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DVD Releases for February 19, 2008

February 19th, 2008

With the Oscars less than a week away, we have a few Oscar contenders on this week's list. However, for DVD Pick of the Week I've made what many might consider a weird choice and went with Walker - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon.

American Gangster - Buy from Amazon: 2-Disc Collector's Edition, 3-Disc Deluxe Edition, HD DVD / DVD Combo
American Gangster is the first $100 million movie getting a first-run DVD release in 2008, and wow, you can tell. The 2-Disc Collector's Edition is packed with both the theatrical and the extended version of the movie and extras include an audio commentary track on the theatrical version, feature-length making of documentary, deleted scenes, and other behind-the-scenes featurettes. The 3-Disc Deluxe Edition includes the above as well as featurettes on the music, a couple of music videos as well as two TV specials on the show from BET and Dateline NBC. This is not a lot more than on the 2-disc edition, especially considering the price difference on Amazon. This is a great package, but there are some problems with the video, especially the extended edition and the added scenes stand out. As for the HD DVD / DVD Combo, this is the first major HD DVD release of the year, and it's garbage. The video is weak, the sound unimpressive and there are fewer extras on the single-disc release than there are on the 2-disc DVD edition. It like Universal knew HD DVD was going to fall apart last week so they didn't bother putting together a top-notch release because there was no point. American Gangster might not have added much to the organized crime genre, but what it does, it does very well. It is worth picking up, but the 2-Disc Collector's Edition will likely be enough for most people. If you really want it in High Definition, wait. I can practically guarantee that the film will be out on Blu-ray by Christmas. One final note, the film is also coming out tomorrow as part of a the Gangsters - The Ultimate Film Collection box set, which is a good deal depending on how many of the other three films you are interested in and don't already have.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: In the Valley of Elah, Live at Montreux 2003 - Yes, Live at Montreux 2004 - Santana , Live at Montreux 2006 - Deep Purple, Michael Clayton, and Run, Lola, Run
It's mostly music and Oscar hopefuls this week with Run, Lola, Run being the only exception to that rule. While HD DVD has the highest profile release this week, and of the year so far, Blu-ray will still win as the HD DVD format officially died earlier today.

Chaos - Buy from Amazon
The latest Wesley Snipes movie to go direct to DVD. Not a bad movie, but it is too predictable given its initial premise and lacks replay value because of this. Call it a rental.

Coach - The Third Season - Buy from Amazon
Wow, that's cheap for TV on DVD. The 3-disc set isn't devoid of extras with an hour-long special, but there have been some issues with sound and video quality. Some have gone so far as to call it no better than the syndicated versions you can see every day for free. Still, it is hard to beat that price and it is worth picking up for fans of the show.

Dragon Ball Z Double Feature - The History of Trunks / Bardock the Father of Goku - Buy from Amazon
First of all, these two "movies" have a running time of 96 minutes, combined. So really they are just two double-length episodes and not two feature-length movies. On the other hand, you can also get Dragon Ball Z - Season Four this week, which is 8 times as long for less than twice as much and is the much better deal.

Father Ted - The Definitive Collection - Buy from Amazon
I hate double-dips, especially when it comes to TV on DVD. This is a great show, but it has already come out on a previous full series Megaset and the additional extras are just not worth the price to upgrade. On the other hand, if you don't already have the show on DVD, now is the perfect time to fix that oversight.

La Fea Mas Bella - Buy from Amazon
The original version of Ugly Betty. However, it is dramatically edited down from the original version. Fans who saw the show when it first aired won't be happy with the changes, while those who have not seen it will be left confused due to all of the cuts.

For The Bible Tells Me So - Official Site
A documentary about the religious element to the gay rights debate. Well... that won't be too controversial. It is an excellent movie, although anyone familiar with the debate will recognize most of the points being made. The DVD isn't loaded with extras, but there are updated interviews with a couple of the main subjects. Worth checking out for most, worth picking up for many. However, the people who should see it the most will avoid it the most.

Handy Manny - Fixing it Right - Buy from Amazon
Like most people reading this, all I've learned about this show I learned from The Daily Show when that guy called the show communist. ... Yeah, I have no idea how he made that connection.

Handy Manny stars the voice talent of Wilmer Valderrama as the titular character, Handy Manny, a handyman who helps the town of Sheetrock Hills with their problems. It teaches kids the importance of teamwork in solving problems. It also teaches kids the importance of workplace safety as Manny has clearly lost a couple fingers and only has eight left. ... So does Mr. Lopart. And Kelly. And everyone else on the show! ... It's an epidemic of missing fingers!

This is a really good show. The writing is better than most kids' shows, it is not repetitive or insulting to the kids' intelligence. (Some of the solutions are quite clever, like how they got the forklift out of the door.) I like the use of Spanish as I think it is very important for everyone to learn a second language, and you have to start very young. Also, it is brightly colored and the animation, while stylized, looks good and should help draw in its target audience and the voice work is great. I do have a couple of complaints, most notably they do pick on Mr. Lopart a little too much, and making up of his comb-over is a little much.

There is only one extra on the DVD and it is an interactive game for the kids. When they do win, they do get to watch five short clips, so there is a reward for the work.

Handy Manny - Fixing it Right is one of the best shows on right now that is aimed at the preschool demographic and this DVD is worth picking up if your kid(s) are fans of the show. I am upset that they have two screwdrivers and not one of them is a Robertson because everyone knows Robertsons are the best screwdrivers, but that's not enough of a complaint to prevent me from recommending the DVD.

HD DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: American Gangster, Galaxina, and The Invasion
The first $100 million movie to come out in High Definition, and it comes out the day Toshiba announced they are dropping HD DVD as a format. Wow... talk about bad timing. (On a side note, Universal has gone Blu and American Gangster could come out on that format even earlier than my previous prediction.)

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe - Volume One - Buy from Amazon
This is the 2002 version of the cartoon and not the original from the 1980s, and this version is superior in nearly every way. Better writing, better animation, more action, more realistic, etc. This 3-disc set is loaded with extras including audio commentary tracks on 5 of the 13 episodes, a making-of featurette, ComicCon panel, animatics, image galleries, and more. If you are a fan of the franchise, this is worth picking up, even if you didn't see it when it originally aired.

Helen Mirren at the BBC - Buy from Amazon
A five-disc set from the BBC featuring nine TV movies spanning the 1970s to early 1980s, all of which feature Helen Mirren. Amazingly, they are all new to DVD (at least this side of the pond), and all of them have some level of replay value. Lack of extras hurts, but the cost it reasonable, especially compared to other imports.

In the Valley of Elah - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
I think it is fair to call this movie busted Oscar bait. Although it did earn good reviews and Tommy Lee Jones did pick up an Oscar nomination, it didn't live up to expectations on either count, nor did it live up to expectations at the box office. So it is fitting that the DVD is on the disappointing side with just some deleted scenes and two featurettes. It is worth checking out, but a rental will do for most people.

It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown - Buy from Amazon
Is it Easter already? Fans of this series of TV specials should be dancing for joy (doing the Snoopy dance, of course). This is the second re-mastered TV special to come out this year, and there are undoubtedly more on the way. In addition to the remastering, there is a making-of featurette and a bonus episode, It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown... Arbor Day? Really? Moving on... So the extras are adequate and the DVD is worth picking up for hardcore fans. However, it is not one of the best specials the Peanuts Gang was involved in.

Jackers! - Treasure Hunt on Raloo Farm - Buy from Amazon
A kids show aimed at mostly pre-school kids, featuring the exploits of three barnyard animals in Ireland. Young Piggley Winks and his two friends, Dannan the duck and Ferny the bull, and his sister, Molly, who have adventures on the farm.

The latest DVD release includes four episodes...

  1. Treasure Hunt: Piggley tries to get out of doing his chores when he finds a clue to a treasure map. But he has a lot of obstacles in the way, as well as Wiley the Sheep.
  2. Our Dragon's Egg: Piggley and the gang find an egg, which they assume must come from a dragon. It really is the most logical deduction.
  3. Dannan Does a Gig: Dannan's grandmother comes to school and shows the class how to do a traditional Irish jig, but Dannan just doesn't have the same talent. Meanwhile, Wiley the Sheep decides he should be a sheep dog.
  4. Growing Pains: Doesn't want to be a kid anymore and deal with his parents' rules, but when his dad sprains his ankle, he is put in charge and learns that being an adults sucks. ... Okay, perhaps that's not the exact term used, but it is the point they were trying to make.
Extras on the DVD include four storyteller segments and each runs just over 3 minutes, not counting the intros. Next is four minutes of Meet the Grandparents, while rounding off the extras was a short read along. Not a lot, but that's to be expected given the target audience. On the other hand, there were no subtitles, which was disappointing.

Jackers! - Treasure Hunt on Raloo Farm features lots of bright colors, fun adventures, and digital animation that made me cringe at times. (I admit, I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to these things.) Kids should be entertained by the show while at least adults have Mel Brooks' voice work to entertain them while they watch the show with them.

Kurt Cobain - About a Son - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about musician, Kurt Cobain, who helped define the music for a generation. The film is based on 25 hours of recorded interviews between Kurt Cobain and music journalist Michael Azerrad, which were previously turned into the book, Come As You Are.

This is a really simple film. Since it was based on audio interviews, the movie is comprised of these audio interviews, the occasional song (mostly songs that Kurt listened to growing up), and shots of the places where Kurt Cobain lived and grew up. This does allow for an unfiltered feel to the film, and the images matching with the audio give it a surreal edge at times. However, many times there's a lack of context that lessens the film's effectiveness.

(On a side note, the quality of the audio is poor at times. Sometimes this made it difficult to understand and this problem was made worse by the lack of subtitles.)

There are not many extras on the DVD but things start with interviews with the original interviewer, the director, the producer, and others. There is a director's commentary on select scenes that lasts 17:29 and he talks about the shots used in the film and how the director, AJ Schnack, made the choices on what shots to include and why. Finally there are eight and a half minutes of scouting footage taken before principal photography, which includes some side-by-side comparisons to the final film. All are worth checking out, but the replay value is on the low side.

Kurt Cobain - About a Son is an effective film and should be intriguing enough for fans of the musician, but it works better as a companion piece to Come As You Are rather than a separate movie. Also, those who are interested more on the musical side of the story will be disappointed. Still, worth checking out for fans of Kurt Cobain.

The Land Before Time - Adventuring in the Mysterious Beyond - Buy from Amazon
The latest in this long, long, long running franchise. It's been going on for so long, that I've run out of things to say about it.

Lillie - Buy from Amazon
A BBC mini-series about Lillie Langtry, who was a liberated woman during the late 1800s. The film earned nine BAFTA nominations and picked up two awards and it is worth checking out. However, like most imports, the price it high and the extras are low. Give it a rental first.

Little Einsteins - Race for Space - Buy from Amazon
Four overly cheerful kids ride in their rocket, named Rocket, and help kids learn about art and music while fighting the evil big jet, named Big Jet. Creativity is not their strong suit.

The show features art of the day and the classical song of the day. In the first episode, the song was Funeral March of a Marionette, which is best known as the theme song to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which gave the show a macabre vibe to it. (Weirdly, the final two episodes both have the William Tell Overture as the song of the day.) This is an interactive show, so a lot of pauses in the dialogue for the kids at home to play along. It is very repetitive with the same basic parts appearing in every episode; this will annoy adults watching the show, but it is perfect for the pre-school crowd.

Extras on the DVD include an interactive game and two Safety Patrol shorts and this is on par with other Disney DVD releases.

Little Einsteins have become a big hit with the pre-school crowd and parents who picked up the previous DVD should find Race for Space a pleasant addition to their DVD collection. It's everything you've come to expect from the franchise.

Lust, Caution - Buy from Amazon: Original NC-17 Versions or Edited R-rated Version
This filmed open with respectable reviews and had a stellar run for the first two weeks. However, it wasn't able to maintain this momentum as it expanded. This is not surprising since it was a foreign language film and an NC-17 rated film as well, both of which would limit its ability to expand. That said, it still earned close to $5 million during its theatrical run, which was in line with expectations. As for the DVD, it only has a couple of featurettes, but since it is a limited release and a foreign import, this is to be expected. Worth checking out, as long as one is not adverse to sexuality displayed in movies.

Margot at the Wedding - Buy from Amazon
Generally speaking, movies hit the home market three to four months after they are released theatrically. This means this time of year we get a lot of films released during Awards Season and there is a very high caliber selection out there. There is also a lot of busted Oscar bait as well. Sadly, this film falls into the latter category.

Margot at the Wedding stars Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh as two estranged sisters who reunite when the latter is to be married. But the reunion isn't a pleasant one. The sisterly bond starts out well and they seem to get along, but soon the insecurities of Margot get the better of her and she starts to needle away at everything and everyone around her.

I had a really hard time getting into this movie. It is very dialogue heavy, which normally isn't a problem, but it was dialogue heavy at the expense of a real plot. It was also character driven, which is a bonus, but only when the characters are engaging and that wasn't the case here. Their self-inflicted troubles were grating, not engaging and the dialogue feels like it was written by a screenwriter and delivered by actors... which of course it was, but it shouldn't feel that way. It should feel more natural. There are some good performances here, especially Jennifer Jason Leigh, but not enough to salvage the film.

As for the extras, there is an interview featurette with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Noah Baumbach who go into more detail than most. It runs 13 minutes and is worth checking out, but that's still leaves a mostly featureless DVD.

Margot at the Wedding looked like it was aiming to win Oscars, but falls short. Not a terrible movie, but it doesn't have the replay value to warrant purchasing over renting.

Michael Clayton - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
One of the best movies of last year and a major player during Awards Season, which could help it score top spot on the sales chart this week. That said, while the movie is excellent, the DVD is not and extras are limited to an audio commentary track and just a few deleted scenes. This screams double-dip and I have a hard time believing there isn't a special edition already in the works. Rent this version and wait for the next one to buy it. That goes for the Blu-ray release as well.

Les Miserables - The 10th Anniversary Dream Cast in Concert at London's Royal Albert Hall - Buy from Amazon
The cream-of-crop cast members from performances around the world, this 2-disc set is a must-have for fans of the show and it includes an hour-long documentary from 1988. This is the best way to see the show, outside of seeing it live, of course.

Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about one of the most enduring, and least endearing, stand-up comics out there, Don Rickles. It's a funny movie, and the 2-disc set includes nearly an hour of extended interviews, deleted scenes, and so on. Worth checking out for most, picking up for many, and will encourage those who do watch it to check out more of his comedy, which might be hard because there is not enough of it out there to purchase.

Nightmare Detective - Buy from Amazon
A Japanese horror film making its way here direct-to-DVD.

The Asian horror market has been mined repeatedly, so I didn't have high expectations for this film. The back of the box described the film as a cross between the work of David Fincher and David Lynch, and there's another David that fit in that list, Cronenberg. However, this is overstating things; the film does have an intriguing psychological edge to it, and its style is similar in ways to that of the three Davids above, but not as strong. Part of the weakness found here had to do with the film's style, which is very culturally Japanese, including the suicide theme to the horror. It was also a little slow at times, but overall effective enough to be worth watching.

(On a side note, if you know someone is going to kill themselves in their sleep, wouldn't you check for sharp objects? Get rid of anything they could use to stab themselves? It seemed obvious to my right away. Also, if I thought I would be the next victim, I would get myself committed. Stay in a padded room in a straight-jacket so I couldn't hurt myself.)

As for the extras, the DVD only has one making-of featurette, although it clocks in at an incredible 55 minutes. It is in Japanese with English subtitles and has all the information fans of the movie could want.

The movi is interesting to watch, and has enough scares and gore for the target audience to enjoy, so fans of the genre should appreciate Nightmare Detective. That said, despite being confusing enough to warrant a second viewing, I don't think it has the replay value needed to more than a rental.

One Piece: The Desert Princess and the Pirates Adventures in Alabasta - Buy from Amazon
Anime is still a niche market here and it takes something special for such a film to survive even in limited release. This is not such a film. That said, there is a large enough audience for this film for it to survive on the home market, but with no extras, a rental will do for most people.

The Perfect Witness - Buy from Amazon
Wes Bently stars as a struggling filmmaker who catches his big break... when he catches a serial killer in the act. Deciding this is the perfect opportunity, he blackmails the serial killer into letting him film his exploits.

What a stupid idea! The guy is a serial killer! Why would anyone think they could bargain with someone like that? ... On the other hand, it is a good hook for the movie.

The film was written, directed, and produced by Thomas Dunn and is co-written by Mark Borkowski, who also stars as James Lemac, the serial killer in question. For both men this was pretty much their first film, but they crafted a very, very tight script. More of a character study than a slasher flick, which is a good thing, the two lead actors are excellent in the movie. The film is not 100% original and could have be influenced by Man Bites Dogs, as several other critics have noted, and the aspects of James Lemac are pretty common in most serial killer stories. That said, it also does enough with conventions of the genre to stand out.

(On a side note, Mark Borkowski reminds me of a combination of Lee Tergesen, from Oz, Harvey Keitel, with a little bit of Colin Firth thrown in. I'm not sure if I'm the only one who thinks that way, but I could be.)

Moving onto the extras, things start with an audio commentary track featuring Thomas C. Dunn, Mark Borkowski, and Yan Fisher Romanovsky, who was the producer. This is a great track with plenty of information on various topics (mostly aspects of low-budget filmmaking and some background information) and there are very few dead spots along the way. The second extra features some storyboards for three scenes and after you look at the storyboards, you are taken to the scene. It would have been better to look at them side-by-side, but this works as well.

The Perfect Witness could easily be dismissed by a lot of people a direct-to-DVD horror film and ignored like so many other teenage slashers. However, it is a taught, psychological thriller that is worth checking out. Additionally, the extras add enough to the film's replay value that it is worth picking up over just renting.

Pierrot le Fou - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
Director Jean-Luc Godard calls his two lead characters, Ferdinand and Marianne, the last romantic couple. Although if this is romance... One of the director's best know, and most beloved, films (the Tomatometer score is deceptively low here), it is certainly worthy of a Criterion release. Extras on the 2-disc DVD include an audio commentary track, documentary on Jean-Luc Godard, archival and original interviews, and a booklet of essays. Easily worth picking up for fans of the director, and worth checking out for those who have never seen his work.

Redacted - Buy from Amazon
Like so many other films dealing with the the war in Iraq, this one earned mixed reviews and disappeared at the box office. The film has an important story to tell, it just doesn't tell it in an effective way. Enough works to be worth checking out, but it is flawed enough that a rental will do.

Rendition - Buy from Amazon
The latest political tinged film dealing with the War on Terror. It didn't earn terrible reviews, but it didn't do well enough to overcome the obvious fatigue Americans have with this topic. No movie dealing with terrorism as done really well for a while now. Since the movie bombed, one would expect the DVD to be weak, but that is not the case and there are several extras including an audio commentary track, deleted and alternate scenes, a making-of featurette, and more. Worth checking out for most and worth picking up for many.

Robson Arms - The Complete Second Season - Buy from Amazon
I already mentioned this TV show when it came out up here in Canada, but this week it comes out in the States so you don't have to import it. And considering how weak your dollar is, that's a good thing. Worth picking up.

Spiral - Buy from Amazon
After making Hatchet, Adam Green and Joel Moore re-team to make this movie, which is a suspenseful character study with Joel Moore in the lead as a lonely artist trying to connect with another human. It also stars Amber Tamblyn as the muse to Joel's artist, and another lonely person trying to find a connection. It could be a movie about two lonely people finding happiness in each other, but its not. It is a great movie and one that more should see. (On a side note, due to Presidents' Day, the DVD screener was delayed so we will have the full spotlight review next week.)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Season 2 - Part 1 - Buy from Amazon
This is the 2003 release with the four turtles blasting off into space. It's hard to say which series is the best, although this one would certain earn a lot of votes. It is also one of the most faithful to the original comics, which probably explains its quality as well. Sadly, the 2-disc set appears to be completely devoid of extras and is only worth picking up for the hardcore fan as a result.

Terror's Advocate - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about Jacques Vergès, a lawyer who has defended many notorious clients including Nazi war criminals and Holocaust deniers. You never really get to know whether he is defending these people because he agrees with their politics, because he feels everyone deserves a fair trail, or if he just loves the attention, and the money, defending these people brings him. This makes him far scarier than most movie villains. Worth checking out, but I don't think many will want to watch it more than once so a rental will be enough.

Tony Robinson's Cunning Night Out - Buy from Amazon
No, this is not a lecture from the self-help guru, but a one-man show from the incredibly funny actor, who played Baldrick on Blackadder. In addition to the show, there is a Q&A session with him that includes talk about Blackadder. If you've only seen Tony Robinson as Baldrick, this will be a real treat and hopefully it will convince studios to release The Worst Jobs in History on DVD.

Walker - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
I first heard of this movie from reading an entry on Bob Harris's blog and it sounded fascinating. So when I learned it was coming out on DVD, I was more than a little intrigued. The film stars Ed Harris as William Walker, a lawyer / doctor who gives up his career to become a soldier of fortune and spread democracy in central America before becoming the dictator of Nicaragua. Did I mention it was based on a true story. ... Did I also mention it was directed by the same man who made Repo Man? Sadly, while the film is set in the 1850s and was originally used as an allegory for America's role in the same country during the 1980s, it fits just as well today. (As you watch this, you will ask yourself, "Why don't we ever learn?") As for the extras, the DVD has an audio commentary, an extensive behind-the-scenes featurette, select scenes commentary presented without the scenes, image gallery, booklet with more images, and even an Easter Egg. Ignore the critics and buy this movie. And while you are at it... Buy Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy! and Who Hates Whom, both written by Bob Harris.

Walker, Texas Ranger - The Complete Fourth Season - Buy from Amazon
Those Chuck Norris Facts are making fun of Chuck Norris, right? I always got that impression, but he seems to have a new career because of them. He has even become a political pundit. (I wonder how the Dixie Chicks feel about that?) This show is a fine example of low expectations entertainment; if you are looking for acting, writing, character development, etc., look elsewhere, but if you are looking for someone to get a roundhouse kick to the face every episode, there are worse options out there. There are also better options as well. The 7-disc set has no special features and I can't recommend even renting it, but others will disagree with me.


Filed under: Video Releases, Michael Clayton, Rendition, In the Valley of Elah, Se jie, Margot at the Wedding, For the Bible Tells Me So, Kurt Cobain: About a Son, Redacted, L'avocat de la terreur, One Piece: Episode of Alabaster - Sabaku no Ojou to Kaizoku Tachi, Chaos, Spiral, Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project, American Gangster