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DVD Releases for November 26, 2008 - Part II

November 25th, 2008

Strange week. There are a dozen spotlight reviews on the list this week, but only one is for a DVD coming out this week. Ten are for DVDs that arrived late, and one spotlight review is actually early. As for this week's releases, there are not that many that seem like must haves and none rise to the level of a DVD Pick of the Week. If I were to choose the best release found below, it's WALL-E, which came out last week. But even then I would chose the Blu-ray I reviewed last week over the DVD. Despite the lack of a top tier release, there were still more than enough that it was necessary to split the list into two parts. Part one can be found here.

Hancock - Buy from Amazon: Theatrical Edition, Unrated Single Disc Edition, Unrated Two-Disc Edition, or Unrated Blu-ray
This film is based on a screenplay that had been floating around Hollywood for over a decade. Sadly, when it was finally turned into a movie, they messed with it so much that it barely resembles the original. And these changes were not for the better. That said, it made a bundle at the box office, so there are obviously a lot of people who saw it and will likely want to pick it up when it hits the home market. Looking at the four choices, neither of the single-disc editions are of any interest, as they lack any extras. The Unrated Two-Disc Edition has both versions on the first disc, and a number of featurettes on the second. The Unrated Blu-ray has all of that, plus a Picture-in-Picture track with behind-the-scenes footage from the relevant scenes. The Unrated Blu-ray is the better deal if you are interested in buying, but I can only recommend renting.

The Hour Glass Sanitorium - Buy from Amazon
While going through the hundreds of releases on Amazon each week, every once and a while I see a film I've never heard of before but either the name or the cover art draw my attention. Usually a little bit of research kills that interest, but that was not the case this time. This film was directed by Wojciech Has and is adapted by the director from a series of short stories by Bruno Schulz, who has been called the Polish Franz Kafka. This is a movie worth checking out. Unfortunately, I have found precious little information on the movie online, and I might have to blind buy this one. It might make an interesting addition to the Holiday Gift Guide this year.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 16th of September. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Inside the Actors Studio - Robin Williams - Buy from Amazon
I'm of two minds with regards to this episode. On the one hand, I really like James Lipton's interviews, as he asks insightful questions of the actors who appear on his show. Additionally, I've enjoyed most of Robin Williams' work over the years and was looking forward to learning a lot more about his methods and his craft. That didn't really happen. So those looking for a typical, thoughtful interview by James Lipton will be disappointed. On the other hand, those who want to see what at times feels like a 2-hour stand-up routine, they are in for a treat.

That is not to say we learn nothing from the interview. Over the course of the interview, they talk about how he got his started down the path to becoming an entertainer in university. How he developed his style as a stand-up comic. We also learn about a number of major roles in A HREF=>Robin Williams' career, include Good Will Hunting, Good Morning, Vietnam, and Mrs. Doubtfire. But each question is responded to with a short answer, followed by a comedy routine that lasts much longer. Much, much longer in some cases. Along the Entertainment / Informative spectrum, it lands much closer to the former, but this is not a really big issue for fans of the comedian.

Extras include the usual introduction by James Lipton, as well as roughly 35 minutes of additional footage from the night, with more intros. Apparently they filmed five and a half hours of footage for this episode, but even with the extras, less than half of that is presented here on this DVD. Hopefully it's the best half, but I'm sure fans will want more.

According to the packaging, the Robin Williams episode of Inside the Actors Studio is the most requested episode in the show's entire run. If you are a really big fan of the comedian / actor and love his improv, then this DVD is worth picking up. On the other hand, if you love the show for James Lipton's interview style, give it a rental first.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 14th of October. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Long Way Down - The Compete Series - Buy from Amazon
A documentary series that is the follow-up to Long Way Round. That TV series followed Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman as they traveled from London to New York... going East. ... On motorcycles. This time around they are going from John O'Groats, a small town on the north coast of Scotland, to Cape Agulhas, a small town on the south coast of South Africa.

Over the course of 10 episodes, and 85 days, the pair traveled with their entourage through two continents, 18 countries, and nearly 15,000 miles. They had to deal with weather, injuries, bureaucracies, and more than a few Star Wars references. (Not only because Ewan McGregor was in the series, but also because the they traveled to Lake Como and Tunisia, where some of the franchise was filmed.) This is an incredible engrossing TV series and there are a number of amazing stories that are told, which I don't want to spoil in this review. The people they meet, the landscapes they travel through, the animals they encounter. It is amazing. It is the arguably the best travelogue I've seen that doesn't feature Michael Palin.

Extras on the 3-disc include a 45-minute special on the work that UNICEF does called The Missing Face. It's a very moving piece. Over on the third disc we find nearly 21 minutes of deleted scenes from the pre-journey prep to the very end, as well as an interactive map, information on UNICEF and more. (On a side note, some of the deleted scenes were incorporated into the show itself, hence the "Special Edition" label.)

The final verdict is... Skip it. I know, it might seem strange after the positive review to say skip the DVD, but Long Way Down and Long Way Round are coming out in an 8-Disc Box Set in just a couple of weeks, and it is a better deal and it is worth the wait. On the other hand, if you already have Long Way Round, then definitely pick up Long Way Down

A Man Named Pearl - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about Pearl Fryar, who is a self-taught topiary artist. That's people who trim trees as an art form. This is not an art form that most people think of art, which probably explains why this film never really found an audience. Also, its reviews were good, but not great and below the 80% positive level I usual associate with films that can thrive in limited release. It is worth checking out, and with an update, interviews, and a CD soundtrack, it is worth picking up for many.

Meet Dave - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Eddie Murphy needs to make more movies like Dreamgirls and less movies like this. No amount of special features would make this movie worth renting, and the studio didn't even bother trying with just some short interviews passing as extras. The Blu-ray does have some additional featurettes and deleted scenes, but it is still not worth picking up.

The Mod Squad - The Second Season - Volume 1 - Buy from Amazon
The fashions might not have aged well, but the rest of the show is just fine. On the other hand, splitting the season into two volumes feels like a cash grab.

Rush - Snakes & Arrows Live - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A concert performance from Rush's latest tour, which was in support of their 18th studio album, Snakes and Arrows. The CD earned excellent reviews, as did the concert, and the DVD has plenty of extras for added value (a featurette on the tour, outtakes and bonus songs). As for the Blu-ray, while it doesn't have any additional extras, the high definition sound should be enough to convince many to upgrade. If you like this, also consider grabbing the Concert CD.

Slap Shot 3 - The Junior League - Buy from Amazon
The original Slap Shot starred Paul Newman and was one of the best hockey movies ever made. Slap Shot 2 starred Stephen Baldwin, and sucked more than average for a Stephen Baldwin movie, and most of his movies suck pretty hard. Slap Shot 3 is practically a remake of the original, but made for kids. Ugh. Buy the original and pretend the other two never existed.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 11th. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Son of the Beach - Volume Two - Buy from Amazon
The second and final DVD release for this parody of Baywatch staring Timothy Stack as Notch Johnson. It has only taken 5 years since Volume One was release, but was it worth the wait?

Son of the Beach was produced by Howard Stern, which is either a big selling point, or a huge warning. It is also a shortcut to describing the humor on the show. As a parody of Baywatch, it is able to provide enough humor from that specific show, right down to those stupid 'Sexy Montages'. Timothy Stack plays Notch Johnson, a middle age, balding, slightly overweight man who is treated as if he's a real hunk. The rest of the cast includes Jaime Bergman as B.J. Cummings, the dumb blonde stereotype. There's Leila Arcieri as Jamaica St. Croix, the sassy black woman stereotype. Roland Kickinger as Chip Rommel, the German bodybuilder stereotype. And finally, there's Kimberly Oja as Kimberlee Clark, the smartest and most competent of the group, who naturally has the smallest breasts. (Okay, in reality Notch Johnson has the smallest breasts, but it is closer than it should be.) The humor on the show is certainly lowbrow, but that's part of the charm. If you are into bad puns and double entendre, then you'll likely enjoy this show.

Extras on the three-disc set include audio commentary tracks on 7 of the 21 episodes. There are more than a few dead spots found here, as the three participants, Timothy Stack, James R. Stein, and David Morgasen, spend a lot of time laughing at the jokes and staring at the women, but they do give a bit of information as well. Disc one has some behind-the-scenes footage from two episodes, while disc two has 10 minutes of highlights from the table read from the pilot episode, as well as five original promos. Finally on disc three there's 10 minutes of clips from audition tapes. Also, each disc has "Sexy Montage" highlights. The studio knows its audience.

It has been a long wait for fans of Son of the Beach between Volume One and Volume Two . The show keeps up its mostly high-quality lowbrow humor, and the extras are better than most shows. If you enjoyed the first release, there's no reason not to get this one. And if you haven't seen the show, but enjoy goofy humor that is heavy on the puns and double entendres, then check it out. Now if only Night Stand would come out on DVD.

Sounder - Buy from Amazon
The first of two films that were directed by Martin Ritt that are on this week's list. This one is not as well known, but it is arguably just as good. However, because it is not as well known, it is coming out on a featureless DVD. Still worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 9th of September. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

South of Pico - Buy from Amazon
This DVD arrived nearly a month late, but it has been sitting in my late pile for just as long. Man, it is nice to get this one done.

South of Pico is an ensemble drama set in Los Angeles over the course of one day. We follow five characters, a limo driver (Kip Pardue) that has to deal with a wedding and a bride (Christina Hendricks) who might not be ready for marriage. There's also the doctor (Henry Simmons of NYPD Blue) who specializes in cancer research and who is trying to land a massive research grant. There's an immigrant laborer (Giovanni Lopes) who's working as many jobs as he can get to support his family. There's a waitress (Gina Torres of Firefly) who is starting a relationship with a regular customer of hers. And finally, a young boy (Soren Fulton) who is trying to connect with his dad. The film starts at the ending, which was a dangerous stylistic choice that I feel didn't work because it deflated the emotional impact the ending might have had if it were a shock. Also, there was not enough character development here, which further blunts the emotional impact of the ending. Finally, I've read about a dozen reviews for this movie that I've found online as part of my research for this review, and nearly all of them compare this movie to Crash, sometimes in a complimentary way, sometimes not. However, being compared so much to another film (and there are definitely some strong similarities) is not a good sign. If the movie doesn't feel fresh, it is harder to have any emotional strength.

Sadly, there are no extras on this DVD.

South of Pico is a good independent ensemble drama, but not one that is unique enough to stand out. Add in a DVD that is devoid of extras, and it is hard to recommend it for anything more than a rental.

Space Chimps - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Digital animation has gotten so fast and so inexpensive to produce, that studios no longer wait for a top-notch script to go forth. The result is movies like this. It might entertain the younger kids, but even that's not a sure thing. Add in almost no extras on either format (the DVD has a short featurette on the cast and the Blu-ray has that and a trivia track) and this only worth a rental if you have kids. Adults can safely skip this one.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 4th of this month. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in this review.

Spin City - Season One - Buy from Amazon
I loved this show when it first aired, but it has been a while since I've seen season one. I'm amazed how strong it was, since most shows take a while to find their footing, if they ever do.

Michael J. Fox stars as Mike Flaherty, the Deputy Mayor working for the mayor of New York City, Randall M. Winston Jr., played by Barry Bostwick. He has the help of a number of talented underlings, as well as the assorted collection of TV sitcom screw-ups like press secretary Paul Lassiter, Stuart Bondek, and others. For the first half of the season, he also has to deal with his reporter / live-in girlfriend, Ashley Schaeffer. On a side note, this DVD release feels very much like two different seasons crammed into one. Things start with the Ashley episodes where Michael J. Fox and Carla Gugino were co-stars and the rest of the cast were certainly background players. It was clear from the start that the show had an overabundance of talent and it was only a matter of time before they started to come into focus more. Sadly, this meant Carla Gugino's role had to be cut back and eventually she left. And, I have to admit that despite liking the actress and the character, the show did improve.

On a side note, during the episode Deaf Becomes Her, Mike Flaherty says, "You know Stu, I know you're being supportive, but when you do that, it just makes me doubt myself." I understand that sentiment myself and have quoted that line one numerous occasions.

Moving onto the extras, there are seven audio commentary tracks on six episodes, including two on the pilot. Also there are just over 30 minutes of highlights from the seminar for the show done in October of 1996 at the Museum of Television & Radio. It features Michael J. Fox and Gary David Goldberg answering questions about the creation of the show. Over on disc four there's a 36-minute retrospective featurette on the show that features interview clips from most of the cast, and much of the crew. It is in-depth, detailing the creation of the pilot, the writing, the casting, the directing. It also dealt with Michael J. Fox leaving the show, so I'm not sure if there will be featurettes like this for each season, but I hope so.

One final note to Shout! Factory, please give us subtitles.

It is very rare for a show to have as much talent involved in its creation, on both sides of the camera, as Spin City had. It has been more than a decade since I've seen many of these episodes, but I still remember a lot of them, and I still laughed at all of them. Additionally, the extras presented on Season One is more than many contemporary shows get, and the 4-disc set is easily worth picking up.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
A classic spy thriller that is based on a novel by John le Carré. There are enough plot twists to be found within to engage even the most hardened fan of the genre. The two disc set has plenty of extras, all found on the second disc. These are mostly vintage interviews, including an audio-only interview with the director, Martin Ritt. There's also a biography on the writer, and scene-specific commentary by the cinematographer, Oswald Morris. Overall an excellent package that is easily worth picking up.

Still Life - Buy from Amazon
This film earned stellar reviews and opened very well, but by the time it expanded, it had lost all momentum. The DVD should perform a lot better, and with an audio commentary track and a meaty making of featurette, it is worth buying over just renting.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 14th of October. However, the DVD screener arrived early and hence the delay in the review.

Stuck - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
First a quick note, I only have the DVD to review, so I can't do a detailed comparison with the Blu-ray.

Mena Suvari stars as Brandi, a nurse working in a Nursing Home who could be in line for a promotion. Stephen Rea stars as Tom, a man struggling to get by who just lost his apartment and is forced to live on the streets. While these two people's lives are on different trajectories, their paths collide... Literally. If you know the basic plot of the movie, you might think that's tasteless, but it fits with the tone of the movie. It is this tone that harms the movie the most, which is a shame since the performances by the two leads is great. Just a little tweak in the tone of the movie would have changed my recommendation to a solid one. I still think it is worth checking out, I just can't be as enthusiastic as I would like.

As for the DVD, there are no extras.

Stuck is the latest film from director Stuart Gordon, who has previously made The Re-Animator and Edmond, among others. This film's reviews were somewhere in-between those two films and it sported excellent performances, but with a tone that was uneven. Add in zero extras and I can't be enthusiastic with my recommendation, but I still think it is a solid rental, leaning towards a purchase.

Superman - Doomsday - Buy from Amazon: 2-Disc Special Edition or Blu-ray
This was originally released just last year, but, while there has been an upgrade in extras, it isn't worth double-dipping, at least not on DVD. On the other hand, now is a great time to make the leap to Blu-ray.

TV on DVD - Full Series Megasets - Buy from Amazon: Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 - Complete Collection, The Doris Day Show - The Complete Collection, Family Affair, Freaks & Geeks - Yearbook Edition, Gomer Pyle - U.S.M.C., Pink Panther - Ultimate Collection, Red Skelton - The Ultimate Collection, and The Spirit of the Sword: The Complete TV Series
The best TV on DVD Full Season Megaset this week is the Freaks & Geeks - Yearbook Edition. This special edition was released in the past, but only as a direct buy and now it can be bought everywhere. So if you didn't grab it before, grab it now. Yes, I know it is expensive, but this is an amazing show and it is worth the money.

WALL-E - Buy from Amazon: 3-Disc DVD w/ Digital Copy
Just a quick update from last week's review. I have the 3-Disc DVD w/ Digital Copy and can compare it to the 3-Disc Blu-ray w/ Digital Copy and all of its extras.

First of all, the DVD looks great, as far as DVDs go, but I am watching it on my PS3, so it is being upscaled and that helps. It's a fine looking DVD and if that's your only option, then there's little to complain about. That said, the Blu-ray looks so good that it would be foolish not to buy the Blu-ray if you have made the leap to High Definition.

As for the extras, there are a huge amount on this 3-disc set, including the audio commentary track with the director, Andrew Stanton, which is on the Blu-ray, but as a Cine-Explore feature. Disc one also has the two short films Presto and BURN-E, both of which have serious replay value. There's a featurette on the sound design, which should be nominated for an Oscar (the sound design, not the featurette). There are two deleted scenes that run nearly 10 minutes, however, this is far less than what is found on the Blu-ray. Finally, there's a sneak peak at WALL-E's Tour of the Universe. Moving onto disc two, most of the extras from the Blu-ray are also here: BnL Shorts, more deleted scenes, featurettes on the look of WALL-E, the sound of WALL-E, the robots, the humans, and more. There's also an hour-and-a-half documentary on the history of Pixar that's also on the Blu-ray, but I missed it the first time around. I'm not sure how I missed an entire feature-length documentary, but I did. After watching it this week, I have to say I'm impressed. This is not the first such program I've watched about Pixar, but I still managed to learn something here. In the Robots section there are more short bits, a look at all of the robots in the movie, and a story called Lots of Bots that can see viewed as a read along, or a play along if your kids want something more interactive.

Disc three has the digital copy of the movie for portable devices.

WALL-E is one of the best movies I've ever seen and the 3-Disc DVD is a fantastic deal. The amount of extras found here make it a must have, except for one thing. The 3-Disc Blu-ray is simply the best High Definition release I've ever seen. Even if you don't currently have High Definition, I recommend upgrading your home theater system and buying the Blu-ray version.


Filed under: Video Releases, Hancock, WALL-E, Space Chimps, Meet Dave, A Man Named Pearl, Sanxia haoren, Stuck, Superman - Doomsday, Rush - Snakes & Arrows Live