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DVD Releases for November 18, 2008 - Part II

November 18th, 2008

It's a weird week for the DVD release report. According to Amazon, seven of the top ten releases come from two movie: WALL-E and Tropic Thunder. Add in the Spanish language edition and there are five versions of the former movie coming out this week, including the 3-Disc DVD and the 3-Disc Blu-ray, either one of which is worthy of the DVD Pick of the Week. The overall group of releases feels weaker than last week, but it is more than enough that it had to be split into two parts. Part one can be found here.

Warning: This Blu-ray does not come out this week and made its home market debut on last Sunday. However, the Blu-ray arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Kung Fu Panda - Buy from Amazon: Blu-ray
Just a quick update to last week's review now that the Blu-ray has arrived. There's no need to get into the quality of the movie, or the extras that were ported over from the DVD, and I'll just jump right into what makes the Blu-ray better.

This movie is one of the best looking Blu-rays I've ever seen. Of this, there can be no doubt. (During the final showdown, I could literally count Tai Lung's hairs from across the room.) This is much better than Shrek the Third or Madagascar and it is right up there with Cars and Ratatouille, which is high praise indeed. And is sounds just as good as it looks. Even if there were no additional extras on the Blu-ray compared to the DVD it would be worth picking up, as this is the kind of movie you put on to show off your home theater system.

However, we are in luck, because the Blu-ray does have additional extras. The audio commentary track has been upgraded to a Picture-in-Picture track, mostly. There are some changes here and there. Also, there is a trivia track that you can watch with information on the movie, Kung Fu, voice work, and how many peach petals there are in this one scene. Finally, the Blu-ray is BD-Live enabled and there are two featurettes one can download. The first is one scene you can watch in a dozen different languages, and the second is a day in the life of a Shaolin Monk. This is much better than most BD-Live Blu-rays, which only have some unrelated trailers you can download.

Kung Fu Panda is one of the best movies of the year, and the Blu-ray is one of the best releases in the format's young history. Buy it.

McHale's Navy - Season Four - Buy from Amazon
A fun show that is ending its run on DVD this week. And it's fun, but not in a high quality kind of way. If you have been collecting it so far, there's no reason to stop now.

Mister Lonely - Buy from Amazon
A film about a Michael Jackson impersonator who meets a Marylin Monroe impersonator and moves to Scotland to live with her husband, Charlie Chaplin, and their daughter, Shirley Temple. Sadly, the movie is not as interesting as that sounds. Extras include a making-of featurette and deleted scenes and it is worth checking out for fans of strange Independent films, but that's it.

Mitzi Gaynor - Razzle Dazzle! - The Special Years - Buy from Amazon
An hour-long documentary look at Mitzi Gaynor and the series of TV specials that first aired on TV from the 1968 to 1978.

The show does give a bit of background information, like Mitzi Gaynor's years as a studio player and her breakout performance in South Pacific. It also talks about her show in Las Vegas, which can be seen as a direct precursor to her TV specials. But most of the documentary is loaded with interviews about, and clips from, the 8 specials that aired on TV starting in 1968. They talk about the singing, they talk about the comedy sketches, they talk about the dancing, and they talk about the fashion. Some of the dresses she wore, the best way to describe them is 'barely there.' There's a lot of love being shown here, and it is infectious.

While the main program is only 57 minutes long, there's lots of extras starting with a 17-minute featurette on the fashion with Mitzi Gaynor and designer Bob Mackie. It's clear these two have great chemistry together, which makes this featurette even more fun. Mitzi also tells a story about her appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, which was also the show with The Beatles. There are four skits from the specials that run a total of nearly 30 minutes. And finally there are eight musical performances, one from each of her TV specials. Added together they also run close to 30 minutes, meaning the extras run longer than the main program.

Those who remember watching the Mitzi Gaynor TV specials from the 1960s and 1970s will get a kick out of Razzle Dazzle! - The Special Years. And while the documentary itself is rather short, there's more than enough extras on the DVD to make up for it and lift it past the rental level and to a solid purchase.

Monty Python Holy Trinity - Buy from Amazon
Three movies are in this set: Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and Meaning of Life. If you don't have these movies, get them. Even if you have one of them, this is probably still the better deal.

Naional Geographic - Stress - Portrait of a Killer - Buy from Amazon
Do you know what can cause unwanted stress? The title of this DVD. "If you don't calm down, you are going to DIE!!!!" Not helpful.

The Odd Couple - The Final Season - Buy from Amazon
A great show that holds a rather rare distinction of being award a major award (and Emmy for Tony Randall) after it was officially canceled. The DVD releases for this show have been bare bones, but they are still worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

Priceless - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
This movie has Audrey Tautou playing against type, or at least against the image she had here, I'm sure her career in France is more diverse than the films that have made it here. The film earned great reviews and managed to reach $2 million at the box office, which is better than most limited releases manage, especially this year. The DVD has a couple of making-of featurettes and some deleted scenes while the Blu-ray has no additional extras, but costs 25% less than the DVD. I don't know why, but I'm not complaining. Certainly worth picking up, especially if you like French farces.

The Singing Revolution - Buy Direct
First a note, Amazon has this DVD coming out on the 3rd of February, but you can buy it directly from the site here.

This is a massive 3-disc set that offers a ton of information on the small Baltic State of Estonia. I do have some connection to this area, as my grandmother was born in Lithuania. The Lithuanian people used to burn freedom candles in their windows as a sign of solidarity, while the Estonians sang. I know people who can use singing as a weapon, but this case is different. Like the rest of the Baltic States, Estonia has been occupied for most of the past century, including Soviet and Nazi occupation during World War II. This part of the film is the most difficult to watch, but most of the film details the post-World War II Soviet occupation and how the people used singing, especially the Laulupidu singing festival, to first show solidarity, and then later to rebel. The overall effect is amazing and even those with no connection to the area or the events should be enthralled.

Extras on the 3-disc include an audio commentary with the co-directors who give a lot of background information and some of the reasons for choices they made. The other two discs have hours of extra interviews, as well as images, and printable materials. Additionally, the Collector's Edition 1.0 and the two other special editions come with limited exhibition rights and can be shown in public with certain limitations. Excellent for educators.

The Singing Revolution is an impresive documentary about a country that most people here probably have never heard of. It is certainly worth checking out, whether you buy it direct or wait until February when it is released at Amazon and other retailers.

Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2 - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
This sequel opened with reviews that were weaker than the reviews of the original but still managed to outperform it at the box office, albeit by a tiny margin. Fans of the film should check it out on the home market, but the DVD only has one featurette, some deleted scenes, and outtakes, while the Blu-ray has no additional extras and costs 60% more. Sadly, even if you have a Blu-ray player, the DVD is likely the better option. Also available as a Limited Edition Giftset.

SpongeBob SquarePants - Season Five - Volume 2 - Buy from Amazon
21 more episodes from this series that takes place under the sea. Of those 21 episodes, all 21 have been released on DVD already. I've even reviewed some of these DVDs in the past, which means I can almost skip right to the extras after a quick note on the overall quality of the show. It is clear to me that for most of the season, SpongeBob SquarePants is past its peak. Too often the episodes feel like retreads of previous episodes, but it picked up steam in the end, and overall it is still worth checking out for fans of the show.

There are almost none. The two discs have five songs that can be played either as sing-alongs or in Karaoke mode, but that is it. The individual DVDs had more extras than this, although those do not have a huge amount of extras either.

SpongeBob SquarePants is off its peak as far as the quality of the episodes, but there are still enough here that are worth checking out that overall Season Five - Volume 2 is also worth checking out. I would prefer it if they would skip the single disc releases altogether and include all of the extras from the previous releases. As it is, each DVD release feels like a cash grab, and it is hard to support that.

Star Trek - The Original Series - Remastered - Season 3 - Buy from Amazon
This time last year I reviewed the High Definition Debut of >Star Trek - The Original Series. Sadly, Paramount backed the wrong side of The Format War and so far that has been the only release in High Definition. But, not one to miss out on selling something to their dedicated fans, they continued to release the newly Remastered version of the first series on DVD.

The third and final season of this show is also arguably the weakest. The budget was cut by the network and it was shuffled to Friday night, which was (and still is) a terrible timeslot. But that said, there are still a number of strong episodes on this seven-disc set. This includes The Enterprise Incident, in which Captain Kirk orders the Enterprise into the Neutral Zone leading directly to an altercation with a number of Romulan warships. Spectre of the Gun, where the landing party finds themselves in the old West and they are forced to live out the battle between Clanton clan and the Earp family, a fight the landing party is destine to lose. Day of the Dove has the Enterprise arriving at a Federation colony that has been destroyed without any trace being left behind. So after a Klingon space ship arrives and accuses Captain Kirk of committing an act of war, but perhaps another entity is responsible. The Tholian Web starts with the Enterprise looking for Defiant, a starship that disappeared recently, but they appear to fall prey to the same phenomenon. The Empath brings about mixed responses, with some disliking the obvious cheap designs, which was an effect of the budget being slashed for the final season. Others enjoy the silent performance by Kathryn Hays as Gem. I fall into the latter category. Elaan of Troyius not one of the better episodes in the show's run, but I wanted to point out that I liked Elaan better uncivilized. Let That Be Your Last Battlefield has a pro-tolerance, anti-racism message, but it's too blunt to be as effective as it could otherwise be. Still, it's a good episode compared to most on this set. Requiem for Methuselah starts with a plague aboard the Enterprise and Captain Kirk, Spock, and Bones on a planet looking for the cure, but the supposedly uninhabited planet has a few inhabitants that want them to leave or be destroyed. In The Savage Curtain Captain Kirk and Spock team up with Abraham Lincoln and Surak to fight four villains from history to help an alien species learn the concept of Good vs. Evil.

Extras include previews for all episodes, as well as two versions of The Cage, the original pilot that was first aired in 1988, and the extended version that has never been aired. Disc seven also has a few featurettes, starting with Billy Blackburn's Treasure Chest, which is more home movies. To Boldly Go... is a recap of season three, which talks about, among other things, the cancellation, the revival, the slashed budget, the timeslot change, and the final cancellation. There are three interviews with members of the cast: James Doohan, Walter Koenig, and George Takei. There are also a couple featurettes on Star Trek collectibles. Star Trek's Impact is a 9-minute featurette on the impact of the show as told by Eugene Roddenberry, son of Gene Roddenberry, creator of the franchise. Finally there's Captain's Log: Bob Justman, who was a co-producer for Star Trek - The Original Series.

The hit to miss ratio for Star Trek - The Original Series - Season Three is lower than other two seasons, much lower, but there's still enough episodes that work (including a few borderline ones I skipped over). I like the improvements and extras found on the Remastered - Season 3 release, but I'm hesitant to recommend it, because it is my firm belief that by this time next year, the series will start coming out on Blu-ray and will include even better extras, including the Picture-in-Picture tracks we saw for Season One on HD DVD. But if you are a hardcore Trekkie, this is worth picking up.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and makes its home market debut on the 4th. However, the DVD screener arrived early and I was able to get the review done this week.

Transsiberian - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
One of about a dozen DVDs / Blu-rays that have arrived late in the past few weeks. I keep trying to clean out that pile of late reviews, but more and more DVDs keep replenishing it. It's a true Sisyphean task.

Transsiberian stars Emily Mortimer and Woody Harrelson as Jessie and Roy, a couple traveling by train from Beijing, China to Moscow, Russia. While on the train they meet another couple, Abby and Carlos. However, they are not just fellow travelers, and soon Jessie is caught up in more than she can handle. And when Police Detective Grinko gets involved, her lies threaten to grow out of control. More than one critic described this thriller as Hitchcockian, and for good reason. It works on every level. The acting is superb across the board, the writing is fantastic creating and toying with your expectations, and directing helped maximize the desolate landscape that added so much to the final product.

On the other hand, extras on the DVD are rather weak with just a making of featurette. Granted, it’s a meaty 34 minutes long detailing nearly every aspect of the movie, but that's not enough. There are no additional extras on the Blu-ray, nor is the making of featurette given the high definition treatment. That said, it only cost 30% more, and the video is simply amazing, much better than its low-budget roots would suggest.

Sadly, while Transsiberian did relatively well in limited release, especially compared to the average such film this year, it never truly found the audience it deserved to find. It should do better on the home market, and even without a massive amount of extras, it is worth buying over just renting. Additionally, the Blu-ray is worth picking up over the DVD.

Tropic Thunder - Buy from Amazon: Theatrical Released, Unrated Director's Cut, or Unrated Blu-ray
First a quick note, I only have the Unrated Director's Cut to review at the moment, but when the Unrated Blu-ray arrives, I will update this review.

The film has an amazing cast including Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey, Jr. as three prima dona actors who, along with Jay Baruchel and Brandon T. Jackson, are trying to make a movie based on a book by Vietnam veteran, Four Leaf Tayback. Unfortunately first time director, Damian Cockburn, is having a hell of a time controlling his cast and crew, and is forced to take drastic measures. In order to make his movie, he drops his cast into the jungle with to goal to shoot the film guerilla style. There's just one problem, the local drug lord doesn't like intruders in his territory. But thanks to an inconveniently placed landmine, that's not his problem anymore.

Ben Stiller returns to the director's chair for the first time since Zoolander, and the results are the best film he has directed, and his best film overall since The Royal Tenenbaums. The humor here is definitely not tame, and not just for the 'black face' aspect of Kirk Lazarus's character. (In fact, looking back, that part of the movie didn't phase me at all and it never once struck me as odd. At least not odd enough to make hurt my ability to be drawn in by the film.) Tugg Speedman and Kirk Lazarus's conversation about going "full retard" in an Oscar bait movie is arguably a lot more offensive, but it is done in a way that is so over the top that I found far more humorous than offensive. There are some issues with the inside Hollywood humor that is arguably less effective with moviegoers than it is with filmmakers, but over all this is still a great Action / Comedy that is certainly worth checking out. The only question is what version.

Sadly, I can't really answer that question as I only have the one version to review, the Unrated Director's Cut. Normally when there's a single-disc and a two-disc release, it is safe to assume that the single-disc is just the first disc of the two-disc release. But since the two-disc is a Director's Cut, that is not a safe assumption here.

As for the Unrated Director's Cut, it has plenty of extras starting with two audio-commentary tracks, one for the cast and the other for the crew. Both offer plenty of information, and a high entertainment value, with few dead spots. Most of the extras on disc two are featurettes, starting with Before the Thunder, which is a 5-minute featurette on how the movie came into being. The Hot LZ is a 6-minute featurette on shooting the major fighting scene at the beginning of the movie. The 6-minute featurette called Blowing Shit Up is rather self-explanatory. Designing the Thunder and The Cast of Tropic Thunder are also rather self-explanatory. Rain of Madness and the Dispatches from the Edge of Madness is one of the longer extras running more than 50 minutes combined. It's a mockumentary about the making of the fake movie within the real movie. There's a few Deleted / Extended / Alternate scenes, most with optional audio commentary track. Next up is the make-up test for one of the actors in the film, which I won't spoil here. (Apparently he didn't like it when it was revealed early.) There's a sort video done for the MTV Movie Awards, which is tasteless, but I laughed. Next up are Full Mags, which is more than 30 minutes of improv that was chopped down for the movie. Finally there are 3-minutes of video rehearsals, which was a tool the filmmakers used to help plan certain shots. Overall that's a lot of extras, most of which has replay value.

I don't know if the Unrated Blu-ray has any additional extras. However, since it only costs $4 million, it wouldn't need any to be worth the upgrade, if the video and audio transfers are even just average for the format.

Tropic Thunder was a risky movie to make with a lot of humor that is sure to offend many, however, those who can get past that should enjoy a lot of the humor and it is worth picking up. Either the Unrated Director's Cut or the Unrated Blu-ray would be worth adding to your collection, and the latter is likely to be the better deal.

TV on DVD - Full Series Megasets - Buy from Amazon: Charmed, Monty Python's Flying Circus, The Odd Couple, Star Trek: The Original Series - Remastered, and The Texan
Smaller list of Full Series Megasets this week. Also, the new Monty Python Megaset is just the old Megaset plus the personal best DVDs. If you have both, there's nothing here to make you want to upgrade. On a side note, Charmed was also coming out on a Limited Edition, but I think that's been cancelled. One last note, The Texan isn't exactly a full series Megaset because a few of the episodes are lost, however, it is as close as we will get unless someone finds some of these missing episodes. This is possible, but for fans of the show, they won't want to wait.

WALL-E - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc DVD, 3-Disc DVD w/ Digital Copy, 2-Disc Blu-ray, or 3-Disc Blu-ray w/ Digital Copy
I don't think there has ever been a studio with track record as impressive as Pixar. They haven't had a single box office flop, and their weakest performer with critics was Cars, which earned 75% positive reviews and Oscar nominations. (It should have won the Oscar, but that's another story.) Now their latest film comes out on the home market in one of five versions, only one of which I have at the moment (the 3-Disc Blu-ray w/ Digital Copy). So let's jump right into the movie itself.

WALL-E starts in a dystopian future as we follow a solitary robot as he goes about cleaning up with a cockroach as his only companion. We learn as he goes about his work that the Earth became too polluted to live on, so humanity has flown into the outer reaches of space leaving an army of robots to clean up. However, over the years they've all broken down. All but one. And after centuries of doing his job, a spaceship lands and a probe is released, EVE, and its love at first sight, but when he sneaks aboard her spaceship and it returned to the humans, he has a profound effect on everyone he encounters.

And the Oscar goes to... I'm not kidding. This is an Oscar worthy film, and not just for Best Animated Feature, but also for Best Original Screenplay, Best Score, and if there was any justice, Best Picture and Best Director. This is the best movie I've watched all year, and I watch a lot of movies. In fact, this could be the best contemporary movie I've reviewed, ever. There's more emotional depth in WALL-E's performance, a robot that barely says a word and has almost no facial features, than there is in 99% of live action performances I see every week as part of my job as a movie critic. This is a testament to the writers and animators that worked on this movie. Also, on the technical side, this is the best looking digitally animated movies I've ever seen. However, unlike Cars, I never caught myself being enthralled at the animation, at the expense of the story. That was the only real flaw in that movie, and it didn't happen here.

Moving onto the various home market releases coming out this week, I only have the 3-Disc Blu-ray w/ Digital Copy but Disney sent me a handy guide to the four English-language editions and the extras found on each. So let's get to it.

Starting on the technical aspect of the Blu-ray, this is the best looking Blu-ray I own. It is immaculate and is destined to become the defacto showcase Blu-ray for home theater systems, both in homes and in electronic stores nationwide. And is sounds just as good as it looks. In fact, it sounds so good that I've decided to upgrade my speaker system to take advantage of the sound.

Moving onto the extras, things start with two video commentary tracks, the first being Cine-Explore, which I love. There's a huge amount of information given here from the director, Andrew Stanton, as well as pop-up picture-in-picture features (mostly concept art). The second video commentary track is the Geek Track, which has four movie geeks giving commentary. Or three movie geeks and a normal woman trapped on the couch with them. When they started speaking Huttese, I started feeling sorry for them. Other extras on the first disc include two short films, Presto and BURN-E, the latter of which can also be played with Picture-in-Picture storyboards.

Moving onto the second disc, the extras are divided into two sections: Robots and Humans. Robots starts with 5 minutes of WALL-E's Treasures and Trinkets, which is a series of very short animated clips, a lot of which were seen on the website when the movie came out. "Lots of Bots" Storybook, which you can listen to, or play along with. This one is strictly for the little kids, but it should be enjoyable for them. There are four games in the Axiom Arcade that are basically WALL-E inspired takes on classic games like Burger Time, Asteroids, etc. Bot Files looks at more than two dozen robots that are assigned to the Axiom, and one stowaway.

Moving onto the Humans, we have deleted scenes, with introductions to why they were made, and epilogues with why they were cut. Most of these are in storyboard mode and they run a total of 23 minutes, more or less. Next up is just over an hour of behind-the-scenes including bits on the look, the sound, design of the people, the robots, etc. I would like a "play all" button, but it is still a great special feature. There are nine minutes of Buy n Large shorts, including the Captain Orientation, Operation Cleanup, Robot introduction, and more. Finally, there are several 3-D fly-though tour of the many sets in the movie.

Disc 3 contains the Digital Copy of the movie for portable devices.

There are also a number of Easter Eggs, but I won't spoil them here.

As I said, I don't have the DVD yet, but the video tracks, Picture-in-Picture track for BURN-E, the games, and the 3-D set tour are all Blu-ray exclusive. And one of these would make the Blu-ray worth picking up over the DVD.

WALL-E is easily the best movie I've seen all year, and one of the best movies I've ever seen. Furthermore, the 3-Disc Blu-ray w/ Digital Copy is an incredible package. Easily worth the DVD Pick of the Week, in fact, it is worth upgrading your home theater system to Blu-ray for. You read that right. If you have not made the leap to High Definition yet, getting WALL-E on Blu-ray should be sufficient reason to make that leap.

The Who At Kilburn - 1977 - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The concert release has two complete sets, the restored 1977 concert at Kilburn, and the unrestored 1969 concert at London Coliseum in 1969. The latter is very rare, but the video and audio is weak enough that its value as an extra is limited. It is still worth checking out, and with a price of just $20, the Blu-ray is arguably the better deal.

Wu: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about the rise, and fall, of the Wu-Tank Clan, arguably the most influential Hip-Hop band of all time.

The film shows tells the story on how group was formed from a lot of solo rappers who were less than friends shortly before the formation of the group. (One interviewee said that the summer before they were shooting at each other, but I don't know if this is literally true.) We learn how the band rose to fame and helped influence the musical genre (sadly, the influence of martial arts on the band was passed over and barely mentioned). We see a lot of personal vices that hurt their cohesion and eventually cost ODB his life. There's lots of performance footage here, including some very early appearances on TV, which will likely be the biggest draw for fans of the band. But I think the crossover appeal is limited.

Extras on the DVD starts with interviews with Raekwon the Chef, RZA, Gee-Bee (the director), and Icelene Jones (ODB's widow). These run 36 minutes and there are quite a few interested tit-bits given here. Finally, the original music video for Protect Ya Neck is included.

Wu: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan debuted on TV just a few days ago and has played on BET a number of times since then. Those who enjoyed the documentary should check out the DVD, as should fans of the band who missed it on TV. That said, I think the crossover appeal is limited, and if you are not already interested in the Wu-Tang Clan, I don't think this film will change your mind.

The Zombie Diaries - Buy from Amazon
There have been a lot cheap zombie movies that have come out recently, mostly direct-to-DVD. Quite frankly, I've grown tired of these. I've read some good reviews for this movie, and the DVD has better than expected extras than most such films, and if you like this genre, this could be an interesting one to check out.


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Filed under: Video Releases, WALL-E, Kung Fu Panda, Tropic Thunder, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, Transsiberian, Hors de Prix, Mister Lonely