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DVD Releases for June 10, 2008 - Part I

June 10th, 2008

A rain-delayed DVD Report this week. (We didn't have any flooding, nor was there any real wind damage, but the weather was severe enough to disrupt power at times and my internet connection was not as solid as it should be making working online nearly impossible at times.) It wouldn't have been too bad, but there's a massive list of releases this week, so many in fact, that I had to split the list into two. There aren't many first run releases, and nothing stands out as a must-have, or even a solid purchase. There are some contenders for DVD Pick of the Week, but to find them you have to head over to the TV on DVD department (Army Wives - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon), the limited releases market (The Grand - Buy from Amazon), the classics category (High Noon - Buy from Amazon) or the foreign flicks (Invisible Target - Buy from Amazon). High Noon is the best of the group, but it is a double, or even triple-dip, and that costs it some points. I recommend picking up all four, but for DVD Pick of the Week, I'm going with Army Wives - The Complete First Season, which is a bit of a surprise as I didn't think I would enjoy the TV series as much as I did.

Part Two of this week's list can be found here.

7th Heaven - The Complete Sixth Season - Buy from Amazon
For many fans, this is the season that this show started to truly showing its age and it is also the season where the cast changes started to occur. (This is the last year for Jessica Biel to be part of the main cast, for instance.) It's not a bad season, but it is the beginning of the end. Additionally, the 6-disc set has no special features, further reducing its value and limiting it to a rental for all but the most hard core fans.

American Gangster - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
The second season of this program profiles 10 notorious black criminals including the D.C. Snipers, who broke the mold of the serial killer, Frank Lucas, who inspired American Gangster; and Melvin Williams, who inspired the HBO series, The Wire. This is a series that needs to walk a tightrope between showing the brutality of the streets without seeming to celebrate the brutal people involved.

The show itself is not very cinematic, which is to its benefit. The straightforward, talking heads documentary style helps reduce the feeling that the show is cashing in on these crimes. Reduces. Does not prevent. Also, too often the show tried to excuse what these men did. Society did not make you rob 60 banks. Society did not make you rise to the top of a criminal empire. The excuse of, "I was just trying to support my family" falls apart sometime around your first million dollars. Greed and a total disregard for your fellow man is what made you do the things you did. Personal responsibility doesn't appear to be part of the show's mantra, nor is victims' rights, as there is little attempt to give a voice to the victims.

The three-disc set has a number of bonus interviews and most of them are very substantial. In fact, the four interviews last almost an hour and a half in total.

When American Gangster tries to be a documentary series about crime, it works. Had Season Two focused on showing the brutal reality behind the false persona put forth by too many entertainers, it could have been a great show. As it is, I have a hard time recommending it for anything more than a rental.

The Andromeda Strain - Buy from Amazon
One of several late spotlight reviews on this week's list. Can't review them on time if they arrive late. But now that they are here, let's jump right in.

The Andromeda Strain is a two-part TV mini-series that is based on the book by Michael Crichton, which was previously the source material for a movie of the same name. That movie is considered to be a classic by many, others call it dull. This mini-series expands the scope of the movie, but doesn't make it more exciting. Additionally, there was a lot of science that was handled in a way that will bore many, and infuriate others. (There were a few plot holes to be found here, including paradoxes that seem to plague any movie with time travel elements. Additionally, the attempt to give the Andromeda a physical presence was simply too much to believe. In the finale it even managed to 'chase' one of the lead characters. Overall it is serviceable entertainment, but nothing with any real re-play value.

Extras are likewise serviceable, but nothing spectacular. Things start off with an audio commentary track that covers the usual details, including the twisting road to get the movie made in the first place. There are a few dead spots, especially in the second half, but it is still worth listening to. Next up is a 26-minute making-of featurette, which is a mix of talking heads of clips from the movie. There are also 15 minutes of special effects shots in various stages of production, but this is set to mellow background music and not an audio commentary, which would have been better. Finally, there are more than 100 images that include production stills and concept art.

The Andromeda Strain is an attempt to re-imagine the story and modernize it. This is not a terrible plan and it definitely had potential. However, the final product is only mixed. There's enough that works that I can recommend checking it out, but enough that doesn't that I can only recommend a rental.

Army Wives - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
Apparently the highest-rated series of the Lifetime channel... I'm not sure if that's truly impressive or not, as I've never seen the Lifetime channel. ... Actually, I don't know if I have the Lifetime channel.

Army Wives tells the story of five spouses, four wives and a husband, who are married to career military men (and one woman) and how they deal with knowing they are not the top priority of their loved ones. The army always comes first. The wives consist of Claudia Joy Holden, who is the wife of one of the high ranking leaders of the base, and likewise she is the leader of the group. Denise Sherwood is an ex-nurse who is married to a Major, who is serving in Iraq. She's perhaps the most conservative of the group, and not in a political sense, but in a socially restrained sense. Pamela Moran, who is certainly not restrained, is a former cop who married a special ops, which puts a special strain on her relationship. Next up is Roxy LeBlanc, the newest recruit, so to speak. She married her husband after knowing him a mere 4 days and this is her first experience on the military base, which is causing all sorts of problems as she tries to adjust. (She's introduced first, and for audience members who have no military experience, she's a good way to introduce concepts to them.) Finally, there's Roland Burton, the man of the group. He is married to Joan Burton, the highest-ranking African-American female on the base. However, she's been away for two years, which has but a tremendous strain on their relationship.

Storylines explored during the first season include current events, especially the war in Iraq, and those that are specific to military families, like the horror you experience when a family member goes M.I.A. Others are storylines that could occur in any series, like domestic abuse or infidelity. The important thing is, while the show slips into soap opera territory on occasion, it maintains a highly engaging quality throughout its initial 13-episode run and ends on a nice cliffhanger. (Although I guessed the twist almost immediately. Warning: Incoming huge spoiler... As soon as the munitions were discovered missing and the intel thought it was local terrorist groups, I thought, 'Nope. It's that one solider who has snapped because his wife is leaving him.

(On a side note, is it just me or does Sally Pressman, who plays Roxy LeBlanc, remind anyone else of Sarah Michelle Gellar?)

As for the extras, the 3-disc set has audio commentary tracks on 4 episodes, including the series premiere and the season finale. It also has several deleted scenes, with optional commentary, including a side storyline that was cut from the season finale. Wives on the Homefront talks about army wives in real life and the day of celebration the show organized. Finally, there are two Have At It segments, one with the cast and one with the executives. The former has the cast answering a series of questions from viewers while the latter has the two executive producers describing the origins of the show. Overall, it is a great package.

Army Wives is a show that could have easily fallen into the soap opera trap, and while it does get melodramatic at times, the First Season maintains a strong quality level. Add in extras that are on par, or better, than most concurrent releases, and this 3-disc set is an easy recommendation.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: 12-Pack, Broken Trail, The Bucket List, Heart - Alive in Seattle, Jumper, Natural Born Killers, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Professionals, The Signal, Tchaikovsky - Piano Concertos Nos. 1&3 - Acoustic Reality Experience, and Witless Protection
This week's Blu-ray releases are all about quantity over quality. There's even a 12-Pack that has a merely adequate hit to miss ratio. Nothing stands out as a must have.

The Boondocks - The Complete Second Season - Buy from Amazon
I really like the comic strip, but I'm still not really into the TV series as much as I thought I would be. I'm not sure why, but I think it has something to do with the voice work of Regina King; no offense to her work, but I don't think her voice fits with the character. The writing is great and if you can get past that lead voice, it's a great show. Even better is the 3-disc set, which include audio commentary tracks on 4 of the 15 episodes (including 2 that were not aired), as well as featurettes on the making of the show and interviews with most of the cast. Definitely worth picking up for any fan of the show and checking out for fans of the strip.

The Bucket List - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
This movie earned weak reviews, but it caught on with audiences and it lasted a long, long time in theaters, nearly reaching $100 million in the end. So who is right? The critics or the moviegoers? They are both right, in their own ways. Yes, the movie is sappy and over-sentimental at times. However, it is also sports two great performances by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman and the emotions of the movie do hit home and overall it is worth checking out. As for the DVD, it's rather weak. No, it's pathetic with just a featurette and a music video. On the other hand, the Blu-ray has a trivia track and an additional featurette. It's still not great, but it is worth the extra cash for the upgrade.

Comedy Central's Home Grown - Buy from Amazon
A TV on DVD release that is a 'Best Of...' release, but not a 'Best Of...' for a series, but a 'Best Of...' for a network. Weird. Even weirder, I don't think Comedy Central quite gets the idea behind 'Best Of...'

This single-disc set includes 5 full episodes, a handful of sketches from a number of other shows, and finally a few odds and ends for those still needing some herbally charged entertainment. The episodes start with The Sarah Silverman Program, "Face Wars", which is one of the weakest episodes in the show's run so far. TV Funhouse has "Christmas Day", which has the Anipals freebasing Christmas Spirit, which they tapped out of Doug's spine. The Root of All Evil has Lewis Black judging "Beer vs. Evil." "Burning Man Festival" causing problems on Reno 911! while the pilot episode of Strangers with Candy round out the list. None of these are good representatives of their respective series and most are among the weakest episodes produced. Granted, a weak episode of Reno 911! or Strangers with Candy is better than most shows, but those were the only two episodes here with real replay value.

Stems has more than a dozen bits from seven shows (if you includes the Quickies). Of these, only two made me laugh. The Dave Chappelle Show skit and the first of two Viva Variety skits. (The second Viva Variety bit is only mildly amusing, but that's still better than the rest.) Seeds includes a short bit on Spiders on Drugs that is actually entertaining, a vintage documentary called Weed, and an episode of Joy of Paining with Bob Ross, which is clearly the best thing on the DVD. Finally, there are three shorts from The Animation Show, including two from Volume 3 and one from this upcoming season, Psychotown. The Seeds section had a better hit to miss ratio that the rest.

Comedy Central's Home Grown is an interesting idea with a thoroughly flawed execution. Adding up the episodes, the skits, and the extras, and there's 26 items to choose from. Of those eight have replay value. That's a bad hit to miss ration under any circumstance, and its pathetic for a "Best Of..." DVD. Granted, trying to work with the drugs theme limited their selection of episodes, but there has to have been better choices that this. Odds are, if you are a fan of the shows represented here, you already have many of the episodes on DVD. In this case, I can't even recommend renting. On the other hand, if you have never seen most of these shows, but like Comedy Central's usual offerings, or really like stoner humor, give it a rental.

Da Vinci's Inquest - Season 3 - Buy from Amazon
A Canadian series about a coroner working in Vancouver and trying to solve crimes while dealing with the political machine. The show is based on the real life of Larry Campbell, who later became the mayor of Vancouver. (That part of his life is the basis of Da Vinci's City Hall.) This is an excellent police procedural show, but the mysteries are better than most you will see on TV while the characters seem more real and not just a vehicle for special effects or one last twist. Extras on the 4-disc set are light with just two short behind-the-scenes featurettes that run roughly 10 minutes and the price is high on a per minute basis. However, this is common for imports and the show is still worth picking up.

The Dukes of Hazzard Two Movie Collection - Buy from Amazon
Two TV movies from the popular TV series that were made in 1997 and 2000. Neither movie is particularly strong, but the first is clearly better than the second. Meanwhile the 2-disc set is devoid of extras. I was a fan of the show when I was a kid, but either it didn't age very well, or I aged too much, and the magic is gone. Hardcore fans might want to check it out, but for most a rental will be enough.

Eddie and the Cruisers - Double-Shot - Buy from Amazon
Both films from the franchise coming out in one box set. The first film earned medicore reviews and bombed at the box office. However, it found an audience on cable and grew in popularity, so much so that it spawned a sequel six years later. The sequel also earned mediocre reviews and bombed at the but office, but in a twist, it did not become popular on cable. While only the first movie is really worth owning on DVD, this 2-disc set is amazingly cheap and I can see a lot of fans picking it up.

Fantastic Four - World's Greatest Heroes - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
While the two movies were more or less successful (more successful with moviegoers than with critics) the cartoon was able to capture the essence of the super hero team more accurately. Even more impressively, the studio realized that the target audience for this DVD is the adult collector and there are plenty of extras on the 4-disc set. This includes audio commentary tracks on a few episodes, featurettes on the franchise from its comic books roots to this latest TV series, another featurette on the villains, and a third one on the animation style. Easily worth picking up for fans of the show, checking out for fans of comics or super heroes in general.

The Fugitive - Season 2 - Volume 1 - Buy from Amazon
The Fugitive - Season Two. Woo hoo! Volume one. D'oh!

Starting with the opening narration with William Conrad, this show tends to follow a typical pattern. We are introduced to the latest town where Dr. Richard Kimble is hiding out while he looks for the one-armed man. Although he doesn't spend a lot of time looking for the one-armed man; he spends a lot more time helping the people he meets. It's the classic story of a hero on the run, much like TV series The Incredible Hulkor The Littlest Hobo. (Don't worry, I'm not going to start singing again.) Thanks to terrific writing and a cast that lives up to the material, this formula never grows tiresome. In addition to the regular cast (which is really just the two characters, The Fugitive and the Cop), the first 15 episodes of the second season include a number of memorable guests stars including Slim Pickins, a very young Kurt Russell, Leslie Nielson, Tuesday Weld, and others.

On the down side, there are no extras and no subtitles. But the discs do have a play all button and proper chapter placement.

An excellent show that has a following on the home market. Many fans, both old and new, are happy that The Fugitive - Season 2 - Volume 1 is coming out on DVD. However, while I can recommend this 4-disc set, I would be a lot more enthusiastic if there were some extras, or at the very least, full season sets.

Funny Games - Buy from Amazon
A scene-for-scene remake written and directed by Michael Haneke, who made the original. It's a daring film with a message, problem is, the message is poorly delivered. Warning: Incoming major spoiler... The movie is making two points, the first of which is that violence is real and heroes only rise up and win in the movies and this is why the family dies in the end. However, there are two problems with this. A.) This is a movie, so they bad guys win in the end because the screenwriter wanted them to win in the end. B.) Someone did rise up and fought back, only one of the bad guys used a remote control to rewind the movie and change the outcome. So the movie failed to make its case on two fronts. Yes, you read that right. One of the bad guys uses a remote control to change the outcome of the movie. The second point is an attack against the level of violence that has saturated entertainment, which is a fair point to make. However, Michael Haneke tries to make this point by making a movie that is saturated with violence. Message movies have the potential to be more than just entertainment, but when the message is this poorly delivered, it's just a bad movie. As for the extras, there are none. Can't even rate this one a rental. On a side note, the link to Amazon died sometime this morning. I don't know why and I don't know if or when it will be back up.

The Grand - Buy from Amazon
Poker is one of the least cinematic human endeavors out there. It's popularity is based on not knowing what the next card will bring. However, when the next card is pre-determined by a screenwriter, it loses a lot of its appeal. Here's where this movie takes an interesting twist, since it is a improv mockumentary, they just played the game for real. Extras on the DVD are strong with a feature-length audio commentary track, select scene commentaries, deleted scenes, alternate scenes, and more. Granted, the film didn't earn great reviews, and you need to be into poker, mockumentaries, improv, or gratuitous cameos to really enjoy the movie, but for those that are, it is worth picking up.

Hawaii Five-0 - Season Four - Buy from Amazon
This is one of those shows that you pop in your DVD player and as soon as the theme song starts playing, you are immediately put in the right frame of mind to enjoy the show. It is an iconic theme song, but the theme song isn't the only draw for the show.

Hawaii Five-0 is a police procedural show that ran from 1968 to 1980, winning over many loyal viewers over its run. This season Steve McGarrett and his team go after serial killers, bank robbers, hitmen, gangsters, and even communist spies. This brings us to Steve McGarrett's nemesis, Wo Fat, who makes his return to the show in a two-part episode that is one of the best of the season. (And not just because of guest appearances by Donald Pleasance and Roger C. Carmel, a.k.a. Harry Fenton Mudd.) Other strong episodes include Skinhead, in which the Five-0 try and convict a skinhead soldier who beat a woman unconscious and raped her. But there's a twist; there's always a twist. Speaking of twists, there's nothing but them in Rest in Peace, Somebody, in which a lunatic taunts the police saying he will kill someone in 51 hours, but he won't say who. Another excellent episode.

Extras are very light with just some episode promos for several of the episodes. The series also has subtitles, proper chapter placement, but no play all button.

Hawaii Five-0 lasted 12 seasons, and this is not a fluke. Season Four continues the show's strong run with many, many episodes that have surprisingly strong replay value. (In a crime drama, once you know the ending, there's less replay value than other genres like drama or comedies.) Even the lack of extras doesn't prevent me recommending the DVD, but I can't be as enthusiastic as I would like to be with the light package of extras.

High Noon - Buy from Amazon
One of the best Westerns of all time. If it is not in your DVD collection, it should be. Nothing more needs to be said about the movie. However, this is not the first time this movie has been released on DVD. It is not even the first special edition DVD put out. This 2-disc Ultimate Edition has most of the usual extras from the previous releases, including audio commentary track, 2 making of featurettes, etc. It also has a new 50-minute making-of featurette and a couple of short extras on Tex Ritter, who sang the Oscar-winning theme song. I don't know if this is enough to be worth upgrading for everyone, but it is more than enough to be worth picking up if you don't have the movie already.

Home Improvement - The Complete Eighth Season - Buy from Amazon
The eighth and final season of this long running sitcom. When the show first aired, it didn't earn great reviews, but it became popular with TV audiences and it is not that surprising that it lasted so many seasons. However, perhaps it lasted one or two seasons too long.

The show had been running out of steam for a while, which is common for shows that have lasted this long. There were some changes to the show this season, including early on when Jonathan Taylor Thomas, a.k.a. Randy Taylor, left the series. There was some repetition in the season as a whole, but there are still some strong episodes, as well as a ton of guest stars. (Stunt casting is common as a show gets older.) Penn & Teller show up, as does Jenny McCarthy, and others. (Jenny McCarthy 's performance on the show was surprisingly good and Young at Heart was one of the better episodes.) There are some real character development as well, especially with Jill Taylor; additionally, the 3-part series finale, The Long and Winding Road, is a fitting tribute to the series and almost all fans will be happy with the way the show ends.

Extras on the 4-disc set include the series special, Backstage Pass, which was shown when the show first ended. There's also The Home Improvement User's Guide reunion special that was done live in 2003. It runs 42 minutes, or the length of an hour-long TV episode, and is comprised of clips from the show and new stand-up material. Fans of the show should get a real kick out of it. The only other bonus feature on the 4-disc set is 6 minutes worth of bloopers. Additionally, all three of the big three are found here: Play all buttons, proper chapter placement, and subtitles.

Home Improvement ran for eight seasons and developed a loyal following. The DVD releases have not been top of the shelf with sparse extras, but those who have bought the previous releases will haven't little reason to not grab the final season on DVD when it comes out Tuesday.

Icons of Adventure Collection - Buy from Amazon
Four films made by Hammer Studios during the early 1960s, three of which star Christopher Lee. All are admittedly B-movie material; however, they are still entertaining. Extras on the 2-disc set include audio commentary tracks for all four movies, as well as vintage shorts and the like. That's more than most movies from this era get and the DVD is easily worth picking up.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - Soundtrack - Buy from Amazon
Nope, I'm not reviewing the DVD, which won't come out until the fall, I assume. This week I'm reviewing the CD soundtrack, which was released just before the movie was.

The score for this movie was done by John Williams, and boy can you tell. On the one hand, John Williams is a multi-Oscar winning composer, and with good reason. On the other hand, he has a style that is easily recognizable and he is using previous material as a starting point, which compounds this problem. On the other, other hand, had he not used the iconic music cues from the first film there would have been riots in the streets. Granted, there are several songs here that have a hit their mark, but for the most part none truly stand out until they hit that all important Raiders of the Lost Ark music cue. "Journey to Akator", which has a Mexican flavor to it, stands out the most, but even here it's opening uses that famous cue.

If you enjoy John Williams' style, you will likely enjoy Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - Soundtrack. However, it will give you a strong sense of déjà vu and for that reason most will agree that it is just not worth picking up on its own. (On the other hand, it could be worth it as part of a complete franchise soundtrack box set.)

Invisible Target - Buy from Amazon
A violent gang commits a daring robbery that leaves scores injured and several people dead, including the fiancée of a cop. Six months later, the gang returns looking for the person who double-crossed them and stole the loot and it is up to three cops to team up and try to stop them.

The latest release by Dragon Dynasty, this film is action-packed, action-soaked, action-marinated. Choose your description, but there's a lot of action in the movie, which is good because that's its strong suit. The plot it okay, not special but doesn't detract from the action, while the dialogue can get a little exposition-heavy at times. Again, minor problems for action fans. As for the action, it is top-notch with plenty of martial arts fights, wire work, explosions, fire, martial arts fights in fire (very cool scene). The cast is will with recognizable faces, including Jaycee Chan, the son of Jackie Chan, who looks remarkably like his father at times. The film also stars Shawn Yue, of Infernal Affairs, Nicholas Tse, of New Police Story, and the head villian is Wu Jing, who was the lead in Fatal Contact, which I previously reviewed. Every one of these men, and others, handle the action scenes with amazing ability, especially Wu Jing, who comes across and neigh invincible as a fighter.

Dragon Dynasty releases have a reputation for a high level of extras, and this 2-disc set is no exception. On the first disc there is an audio commentary track with three of the lead actors, Jaycee Chan, Shawn Yue, Andy Oh, as well as Bey Logan. You can't have a Dragon Dynasty release without Bey Logan. It is a little less focused at times with the cast verbally beating up some of the members who couldn't make it to the recording session. However, it still has more than enough information and it is entertaining. Also, there's a 25-minute long making-of featurette, which is an effective mix of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie. The second disc has seven interviews, starting with the director, Benny Chan, and including most of the main cast members. They are comprised of talking heads and clips from the movie, which is the typical style for the studio, and run just over two-and-a-half hours. Next up are 6 deleted and extended scenes that are presented with an audio commentary track. Finally, there are three featurettes. The first is Fight For Glory, which is 19 minutes long and talks about the many stunts in the movie. From Conception to the Silver Screen runs 18 minutes and it is a comparison between the storyboard and the final scene presented with an audio commentary track. Finally, there's a 10-minute featurette on the Gala Premiere.

There have been plenty of Hong Kong action films made over the years, and even the cop sub-genre that Invisible Target is part of is well represented. Fans of these will certainly be entertained by this film, and the 2-disc DVD has more than enough extras to warrant a purchase over just a rental.

John Adams - Buy from Amazon
Paul Giamatti stars as the founding father and former American president in this massive, 8-hour mini-series from HBO. In addition, Laura Linney stars as his wife, Abigail, and it is their relationship that is at the heart of this show. This 3-disc set includes history fact tracks on all installments, and two featurettes, which is about even with most HBO releases. Certainly worth checking out for any fan of American history, or period pieces, and many who do will want to add it to there DVD collection.

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Continue reading Part Two of this week's DVD reviews.

Filed under: Video Releases, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Bucket List, Jumper, The Other Boleyn Girl, Funny Games, The Signal, The Grand