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DVD Releases for September 9, 2008 - Part I

September 8th, 2008

TV on DVD is at its peak for the year, just in time for the new season to start. However, because last season was cut short by the writers' strike, and so many studios are not taking that into account in the pricing, there are fewer releases at are contenders for DVD Pick of the Week. But we do have a worthy recipient of the award: Fist of Legend - Buy from Amazon, the latest release from Dragon Dynasty. Also, while the week was slow on top, it was busy overall, so much so that we had to split the week's list into two parts again. Part II can be found here.

14 Women - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about the record-setting number of female Senators in the 109th Congress, all 14 of them. 14? That's it? The film runs less than 80 minutes, less if you don't include credits, so that leaves an average of just five minutes with each Senator, but it is still an interesting look and worth checking out for political junkies.

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 arrived in April. I was hoping these would be parodies of several films, but each is a homage, at best. Less generous critics would call them rip-offs, but I digress. On 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 is. The original movie is far too violent for kids, and I doubt there are many adults would be entertained by this version of Robocop. Actually, I'm not sure there are many kids who would be entertained by the Chipmunk version of any of the films on this DVD.

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.

Avril Lavigne - The Best Damn Tour - Live in Toronto - Buy from Amazon: Clean or Uncut
Amazon ranks this DVD as the fourth-best-selling musical performance, on the Classical Chart. Huh? Avril Lavigne is Classical? Suddenly I feel very, very old.

Baby Einstein - Buy from Amazon: Baby Beethoven and Baby Mozart
This franchise is hugely popular, but I have my doubts about the value of the DVD. Personally, I think the CDs are better tools to help parents and child interact while I fear the DVDs will be used as a babysitter in a box.

Baby Mama - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Tina Fey stars as Kate Holbrook, a career woman who tries to become pregnant but learns some medication her mother took when she was pregnant has left her infertile. Since it would take 5 years for her to adopt, she instead chooses surrogacy. Amy Poehler plays Angie Ostrowski, the surrogate mother in question. After Angie dumps her boyfriend, she moves in with Kate, which is the key personality conflict that drives this buddy comedy of sorts. An Odd Couple with pregnancy.

This film was a solid midlevel hit the late spring that was surprisingly robust in May, despite the competition from massive hits like Iron Man. The strength of Baby Mama was in the chemistry of its cast, and not just Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, but also the supporting actors like Greg Kinnear, Sigourney Weaver, Steve Martin and others. However, while the cast is amazing, the movie is only reasonably good. The biggest issue is with the story, which is quite predictable, as well as rather lightweight. Yes, it is entertaining, but it doesn't leave a lasting impression.

Extras on the disc are divided between the two sides with the widescreen side having several deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and a 3-minute featurette on how both Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are alumni of SNL. The Pan & Scan side has a 10-minute making-of featurette. Both sides have an audio commentary track featuring the two leads, as well as the writer / director, Michael McCullers. I do not have the Blu-ray to review, but there are no additional extras on that version.

On a side note, I hate flipper discs. I hate flipper discs almost as much as I hate Pan & Scan.

Baby Mama is a fun movie that is worth checking out, especially for the performances of its two leads. However, with extras that are just on par with mid-level hits, I'm not sure the replay value of the DVD is quite up to the level needed to be worth more than a rental. Call it a solid rental leaning towards a purchase.

Barbie and the Diamond Castle - Buy from Amazon
The latest DVD release based on the doll that has been one of the best selling toys every year for the last five decades. This particular release is a musical that has Barbie helping a musical muse save the Diamond Castle from an evil musical muse. I'm sure fans of the franchise will be thrilled, but there's little crossover appeal here. It is also coming out tomorrow as part of a 3-disc box set that comes in a pink purse box.

The Big Lebowski - 10th Anniversary - Buy from Amazon: Standard Edition or Limited Edition
Skip it. I know, I know. It's a great movie with cult appeal to spare; however, it has been released on DVD so many times that I can't in good conscience recommend any additional releases. Either you have it on DVD already and this isn't worth the upgrade, or you don't have it on DVD and you likely don't want it. On the other hand, if it was coming out on a 10th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, then I would have been able to recommend it, especially if it had the 'Bowling Ball' case.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: The Alps, Baby Mama, Cool Hand Luke, Day Watch, Don Giovanni, An Empresses and the Warriors, Exiled, The Fall, The Forbidden Kingdom, Grey's Anatomy - Season Four, How the West Was One, Jerry Maquire, Kill Bill - Volume 1, Kill Bill - Volume 2, Kill Bill - Double-Shot, Manilow Live, Night Watch, Rudy, Smallville - Season Seven, and Tae Guk Gi - Brotherhood of War
The best selling release of the week (Kill Bill Double-Shot) is shovelware. In fact, most of the top selling releases are shovelware, which is not a good sign for the overall numbers. There are a couple of first run releases, and a couple of HDTV on Blu-ray releases, but overall this is not a good week for High Definition.

Brian Regan - The Epitome of Hyperbole - Buy from Amazon
Brian Regan's second stand-up special for Comedy Central, The Epitome of Hyperbole was part of a deal done with Comedy Central that included televised specials, a live tour, and there are rumors it might lead to a sitcom.

First a confession: I hate reviewing stand-up concerts, as I never know what to say. How do you talk about someone who does nothing but tell jokes, without spoiling the jokes? I guess you start by talking about his general style, but Brian Regan comes from the observational humor school of stand-up, which is not a particular useful in describing a comedian, as that includes a huge list of comedians. In fact, practically everyone on our list of stand-up comics is in the observational school. His material is good and his delivery varies from laid-back to manic (but very clean for those who want stand-up they can watch with their families). Not every joke works, and he does tend to hit a joke for a beat or two after he should have ended it. (This is a complaint I have with a lot of comics, and with most comedy in general.) I laughed enough to recommend checking out the DVD, but not enough to recommend buying it blind.

Extras on the DVD are better than most stand-up concert releases, with a 4-minute encore and a 13-minute behind the scenes featurette, both of which are worth checking out.

Brian Regan has been building a fanbase for a while now, and for those fans The Epitome of Hyperbole is worth picking up. However, if haven't seen his work but are a fan of stand-up in general, rent it first.

C.S.I. Miami - The Sixth Season - Buy from Amazon
My least favorite of the C.S.I. franchise. I think it is too much of a copy of the original, only not as interesting (and David Caruso's squat and squint style of acting is unintentionally funny). Additionally, the extras seem weaker than with previous season releases with just two audio commentary tracks and four featurettes. Given the limited replay value on shows of this nature, I'm not sure it's worth buying over just renting.

Child's Play - Chucky's 20th Birthday Edition - Buy from Amazon
Child's Play tells the story of a serial killer, Charles Lee Ray, who uses voodoo magic to transfer his soul into a Good Guy doll. (Suspension of disbelief is important for this movie.) But he doesn't want to stay stuck in this doll forever, and what better body to move his soul into than the boy who got him for his birthday?

This is a film that earned very good reviews, especially for a relatively low-budget horror movie and earned enough at the box office to make a string of sequels, none of which lived up to the quality of the original. (Although I like Jennifer Tilly's performance in the latest two, especially when she played herself. She was able to laugh at herself in the movie, and that's cool.) It's scary enough for horror fans, but has enough humor to not feel monotonous; additionally, it was one of the better examples of the killer doll sub-genre (although I've always been partial to the Puppet Master franchise).

However, while the movie was good and the fanbase strong, the previous DVD was... what's the term? Crap? Nope, utter crap. No real extras, poor audio and video, etc. Fortunately for fans, that's not a problem this time around. Extras start with a par of audio commentary tracks, the first featuring two of the actors (Catherine Hicks and Alex Vincent), as well as the designer of the Chucky doll, Kevin Yagher. The second track is with the producer, David Kirschner, and the screenwriter, Don Manchini. Both offer a lot of information on the film, from very different perspectives. (It is unusual for both tracks to be so heavy in information, because usually the crew track offers the information and the cast track offers entertainment.) There are also select scene commentaries done by 'Chucky', but these are more for laughs. There's a three-part making-of featurette than runs 25 minutes called Evil Comes in Small Packages. This deals with the origins of the story, how the script was sold, etc. Very solid with excellent replay value. Chucky: Building a Nightmare is a 10-minute featurette on the making of the doll. Given the groundbreaking nature of the animatronics in this movie, this is a great featurette. A Monster Convention is five and a half minute panel from 2007 with some of the cast and crew. There is also a 6-minute vintage featurette, which is a kick to watch, but the other featurettes cover the same information, and in more detail. Finally, rounding out the extras are the trailers and some images.

For fans of Child's Play, Chucky's 20th Birthday Edition is a must have, even if you have the previous edition. Fans of horror films who have not seen the first incarnation of this franchise should also check it out. Many that do will end up buying it. (I wouldn't say the same about the sequels.)

Cool Hand Luke - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
One of the best movies ever made. And no, I don't think I'm overstating things. This is the kind of movie that should be in everyone's DVD collection, and even if you already have the previous DVD, it is worth upgrading. Granted, the extras are not overwhelming in number, but the audio commentary track and 30-minute making-of documentary are both excellent and worthy of repeat viewing. Unfortunately, the Blu-ray has no additional features and costs about 50% more. However, at just a hair under $20.00, it is still worth picking up.

Essential Art House - Volume 1 - Buy from Amazon
Six movies presented in one box set or sold individually. However, the price of the box set is not that much cheaper than getting them individually, while it would be best to get the movies in a release with more extras.

The Fall - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The sophomore effort from director Tarsem Singh, whose first film was The Cell, and you can tell from one look at the movie, as it shares the same visual flare. This film did earn better reviews than his first film, but they were still not great, especially for a limited release. That said, it still did well in limited release and pulled in more than $2 million during its run. As for the DVD, it has two audio commentary tracks, two featurettes, and some deleted scenes. The Blu-ray has these extras, plus an additional image gallery and it is BD-Live capable. That's not a lot of additional extras, but the film is visual enough that it is worth paying the extra $7.00 for High Definition.

Fist of Legend - Buy from Amazon
Arguably Jet Li's best movie. In the movie he plays Chen Zhen, a character that is based in history. The film starts in Japan where Chen Zhen is a student; however, Japanese nationalism is growing in the lead-up to World War II and some of his fellow students don't want a Chinese person in their school. After a short (but impressive) fight, he learns his master back home was killed in a challenge fight and must return help his school recover. Thus the two main themes of the film are set up: the Japanese vs. Chinese bigotry, which goes both ways, and the power of martial arts to lift the spirit as well as the body.

This film works on many levels, including the mystery aspect, as Chen Zhen spends a considerable time trying to find out the exact circumstances of his master's death. It also works in a social sense with the nationalism and bigotry portrayed, especially with regards to Chen Zhen's relationship with a Japanese woman. And finally, it works as a straight up martial arts action movie (with a side of martial arts philosophy thrown in). There are abundant fights in the movie, with enough variations within the styles that it never seems repetitive, while the limited wire work helps it stay grounded. Yes, wire fu is fun, but I don't think it would have worked in this case.

On a side note, the main villain is played by Billy Chow, who was born in Canada. I would like to see more Canadians as bad guys, and not just Canadian born actors. I want to see Canadian characters as the main villain.

Extras on the DVD continue Dragon Dynasty's impressive reputation starting with an audio commentary track with Bey Logan, who again fills the track with a huge amount of information. That's it in terms of extras on Disc One, but Disc Two starts with an Interview Gallery containing interviews with the director, Gordan Chan; with actor who played Hou Ting-An, the son of the slain master, Chin Siu-ho; with Japanese actor, Kurata Yasuaki; and finally an interview with Brett Ratner and Elvis Mitchell, filmed separately. There is also a featurette hosted by Kea Wong, who has appeared on more than one previous Dragon Dynasty release. Here she goes to the Kurata Action School for a seminar on screen-fighting. In total this section runs more than two hours, which is longer than the movie itself. There are also five deleted scenes, which run just over five minutes in total.

What makes Fist of Legend such a great movie is that is doesn't just relay on martial arts action, as it also has a great story to tell. For any fans of the genre, it is worth checking out, and with a loaded DVD it is easily worth picking up over just renting. In fact, it is a contender for the DVD Pick of the Week.

Foreign Exchange - Buy from Amazon: R-rated or Unrated
A teenage sex comedy in the same vein as American Pie; it even shares the exchange student story hook with that film. However, while that film is considered a classic in the genre, this one is not, which is why it is going direct-to-DVD. There are some up-and-coming stars in the movie, including Vanessa Lengies, and Tania Raymonde from Lost, as well as veterans like Jennifer Coolidge and Clint Howard, although they are not given enough to work with. The end result is barely worth a rental, and that's only if you are looking for some low expectations entertainment.

Forgotten Kingdom - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc DVD, Special Edition with Digital Copy, or Blu-ray
Jackie Chan and Jet Li team up for the first time in a theatrical release in this time travel martial arts movie. The film earned respectable reviews, and did as well at the box office as expected. The Single-Disc DVD has plenty of extras, including an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, outtakes, and a half-a-dozen featurettes on various topics. The Special Edition with Digital Copy has all of that, plus a digital copy of the movie. Meanwhile, the Blu-ray has everything the Special Edition has and costs just $2.00 more. Even compared to the Single-Disc edition, the price increase is not too much. Worth checking out, and worth picking up over just renting, especially for fans of the genre.

Fox Horror Classics Collection - Volume 2 - Buy from Amazon
... Someone needs to talk to the people at Fox about the definition of the term, "Horror." However, regardless what genre most of these belong to, they are worth checking out. Add in a bargain price and top-notch extras, and this box set is worth buying for fans of films from the era.

Grey's Anatomy - The Complete Fourth Season - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
I'm starting to think the behind the scenes drama is more interesting than the stuff they actually film. This year, Katherine Heigl's role on the show was cut back to accommodate her movie schedule, which was a nice gesture on the part of the producers, but then she complained not enough happened with her character. It got so bad that some thought she was trying to get fired from the show so she could pursue her movie career without breaking her contract.

As for the on the screen drama, the season starts off where last year ended, with Dr. Cristina Yang's wedding ending poorly, Dr. George O'Malley failing his intern exam and having to start over from the beginning, and of course there's a whole new batch of interns that the freshly minted residents need to train up. As for this season, we have an estranged family returning, promotions and the jealousy that comes with that, and a lot of romance, including a lesbian relationship, which was likely a result of the behind-the-scenes controversy last year. The series needed to bounce back from Season Three, but I'm not sure that it did. I am willing to cut it some slack, as the writers' strike did disrupt the plan for the season. Perhaps if they didn't have this interruption in their schedule, then they could have been enough to bounce back all the way.

On a side note, I was eating at my computer while watching the end of episode 9, Crash Into Me: Part 1 (it's the two-parter with Seth Green). I won't say what happens in that episode, but I will say it helped my stick to my diet. Also from that episode, if I were doing surgery on a white supremacist, I would fix him up, but I would given him stitches in the shape of a star of David. Because that would be funny.

Extras on the DVD include audio commentary tracks on three episodes and they have a mixture of cast and crew (including newcomers, Chyler Leigh, on the season premiere, and Lauren Stamile, on Forever Young). The rest of the extras are on the final disc, starting with an eight-minute featurette on the three new cast members. Next up is a six-minute featurette on McDreamy and McSteamy. The cast and crew spend 14 minutes talking about their favorite scenes. There are also just over a dozen deleted and extended scenes from a handful of episodes, but most are quite short and in total they run just under 12 minutes. There are also four and a half minutes of outtakes, and a recap of the first three seasons, which should be on disc one.

As for the Blu-ray, it has all of the extras above, and it is the first HDTV on Blu-ray to feature the SeasonPlay. I love SeasonPlay. It keeps track of where you are in the season so if you turn off the show, turn off the machine, start watching a new disc, etc., and then come back, it will tell you what disc, what episode, and how far into that episode you left off. However cool that may be, that's it in terms of extras, and it costs nearly 80% more. Additionally, while it looks and sounds great, it is not the kind of show you pop into your Blu-ray player to show off to your friends. It's just the nature of the show.

Additionally, my DVD screener came with a promotional DVD with the pilot episodes for three shows. The Blu-ray screener did not. This further hurts the argument that it is worth upgrading to High Definition.

The fourth season of Grey's Anatomy was an improvement over season three, but it is arguably still weaker than seasons one and two. Additionally, this is a strike-shortened season, yet the DVD costs the same as last year's full-season release, while the Blu-ray costs nearly 80% more. That said, fans of the show will still want to pick it up, while those interested in the developing HDTV on Blu-ray market might want to check it out.

Heckler - Buy from Amazon
Jamie Kennedy in a documentary about hecklers that had potential. It starts out about people who heckle live events, like athletes, or in Jamie Kennedy's case, stand up comics. This part of the movie is good... then it falls apart when he starts complaining about critics. Sure, there are some critics out there that live for ripping apart bad movies. (Zero Punctuation is a perfect example of this, except he reviews video games, and even he is willing to point out when a video game works.) However, most critics would much rather see a great movie than write a snarky review. In fact, we tend to get snarky because we get to see so few great movies. And if a lot of different critics give a movie terrible reviews, it is not a sign of a conspiracy, it is a sign that the it is a really bad movie.

House of the Dead - Director's Cut - Funny Version - Buy from Amazon
A terrible horror film reworked into a comedy by a man who has no idea what is funny and what is not. In fact, the original is funnier than this version, just unintentionally so. Skip it.

How the West Was Won - Buy from Amazon: Special Edition, Ultimate Collector's Edition, or Blu-ray
Great movie, but why does the Ultimate Collector's Edition have more extras than the Blu-ray? Shouldn't it be the other way around?

It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia - Season Three - Buy from Amazon
The first full season of the show, it is still only 15 episodes long. No, it wasn't shortened by the writers' strike, it's a cable show, and those are normally shorter than network TV shows. However, while they are shorter, cable seasons are usually planned out better and there are fewer 'filler' episodes. Extras on the 3-disc set are great with audio commentary tracks on 2 episodes, a making-of featurette, behind-the-scenes featurette, a featurette on the clothing, and outtakes. For fans of the show it is easily worth picking up. For those who have never seen the show, check it out, but start with the first release.

Jon & Kate Plus Ei8ht - Seasons 1 - 2 - Buy from Amazon
A reality TV show about a family that has 8 kids. I don't like reality TV and I don't think having 8 kids in a good enough reason to put someone on TV.

Keeping Up Appearances - Life Lessons from Onslow - Buy from Amazon
According to Amazon, last week they released another Full Series Megaset that included this special. This week they are releasing the special separately for those who owned the previous Full Series Megaset so you don't have to double-dip to get everything. On a side note, I say according to Amazon, because other sources have the full-series Megaset coming out this week.

Kill Bill - Buy from Amazon: Volume One, Volume 2, or Combo
First of all, I am going to treat these two as one movie, in fact, I am confident there is almost literally no one who will buy Volume 1 but not Volume 2, and even fewer will do vice versa. I am also very confident that those interested in these releases are not interested in my discussing the plot of the two films, since they know the details of the story of revenge, and are interested in how the film looks and sounds in high definition, and how the extras stack up compared to the original DVD releases.

First the good news, Kill Bill makes its debut in High Definition, and it certainly has the visual flair to take advantage of what High Definition has to offer. The mixture of visual styles in this movie shines on Blu-ray, as does the audio. That said, it is not among the best I've seen, but I've seen a lot of movies and TV shows that were filmed to take advantage of High Definition, which gives newer movies an advantage in that regard. It shines on High Definition, but this is not a Blu-ray you will reach for when you want to show off your home theater set-up.

Now for the bad news, the extras are extremely light. Volume One just has a 22-minute making-of featurette and a 6-minute, 2-song performance by the "5,6,7,8's". (Both are in High Definition, on the other hand.) Volume 2 has another making-of featurette, this time running 26 minutes. There is also a deleted scene and another musical performance, this time a longer one by Robert Rodriguez. Again, that's not much, but at least they are all in High Definition.

Kill Bill's debut on Blu-ray is shovelware, it's as simple as that. And the price for Volume One and Volume Two separately is high for shovelware. However, the Combo is significantly cheaper, and additionally, it is part of Disney's mail-in rebate program, which further reduces the price by $10 per volume. It's hard to resist that deal and while I would prefer a loaded special edition, this is still worth picking up.

Legion of Super-Heroes - Volume 3 - Buy from Amazon
Another attempt to attract younger audiences by turning adult superheroes into high school kids. Purists and adult collector's are not happy with this trend, but they are not the target audience, which is obvious looking at the DVD releases so far. This single-disc release has the final five episodes of season one and absolutely no extras. The price-per-minute is way too high for a TV on DVD release and there are simply too many other options for fans of D.C. Comics cartoon series that have been made in the past few years to recommend this one.

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Filed under: Video Releases, Kill Bill: Volume 1, Kill Bill: Volume 2, Baby Mama, The Forbidden Kingdom, The House of the Dead, The Fall, Nochnoy dozor, Tae Guik Gi: The Brotherhood of War, Dnevnoy dozor, Fong juk