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DVD Releases for November 10th, 2009 - Part I

November 9th, 2009

We are getting closer to the Thanksgiving long weekend and the official start of the holiday shopping season. Because of this, there are plenty of great releases coming out this week, including Up on a 4-Disc Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack, which is clearly DVD Pick of the Week material. Also a DVD Pick of the Week is Monsters, Inc. - 4-Disc Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack, while the late arriving Monsters vs. Aliens - Blu-ray earns an honorable mention. With a massive list of releases, including nearly a dozen spotlight reviews, we have once again needed to split the release report into two parts. The second part can be found here.

The Accidental Husband - Buy from Amazon
A lot of direct-to-DVD releases are films that were made on low to no budgets by people who knew that they would never have a theatrical release. This is not one of them. This is a film made with a strong cast that includes Uma Thurman, Colin Firth, amongst others, and the studio expected it to be released in theaters. However, something went wrong, horribly wrong, judging by the reviews, between the time it was greenlit and the time the finish product was delivered. Even if you are a fan of the genre and a fan of the cast, this movie is worth avoiding.

American Virgin - Buy from Amazon
If you look at the cover of the DVD it would be fair to think this movie stars Rob Schneider, but he has little more than a cameo and the real star is Jenna Dewan. This is either blatant false advertising, or a welcome relief, depending on your view of Rob Schneider as an actor. Regardless, if the few reviews I've seen online are any indication, the movie is mostly skippable.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Ballast, Cars - Gift Set, Discovery Atlas - The Complete Collection, The Echo, The General, Godzilla, Heat, The Killers - Live From Royal Albert Hall, The Line, Logan's Run, Mamma Mia! - Gift Set, Monsters, Inc., Near Dark, The Negotiator, Red Heat, The Rollings Stones - Live at the Max, Spread, The Ugly Truth, Up, and Watchmen - Ultimate Collection
A really nice collection of Blu-ray releases this week, including what could be the greatest movie I've seen this year, or the past few years. There are also a few older releases, including The General, which is a silent film from 1926. My only concern about the overall sales is with the demographics; many of the top releases are aimed at kids, which generally means they don't do as well in High Definition.

The Break-Up Artist - Buy from Amazon
Amanda Crew stars as Britney, a woman who runs Splitzville Inc. with her two friends, Tiffany and Robyn. This is a company that helps their clients end bad relationships and move on. However, when competition comes into town, he messes with her emotions all to destroy her business so he can corner the market. With her clients gone, and deeply in debt, she needs to find some way to make money fast. Enter Mike, an artist who was just dumped by Britney's sister, Ashley, and wants training on how to get her back. Mike thinks Ashley is the love of his life, and his artistic muse, and he's willing to pay Britney a lot of money if she will get them back together. Britney will have to mold Mike into the kind of self-centered, egotist Ashley likes, no matter how much it goes against his nature.

This is a low budget romantic comedy filmed up here in Canada, and the last part is very obvious if you are a fan of Canadian TV. It's funny how many of the main cast have appeared on Smallville, Psych, etc. For that matter, it's also very obvious that the film has a low budget and that it's a romantic comedy as well. It is very formulaic and the script from the first-time screenwriter brings little new to the genre. In fact, there are more groan-inducing clichés (including the dumb-blonde stereotype) than there are genuinely funny moments. I'm a fan of the genre, and even I had problems dealing with this movie. (On a side note, Ali Liebert, who plays the dumb blonde in question, is grating in this movie. However, I don't blame the actress, as I've seen here in other shows; in fact, I reviewed Harper's Island and she was quite good in that. The script really matters when it comes to the performance of an actor.)

I only have a press screener, so I can't tell if there will be any extras on the retail DVD.

If you are a hardcore fan of romantic comedies, then some of The Break-Up Artist's flaws will be more forgivable. But even then, it doesn't have enough replay value to lift the DVD above the rental level.

Christmas Releases - Buy from Amazon: 6teen - Deck the Mall, Christmas Angel, A Christmas Carol, A Christmas Proposal, A Christmas Tail, Christmas with the King Family, The Fight Before Christmas, The Littlest Light On The Christmas Tree, Magical Christmas Collection, Make the Yuletide Gay, Pippi Longstocking - Pippi's Christmas, and Santa Apprentice
A mixed bag of Christmas releases this week. There's a large number of them, but not a high quality on the top. The second best selling release on Amazon is A Christmas Proposal, while the best selling release is Make the Yuletide Gay. I would consider that a surprising result.

Eating Out - All You Can Eat - Buy from Amazon
The third film in the popular gay franchise. The DVD is selling quite well and is currently in the top 20 for the week on Amazon's chart. It will be interesting to see if it can chart overall.

Echo - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A remake of a Filipino horror film called Sigaw (rough translation: Shout or Scream). In the film, Jesse Bradford stars as an ex-con who moves into an old apartment building. He hears fights happening in the apartment next door, but when he tries to stop the domestic abuse, he is sucked into a curse. I haven't seen many reviews online, but the positive ones have outnumbered the negative ones. There are no extras on either version, but it is still worth checking out for fans of the genre.

Enlighten Up! - Buy from Amazon
Filmmaker Kate Churchill takes skeptic Nick Rosen and immerses him in the world of yoga to prove it can improve his mental, physical, and spiritual health. The reviews are mixed, but for the very reason that I want to see the movie. It seems Nick is a little more resistant to the "spiritual" side of yoga than Kate anticipated and this lack of sudden enlightenment means the movie ends without a dramatic conclusion. It's funny the number of reviews I've read where the critic describes Nick as being too resistant to the religious side of yoga, or how Nick's rational side is too ingrained into his personality. It's like they never considered the possibility that Kate was not giving compelling arguments. The documentary may lack the story arc Kate Churchill wanted, but what comes together in the end is still worth checking out.

Familiar Strangers - Buy from Amazon
This movie opened in limited release this time last year, but while it did okay its first weekend, it never found its audience. The reviews didn't help as several critics complained that the movie was too familiar. That said, if you are a fan of movie about quirky families, then this DVD is worth a rental.

Gabriel Iglesias - I'm Not Fat I'm Fluffy - Buy from Amazon
Could be getting this stand-up concert DVD soon. Until I do, I can't really comment, as I've never seen his act before.

Ink - Buy from Amazon
A sci-fi film written and directed by Jamin Winans. The film struggled to find a distributor, despite the amazing reviews, so hopefully it will find a lot of fans on the home market, especially with a rather loaded DVD. The film is also coming out on Blu-ray, but not until the 24th. Given the price, it's worth the wait. On the other hand, you can grab a signed copy from the Official Site right now.

JAG - Season Nine - Buy from Amazon
The penultimate season of this long running show that has spawned a spin-off, NCIS, which in turn as spawned another spin-off, NCIS: LA. I should be getting the DVD to review shortly.

Keeping Up With the Kardashians - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
A Reality TV series that mainly follows the three Kardashian sisters, Kourtney, Kim, and Khloé, the most famous of whom is Kim, who was in Disaster Movie, but we won't hold that against her.

This show is essentially the same as a lot of Reality TV shows that feature people who have little reason to be on TV. The family is sort of famous. The late Robert Kardashian is the father of the four oldest children, Kourtney, Kim, Khloé, and Robert. He's famous for being part of O.J.Simpson's dream team. After their mother, Kris, divorced, she married Bruce Jenner, who is an athlete who won the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Kris and Bruce have had two daughters together, Kendall and Kylie. The average episode has some event and the film crew follows the family around to record their reactions. There are two main problems with the show. Firstly, none of these people have personalities that are worth spending 30 minutes with. Secondly, it all feels so fake. Fake and boring. That's a combination that's deadly for any show. There are some cute moments, including Kendall and Kylie making fun of Kim's slide into divahood, but for the most part I found it very boring. On the other hand, it is one of E!'s most popular TV shows, so obviously there are fans. Or at least there are a lot of people who can't help but watch the show.

Extras on the single-disc DVD include a handful of deleted scenes, a 3-minute video blog with Rob, and that's it. That's disappointing even compared to the quality of the show.

Keeping Up With the Kardashians isn't offensively bad as some Reality TV shows are, but Season Two is, for the most part, dreadfully boring.

On a side note, sometimes I get the feeling I'm the only person in the world to have seen Kim Kardashian in Disaster Movie, but not her... earlier film work.

Love Finds a Home - Buy from Amazon
The latest in a line of TV movies that some call endearing, while others deride as sappy. Since this is the eighth, and final, release in the franchise, odds are you are either well aware of the movies, or you are not in the target audience.

Mamma Mia! - Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! Gift Set - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Not a huge fan of musicals, really don't like Abba, and I can't stand it when they release a special edition this close to the regular release. That adds up to a big skip it for me. On the other hand, could make a good gift.

Monsters, Inc. - 4-Disc Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack - Buy from Amazon
The latest Pixar film is making its home market debut this week. Since that film and this one were both directed by Pete Docter, it makes sense to release it on Blu-ray the same week. Quite frankly, I don't care why it's coming out, I'm just glad it is.

Set in the world of Monstropolis, this movie tells the story of the monsters that live in your closet. These monsters work for a company called Monsters, Inc., which scares children at night in order to collect their screams, which is the energy source used to power their world. However, in recent years the kids have become more jaded and harder and harder to scare, which has resulted in energy shortages and rolling blackouts. James P. "Sulley" Sullivan is the best scare generator they have working the floor, and he is close to breaking the record, much to the delight of Mike Wazowski, who is his best friend and co-worker. While the monsters' job is to scare the children to collect the screams, there is one thing that scares all monsters ... Children. Apparently a human child is the most toxic substance there is to monsters. Because of this, there are many safety precautions put into place to prevent contamination, but when Sulley spots an active door on the scare floor he knows something is amiss. And when a little girl escapes into the monster world, he is really in trouble. And this trouble is not just coming from the little girl, but also his top rival.

Monsters, Inc. was the fourth Pixar feature film and like the Toy Story films, it tells the story of something almost all kids have some experience with. This time around instead of focusing on toys coming to life, it is the scary monster in the closet. Because of this, it connects well with both kids and adults. That said, it doesn't quite have the wonder of the two Toy Story films, although that is not a fair comparison to make. Keep in mind that those two movies earned perfect reviews from critics, while this one earned 95% positive reviews. So we are comparing a film that is utterly amazing to two films that are near perfection. Monsters, Inc. may have a couple of scenes that seem a little off (like the Yeti scenes) but those are minor complaints compared to the rest of the film, which deserved all the positive reviews, not to mention four Oscar nominations. (And quite frankly, I still think it is better than Shrek is. This film certainly holds up better as the years go by.) Speaking of years, I remember when this movie came out how amazing the animation was, especially Sulley. A character with hair that moves in a realistic fashion was almost unthinkable before this movie came out. Looking back a mere eight years later and there are times the animation feels almost primitive. It's amazing how far the technology has advanced in a few short years.

Extras on the 4-disc set start with an introduction by the director, by Pete Docter, who talks about the movie's transition to High Definition, as well as some of the extras that are ported over from the previous release and new to the Blu-ray. Ported over from the previous edition is the audio commentary track, which has the two directors, Pete Docter and Lee Unkrich, as well as the two executive producers, John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton. Also on disc one that were ported over are the two short films: Mike's New Car and For The Birds. There are two new special features on disc one starting with the animators' roundtable featuring four of the filmmakers reminiscing on the making of the movie. There is also an 8-minute look at the Monstropolis theme ride in the Disneyland theme park in Tokyo. The disc is also BD-Live enabled, but that feature is not available in Canada.

Over on disc two we find Roz's 100 Door Challenge, which has 100 questions you have to answer to determine what job you are qualified for. It's harder than it looks. The rest of the extras are divided into Humans and Monsters. The first deals with the making of the movie and has dozens of short featurettes on the storyboarding, the sound department, etc. Highlights include the original pitch idea, which is quite a bit different from the finished movie. Monsters has a music video, a game from the Japanese DVD release, and more. I would have loved a play all button for the making-of featurettes since they are quite short, but there's still more than enough extras here.

Disc three is the DVD version of the movie that was released in 2002. Literally. It even has the original trailers. The only extra found here is the audio commentary track.

Disc four is the digital copy of the movie.

Looking at the technical presentation of the film, the video is amazing... however... I watched Up first and then this film, which I think may have been a mistake. Comparing the two movies, Up wins out in every comparison, including the video and audio quality. There are a few times that the fur on Sully has some issues, but the movie is 8 years old, so of course it is not going to look as good as a newly made CG film. Also, and I want to emphasize this, we are talking about the differences between a film that rates a ten out of ten and one that rates at least nine point five. The audio is even closer with both films utilizing the surround speakers when needed, while providing clear, crisp dialogue. This is definitely a disc you can pop into your Blu-ray player to show off your Home Theater system.

Monsters, Inc. is the first of two Pixar movies coming out on Blu-ray this week, and like Up, it's a must have. The movie is incredible and lives up to repeated viewings over the years, while the 4-Disc Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack has more than enough extras to be worth the upgrade to High Definition. And if you haven't made the upgrade to High Definition yet, it is time to do so. (But wait until the end of the month when the Thanksgiving weekend sales are on.)

Warning: This DVD / Blu-ray do not come out this week and made their home market debuts on the 29th of September. However, the screeners arrived late, hence the delay in this review.

Monsters vs. Aliens - Buy from Amazon: DVD, DVD Two-Pack, or Blu-ray
It's a month late, but the movie finally arrived for me to review. Technically I only have the DVD Two-Pack but I will be able to talk about all three releases for reasons that will become clear soon. But first the movie...

Monsters vs. Aliens stars Reese Witherspoon as Susan. The movie starts with Susan on her wedding day, but things are not going quite as planned. It's not that she has cold feet, she's not even upset when the groom-to-be, Derek, cancels their honeymoon in Paris because he has a job opportunity in Fresno. No, the unplanned incident involves her being hit with a meteorite. Normally this would be fatal, but the meteorite contained Quantonium, which mutates her into the 50 Foot Woman ... Or the 49 Feet and 11 Inches Woman. She is immediately captured by the government and locked up with a group of other monsters that have been captured over the years, including Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D., B.O.B., The Missing Link, and Insectosaurus. Renamed Ginormica, she is doomed to spend the rest of her life in a massive prison. That is until an alien, Galaxhar, sends a giant robot to retrieve the Quantonium and the group is given a task: defeat the Giant Robot, and you'll be set free. But this robot is really giant, and even if they find a way to stop it, Galaxhar won't be that easy to defeat.

This is the second digitally animated movie I've reviewed in basically a two-week span, the other being Ice Age 3. I found that film to be technically amazing, but storywise it was flawed and lacked a strong character arc. With this film, the technical prowess might be even superior, but it is the story that shines. There is a very clear story arc for Susan, who starts out as a woman who is willing to take a back seat to her soon-to-be husband's career, but who finds her own strength in the end. Yes, granted this isn't an original plotline. In fact, most of the movie is plagued with a rather derivative plot, but it is a spoof of drive-in theater movies from the 1950s, so some of this was inevitable. You can't make a spoof and not at least mention many of the clichés of the genre. For kids who haven't seen these movies, there's plenty of action to enjoy, while adults will be able to overload on the Sci-fi references from the obvious ones ("We have a code Nimoy") to the more obscure (the license plate number seen in the movie).

On the other hand, there are a few parts of the movie that are quite funny, but don't seem to quite fit with the overall story or tone. It's almost like the filmmakers really liked the bit, but never figured a way to fully integrate it into the film, but shoved it in there anyway. I don't want to spoil anything, so I won't get into details, but I do want to emphasize these were minor issues and in no way reduced the overall entertainment level.

Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary track with the filmmakers, which is full of energy and information. Modern Monster Movie Making is a seventeen-and-a-half-minute long making-of featurette that focuses on the 3D aspect of the movie. The Tech of MVA is shorter at just six minutes, but again spends its time talking about the 3D of the movie. There are three deleted scenes presented in various levels of finished animation. There's also the usual Dreamworks jukebox and a selection of trailers found under the "Do Not Press" button. That's not a bad selection of extras, but for a movie that made close to $200 million, I was expecting more.

The DVD Two-Pack has all of that, plus a second disc called B.O.B.'s Big Break. This disc has the 13-minute short film that acts as a prequel to the main feature. You can watch it in 2D or 3D. There is also a Karaoke Music Party with three songs. Finally, there's a 3D game where you hear audio clips and have to identify the character that said them. There's not a lot here, but it costs less than $4 more than just the DVD. Odds are that if it is released separately later on, it will be twice that cost.

I didn't get a copy of the Blu-ray to review, so I bought a copy. I can report it has all of these extras, including the ones found on B.O.B.'s Big Break, and they are all presented in High Definition. There are a couple of Blu-ray exclusives, starting with a Picture-in-Picture commentary track that includes some of the information in the audio commentary, but also behind-the-scenes and other information. There is also a trivia track, but you can't watch that and the subtitles at the same time. As for the film's technical presentation, since it is a digitally animated movie, it comes as no surprise that the movie is flawless in terms of video and audio. Colors are bright, voices are clear, and all speakers are used to their potential. Easily strong enough to show off your home theater system to your friends. Also, it actually costs less than the DVD Two-Pack, so if you have a Blu-ray player, there's no reason to grab anything but this version.

Monsters vs. Aliens was an early surprise hit this year, scoring nearly $200 million at the box office. It should entertain kids and adults and it is worth adding to your collection. All three versions offer good value, but the Blu-ray is the best and it is worthy of the DVD Pick of the Week.

Nash Bridges - The Third Season - Buy from Amazon
It was a busy week for DVDs that didn't arrive on time. I will get to this 6-disc set as soon as possible after it arrives.

The Official World Series Film Collection - Buy from Amazon
This 20-disc collection is a must have for all baseball fans. I am not a fan of the baseball, but I like the sport enough to hate the New York Yankees.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about the women of Liberia and their struggles for peace in the midst of a decade-long civil war. The reviews are perfect, but the movie never found an audience during its theatrical run. That should change on the home market, and with a couple of special features (interview with Leymah Gbowee by Billy Moyer and an acceptance speech at the JFK Profile in Courage Award) it is worth picking up over just renting.

Red Heat - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
This is the kind of release where I think to myself, "Do I really need to watch this movie to review it?" After all, it hasn't been that long since I reviewed the movie as part of the Schwarzenegger Collection and my opinion of it hasn't changed in the meantime. Instead of tackling the movie in depth, I'll do just a quick recap before jumping into what makes the Blu-ray different.

Red Heat is essentially a buddy cop action / comedy set in the waning days of the cold war. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a disciplined Russian cop while James Belushi plays a more "relaxed" American cop. They have to team up to catch a member of the Russian mob. It's not a complicated plot, but it has all the elements needed for an entertaining movie. No one will mistake this for high art, but fans of the genre should have a good time.

As for the Blu-ray release, it's a mixed bag. There are four featurettes, but they are all from the previous DVD release, and they are all in standard definition. As for the High Definition seen and heard in the film, it's also a mixed bag. Granted, it does look better than it did on DVD, but this is still not a disc you will pop into your machine to show off your home theater system. The audio is better, but still much closer to average than exceptional.

In many ways, this is the archetypal catalogue release for Blu-ray. It is shovelware, 100% shovelware, while the high definition treatment doesn't really stand out. That said, the Red Heat Blu-ray costs just $13 and it is hard to argue with that price.

Robsessed - Buy from Amazon
The term "overhyped" comes to mind whenever I think of Twilight as a whole and Robert Pattinson in particular. If New Moon and Eclipse don't live up to heightened expectations, then a lot of actors from the franchise that are considered hot commodities now will fade in popularity rather quickly.

The Sarah Jane Adventures - The Complete Second Season - Buy from Amazon
A spin-off of Doctor Who that is aimed at kids. And while it is aimed at kids and doesn't have the production budget of its parent show, it is still worth checking out, even for older fans of the show. And if you are a fan of the original and have kids of the right target demographic, then this is a great way to introduce them into the franchise.

The rest of the reviews, and a pineapple under the sea, can be found here.

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Filed under: Video Releases, Up, Cars, Monsters vs. Aliens, Mamma Mia!, Watchmen, The Ugly Truth, Spread, Enlighten Up!, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, Familiar Strangers, The Echo, American Virgin, A Christmas Proposal, The Accidental Husband