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DVD Releases for July 1, 2008

June 30th, 2008

Another week without a marquee first-run release, but that's not surprising given the time of year. There are a few releases that were contenders for DVD Pick of the Week, including two TV on DVD releases: 30 Days - The Complete Second Season - Buy from Amazon and Mad Men - Season One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray. Both are worthy for different reasons, and if I were forced to pick one, I'd probably just flip a coin, so I might as well award them both the DVD Pick of the Week.

30 Days - The Complete Second Season - Buy from Amazon
'bout time. This DVD has been pushed back more times than I can remember. The studio wanted to release the DVD to correspond with the third season premiere on TV, which makes perfect sense. However, the writers strike delayed the debut of the third season, hence the delays. I pre-ordered it when it was first announced, so I'm eagerly anticipating the DVD's arrival. In this season, Morgan Spurlock (of Super Size Me fame) gets people to live 30 days living the opposite to what they are used to. An atheist living with an evangelical family, a border guard living with an illegal immigrant family, and it ends with Morgan Spurlock himself spending 30 days in jail. Extras include audio commentary tracks on two episodes and additional 'confession cam' footage. The 2-disc set is easily worth picking up. In fact, it is a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Batman: The Movie, Drillbit Taylor, Gangs of New York, Ganges, Get Smart's Bruce and Lloyd Out of Control, In the Line of Fire, John Mayer: Where the Light Is - Live in Los Angeles, Mad Men - Season One, Point Break, Sex and Death 101, Tyler Perry's Meet The Browns, and Vantage Point
There's plenty of Blu-ray releases this week, but none that scream must have. Batman: The Movie, which is the original Adam West and Burt Ward, is of interest, but it also comes in a special limited edition that you can't get on Amazon. That edition comes with a limited edition a replica of the car and even at a MSRP of $60 it could be of interest to some of the more hardcore fans of the franchise. (It is also coming out on DVD for those who haven't made the leap to High Definition.) The best of the above list is Mad Men - Season One, which is a contender for DVD Pick of the Week. On a side note, War, Inc. was supposed to come out on Blu-ray. However, its home market release has been pushed back to the 14th... of October. This is good news for the film because October is a much better time to release a movie on the home market, however, as a fan of John Cusack, I'm bummed that I have to wait three and a half months to get the movie on High Definition.

City of Men - Buy from Amazon
The follow-up to City of God. This movie had big shoes to fill, too big as it turned out.

City of Men tells the story of two young men, Wallace and Ace, who live in a favela, or shanty town in the slums of Brazil. Neither one grew up with a father with one dead and the other in jail, but the latter is about to be paroled. In the meantime, the local gang that is in charge of the favela has fractured and the two sides are fighting for control.

City of God was a multi-Oscar nominated film and earned an amazing $7.5 million during its limited release. Because of this, expectations were impossibly high for this film, and while it did earn strong reviews, its Tomatometer score wasn't at the 80% level usually associated with films that can escape the art house scene. Combined with a theater count that was way too high, it was never able to find an audience during its short theatrical run. It deserved better.

However, while it deserved better, its weak box office run does explain the lack of extras on the DVD. It does have a making-of featurette, Building a City of Men, which at 15 minutes is meatier than many such extras and it is worth checking out.

City of Men should do much better on the home market than it did theatrically. It is a very good movie and it is worth checking out. Even with weak reviews, the replay value of the movie is strong enough that many who check it out will end up adding it to their DVD collection.

The Closer - Season 3 - Buy from Amazon
Kyra Sedgwick stars as Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson in this show, which is one of several hundred police procedural shows out there. Every such show needs a hook, without one the show wouldn't last a season, and this one's hook is the main character, Brenda Johnson, who is a master interrogator that can use the evidence given to her by her team to cause the most hardened criminal to confess. This is an excellent role for Kyra Sedgwick, who has earned a few awards and more than a dozen nominations over the past three years. (Although personally my favorite character on the show is Asst. Police Chief Will Pope.) The show maintains its strong performance throughout season three, but the DVD is a little light on extras with some deleted scenes, outtakes, and a featurette. Still worth picking up, but I can't be as enthusiastic as I would like about that recommendation.

Drillbit Taylor - Buy from Amazon: Theatrical Edition, Extended Edition, or Blu-ray Edition
2008 could go down as the year the schtick died. Will Ferrell had an air-ball with Semi-Pro, Mike Myers lost his mojo with The Love Guru, and Owen Wilson had this movie.

Owen Wilson stars as the titular character, a homeless vet who is hired by three kids as a bodyguard to protect them from the school bully. At first Drillbit just uses the three kids to make some quick cash till he has enough to run away to Canada, but after infiltrating their school as a substitute teacher, the three kids start to grow on him and he decides to make things right. But will he be able to do so before his charade falls apart? (Anyone who has seen more than three movies in their lifetime can probably guess the answer to that one.)

Drillbit Taylor opened with reviews that were well below expectations, barely making $10 million during its first weekend, and ended its run without making much noise at the box office. Having watched the movie it is hard to claim it deserved much more than that. It just feels too predictable. Additionally, the lead character is just not sympathetic enough to carry the film. Owen Wilson has made a career of playing lovable losers who skate by on their charms. However, in this movie he is just a loser. His initial plan is to just steal from the three boys and then leave, and by the time he finally has his inevitable redemption, I had no empathy for him. I think it would have been better if his initial plan been just to intimidate the bully and earn some quick cash, but he underestimated the bully's tenacity, for lack of a better word. (Psychosis?) This little change would not have messed with the film's plot a lot, but it would have created a stronger end product.

While the movie didn't make much noise at the box office, the DVD is packed with extras, starting off with an audio commentary track featuring the director, the co-writer, and occasionally the three kids. It's a merely average commentary track that suffers from the occasional dead spot. Next up is The Writers Get a Chance to Talk, a 14-minute interview with the two writers with Seth Rogan doing his part over the phone. There are also a series of deleted, extended, and alternate scenes. (The Line-O-Rama has become standard for any DVD associated with Judd Apatow.) There are also 4 minutes of outtakes. The second menu starts with a 3 minute, 38 second behind-the-scene look at the rap training, a slightly shorter behind-the-scenes look at the Sprinkler Day shoot, a 3-minute featurette on the two bullies, another three minute featurette on directing kids, and finally a nearly 6-minute interview with Danny McBride. Sadly it is more bulk than anything else.

The Blu-ray Edition has not yet arrived, but it appears to have no additional extras. I will update the review if and when it arrives.

As for the Unrated Label, like many such releases, it is pure marketing. The DVD might be worthy of an R-rating as opposed to the PG-13 the theatrical version earned, but I seriously doubt it.

Drillbit Taylor is a movie that certainly had potential and I don't think it would have taken much to improve it dramatically. However, I'm reviewing what the movie is, not what it could have been, and what it is, is not good. The DVD has plenty of extras, but not much in terms of quality, This adds up to a rental, nothing more. I was really hoping it would be better than this.

Ganges - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A BBC documentary about the river in India that has already come out on HD DVD (but that version is now out of print and likely quite difficult to find). I'm not sure if it is worth double-dipping in Blu, but if you are intent on ridding your home theater system of HD DVD, then it might be.

Gangs of New York - Blu-ray Edition - Buy from Amazon
A standard Blu-ray catalogue release. There's little reason to spend too much time on the movie itself, but we will jump right in.

Gangs of New York was the movie that was supposed to give Martin Scorsese his first directing Oscar. In fact, it was nominated for ten awards, the second most that year. However, it was shut out when the Oscars were handed out, leaving it one shy of the record for most nominations without a win. One could argue for hours on if this was fair or not, but it is clear that the film is very strong and that the directing, writing, and acting were all worthy of some recognition.

As for the extras, this Blu-ray is packed with an audio commentary track; four making-of featurettes focusing on the real history, the sets, costumes, etc.; a TV special from the Discovery Channel, and more. However, while this is a solid selection of extras, none are new to the Blu-ray, and none are presented in High Definition. The epitome of the catalogue release.

Gangs of New York is a great movie and one that should be in many people's DVD collection. However, this is a Blu-ray release that does very little to sell the format. That said, it is being released by Disney and it is part of their $10 mail-in rebate, so if you have the DVD already, it is worth the $14 for the upgrade. If you don't have the DVD, it's worth the $24 to buy it for the first time.

Get Smart's Bruce and Lloyd out of Control - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Buy from Amazon
Isn't a little soon for a direct-to-DVD sequel for Get Smart? It certainly feels like it was rushed out in a week. Add in extras that are equally weak, and this DVD is safely skippable. As for the Blu-ray, it adds nothing new and it is not worth the price to upgrade.

Heathers - 20th High School Reunion Edition - Buy from Amazon
Excellent movie. Terrible DVD. Okay, maybe that's overstating things, as the DVD isn't bad. It does have an audio commentary track, reunion featurette, and more; however, only the reunion featurette is new to this edition of the DVD. Don't get me wrong, if you don't have the movie on DVD yet, it is worth picking up. However, it is not worth the upgrade. It was supposed to come out on Blu-ray this week, at least I read a press release about it, but it is not on Amazon. I would be a lot more enthusiastic about this release if it were concurrent with the movie's debut on High Definition.

Hellboy - Animated - Limited Edition 2-Pack - Buy from Amazon
Both animated direct-to-DVD Hellboy movies released in one box set complete with a figure of Hellboy himself. Certainly of interest for Fanboys, but that's it. I can't recommend upgrading for casual fans, while the two movies are cheaper individually.

Mad Men - Season One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A TV series set in the 1960s, this show looks at the 'Golden Age' of advertising. Reviews for the series were amazing, and after just one year it has already won several major awards, and for good reason. Fortunately, the DVD lives up to the show and there are a ton of extras. Extras start with audio commentary tracks on all 13 episodes, include a few with multiple tracks. There are also featurettes, interviews, and more. Easily worth picking up and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week. As for the Blu-ray, it has no additional extras, but over on Amazon it only costs a buck more, so it is easily worth the upgrade.

Man, Woman, and Child - Buy from Amazon
A movie about a family that could be torn apart by a secret from the past. Speaking of secrets, this movie is 25 years old and I bet even Martin Sheen doesn't remember it. It's not a bad movie, but it is forgettable. In fact, during a normal week, I would have likely never mentioned this DVD. However, it's a really, really slow week for marquee releases and I feel the need to pad out this column a bit. (At least I'm being honest.)

Mishima - A Life in Four Chapters - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
A biopic of the Japanese author Yukio Mishima. Written by Paul Schrader, who also wrote Raging Bull and Taxi Driver. He also directed this movie, and it is arguably his best directorial effort, and one of his best movies, period. This 2-disc set doesn't include any of the extras from the previous release, but it does have a healthy selection of its own. Things start with an audio commentary track with writer / director, Paul Schrader, and the producer, Alan Poul. Disc two includes several featurettes on the making of the movie and on the author himself. These run more than two-and-a-half hours, which is longer than the movie itself. An excellent movie and certainly worth picking up, but if you have the older release, hold onto it as well. Also coming out on a Criterion Collection release this week is Patriotism, which is another Japanese film. However, it is definitely the second string release this week.

My Blueberry Nights - Buy from Amazon
Anyone out think the name was My Blackberry Nights and thought the movie was about the e-mail device? Come on, someone else must have thought the same thing. I can't be the only one.

This movie is the English-language debut of writer / director Wong Kar-wai, whose previous work includes 2046 among others. There was a lot of interest in this movie from art house crowds, but something went wrong during its run. It started out great, but fell 40% during its second weekend (which is high for a limited release) and then it completely collapsed as soon as it tried to expand. Granted, the film didn't earn great reviews or really even good reviews, but this is still a strange run. The movie looks good, and for the most part it is well acted, but there's very little story to be found here. It's a simple road trip movie with the lead character running away from her life and running into a series of offbeat characters. The problem is, none of these characters feel authentic, or particularly interesting, and the overall events don't add up to a cohesive whole.

Given the film's troubles at the box office, its short list of extras is hardly surprising. There's a 16-minute making-of featurette, an 18-minute interview with Wong Kar-wai, and the trailer and two image galleries. Nothing too special.

My Blueberry Nights has enough in it that works that it is worth checking out. However, it is flawed enough and the extras are light enough that the DVD is only worth renting.

Only the Valiant - Buy from Amazon
Released in 1951, this Gregory Peck Western is finally coming out on DVD. How long will people have to wait till it comes out in High Definition? This is one of the actor's lesser known films, but it is still worth checking out for all fans of the genre, worth picking up for most, especially at this price.

Partners - Buy from Amazon
Not the earliest Hollywood film to look at Homosexuality, but it's pretty early. By today's standards, the stereotypes used in this movie are dated and frankly for many are offensive. Others defend the movie as both a product of its time and an early step to acceptability by demystifying homosexuals. Regardless of which side you think is right, chances are you will agree the movie is just not funny and the DVD's only real value for most is as a curiosity. A look back to see how far we've come.

Rebus - Set 3 - Buy from Amazon
British TV has almost as many police shows as American TV. However, theirs tend to focus on one or two detectives and are a lot more personality driven. They are also a lot more expensive to buy on DVD. (It's better to treat them as TV movies and not a series.) This 4-disc set has four episodes / TV movies but nothing in terms of real extras. Given the price, most fans would rather rent than buy.

Serial - Buy from Amazon
Martin Mull stars in this satire of the social norms of the 70s as the decade came to a close. It's a bit of a cult hit, and is making its debut on DVD. It does feel dated, and people who have no firsthand experience with the 1970s might feel left out, but it is still worth checking out.

Sex and Death 101 - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
This movie opened with very weak reviews, barely made a peep at the box office, and is now coming out on DVD... and Blu-ray. I think it is safe to say Blu-ray support among studios is mainstream and it is getting close to the point where it will be more unusual for a limited release to come out on the home market without a Blu-ray release than with one. That said, this Blu-ray won't sell many on the format. It's not bad, but the movie is, and the Blu-ray offers no additional extras from the very limited selection found on the DVD (an audio commentary track and a short making-of featurette). The Blu-ray costs 60% more than the DVD does, and with no additional extras it is not worth the upgrade. However, since the movie isn't worth buying, or even renting, it's a moot point. This is a shame as the premise did have potential and perhaps someone else will take a shot at an existential sex comedy.

Shotgun Stories - Buy from Amazon
A film that earned excellent reviews but never found an audience during its theatrical run. Even with a featureless DVD, it should do better on the home market, but that's not saying much.

The Streets of San Francisco - Season 2 - Volume 1 - Buy from Amazon
Season 2! Woo hoo! Volume 1? Boo!

The Streets of San Francisco starred Karl Malden as the veteran police detective who used his experience to crack the case, and Michael Douglas as his college-educated new partner, who was more in touch with the cutting edge police techniques (at least those that were cutting edge for the day). Combined they made an amazing team that caught crooks and entertained audiences for five years, and will continue to entertain audiences on DVD for a lot longer.

This 3-disc set includes a number of strong episodes. In fact, it has a batting average well above .500. All are worth checking out, most have strong replay value and there's little reason to get into the individual plots (which is probably for the best lest I spoil some of the plots). I will talk about individual guest stars, as that's part of the fun of watching old shows like this. The 11 episodes include guest shots by Martin Sheen, Leslie Nielsen, and Tom Bosley, among others. On a side note, Michael Sheen plays a bank robber in this show, and he was also in an episode of Hawaii 5-0 that I reviewed recently where he killed a man. With a past like that, it's amazing that he was ever elected president.

On the other hand, there are no extras on the 3-disc set, but there are proper chapter placements, subtitles, and a play all button.

Over on Amazon about half the reviewers are giving The Streets of San Francisco - Season 2 - Volume 1 4 or 5 stars, while the other half are giving it 1 or 2 stars. The 4 or 5-star reviews are for the quality of the show, the 1 or 2-star reviews are for the quality of the 3-disc set. It is hard to argue with that assessment. It's a bare bones, split season release, which makes it impossible to be enthusiastic with any recommendation. That said, it is still worth checking out, and if you picked up the first two volumes and thought it was worth the money, there's nothing here to change that.

On a side note, watching this series made me want to pick up Filmore on DVD. I wish Disney would release that soon.

Summercamp! - Buy from Amazon
A documentary focusing on four kids as they attend summer camp. Not as deep as some other documentaries, but it does have its charm and it is worth checking out. Call it a solid rental, leaning to a purchase.

Sunflower - Buy from Amazon
When this movie was released, I commented that the reviews were not up to the level needed to thrive in limited release. This turned out to be quite accurate and the movie never found an audience. The movie was too sentimental to survive the art house crowds, but should perform better on the home market front. That said, with just a making of featurette, the DVD is only worth a rental for most people.

Till Death Do Us Part - Season One - Buy from Amazon
An anthology series hosted by John Waters. Each week the show looks at a marriage that started off which such promise, but ended in murder. It is an appealing premise... Okay, that came out wrong. The TV series has an appealing premise, not murdering your spouse, but even with the charm of John Waters, the execution is a little flat. It is still worth checking out, but it is not a must see like it could have been. Extras on the 3-disc set are light with mainly interviews with John Waters, the show's creator, Ken Hanes, and two of the producers. It is still worth checking out, but rent it first.

Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc Edition, 2-Disc Edition, or Blu-ray
At this point you are either a fan of Tyler Perry, or you are not. Most critics are not. That said, this movie is no worse than his average, and if you bought his previous films on DVD, there's little to stop you from getting this one as well. Extras on the DVD include a quartet of featurettes, while the special edition has a digital copy for your PC of portable device, while the Blu-ray has a trio of additional featurettes, although they doesn't push the technology. Also coming out tomorrow is Tyler Perry's House of Payne - Volume 2, which is again for fans only and with little to no crossover appeal.

Vantage Point - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc Edition, 2-Disc Special Edition, or Blu-ray
A political thriller about an attempt to assassinate the president. The film earned weak reviews, but not terrible reviews, and became a solid midlevel hit at the box office. I would describe the movie as being worth checking out, but of dubious replay value. The Single-Disc Edition, includes the audio commentary track, deleted scenes, interviews and featurettes, while the 2-Disc Special Edition also has a digital copy. As for the Blu-ray, it too has the full set of extras found above, and it has a GPS feature where you can keep track of where the characters are at all times. It's not much of an extra, but it is something that you can't do on DVD and with a price that is just $4 more than the DVD, it is probably worth the upgrade for a many people.

Walker, Texas Ranger - Season 5 - Buy from Amazon
Chuck Norris carved out a career in the 80s as a B-movie action star. If he was making these movies today, most of them would be going direct-to-DVD. His biggest hit was as a cameo in Dodgeball. But somehow he managed to star in a TV series that lasted 9 seasons. I'm still not sure how that happened.

I will admit that I am not the biggest fan of martial arts and I have probably reviewed more martial arts movies as part of my job than I have watched outside of my job. (Granted, at this point that's probably about 2 dozen movies, mostly from Dragon Dynasty.) However, while I am more of a casual fan and not a hardcore aficionado, I can tell bad martial arts when I see it. This is bad martial arts. There's very little here that feels fresh or inventive, it is unrealistic, and not in an over-the-top entertaining kind of way. And outside of the action, there was little to recommend the show, as the acting was wooden and the writing was lame. I know there are a lot of people who will disagree with me and think this is a very entertaining show, but even many fans will admit it is a cheesy, guilty pleasure at most. I'm not going to judge anyone that likes the show for that reason, but don't kid yourself and say it is high quality.

As for the 7-disc set, there are no extras, no 'play all' button, and no subtitles. There are proper chapter placements, but going one for three is hardly a great record.

When the Chuck Norris facts first hit the internet, I assumed people were making fun of Chuck Norris for his performance in B-movies and this TV series. However, Walker, Texas Ranger has sold very well on DVD and there are obviously many people who find the show entertaining. I am not one of them, and I can't recommend Season 5 as a purchase, or even a rental. But I also know that I won't be changing anyone's mind.

Where The Light Is: John Mayer Live In Los Angeles - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
An excellent concert by John Mayer that looks and sounds great on DVD. It looks and sounds even better on Blu-ray. As for the extras, the DVD is light with just a short featurette while the Blu-ray has a an alternate camera view for one of the songs (if you have a profile 1.1 player) and another you can download (if you have a BD-Live player). Unfortunately, the Blu-ray is twice as much as the DVD, which for most people is too much to pay.

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Filed under: Video Releases, Gangs of New York, Vantage Point, Meet the Browns, Drillbit Taylor, My Blueberry Nights, Cidade dos Homens, Shotgun Stories, Sex and Death 101, Xiang ri kui, Summercamp!