A Christmas Carol, which has been adapted about a billion times. There's a reason for this; it is a classic story and even a mediocre adaptation will still have a lot going for it. Fortunately, this story is better than the average Dora the Explorer episode in a number of ways. For one thing, it is far less repetitive than the average episode. I understand the repetitive nature of the show is what helps draw in its pre-school demographic, but it's what drives me nuts the most. I don't like hearing the same few songs multiple times in nearly every episode. The music here is much better than the music we hear on the average episode, which is key.

It is a little short to be the only episode on the DVD with a running time of just over 50 minutes. But there are a couple music videos and a behind-the-scenes featurette on the creation of the theme song.

Dora the Explorer - Dora's Christmas Carol Adventure is an adaptation or the classic Christmas story from Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. It should entertain kids, while not driving their parents nuts. There are a few extras on the DVD, but the price per minute is still a little high. If you don't have Dora's Christmas on DVD, then the Two-Pack is an excellent deal, on the other hand.

Food, Inc. - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
One of the best reviewed documentaries of the year and a serious contender for Awards Season hardware. It doesn't hurt that the business, and politics, of food is becoming a major issue now. Extras on the DVD include deleted scenes, a segment from Nightline, and some celebrity PSAs. The Blu-ray has no additional extras, but costs only 24% more, which is right on the border for this type of release. Easily worth picking up, and even a contender for DVD Pick of the Week, but I can't recommend one format over the other.

Fraggle Rock - The Complete Final Season - Buy from Amazon
Loved this show as a kid and I look forward to revisiting it, as soon as the screener arrives. If it arrives. I might not be getting this DVD, because the Complete Series is coming out this week and I might be getting that screener instead. Also coming out this week, and also late, is the Fraggle Rock - A Merry Fraggle Holiday.

G.I. Joe - Resolute - Buy from Amazon
The first of three G.I.Joe releases coming out this week. All of the screeners are late. I will get to them A.S.A.P. after they arrive.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc DVD, Two-Disc DVD, or Buy from Amazon
The final mega-movie of the summer, this film cost $175 million to make, but only earned weak reviews, while it failed to match its production budget domestically. It could reach profitability early in its home market run, but until the screener(s) arrive, I can't say which version is worth picking up, if any. Hopefully I will get them soon.

G.I. Joe - Season 1.2 - Buy from Amazon
The final G.I. Joe release of the week. Again, I will review it as soon as I can after it arrives.

Here's Lucy - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
Lucille Ball's third successful TV series ran for six seasons from the late 1960s to the early 1970s earning the comedienne two Golden Globe nominations. It was also her last successful TV series, but we don't need to talk about that. Extras include new introductions, interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and more. Definitely worth picking up for fans of Lucille Ball.

I Love You, Beth Cooper - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Paul Rust stars as High School valedictorian Denis Cooverman who uses his graduation speech to proclaim his love for Beth Cooper. Much to his surprise, Beth Cooper doesn't reject him out of hand, but decides to take him on a date. But will reality live up to his fantasy? It's not a bad setup, but this film earned terrible reviews and went nowhere at the box office, but it wasn't expense to make, so if it can become a midlevel hit on the home market, it could still break even sooner rather than later. Does it have what it takes to be worth picking up, or at the very least renting? Don't know, as the screener hasn't arrived yet. Hopefully it won't take long now.

Ice Age - Dawn of the Dinosaurs - Buy from Amazon: DVD, DVD with Scrat Pack, or Blu-ray
The Blu-ray arrived this week, so this is just a quick update with regards to the high definition treatment of the movie.

First a quick recap of last week's review... The movie is good, for a kids movie, but not great. Technically impressive, the story is weak, but I did like the introduction of Buck. The DVD has only an audio commentary track in terms of extras, and it is only worth a rental. The DVD with Scrat Pack has plenty of extras including making of featurettes, animated shorts, music video, etc. Solid purchase, if you have kids.

As for the Blu-ray. It has all of the extras, plus a few Blu-ray exclusives. This includes a storybook maker that allows the user to capture images from the movie and use pre-selected text to create and save storybooks. You can choose different age groups for more challenging reading material. There are a few featurettes that are exclusive to this release, including one of the cast of creatures from the movie and some of their relatives that are alive today, which I found quite interesting, and a series of short interviews with the main cast members, which was a little fluffy, but that's to be expected. As for the film's technical presentation, both the audio and the video are immaculate. Practically flawless, which is not surprising given the source material the studio had to work with. Additionally, the Blu-ray is currently 50 cents less than the DVD with Scrat Pack on Amazon.com and it comes with DVD, so your kids can watch it on their DVD player when you are using the Blu-ray player for another movie. There is literally no reason to not buy the Blu-ray if you are interested in this movie.

Like I said last week, Ice Age - Dawn of the Dinosaurs is the weakest in the franchise, but still worth picking up if you have kids of the right ages. Additionally, the the Blu-ray is by far the best deal of the three releases.

Lemon Tree - Buy from Amazon
An Israeli film that takes a look at the Israel / Palestine conflict from a more personal angle. It earned outstanding reviews and did well for a limited released, so I was kind of hoping for more extras than you usually see on a limited release. However, that was not the case, as the disc is devoid of real extras. (I don't count the trailer as an extra, unless if has some historical significance.) Even so, it is still worth picking up for most, especially fans of foreign films.

Mickey's Magical Christmas - Snowed In at the House of Mouse - Buy from Amazon
Mickey's Magical Christmas debuted on DVD about this time in 2001. This release is that DVD. And I don't mean they are re-releasing a new edition of that DVD for 2009. This is the identical DVD right down to the trailers that play automatically. So if you own the previous release, you can skip the rest of this review and move on.

Mickey's Magical Christmas is not 'A full-length holiday adventure' as the DVD cover claims, but an anthology of Christmas shorts presented with a wrap-around story. Here the wrap-around story has cast of Disney character snowed in at the House of Mouse. Most are not too upset, because at least they will be able to spend Christmas with their friends. However, Donald Duck is lacking in the Christmas spirit, so the gang takes turns telling stories trying to cheer him up. There are two 'new' shorts, Donald On Ice and The Nutcracker, both from 1999, as well as two classic shorts, Pluto’s Christmas Tree from 1952 and Mickey’s Christmas Carol from 1983. Donald On Ice is merely an average example of the Donald vs. his nephews formula, while The Nutcracker has a great performance from John Cleese as the narrator but kind of runs out of steam quickly. Maybe running out of steam isn't the right term, as it has plenty action throughout, but storywise there's not enough here to sustain its running time. As for Pluto’s Christmas Tree and Mickey’s Christmas Carol, these are both worth owning on DVD, but both were part of the recently released Volume 7 of the Disney Animation Collection series, which I reviewed here.

Extras on the DVD include an episode of House of Mouse, a short featurette on sound design, and two sing-along music videos.

If you have Mickey's Magical Christmas - Snowed In at the House of Mouse on DVD already, then there is absolutely no reason to grab the latest releases. On the other hand, if you don't have it, I think Disney Animation Collection - Volume 7 is the better deal.

Mission: Impossible - The Final Season - Buy from Amazon
A great show makes its exit on DVD. ... At least till a full series Megaset comes out. ... Then there's the inevitable Blu-ray releases. I can't comment on the individual episodes, not until the screener arrives, that is. Hopefully it won't take too long now.

This week's list is just a little too long to fit on one page, but the rest of the new releases (and a late release) can be found here.


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Filed under: Video Releases, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Transformers, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, The Taking of Pelham 123, Aliens in the Attic, I Love You, Beth Cooper, Food, Inc., Lemon Tree, The Answer Man