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DVD Releases for April 8, 2008

April 7th, 2008

It was a good week for top-notch releases with plenty that are worth picking up. But there were two films that were obvious choices for DVD Pick of the Week: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and Adventures of Baron Munchausen. In both cases, I would recommend the Blu-ray versions over the DVD. (On a side note, there were a few late spotlight reviews this week, and next week there will be a few more. Hopefully I will catch up by then, but there's always a chance that more screeners will arrive late in the meantime.)

The 11th Hour - Buy from Amazon
The latest documentary on the looming environmental crisis. Perhaps if it came out before An Inconvenient Truth, it would have been looked at more kindly by the critics and earned more at the box office. Since it came out later, it is looked at by many as a pale imitation of its Oscar winning predecessor. However, it is not a bad movie and should be seen as more. There's only one extra on the DVD, but it is practically a feature-length documentary crafted out of extended interviews with many of the participants from the movie, so basically you are getting two movies for one price here. Definitely worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

Adventures of Baron Munchausen - 20th Anniversary Edition - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
I would consider this film an underrated classic, and I am not alone in that assessment. Unfortunately for the studio, the movie's production budget spiraled out of control and it cost more than double its original budget of $20 million while only making $8 million at the box office. Fortunately for us, this hasn't affected the quality of the DVD. Extras on the DVD include a new making of documentary that run more than 70 minutes, an audio commentary track, storyboards, deleted scenes, while the Blu-ray also includes a Picture-in-Picture trivia track. I especially love the behind-the-scenes stuff, as the behind-the-scenes drama is almost as entertaining as what made it on screen. This is absolutely a must have DVD, and the Blu-ray is easily worth the upgrade and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Alvin and the Chipmunks - Blu-ray Edition - Buy from Amazon
Just a quick update from last week's review as the Blu-ray arrived late.

Looking at the Blu-ray transfer, I couldn't help but think it was only average for a first run release. The three CG leads look amazing and you can see every hair, but at times they tend to stick out more from the live action parts of the movie. High Definition CG tends to be sharper than live action, and when you try and blend the two, it can feel like two separate elements, which is it, but that hurts the believability of the movie. The slightly fuzzier nature of standard definition helps blends the elements better. To emphasize, this movie looks good, but is only average for a first-run release and it is not the kind of movie that really needs to be seen in High Definition.

As for the extras, there are no additional ones leaving just the two featurettes from the DVD, and worse yet, they are not even in high definition. Unacceptable.

A transfer that is only average, no additional extras, extras in standard definition, and to top it off, a price tag that is nearly twice as much as the DVD. Simply put, I can't recommend Alvin and the Chipmunks on Blu-ray over the DVD. And I couldn't recommend the DVD in the first place.

Ben 10: Race Against Time - Buy from Amazon
Ben 10 stars Graham Phillips as Ben Tennyson, a young boy who has the super power to turn himself into one of ten forms, hence the name. This live action TV movie based on the original cartoon should please younger fans of the show, but it doesn't rise above its TV movie movie roots.

Bette Davis Centenary Celebration Collection - Buy from Amazon
There are a lot of good movies in this 6-disc set. There are also a lot of double-dips, therefore the value varies widely depending on how many of the five movies you already own on DVD.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Sharkwater, The Sixth Day, Space Ace, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep
A great selection of Blu-ray releases with a mix of new releases and catalogue items. There are two releases that I can strongly recommend, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory - Volume 3 - Buy from Amazon
Nine musicals presented for the very first time on DVD in this 6-disc set. Extras include vintage shorts from the era, as well as some audio promos. Not as strong as the previous volumes, but still worth checking out.

The Cosby Show - Buy from Amazon: Season 7 and Seaon 8
For many, many years, this was the must see show on television. So much so, that it is deeply disappointing that the DVD releases have been so weak thus far. The show's run on DVD ends with two 3-disc sets, neither of which have any substantial extras. Call it a rental for most, but worth picking up for those who enjoyed the previous seasons.

Deadliest Catch - Season 3 - Buy from Amazon
Another season on the dangerous seas of the north fishing for Alaskan king crab that is incredibly engaging, more than most scripted dramas. On the one hand, this is a great show. On the other hand, the 3-disc set is devoid of extras. Back to the original hand, it is still a good deal and is worth picking up.

Day of the Dead - Buy from Amazon
Apparently this comes out this week, but I reviewed it last week. Quick recap: As a remake of George A. Romero's Day of the Dead, it is a failure. But as a direct-to-DVD zombie film, well, I've certainly seen worse and overall a rental is not a bad idea for fans of the genre. That's hardly a glowing compliment, but that's the best you are going to get out of me.

Fortysomething - Buy from Amazon
A Hugh Laurie TV series from Britain in which he played a man in the middle of a mid-life crisis. The show only lasted one series, and it wasn't the best of his career, but even average Hugh Laurie is better than no Hugh Laurie. Worth checking out, but without any extra, a rental will do.

Harry Houdini: The Movie Star - Buy from Amazon
Fans of Harry Houdini and / or early cinema rejoice. Kino is releasing a three-disc DVD set filled with all of the currently known surviving footage of Harry Houdini's live acts, a few of his movie appearances and more. This is certainly worth picking up, but I would have like new material as well, perhaps a documentary on the historical significance of the archival footage.

HD DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: I Am Legend, Mountain Winds - Music Experience in 3-Dimensional Sound Reality, and UFO: Showtime
The best selling High Definition release in any format this week is from HD DVD, at least according to Amazon, as I Am Legend tops this short list. That's unlikely to make a dent in the overall sales for the two formats.

Hell's Kitchen: Season 1 - Buy from Amazon
Gorden Ramsey's the host of this reality TV series, which is a competition series, but not a soul-crushing one. That said, I vastly prefer Kitchen Nightmares to this show and recommend that 2-disc set over this one.

Lions for Lambs - Buy from Amazon
Lions for Lambs marks the rebirth of United Artists as a movie label. It is the first time the studio has made a film since it was absorbed by Sony, but if this movie's box office numbers are indicative of the future for the studio, it won't be around long.

I knew this movie was in trouble during the combat scene when I thought to myself, "Ugh. That helicopter looks really fake." I know, it's a terribly superficial point when talking about a movie that is trying to make deep political statements, but that's the point. Had I been fully engaged by the movie, I wouldn't have noticed the cheap special effects. The topics discussed include the War on Terror, the media, political apathy, etc. However, it does it in a decidedly uncinematic way. For most of the film, it's just two people talking and for the most part, they are not saying anything new or anything particularly insightful. I applaud the attempt to start a conversation, but the end result was far from satisfying.

(On a side, if you are arguing with someone on the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan and they ask you, "Do you want to win the War on Terror?" The correct answer is, "Yes, but I disagree with your plan to achieve victory." Why do I never see this point made?)

Extras on the DVD start with an audio commentary track with Robert Redford, who directed and starred in the movie. It's a solo track that starts out well, if not very energetic, but by the middle dead spots start to creep in and it loses its pacing. There are two making of featurettes that run less than 30 minutes combined, and a 7-minute featurette on the history of United Artists, which is nothing more than clips from various movies. None have any real replay value.

Lions for Lambs opened with weak reviews, scored a weak opening, and then disappeared from theaters. Now the DVD has come out and it is just mediocre. Overall, I can't recommend anything more than a rental, which is a shame since the topics found here could have been turned into a top-notch movie.

Living with Ed - Season 1 - Buy from Amazon
Reality TV, but the documentary type. In this one we look into the life of Ed Begley, Jr. .. No, I don't know why we would want to either. There are just too many of these shows out there are far to few of them are compelling enough to be worth watching.

Looking for Cheyenne - Buy from Amazon
A French-language lesbian film that wowed the few critics who bothered to review it before disappearing at the box office. Hopefully the film will do better on the home market, but as a niche market release of a niche market, I am not confident it will.

Matlock - Season 1 - Buy from Amazon
I love this show. Back before I had this job, I worked as a computer programmer and this show was part of my daily routine. I would watch it, Columbo, Diagnosis Murder, and other murder mystery shows while I worked. (I telecommuted to work, which has some major advantages. Not only does it save the time (the commute the average American is 50 minutes while my computer desk is six feet from my bed) it also saves money (a lot of money with the price of gas) and creates a more relaxed workplace environment. For instance, as I'm typing this, I'm not wearing any pants. ... Okay, I'm actually wearing shorts, but I had you worried for a second.) While I loved this show and Andy Griffith is great in the title role, but the 7-disc set is lacking any special features. It does have the TV movie that started the series, but that should be standard for shows like this. It is still worth checking out, but for many a rental will suffice.

Music Within - Buy from Amazon
Ron Livingston stars as Richard Pimentel in this biopic of the disability rights advocate. An inspirational story that seemed like a sure bet for an engaging movie, not to mention it's the kind that award voters love. However, something went wrong along the way and most critics panned it while most and moviegoers ignored it. Was this a fair outcome, or did the movie deserve more.

It's a little of both.

Richard Pimentel's life story is very interesting and should draw in people, but it is not told in a cinematic enough way. It feels too small for the big screen. (It does seem to work better on DVD, however.) Also, for a film about characters we don't normally see in the movies, it doesn't take enough chances with the narrative and as a biopic it seems too by the numbers. (Strangely, the filmmakers mention in the audio commentary track that they removed a lot of the weirder stuff from movie because test audiences couldn't accept it. Another case where I disagree with test audiences.) When the movie was at its most daring, it was also at its best. It was at its best just enough to wish it were there more. It's so close to be really good that it is worse than if it was just bad.

As for the extras, there are plenty for a limited release that never really expanded beyond its initial opening theater count. Things start off with an audio commentary track with writer, the director, and the producer. They keep the track moving adding more than enough insight for fans of the film. There are also more than a dozen deleted scenes, but they are presented without intros or a commentary track, and without the context, they are not as effective as they could be. The Making of the Music runs 10:30, but it is not your typical making of featurette, as it deals more with the life of Richard Pimentel and less about the making of the movie itself. The final extra is a 15-minute speech given by Richard Pimentel, which made me wish this was a 2-disc set and there was nothing but Richard Pimentel giving speeches on the second disc.

Music Within is a movie that doesn't live up to its potential, but it is better than its Tomatometer score would indicate. It is worth checking out, and with a DVD that is better than expecting, many who do give it a try will end up buying it.

Mythbusters - Collection 3 - Buy from Amazon
I love this show. One of my favorite science show on TV at the moment. One of my favorite shows, period. Including on this set are the Chicken Gun Myth, March of Death bridge test, Mirror Deathray, the Airplane Toilet Suction test, and more. (That last myth, Airplane Toilet Suction test, was the episode where Kari Byron had her butt scanned. It's a fan favorite for this reason. ... I'm not judging, I'm just reporting the fact.) I love these DVDs and recommend picking them up, but they would be contenders for the DVD Pick of the Week if they have substantial extras, or any extras.

Nanny 911 - Season 1 - Buy from Amazon
There are two types of Reality TV shows out there. The competition ones and the documentary ones. Usually the latter are the soul crushing variety. Get a group of people desperate for fame and get them to do humiliating things for a mere pittance. However, this show proves that even the documentary ones can be soul crushing as well. Here the appeal is, at least as far as I can tell, the appeal is to watch people whose lives are worse than yours so you can feel good. "At least my kids are better behaved than that." I'm sure more than a few people watch this show on the off chance one of the nannies will say, "You're terrible parents and your kids are beyond hope. Therefore we are going to euthanize them and neuter you two so you don't have more. And before you complain, this was part of the contract you signed." That's never going to happen.

National Geographic - Six Degrees Could Change the World - Buy from Amazon
Another environmental documentary coming out this week. I think the evidence is clear and at this point anyone left who doesn't think there's a real environmental problem are True Believers and are a lost cause. An excellent program that should be seen by more, unfortunately, those that need to see it the most will avoid it the most. It is also coming out on a Amazon exclusive Blu-ray edition, but not till the 22nd.

P2 - Buy from Amazon
This horror film opened in early November to weak reviews and was completely ignored by moviegoers. An opening per theater average of less than $1000 is below terrible, it is lower than it costs to make and ship the prints to the theaters. Most critics agree that there is enough gore in the movie to satisfy gorehounds looking for a quick fix, but not enough real scares to be effective in any other way. As for the extras on the DVD, there's an audio commentary track, making of featurette, featurette on the set, and interview with the director. That's more than most were expecting considering its short theatrical run, but not enough to lift it past a rental.

Perry Mason - 50th Anniversary Edition - Buy from Amazon
Perry Mason is a great show, but fans of the series are at their breaking point with its treatment on DVD. The seasons are being split into two volumes, they are no special features, and they are coming out at a snail's pace. Now we have a Best of DVD to deal with. Granted, the shows chosen are great and there are few complaints there, and there are extras on the 4-disc set, but fans would be much better served if these extras were spread over the show's DVD run and full season sets came out every six months.

Planet in Peril - Buy from Amazon
The third environmental documentary coming out this week. This one is a re-release at a cheaper price. (The MSRP is $10 less.)

Reservation Road - Buy from Amazon
A drama about family and loss that quickly turns maudlin. Extras are weak, but that's to be expected for a film that did so poorly in limited release, and there's just some deleted scenes, a featurette, and an episode of Friday Night Lights. Worth a rental, at most.

Resurrecting the Champ - Buy from Amazon
One of the biggest box office flops from this past August. Granted, this film earned reviews that were just barely above overall positive level and it was unlikely to become a huge hit even under ideal conditions, but that doesn't explain the film's struggles. However, the film's struggles do explain the lack of extras on the DVD. There is a making of featurette and some interviews, but that's not enough to lift it past a rental.

Revolver - Buy from Amazon
A movie that demands to be watched more than once, but that might not be a good thing.

Jason Statham stars as Jake Green, a man who has just been release from prison when he uses the perfect con he learned in prison to win big at the tables. But that's just the first step in his plan for revenge against the crime boss that cost him seven years in prison to begin with. But like all good tales of revenge, things quickly get complicated. Really complicated. Unbelievably complicated.

The next 100 minutes is filled with hitmen, opposing gangs, drug deals, and even some rotoscoping that feels like it just came out of The Wall. Not even Jake Green frequent inner thoughts really clarify what's going on.

Neither does the audio commentary track.

Speaking of which, we get to the extras on the DVD and things start off with an audio commentary track with writer / director Guy Ritchie, editor James Herber, and the occasional assistant. This track is less about the making of the movie than it is about the philosophy of the movie. It made me more confused. Other extras include several deleted scenes, some with introductions, some without. There's also four minutes of outtakes, which also seem out of place given the nature of the movie, but it's nice light break. Next up is a nearly 25-minute making of featurette and another 14-minute featurette on the music. Finally, there's a 16-minute featurette on the concept of the movie and how it came about. I love this interview featurette and it was completely fascinating.

If you look at this movie as a simple conman movie... okay, a really complex conman, it works. At least until the weird psychobabble starts up, then it can go south. But there's a really good chance that the movie up to this point will have grabbed you enough that you will want to watch the movie again and again until you finally understand it. And this is a movie that rewards repeat viewings. However, others will watch it once and say, "That was complete crap!" and they will never want to see it again. I can definitely recommend it, but rent it first, just in case you are in the latter category.

(On a side note, I don't think the philosophy in the movie is all that complex. Basically it states that the only enemy is your ego. You are willing the lie, steal, and even kill to protect your own ego. You can be very self-destructive to protect your own ego. I agree with this part and it makes perfect sense. However, if you will lie, steal, or kill to protect your own ego, then someone else will also do the same to protect there. Therefore, it is very possible that someone else will lie to you, steal from you, or even kill you to protect your own ego. Not every enemy is just your ego being projected, as one of the philosophers stated during the end credits, but sometimes you become the target of someone else's ego, so your ego isn't your only enemy. I think this also makes perfect sense.)

Rock of Love - Season 1 - Buy from Amazon
Not the most soul-crushing Reality TV, but it is close.

Send a Bullet - Buy from Amazon
A Brazilian film about the epidemic of kidnapping that is happening in that country. The film earned stellar reviews, but the subject matter and the language barrier prevented its expansion after a strong start in limited release. As for the extras, there's an audio commentary track and substantial deleted scenes, which is enough to lift the DVD past the rental level and to a solid purchase.

Sense & Sensibility - Buy from Amazon: With Miss Austen Regrets or with Miss Austen Regrets and Persuasion
Jane Austen must be the most adapted author in the English language. Her six novels have been adapted countless times as movies, TV movies, mini-series, etc. and this has been done so many times that it is nearly impossible to say anything new for the latest versions to hit the home market. Both DVD sets above are worth checking out for fans of the writer, but unless you want several versions of each story in your DVD collection, rent first to see if you enjoy it more than the other versions.

Sharkwater - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
A documentary about sharks that is effective in delivering its message, but tends to focus too much on the host and not enough on the message. Extras are limited to one featurette, and while the Blu-ray looks good, it has no additional extras.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Season 6 - Buy from Amazon
The latest release in this long-running franchise that has spanned several comics, movies, TV series, and toy lines. It's a good price, but the 2-disc set is missing some episodes from season 6.

There Will Be Blood - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc Edition or Two-Disc Special Edition
From the very beginning, this movie had Oscar written all over it. Expectations were so high for this film that it almost would take a miracle for the film to live up to the hype. I'm happy to report that the movie did live up to the hype. Almost. But more on that in a second.

There Will Be Blood stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview, a silver miner turned oilman in turn-of-the-century California boom. He hears of huge, untapped resource of oil in a small town called Little Boston and travels there to exploit the land, and anyone he need to in order to win. He works along side his young son, H.W., and a has dealings with a local preacher, Eli Sunday, not to mention a lost brother, and competition. Daniel Plainview is a man of questionable morals, who not only wants to succeed, he wants to see everyone else to fail. It is this character that dominates the movie from start to finish.

The film is fantastic from the story to the acting to the directing to the cinematography and, of course, the acting. There is a reason why Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar this year, but it also truly deserved its win its Oscar for Cinematography. (For that matter, I thought it could have won for Sound Mixing and Sound Editing as well.) However, and I hate to say this, but having previously reviewed No Country for Old Men, I couldn't help compare the two films. I tried not to, but I couldn't help myself. In this head-to-head, No Country for Old Men comes out on top. I think part of the problem is Daniel Day-Lewis's performances, which is so dominating, that it overpowers all else in the movie. But this is a minor complaint and the movie is still amazing.

The Two-Disc Special Edition is not amazing. Or even average. There are no extras on the first disc, and only a handful of extras on the second. The biggest extra is The Story of Petroleum, a 25-minute long silent movie from 1920s created by the United States government detailing the work that it takes to drill for oil, or at least the work that it took at the time. There is also 15 minutes of vintage photos that were used to help research the movie, but there are no words or dialogue, just background music. This lack of context hurts its effectiveness. Rounding out the extras are two deleted scenes and an alternate scene. This is just not enough, especially for a 2-disc set, and I suspect that there will be another special edition sooner rather than later.

There Will Be Blood is easily one of the best movies from 2007 and should have been an easy DVD to recommend. However, the lackluster DVD just screams double-dip, which makes it hard for me to recommend buying. If you are unconcerned about the possible double-dip, either because you are willing to buy the movie twice, or are not interested in extras, then buying it is certainly the right move. Otherwise, rent it and wait to buy the next release, which should come out in six month, maybe a year.

Tollbooth - Buy from Amazon
Marla Sokoloff first came to my attention from her role in The Practice, but while she was great in that show, she hasn't been able to translate that success into a movie career I thought she would earn. Films like this are part of the problem. The movie is a coming of age story center on Sarabeth Cohen, who is trying to make it as an artist. Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle is the number of clichés in her life. Hopefully Play the Game will be better.

Tripping the Rift - The Movie - Buy from Amazon
This DVD is billed as an Unrated movie, and honestly, it is neither. In reality it is four episodes from season three intertwined and sort of turned into a movie. And while it does have swearing, it is censored and it is done a heavy handed and poorly done matter. (There's a bar that says censored on it that covers the 'offending' parts. Seriously.)

Ignoring the marketing and concentrating on the actually episodes, they are only average for the third season, which many fans thought was the weakest. (This explains why there won't be a fourth season.) The episodes including...

  • Skankenstein: Chode and the crew are hired to be a bodyguard for a Princess, who is almost immediately bumped off. Faster than you can say Dr. Frankenstein, they have a solution to their problem.
  • Raiders of the Lost Crock of */@?#!: Chode and Gus go to a strip club, but instead buy a medallion that is linked to a mythical treasure. You can probably guess that things don't go as planned.
  • Witness Protection: While laying low, Chode and the crew hide in a suburban planet and Chode becomes the object of desire for all the housewives there, who are obviously very desperate.
  • Chode Eraser: Chode throws a birthday party, which is nothing more than a scam to get money. However, a moment of indiscretion leads to Babbette Bobo getting pregnant and this causes her parents to send a killer robot into the past to kill him before he does the dirty deed.
So you have four parodies that work to varying degrees individually (Chode Eraser is arguably the best while I felt Witness Protection was the weakest). However, combining them weakens their effectiveness since they simply don't work as a cohesive whole. There are still enough jokes for fans of the show, but not as many as the average for season two, for instance.

And forget the Unrated label; it is pure marketing. In fact, I've seen more nudity and worse language broadcast on network TV in Canada.

As for the extras, there's a single 7-minute making of featurette. It's a mixture of talking heads and clips from the movie with a few shots of actors doing voice work.

For fans of the TV series, Tripping the Rift - The Movie might be worth a rental. However, for most, waiting for a full season set would be better. Spending the extra money to hear a few swear words isn't worth it.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story - Buy from Amazon: Single Disc Edition, Two-Disc Special Edition, Two-Disc Blu-ray Edition
Strong reviews and two Golden Globe nominations couldn't save this spoof at the box office. I won't go into my rant about pseudo-spoofs, again, but I will say that this movie is the real deal and fans of films like Blazing Saddles or Top Secret should love this movie. As for the three releases coming out this week, there's a Single Disc Edition that is -- skip it. There's just no reason to get the weakest of the three releases. The Two-Disc Special Edition has plenty of extras, including two mockumentaries about Dewey Cox, two making of featurettes, deleted scenes, alternate scenes, a huge selection of musical performances, and the Cox Sausage commercial. Moving onto the Blu-ray, it has both versions of the movie on the same disc, and the first look at BD Live where you can download three standard definition clips. ... It's good to see Blu-ray is not doing any better than HD DVD when it comes to taking advantage of internet connectivity. (Here's an idea. Allow multiple people to watch the movie synchronized over the internet, and then give them a trivia contest on the specific references in the spoof. I know it can be done, and if done well, it would be an amazing extra.) The Blu-ray is just more than 30% more expensive that the DVD, and that's worth the upgrade. Not only that, but the Blu-ray is loaded with enough extras to be rated the DVD Pick of the Week.

Water Horse: The Legend of the Deep - Buy from Amazon: 2-Disc DVD or Blu-ray
A family film that opened this past December, which is one of the best times of the year to open such a film. With its reviews and its release date, it should have pulled in its target audience, but that didn't happen. Its disappointing run could have resulted in a disappointing DVD, but that also didn't happen. Extras are not overwhelming, but there are a few deleted scenes and several featurettes. These features talk about the making of the movie, the characters, etc., but also talks about the True Believers of the Loch Ness myth. As for the Blu-ray, it has a Java game, but I'm not sure that's worth the 40% increase in costs, especially with the film's target audience.


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Filed under: Video Releases, I am Legend, Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, There Will Be Blood, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Lions for Lambs, P2, Resurrecting the Champ, Sharkwater, Music Within, Manda Bala, Reservation Road, Revolver, The Tollbooth, Oublier Cheyenne, Ben 10: Race Against Time, Day of the Dead, 11th Hour