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DVD Releases for June 24, 2008

June 23rd, 2008

There was a sharp drop-off in the number of releases this week, but while the numbers were down overall, there were several releases that I can enthusiastically recommend: Charlie Bartlett - Buy from Amazon, Definitely, Maybe - Buy from Amazon, Futurama - The Beast with a Billion Backs - Buy from Amazon, The Hammer - Buy from Amazon, and In Bruges - Buy from Amazon. However, while all those movies, and a few others, are worth picking up, the best of the best is Persepolis and either the DVD or the Blu-ray is worthy of the DVD Pick of the Week.

10,000 B.C. - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
This year's 300, at least in theory. In practice, it earned terrible reviews and only became a midlevel hit, and that's if you don't consider the film's massive, more than $100 million production budget. Given that budget, the film still needs to earn quite a bit on the home market to show a serious profit, but the studio doesn't appear to care. The extras on the DVD are only some deleted and alternate scenes, while the Blu-ray has a couple featurettes as well. Terrible movie, weak DVD, not worth a rental.

Belle Toujours -Buy from Amazon
A sequel 38 years in the making. That's how long it was between the making of the original and this film. This movie should interest fans of the original movie, however, they shouldn't expect this film to be as good as it predecessor was. The movie is a foreign import that struggled at the box office, so it should come as no surprise that the extras are like with just an interview. But it is still worth checking out.

The Big Easy - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
A TV series based on the movie of the same name. That movie earned excellent reviews, and a few awards, but never really found an audience on the big screen. Making a TV series based on a movie that most people haven't seen it rarely a good idea, which explains why the series only lasted 2 season. This short run explains why the 4-disc set has no extras. I'm sure the more hardcore fans will still want to pick it up, but most people who have never heard of the show will safely pass it by.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: 10,000 B.C., House of Fury, Over Alaska, Persepolis, Rossini: La Cenerentola, Sea Monsters - A Prehistoric Adventure, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Step Into Liquid, Tchaikovsky - Piano Concertos Nos. 1&3 - Acoustic Reality Experience, Washington the Beautiful, and ZZ Top: Live from Texas
Not a particularly strong list of Blu-ray releases this week without a single first-run release that stands out as a must have. There are also a lot of tri-packs coming out this week, however, they work out to $20 per Blu-ray, and that's if you want all three movies. If you own any of the movies on Blu-ray already, or are not interested in one of them, then it is cheaper to get the other two individually.

Bonneville - Buy from Amazon
This movie opened in more than 100 theaters back at the end of February with a planned expansion a few weeks later. However, after the film opened below the Mendoza line, that expansion never happened, and for good reason.

Rarely is there such a gap between the quality of the acting and the quality of the script. The three leads actors in this movie have combined for 12 Oscar nominations and three wins. However, the script is utterly predictable and has all of the flourish and flare as the most banal TV movie. Each step along the way the film takes the easy route, even when they head to Los Vegas. Carol, the most risk-adverse of the three, is given a dollar by prostitute and wins a bundle on your one go on a slot machine. I kept waiting for the movie to improve, to throw a curve at me. I kept waiting for it to give these three wonderful actors something to shine with, but that never happened.

Extras on the movie are equally disappointing with just am 11-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, 9 deleted and alternate scenes (including two alternate endings), and just over a minute of outtakes. Just the basic minimum one would expect, even for a limited release.

Bonneville opened with mixed reviews with most of the positive ones complaining that the movie was predictable, but at least the three main leads were amazing. However, for me this wasn't enough. In fact, for me this hurt them movie because I knew it had the potential to be so much more. Weaker leads might have helped lower my expectations. Jessica Lange, Joan Allen, and Kathy Bates are a treat to watch in nearly everything they are in, but this movie pure TV movie quality and is only worth a rental at the most.

Charlie Bartlett - Buy from Amazon
Charlie Bartlett is a movie that I was looking forward to for a long time. I had to because it was pushed back so many times. Then when it was finally released, it wasn't supported enough by the studio and never came close to finding an audience. But why?

Anton Yelchin stars as the titular Charlie Bartlett, who stars the movie being tossed out of his latest boarding school and has no choice but to enter public school for the first time. During his first day of school he meets the amazing Susan, who just happens to be the daughter of the principal, and the intimidating Murphy, who just happens to be the school bully. The first meeting goes better than the latter and one a quick beating is followed by a trip to his psychologist, which is in turn followed by a bad trip on Ritalin. However, this bad first day help Charlie strike upon the perfect way to fit in: Become the school's pharmacist.

Granted, there's a lot that's familiar with this movie. It tells the story of teenage rebellion, which is not new. In fact, it seems every generation has a movie that tries to be the definitive take on teenage rebellion. For mine it was Ferris Bueller, and while Charlie Bartlett doesn't live up to those standards, it is still better than its Tomatoemeter score, and far better than its box office run would suggest. A lot of this has to do with its amazing cast, including its young stars and veteran actors, who help lift the film and their combined charm prevent it from feeling too predictable.

As for the extras, there's a little more difficult to judge. The DVD is a flipper disc, but I was only sent a one-sided screener, which means I only have half of the extras. The extras I do have are limited to the second audio commentary track and a music video. The first track is with the director, Jon Poll, and possibly others, and is described on the second track as more technically oriented. This track, in which the director is joined by Anton Yelchin and Kat Dennings, is a lot less technically oriented. They discuss a number of topics from their favorite extra, how hot it was shooting in Toronto (which is a nice pace from people complaining about how cold Canada is), their favorite sushi place where they ate during the shoot (and now I have a craving for sushi), and previous projects. (On a side note, the TV Movie they talk about that Kat was in was called The Scream Team, which I've seen. It also stars Eric Idle, which is why I watched it.) Previous movies the varies actors were in (Hope Davis and Anton Yelchin previous played mother and son in a movie), what it was like to shoot a sex scene, Kat's habit of going to sleep listening to audio commentary tracks, and a lot more topics. It's scattered, but entertaining. If I get a full version of the DVD at a later date, I will update this review with the full compliment of extras.

Charlie Bartlett is one of several recent MGM movies that had to suffer through a terribly inept release. It was pushed back nearly a year, it opening in barely more than 1000 theaters, and its ad campaign was no where to be found. Granted, it does feel familiar at times, but the charm of the cast helps the film rise above most of its contemporaries. Additionally, the DVD is about as strong as one could expect given its box office disappointment, in fact, with two audio commentary tracks it is stronger than expected, and it is certainly worth picking up over just renting.

Definitely, Maybe - Buy from Amazon
A romantic mystery featuring Ryan Reynolds and Abigail Breslin as a father and daughter. The film had a great hook with the father telling the daughter how he met her mother, but he tells it like a mystery changing the names and letting the daughter try and guess which of the three ladies is her mother. It's a great hook, and the execution was very strong, but it still faltered at the box office.

Romantic comedies tend to be very predictable, so the mystery angle to this movie helped immensely. Additionally, there is amazing chemistry between Ryan Reynolds and the three female leads: Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher, and Rachel Weisz. More importantly, there's incredible chemistry between Ryan Reynolds and Abigail Breslin. Their father / daughter relationship was the heart of this movie and if this had not worked, neither would the movie. I'm still a little confused on why the movie bombed. Bad marketing could be the answer, but that seems like a cop-out most of the time.

On a side note, I love that shot of Bill Clinton denying the Lewinsky affair from the news and I remember seeing that played dozens of times on late night talk shows during the scandal. I miss seeing that at least once a week. In fact, I wanted Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination just so I could see that clip on The Daily Show and other similar programs over and over again. Every time Hillary Clinton would meet with a female dignitary, ambassador, the WNBA championship team, etc., we would hear, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman..." Oh, it would have been great!

Extras on the DVD are rather light, which makes sense since the movie struggled at the box office. Things start with an audio commentary track with writer / director Adam Brooks and star Ryan Reynolds. There is a great mixture of information and entertainment and it is worth listening to. Other extras include several deleted scenes, a making of featurettes, and another featurette on the different time periods the movie is set in. On a side note, the first deleted scene has Isla Fisher dropping an F-bomb to which Abigail Breslin's character responds with, "That's one "F" word. One more, and it's R-rated." This is apropos as another film I reviewed this week, The Hammer, was hit with an R-rating for exactly that reason. I also liked the American Doll deleted scene, and I think both of these clips should have been left in the movie.

As for the Blu-ray release... there is none. Universal better get into gear soon, because they are missing out on about 7% to 8% of the home market revenue, and that's growing.

Romantic comedies tend to be very predictable, which annoys critics a lot more than fans of the genre. For any such film to reach 50% positive is very impressive. Definitely, Maybe earned 73% positive and for any fan of the genre. Additionally, the extras are on par with most first-run releases and it is worth picking up instead of just renting.

Early Edition - Season One - Buy from Amazon
Kyle Chandler stars as Gary Hobson, an average guy whose life... well... sucks. His wife left him, he's living in a hotel, and he hates his job. Then one day he gets the paper, tomorrow's paper. What would you do if you knew what would happen tomorrow? His friend, Chuck Fishman, thinks he should use it to make lots of money. Marissa Clark, on the other hand, thinks he should be a hero and try and stop the horrible events he reads about.

This is not an uncommon plot line for a TV series and many, many shows have featured heroes who have insight and who must learn how to use is. Tru Calling is one such example. However, there's a reason for that, just like there's a reason for so many shows about a hero trying to figure out just where his powers come from. It's a classic device used in classic mythology. Excellent writing is helped by a very charming cast (especially Fisher Stevens, who is one of my favorite character actors). There are also a number of guest shots in season one that are fun to check out. For instance, Felicity Huffman makes an appearance in the pilot, as does Neil Flynn. Speaking of which, he starts out as a beat cop in the Pilot and gets a promotion because he later appears as a member of the organized crime squad. That episode, Mob Wife, also features Pauley Perrette, from NCIS, another fun guest shot.

As for the extras... there are none. No real extras, anyway. There are episode promos for the show, but ads hardly count as extras. There are also no subtitles, no play all button, but at the very least there are proper chapter placements.

Early Edition is a series that had a loyal follow, but a little too small of a following for it to become a major hit. However, for these fans they've been eagerly awaiting the release of season one on DVD. And even though it is a bare bones release, they will want to pick it up. For those who never saw the show, they should give it a rental, many who do will end up adding it to their DVD collection.

Futurama - The Beast with a Billion Backs - Buy from Amazon
When the first Futurama direct-to-DVD movie came out it earned great reviews. However, most critics admitted it started a little slow and took a bit to reach its peak. This should have been a great omen for the second release, since it was much less likely to have a slow beginning.

And it doesn't have a slow beginning, but it does drag during the middle.

The Beast with a Billion Backs starts off where Bender's Big Score ends, namely, with the space anomaly caused by Bender's Time Travel erupted into our universe. In the meantime, Fry falls for a new girl, Colleen, and moves in with her, and her four other boyfriends. In the meantime, Bender becomes Calculon's official stalker and looks to the fictitious League of Robots to solve his problems. Also in the meantime, an alien pops through the anomaly and invades.

Why are there so many storylines? Because this 'movie' will eventually be broken up into four episodes and aired on TV. This is part of the problem with the movie, too much is happening and not all of it is A-level material and there are times in the show where it starts to drag. That said, even merely average Futurama is better than no Futurama and there is more than enough that works to make the film worth checking out.

On a side note, why couldn't they stuff a robot inside a living organism and push it through the anomaly? If a wooden ship worked, so should that. Or perhaps they were worried they would be borrowing too much from The Terminator for the first two movies.

As always, the extras on the DVD are excellent starting with an audio commentary track on the main feature, a 'lost episode' build together from the xbox 360 game, and an audio commentary track on the 'lost episode'. You can also watch the first part of the movie as an animatic, check out several deleted scenes, look at the 3-D models, and designs, and there are a couple minutes of outtakes from the voice sessions. Finally, David Cross makes an appearance in an interview about his character Yivo.

Additionally, while it is not an extra per se, there is also a 2-minute trailer for the Bender's Game, the Dungeons & Dragons inspired next installment. As a D&D nerd, I'm looking forward to it.

Futurama - The Beast with a Billion Backs is the second of four planned direct-to-DVD movies from the franchise. It is a good movie, but not a great movie. It can't live up to the best of the best of the series, but it is still wroth checking out. Add in a DVD that has plenty of extras, and I can enthusiastically recommend picking it up.

The Hammer - Buy from Amazon
Adam Carolla stars as the lead in a movie with a romantic edge to it. Never thought I'd see that. And I wasn't expecting it to be this good.

Adam Carolla stars as Jerry Ferro, a 40-year old former boxer turned carpenter. His 40th birthday turns out to be the worst day of his life; he loses his job, he loses his girlfriend, and his life just seems to fall apart. Then he gets a chance to pick up $100 by going a couple rounds with an up and coming boxer, but instead of getting the crap beat out of him, he was able to knock the pro down to his knee and he's spotted by a trainer who thinks he has a shot at making the Olympics. So it's a sports training movie and a romantic comedy, so there are clichés aplenty. Also, at times Adam Carolla sounds like a character in a movie, which of course he is. However, he occasional sounds like a guy who treats human interaction as an excuse to make sarcastic remarks and not a method of communication. This is not the first time I've level this complaint at a movie, but like I said with Burning Annie, I have a lot in common with this personality type, so I quite enjoyed it. On the other hand, I can see some growing tired of it. Another minor complaint is with the overall gloss of the product. It is an independent picture that was made on a low budget, and you can tell at times. Again a minor complaint, as the movie doesn't look worse than its budget.

Extras on the DVD stars with an audio commentary track featuring Kevin Hench and Adam Carolla, who co-wrote and co-produced the movie together. They fill the track with tidbits on the making of the movie throughout its 88-minute running time. All the way through the 88-minute running time till the end of the credits, in fact, they keep talking for a few seconds after the final credits rolled. Other extras include 8 deleted / extended scenes, some of which could have made the movie. There are also 5 minutes of outtakes, including some extended bits of Adam sparring. Next up is a 17-minute interview with Adam Carolla and Ozzie Castillo, who plays Ozzie Sanchez. Ozzie Castillo is not a professional actor, but is basically playing himself in the movie, but it adds a lot of charm to the picture, and it shows in this interview. The next menu has a 6-part behind-the-scenes promotion piece, which is not very in-depth and much of its 10-minute running time is spent repeating the opening and closing bits. Finally, there are 2 minutes of ADR with Ozzie.

On a side note, the movie was hit with an R-rating thanks to 2 F-bombs that were in the movie. Besides that, there is absolutely nothing here that that would push the movie past PG-13. In fact, PG-13 might be overstating things. So if you are interested in the movie but were scared away by the rating, don't be.

The Hammer is a movie that most people have never saw, or even heard about during its short theatrical run. This is a shame since it earned good reviews thanks to fun writing and a charming cast. (Even the inevitable training montages in the movie didn't feel stale.) Add in extras that are better than most limited releases, and the DVD is worth picking up over just renting. I wasn't expecting the movie to be this good.

HD DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: Disco Pigs
Quite possibly the final HD DVD release Amazon will ever stock. Although the BBC might be putting out one or two more.

Hell's Ground - Buy from Amazon
This film is being described as the goriest film to ever come out of Pakistan. I have no idea how to react to that. Have there been a lot of Pakistani horror films made in the past to compare this one to? Not sure about that, but so far the reviews have been excellent and anyone who is a fan of old school slasher flicks will want to check out this movie. Additionally, the DVD has better extras than expected and it is worth picking up for most.

Heroes - Buy from Amazon
Henry Winkler was in the middle of his Happy Days run, Sally Field starred in Smokey and the Bandit earlier that year, and Harrison Ford played Han Solo in Star Wars. So while all three starred in this movie, it is not surprising that is has been mostly forgotten 30 years later. This is a shame since the Vietnam War film deserves to be seen by more and should be now that it is making its debut on DVD. Unfortunately, it is a featureless DVD, but at least it has hit the digital age.

Honeydripper - Buy from Amazon
The latest movie from John Sayles, this film earned good review, but generally speaking, good reviews are not good enough to survive limited release. This was certainly the case here, as it opened below the Mendoza line and struggled throughout its run. Given its box office struggles, it is not surprising that the DVD only has a making of featurette, and a handful of interviews as extras, but it is still worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

In Bruges - Buy from Amazon
A smaller limited release that opened with strong reviews and did an amazing run earning nearly $8 million, which is a significant chunk of change for a limited release. In the movie Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play two hitmen who have to leave the U.K. and run to Belgium after a hit goes wrong. However, perhaps their boss doesn't intent for them to come back, ever. It's a dark comedy, which is a difficult genre to market, which makes its box office success even more impressive. As for the DVD, it is good, but not great. There are deleted & alternate, outtakes, making of featurettes, and more. Easily worth checking out, and worth picking up over just renting.

Journey to the Far Side of the Sun - Buy from Amazon
A sci-fi film from 1969 that has a weak story but cool special effects. (It was made by the man who developed Supermarionation, but doesn't use that technique.) Nostalgia is probably the primary reason to watch this movie now and for most a rental will be enough.

Man of a Thousand Faces - Buy from Amazon
A biopic on Lon Chaney that care more about drama than accuracy, to merely mixed results. The movie has been released on DVD, but that was 10 years ago so for most people, this will be the first time that they can grab the movie, but for most a rental will be enough.

The New Adventures of Old Christine - The Complete Second Season - Buy from Amazon
If you are interested in this Julia Louis-Dreyfus TV series, you will have to order it from Amazon because it is not being released in stores, at least not yet.

Persepolis - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
One of the best movies from last year, it was Ratatouille's only real competition for the Oscar. It is such a good movie that it would be an easy recommendation even if there were no extras on the DVD, fortunately, that is not the case. The DVD has an audio commentary track but it is only for three scenes and it is not a feature-length track. The is also a 30-minute making of documentary and a round table Q&A session that is just as long. Finally, there are animation comparisons between early tests and final products with several scenes, and they include audio commentary. As for the Blu-ray, it has all of the above extras, but nothing else. Then again, it doesn't cost that much more than the DVD, and it is worth the extra cash for the upgrade. Easily worth picking up, and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

The Spiderwick Chronicles - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc Edition, 2-Disc Special Edition, or Blu-ray
The long line of fantasy adventure movies with kids as the lead continues. After Harry Potter exploded onto big screens everywhere, a lot of studios have tried to capture the same magic and create their own franchise. However, it appears that Harry Potter will stand alone, after all, the slump in this sub-genre was even able to hurt Narnia last month and this film had no chance to grow past a midlevel hit.

Freddie Highmore stars as both Simon and Jared, who along with their sister and mom move into their aunt's house in the middle of nowhere. They are moving here away from the big city because the parents are getting a divorce, something that is causing problems, especially with Jared who wants to move in with his father. While investigating missing items, which the rest of his family thinks he stole, he stumbles upon the Arthur Spiderwick Field Guide, but as soon as he opens the sealed tome, he alerts those who would use it to conquer.

When The Spiderwick Chronicles opened in theaters, it earned amazing reviews, however, I was not enthralled by the movie. There was nothing overtly wrong with the movie; I was just never drawn in by it, as I never found the three lead characters engaging. Perhaps it was the speed at which the fantasy events were introduced, which were at a much more rapid pace than in the book. This gave the movie a 'short-attention span' theater feel to it and that really hurt the ability to draw me in. It wasn't a bad movie, and overall it is worth checking out, but I can't be enthusiastic with that recommendation.

Extras on the releases vary with the Single-Disc Edition starting with a featurette that pretends the movie is based on real life events, a more traditional making of featurette, and a reproduction of some of the pages of the Field Guide. You can also read this as part of a pop-up trivia track, but there are only 10 links for a movie that is more than 90 minutes long, which is just not enough. The 2-Disc Special Edition has the above features, as well as featurettes on the cast (Meet the Clan!), the sets (Making Spiderwick!), on the special effects (The Magic of Spiderwick!), and a final featurette again pretending it is based on real life events. This grow tiresome. Finally, there are 4 deleted scenes that run 8 minutes in length. As for the Blu-ray, it has all of these features, and presents them in High Definition, but there's nothing additional here. Then again, it is a visual movie and the price increase is very low compared to the 2-Disc Special Edition and it is worth the upgrade.

The Spiderwick Chronicles felt like a missed opportunity to me. It wasn't a bad movie, but nor was it great. The target audience should enjoy it, and if you have kids it is worth picking up, but the best of these movies should appeal to adults just as much as kids. For adults, they will be able to watch this movie with their kids without being bore, but it won't have the replay value needed to purchase over just renting.

The Tattooist - Buy from Amazon
There have been many ghost stories recently, too many in fact, and each new one needs a really good hook to set it apart. This film uses Samoan tattooing is interesting, but it is not enough for the movie to overcome its slow pace and it is too tame for most fans of the genre.

The Witnesses - Buy from Amazon
A French drama about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and how it affected a group of friends. The film earned amazing reviews, but never really found an audience stateside. This could explain why the DVD is devoid of extras, however, it is still worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

Xanadu - Magical Musical Edition - Buy from Amazon
There are quite a few people who enjoy this movie for it's campy, cheesy feel. There are even more people who hate it for the same reason. There are very, very few people who like this movie for its inherent quality, and for good reason. The latest release includes just a single featurette on the DVD, but it also has the soundtrack on CD, for those who are interested.


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Filed under: Video Releases, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Definitely, Maybe, In Bruges, Persepolis, Charlie Bartlett, Bonneville, The Hammer, Honeydripper, Les Témoins, Belle Toujours, Futurama - The Beast with a Billion Backs, 10,000 B.C.