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DVD Releases for August 26, 2008 - Part I

August 26th, 2008

TV on DVD is starting to dominate the weekly DVD releases, including the top tier releases. In fact, four of the top five picks for the week are TV on DVD. However, while Heroes - Blu-ray - Season One & Season Two, NCIS - The Fifth Season, and The Shield - The Complete Season Six are all easily contenders for the crown, Nightmare Before Christmas - Collector's Edition on DVD or Blu-ray is the DVD Pick of the Week. One last note, it's been another big week for total releases, and the list had to be split into two. You can part Part II here.

a/k/a Tommy Chong - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about the arrest and prosecution of Tommy Chong for selling drug paraphernalia, specifically artful bongs. (Which is a great name for a band.) Reviews were strong, but the box office numbers were not, and for most people this will be the first chance to see the movie. On a side note, 10,000 copies of the DVDs were seized by the police in a raid looking for masking agents that are used to help defeat drug tests. Not sure why they thought they needed to confiscate the DVDs, but it smells fishy to me.

Alfresco - Buy from Amazon
The cast on this British Sketch Comedy show is amazing. The comedy, on the other hand, is just mediocre. Robbie Coltrane, Ben Elton, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and Emma Thompson all star in the show, but despite this, there are only a few chuckles to be had during the show's 13-episode run. The 2-disc set includes the 3-part pilot, but that's not really a selling feature and its hit to miss ratio is no better than the rest of the show.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and makes its home market debut on the 9th of September. However, the DVD screener arrived early and I was able to get the review done this week.

Alvin and the Chipmunks - Go to the Movies - Daytona Jones - Buy from Amazon
Three more episodes from this mid-80s TV cartoon series.

I had completely forgotten about this series when the first DVD arrive in April. I was hoping these would be parodies of several films, however, each is an homage, at best. Less generous critics would call them rip-offs, but I digress. This DVD we have Chipmunk versions of Indiana Jones, Batman, and Robocop, which suffer from the same problems I mentioned in my last review. For instance, the animation still looks very cheap, the writing is mostly flat, and I'm not even sure who the target demographic for the Robocop spoof is. The original movie is far too violent for kids, and no adult would be entertained by this version. I'm not sure there are many kids who would be entertained by this version of the film.

There are no extras on the DVD, nor are there any subtitles or proper chapter placements. (In fact, each episode is just one chapter.) There is a play all button, but that's it for DVD design.

As I said before, the main draw for Alvin and the Chipmunks - Go to the Movies is nostalgia, but that is not enough for me to recommend Daytona Jones, not even for a rental.

August - Buy from Amazon
The film opened in one theater with a respectable box office, but completely collapsed by the second weekend of release. Granted, its reviews were bad, particularly for a limited release, but this was still a complete collapse. However, while it might be difficult to explain the film's collapse, its collapse explains why the DVD has no extras. Weak movie plus no extras equals a rental, at most, and that's only for people who have a particular interest in the Dot com bubble, or in one of the cast or crew. Otherwise, it is safely skippable.

Battle 360 - Season 1 - Buy from Amazon
A 10-episode TV series about the battles of the Starship Enterprise and her crew, which includes Captain Kirk, as well as... wait a minute... I'm being told that it's about the USS Enterprise, the World War II aircraft carrier. The series uses CG animation to reenact all the major battles it was a part of during World War II, which is practically all of them in the Pacific theater. Fans of World War II documentary programs should enjoy this 4-disc set, more than enough to make it worth picking up over just renting.

Be Like A Pop Star with Demi Lovato - Buy from Amazon
I warned you they were going to push Demi Lovato hard. Now do you believe me?

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Action Starter Pack, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Afro Samurai: Season One - Director's Cut, Blue Man Group - How to be a Megastar Live!, Dude, Where's My Car?, End of Days, Guge - The Lost Kingdom of Tibet, Heroes - Season 1, Heroes - Season 2, Lust, Caution, Miami Vice, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Ocean Oasis, Pale Rider, Postal, Puccini - La Boheme, Redbelt, The Secret, U-571, Verdi - Il Trovatore, What Happens in Vegas...
A big list of releases with something worth picking up in nearly every category, including first run releases (Redbelt), TV on DVD releases (Heroes), and catalog releases (The Nightmare Before Christmas). Of all of the Blu-ray releases, it is the last one that interests me the most.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and makes its home market debut on the 2nd of September. However, the DVD screener arrived early and I was able to get the review done this week.

The Blue Elephant - Buy from Amazon
I was looking up information on this DVD and all I found was a Wiki page on Elephant Jokes.

The Blue Elephant tells the story of Khan Kluay, an elephant born in Siam and whose father went away to war but never returned. His mother doesn't want him to know what happened to his father, as she fears he will follow in his footsteps and get involved with the humans. However, he is so desperate to learn about his father that he runs away from home, and is almost immediately caught by the humans. But are they are mean and dangerous as his mother said they were?

Good news, this film has a good story that should entertain its target audience. Bad news, that target audience in preschool to grade two or three. The voice work is also pretty good, for the most part, but nothing that really wowed me. Bad news, the animation is, while bright, very weak. It's simple in design, the movements are clumsy, and quite frankly, weaker than many TV shows that likely have a tighter schedule. (More than once I noticed characters talking while their mouths were blocked, as if the animators didn't want to have to lip-synch the voice work with the animation.)

Additionally, there are no extras on the DVD.

Sadly, The Blue Elephant is not a marquee release, despite having Jim Henson's name on the box. Those looking for entertainment on par with the Muppets will be disappointed. That said, if you have kids in the right demographic, they should be entertained and the DVD is worth a rental.

Brotherhood of the Wolf - Director's Cut - Buy from Amazon
I consider this an under-appreciated gem, and I am not alone as the movie earned more than $10 million despite earning reviews that would suggest it wouldn't earn much mainstream success. (It did even more business on the home market.) This 2-disc special edition includes deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, a featurette on the original legend that it was based on, and more. Worth picking up, and worth upgrading from the previous DVD release.

Chicago 10 - Buy from Amazon
A half animated documentary about the riots that happened during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the trial that resulted.

In 1968, the Vietnam War was ramping up and two groups decided to go to Chicago to protest the Democratic National Convention and the nomination of LBJ. However, these protests turned violent and the leaders of several movements were put on trial for crossing states lines with the intent of inciting a riot. This documentary uses plenty of archival footage, as well as some animation where archival footage is not available. There is no narration, and no new interviews filmed for this documentary, which gives the movie a very cool visual sense to it. Also, hearing only the voices of those who were present speaking (or sometimes people reading from court transcripts) gives the film a lot more authenticity. Admittedly, I am a political junkie, but I found the movie fascinating.

On the other hand, the extras are very weak with just 2-minute video remix.

Chicago 10 opened with reviews that most wide releases would be proud of, but they were not strong enough to thrive in limited releases. The Movie is certainly worth checking out, but the DVD is weak and for most a rental will be enough. Hopefully if the planned sequels go ahead, there will be a much better box set releases in the end.

The Chosen One - Buy from Amazon
One of the films that has been mentioned on the site the longest before its eventual release. It was first mentioned in July, of 2003, but at least it is now coming out, albeit as a direct-to-DVD release. Reviews are nearly non-existent, and it appears that there are no extras either, but it is worth checking out. On a side note, the official site says the DVD is coming out on the 9th of September, and it's only $15 to buy it from there.

Comedy Central Presents - Uncensored - Volume II - Buy from Amazon
Another eight stand-up comics doing a half hour act. I vastly prefer getting single comics for two main reasons. Firstly, 20 minutes is not enough to get into the heart of an act, most of which run closer to an hour. And secondly, because comedy is way too selective for a best of set to work. While there is no way to fix the first problem on a weekly half-hour TV series, they second is a bigger issue. I'm not expecting a perfect record, but the "Best Of" label should mean something.

When it comes to best of sets like this, my cut off point is 50%. I should enjoy at least 50% of the stand-up comics featured on the DVD enough to want to go out and buy some of their solo DVDs (if available). If that's the case, then I can recommend it to others. Of the eight here, I know of three of them: Dave Attell, Zach Galifianakis, and Patton Oswalt. And I'm fans of all three of them, so as long as they live up to the usual standards, I would only need one of the other five comics to recommend the DVD as a whole. Sadly that didn't happen. First of all, Dave Attell's material was a little weaker than usual, at least it's weaker than I remember it. Additionally, none of the rest really wowed me, but most had at least a few good jokes here and there. On the other hand, I've seen this Zach Galifianakis routine before and I laughed the first time I saw it, and laughed this time as well. And the same goes for Patton Oswalt. This is an early routine for Mike Birbiglia, and you can tell, as it is not as polished as it should be. Frank Caliendo's imitations are entertaining, for a little bit, but the grow tiresome fast. Stephen Lynch brings some musical comedy, which is a genre as old as humor itself. I like musical comedy, but only in smaller doses and before the set is over I'm looking for something more. Nick Swardson has some good material, like "Babies = Small Drunk People" but it starts off too slowly, especially since he's given only 20 minutes for his routine. Finally there's Daniel Tosh... who I don't remember at all. I watched the DVD the day before writing this, and I can't remember a single joke of his. Not a positive sign.

I would give full marks to Zach Galifianakis and Patton Oswalt, and give Dave Attell half credit, but I would not got out of my way to find more of the rest's work on DVD. Perhaps if you really like musical comedy, especially Stephen Lynch's brand, you could add another full point, and then overall it would reach the 50% ratio I'm looking for, but only if you round up.

There are no real extras on the DVD, as I don't count Comedy Central Quickies as extras, because they are just ads for unrelated programs.

Again proving that there is no such thing as "Best Of", Comedy Central Presents Volume II is worth checking out, but rent it and save your money for No Reason to Complain and Live at the Purple Onion and hopefully Insomniacs will get full season DVD releases soon.

Dirty Jobs - Collection 3 - Buy from Amazon
I love this show and Mike Rowe is the perfect host for a show like this. He's the kind of guy you can cheer for, but you can also laugh at when things go wrong, but you don't feel mean, because he's laughing at himself as well. This 2-disc set has no extras, but the price per minute is still worth buying over just renting.

Entourage - Season Four - Buy from Amazon
Another strike-shortened TV on DVD release coming out. Strangely, this one actually has a lower price per minute than its previous release, mainly because they split season three into two volumes. Many fans still haven't forgiven the studio for that one. Extras on the three-disc set include audio commentary tracks on three episodes; a trailer and making-of featurette for the movie-within-a-movie, Medellín; Q&A session; and more. Worth checking out, but if you stopped buying because of season three, it might not be enough to get you back to purchasing.

Errol Flynn Westerns Collection - Buy from Amazon
I don't think the term 'Swashbuckler' applies to anyone more than it does to Errol Flynn. This 4-disc set has four Westerns, which was not his most popular genre. (Although Virginia City, which is arguably the best of the bunch, is in the top third of his career.) Extras include commentary tracks on two of the movies, short films, trailers, etc. Worth picking up for fans of the actor.

Heroes - Season Two - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Most fans will agree that season two of Heroes didn't live up to season one, but it is not as bad as some have complained. In fact, it is better than most network shows out there. However, it was weaker than the first season and it was also shorter thanks to the writers' strike, while the pricetag is greatly reduced from the normal full-season release (unlike some TV on DVD releases coming out this year) the price per minute is higher. The studio did take the time to put out a massive list of extras, including audio commentary tracks on all eleven episodes, nearly half-an-hour of deleted scenes, featurettes on a number of subjects, Untold Stories, and more. The Blu-ray has all of these extras (upgrading the audio commentary tracks to Picture-in-Picture tracks), as well as more dossiers on the characters and a BD-Live section. Also coming out this week is Season One - Blu-ray for those who picked the winning side of the format war. (On a side note, Heroes was one of only two HD DVDs I bought, the other being Serenity.) The DVD is certainly worth picking up and the Blu-ray is worth the extra cash. Hopefully season three will bounce back to season one's quality level, and that release will be a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Warning: This DVD did not come out this week but made its home market debut on the 5th of August. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in this review.

I Got the Feelin' - James Brown in the 60's - Buy from Amazon
A 3-disc set that came out earlier in the month that includes a documentary, as well as plenty of concert footage.

Disc one contains a documentary called The Night James Brown Saved Boston, which documents the events surrounding the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the riots that occurred thereafter. The film gives enough background information on the racial tensions of the era, which is a subject that has been broached many, many times before, but it quickly gets viewers into the era. We are quickly introduced into the concerns over the James Brown concert, which was scheduled for the next night, and how they got the concert off in such sort notice, which was groundbreaking for the day, never mind the short time given to preparations. Even the period after the concert is covered, which is a period where James Brown became a national figure.

Extras on the first disc include well over an hour of extended interviews with several people, as well as a 25-minute panel at from the premiere of the movie.

Disc two contains the actual concert that was originally broadcast in 1968. This concert was originally broadcast 40 years ago, and yes, at times you can really tell. I recently reviewed two concert films that were released on Blu-ray, and this is quite a come down in audio / video quality, but for the most part it is better than I expected. And sweet lord, that man has energy.

Extras on the second disc are limited to an audio-only speech given by James Brown before the beginning of the concert.

Over on disc three we have another televised concert, this time from March of 1968, which sadly has worse sound and video than the impromptu televised concert above. It is also only about half as long as that concert, but at least it still has his trademark energy.

Extras include three additional performances from 1964 to 1967.

I Got the Feelin' - James Brown in the 60's is not an entirely accurate description of this DVD; yes, it is all from the 60s, but most of it is dedicated to one year, 1968. And what a year it was. Even if you are not a particularly strong fan of James Brown's music, this is an amazing historical document and is worth checking out for those interested in political climate of the late 60s. For those of us who are fans of his music, it is a must have.

The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning - Buy from Amazon
A direct-to-DVD sequel to a Disney cartoon classic. Like those are hard to find.

Ariel's Beginning is a prequel to The Little Mermaid and it takes place several years before the events of the movie during a time when music was banned from the kingdom of Atlantica. Unable to live without music, Ariel first rebels and hangs out at a secret music club, but when her father shuts that down, she runs away. Usually these movies are a pale imitation of the original films, and some are so bad it makes you retroactively hate the original. However, while Ariel's Beginning doesn't match the The Little Mermaid in terms of quality, it's not a bad movie on its own right, is colorful enough, and has enough catchy music to entertain the little ones through its 70-minute running time. But it doesn't have the replay value of the original.

Extras on the DVD are on par with other similar Disney releases and they include a couple deleted scenes with intros explaining why they were removed. Music & More allows you to listen to the four songs, with or without on-screen lyrics. Games & Activities has one game, Mermaid Discovery Vanity Game, which is basically character bios for the seven princesses. Backstage Disney has two featurettes, the first on the making on the movie, and the second on the Broadway show.

As a direct-to-DVD sequel, I didn't have a lot of hope that The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning would be a good movie. Even merely average would have been better than many similar films. That said, I'm am pleased to say The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning surpassed expectations in terms of the movie. The DVD, on the other hand, is exactly what we've come to expect in terms of extras. If you have kids in the target demographic, then the DVD is certainly worth checking out, and for many, it will be worth buying as opposed to just renting.

Love For Sale - Buy from Amazon
A Brazilian film about a woman trying to get out of her small home town but who doesn't have the money to pay for the bus fare, so she holds a lottery for one night with her. Reviews for the film were good, but not great, and with no extras on the DVD a rental will be enough for most people.

My Sassy Girl - Buy from Amazon
A remake of a South Korean film that is a mess, even more so if you have seen the original. Something got lost in translation, especially the gender relationship issues. This was partly unavoidable, but there were also come bad choices made, including changing the male lead. Unless you are a fan of the two leads (Elisha Cuthbert and Jesse Bradford) the movie is safely skippable, a rating that is enforced by the total lack of extras.

NCIS - The Fifth Season - Buy from Amazon
I hesitate to get into too much detail on this release, as the screener should have arrived by now and I will hopefully be able to do a full review soon. I will say that it is one of the best police procedural shows on TV, and it's that way because of the strong characters. It also mixes single-episode mysteries and longer story arcs very well. The strike didn't shorten this season too much, and the price per minute is about the same as previous seasons. Additionally, the extras are strong with audio commentary tracks on a handful of episodes, making-of featurette on one of the episodes, five-season recap featurette, featurette on the wardrobe, and a featurette on Pauley Perrette's transformation into Abby, which is my favorite character on the show. Easily worth picking up, and even a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

NFL Greatest Games Series - Green Bay Packers Greatest Games - Buy from Amazon
Know a Packers fan that is depressed Favre has moved on? Buy them this DVD set to comfort them... or to rub it in, it's your choice.

Nightmare Before Christmas - DVD or Blu-ray
My favorite musical of all time, and given the film's reviews, I'm probably not alone in feeling that way. On the other hand, this is not the first time the movie has been released on DVD, so the question isn't whether it is worth owning or not -- it is. The question is whether this version is worth upgrading to or not.

For the DVD the answer is no, not unless you are really into funky DVD boxes and love the look of Jack Skellington. Or if you have way too much disposable income and are willing to spend $120 on a Limited Edition Collector's Edition, and even then I can think of better ways to spend $120. Like buying me the Limited Edition Collector's Edition. (Update: Amazon has the massive gift set as canceled by the manufacturer.) All kidding aside, there are additional extras on the DVD, but they are not overwhelming. The additions start with a tour of the Haunted Mansion theme ride that is made up to look like Halloween Town three months of the year. This extra can also be watched with pop-up trivia, but it is not that interesting. I preferred the reading of the original Tim Burton poem the film is based on, as read by Christopher Lee. The most irritating of the new features is the audio commentary track with Tim Burton, Danny Elfman, and Henry Selick. Don't get me wrong, I love audio tracks and this one is great to listen to, but why couldn't they keep the old one as well?

Exclusive extras on the Blu-ray include an intro to the movie by Tim Burton... and that's it. (Unless you are one of the few people to have D-Box motion control system, which I am not.) That said, most of the extras are presented in High Definition, and overall I was very happy with both the audio and the visual treatment found here, even without all of the new extras, and there are plenty that I mentioned above, the Blu-ray would be worth upgrading for. The only thing I'm disappointed with is the lack of 3-D like they have in the theaters, and we know it's possible to do it on Blu-ray thanks to the Hannah Montana release. Also, I'm bummed that the packaging for the DVD looks so much cooler than the Blu-ray, but that almost seems like a petty complaint.

Additionally, all three sets come with a Digital Copy of the movie for portable devices. I love this feature and I'm quite happy that it is becoming more common.

I love this movie and have watched it practically every year since it first came out on DVD and it still draws me in like it is the first time I've watched the movie. If you don't have Nightmare Before Christmas yet, the DVD is practically a must have, while the Blu-ray is worth upgrading to High Definition for.

One Tree Hill - Season Five - Buy from Amazon
Teen soap opera. Teen soap opera that is well past its prime. Season five is a step up from season four, but it would have to be, and it is still not enough for me to recommend it. Then again, I'm not a fan of teenage soap operas, or any soap operas, so take that into consideration when evaluating my recommendation.

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Filed under: Video Releases, Miami Vice, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D, Se jie, Redbelt, Chicago 10, O Céu de Suely, August, The Chosen One, Camp Rock, My Sassy Girl, Postal, The Secret