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DVD Releases for December 16, 2008

December 16th, 2008

This week is a confusing one on the home market as there are DVDs coming out on Tuesday the 16th, as usual, and on Friday the 19th, and Sunday the 21st as well. While there are a number of great releases that are spread out over three days, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is the best on any day, and worthy of the DVD Pick of the Week.

American Teen
First two quick notes. One, this movie doesn't come out on DVD until the 21st. Two, it is only available at Target, and only at Target stores, not online.

This documentary follows four typical students in one high school over the course of their senior year. There's the Popular Girl (Megan); the Star of the Basketball Team (Colin); the Artistic Rebel (Hannah); and the Band Nerd (Jake). (There's also The Hunk (Mitch) who only really comes into the movie about halfway through, so he doesn't feel like one of the main cast members.) Sadly, for a documentary, there's little reality here and it feels more like Reality TV. And I'm not talking about the animated segments that some have complained about; those I like, as they give a style to the movie while helping show what the kids are thinking. What I'm talking about are the setups. Obviously some of the shots are faked, or to be kind, reenactments for the camera, but this would be nearly unavoidable in a movie like this. Other scenes feel more like the events themselves were staged, which would be a gross violation of documentarian ethics in my opinion. But overall, it feels too slick, too overproduced, too much like Reality TV.

Extras on the DVD include 4 minutes of interviews with the cast about a year after the film was shot, six deleted scenes totaling 17 minutes, 10 video blogs with Hannah that run a combined 19 minutes, and finally a series of trailers.

In 1926, Werner Heisenberg came up with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which states that you can not know both the position and momentum of a particle beyond a certain level of precision, because the act of observing the particle changes it. It turns out that Quantum Mechanics is a little more complex than that, but this principle is true of humans. You can't just stick a camera, or several cameras, into the lives of high school kids and expect 100% authenticity. However, it shouldn't feel like Reality TV either. Sadly, to me American Teen does. I believe I'm in the minority opinion here and it is likely worth checking out, but I would recommend renting first. Your enjoyment of this movie will depend heavily on your tolerance for shows like The Hills, for example.

One last note: American Teen will be available for rental later this week on the 21st, and also available for purchase, but only at Target stores. Those looking to order online can head over to Amazon.ca and import it.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force - Volume 6 - Buy from Amazon
One of the longest running Adult Swim shows, most of which are lucky to make it past three seasons. Although given the drop-off in quality, perhaps they should have ended the show already. Maybe that's a little harsh, but there's are more than a few misses, especially compared to earlier seasons. Extras, on the other hand, are still fantastic with audio commentary tracks, making of featurettes, and more. It's still worth picking up for more hardcore fans, but some of the more casual fans may have stopped collecting by now.

The Biggest Loser - The Workout - Buy from Amazon: Boot Camp and Weight Loss Yoga
One of the better reality TV shows out there, but it gives an unrealistic look at how rapidly one can lose weight. It is not possible to lose 2% or 3% of your body mass in one week with a normal schedule that includes going to work. Sure, if you do nothing but exercise, you can lose that much weight, but that's the only way to maintain that level of weight loss for the long haul. People watching at home might think, "I can't keep up with these people, so I'm just going to give up."

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: 2008 Philadelphia Phillies: The Official World Series Film, Bottle Rocket, Burn After Reading, The Cheetah Girls - One World, Chungkign Express, Coach Carter, Death Proof, Death Race, The Heartbreak Kid, Hot Rod, The House Bunny, In the Name of the King, Into the Wild, Mamma Mia!, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Mummy - Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, The Mummy Trilogy, Old School, Planet Terror, The Third Man, Tommy Boy, Traitor, and The Women
A big list that not only includes a lot of first run releases, but also the latest wave of Paramount catalogue titles (I was supposed to review these, but the screeners are late) as well as Criterion Collection's High Definition debut. There are also a dozen or so releases on Amazon's list that are not in stock, and literally hundreds that are marked as "Discontinued by the manufacturer." It's a mess, which explains why I only have select releases on this week's list. Even so, there are several releases on this week's list that are worth picking up. There are even a few where the extras on the Blu-ray more than compensate for a weak movie.

Burn After Reading - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The Coen Brothers' latest movie came after their multi-Oscar winning No Country for Old Men. This movie is not as good that that movie was, but still one of the best that has come out this fall. On the other hand, the DVD is rather sparse with just three behind-the-scenes featurettes that combine to just 20 minutes long. Meanwhile, the Blu-ray has no additional extras, except for the BD-Live My Scenes Sharing, and it costs 50% more. I don't think it's worth it. Hell, the DVD is barely worth it with its lackluster selection of extras. That's disappointing since the movie is so good. Maybe there will be a Special Edition in the film's future.

The Cheetah Girls - One World - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The latest release from the Cheetah Girl franchise. This is the first without Raven, as in the story she's off in college. The three remaining girls are still trying to make it big, but it appears that their chance to make it is passing them by when they get their big break to star in a Hollywood film -- make that a Bollywood film. But after flying halfway around the world, they find out that only one of them can be the star of the movie and the other two will be sent home with nothing. Will their friendship be able to withstand this test?

First of all, I feel the need to point out that I am not part of the target audience of this movie, which is aimed solely at 'tween girls. However, while I am neither a 'tween nor a girl, I have seen enough of these movies to know when one is working well enough to entice its target audience. This one will, but barely. There's plenty of singing & dancing, and enough romance & drama to go along, but there's little here to set it apart. Even the Indian setting seems to go to waste with not enough being done. There's really only one "Bollywood" dance number, Dance Me If You Can. The rest of the songs could be set anywhere, and as a casual fan of the style, I was hoping for more. That said, I'm sure that most people who enjoyed the first two movies will also enjoy this one.

As for the extras on the DVD, there are two and a half minutes of bloopers, three music videos, a Rock Along version of all of the songs. The main extra on the DVD is the Cheetah Spots version of the movie that includes pop-up trivia, as well as the occasional Picture-in-Picture bits with the three main actresses talking about key parts of the movie (mostly the songs). There are also several sparkly temporary tattoos that come with the DVD, as well as the Blu-ray.

As for the Blu-ray, there are no additionally extras. Also, while many scenes are very colorful, this is not a disc you will grab to show off your High Definition TV. Finally, for a musical, I was disappointed in the sound. That said, it only costs 20% more, which is a good value for High Definition.

The Cheetah Girls - One World is a movie that you can judge by the cover, or to be more specific, the title. If you loved the previous films in the Cheetah Girls franchise, odds are you will love this one as well. For these fans, either the DVD or the Blu-ray is worth picking up. For the rest, there's little here to entice outsiders.

Christmas Releases - Buy from Amazon: Merry Christmas, Drake and Josh! and Silent Night, Gory Night - Triple Feature
Just the two Christmas releases, which could have more different target audiences if they tried. On a side note, if you are a fan of Drake Bell, check out Drake Bell In Concert - Drake Bell.

Death Race - Unrated Edition - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Not sure if this movie is coming out on the 21st, or the 23rd. Figured I would include it on this week's list, just in case. A remake of the cult classic that won't live up to its predecessor. In fact, it is likely destined to be no more than a guilty pleasure. Then again, its star, Jason Statham has made a career of such movies and his fans should appreciate the film. As for the DVD, it has extras that include an audio commentary track, a making-of featurette, and a featurette on the stunts. And of course it contains the theatrical and the Unrated editions of the movie. The Blu-ray has all of that, and well as Picture-in-Picture making-of featurette, multi-angle look at the races, and it is BD-Live enabled with additional features. Definitely worth the upgrade. But if you are interested in this movie, check out the original on DVD as well.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog - Buy from Amazon
An experiment in a new form of entertainment. Well, that's not entirely accurate. It's an experiment in a new way of delivering entertainment. At first this musical was available for free on the official site, then it was a pay-to-download, now it is coming out on DVD. And if this makes money, expect more shows to follow the same path. As for the movie itself, it is a musical about a villain, Dr. Horrible, who is played by Neal Patrick Harris, who is trying to get into the Evil League of Evil, impress the beautiful and kind Penny (who is played by Felicia Day of Buffy and The Guild), while trying to thwart his nemesis / romantic rival, Captain Hammer (who is played by Nathan Fillion). And if that is not enough to get you intrigued, it was written and directed by Joss Whedon. Fans of his work should be more than pleased with what he comes up with here. Extras on the DVD include two audio commentary tracks, a making-of featurette, some fan-made applications to the Evil League of Evil, Easter Eggs, and more. Definitely worth picking up, and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week. Warning: This movie doesn't come out until the 19th, and it is only available from Amazon.com.

Generation Kill - Buy from Amazon
A seven-part mini-series featuring Lee Tergesen as Evan 'Scribe' Wright, a reporter with Rolling Stone who is embedded with the 1st Recon Marines during the first wave of the Iraq War. Based on real life events, this show earned a lot of critical praise while the 3-disc DVD is loaded with extras. These extras start with audio commentary tracks on six of the seven episodes, a making-of featurette, interviews with some of the real people portrayed in the mini-series, and more. Certainly worth picking up and even a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Hamlet 2 - Buy from Amazon
Another film that might be coming out on DVD on the 21st, or the 23rd. This limited release had a lot of buzz going for it and many suggested it would be the breakout hit of the summer. However, like so many other films that had similar buzz, this one earned mixed reviews and while it earned some measure of mainstream success, it didn't live up to expectations. Fortunately, this didn't hurt the DVD release, which includes and audio commentary track, deleted scenes, making-of featurette, a sling-along, and more. This is not a movie that will please everyone, but it is worth checking out. Rent first, would be my advice.

House Bunny - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A late summer release, which usually means the studio had no confidence in the film. However, it was better than the critics gave it credit, and it became a solid midlevel hit. The DVD has a ton of extras, mostly in the form of featurettes on various subjects (Katherine McPhee making her acting debut, Anna Faris as an actress / producer, the fashion, the cameos, the makeovers, etc.). There are also deleted scenes, music videos, introduction, and more. The Blu-ray has all of this, and it is BD-Live enabled. The latter is a little more expensive than I would like compared to the former, so I'm not sure I would rate it above the DVD. However, regardless which format you chose, it is worth picking up.

The Little Mermaid II - Return to the Sea - Buy from Amazon
This movie takes place after the events of the first film and starts with a christening at sea for Melody, Ariel's daughter. However, the ceremonies are interrupted by Morgana, Ursula's crazy sister, who threatens the child in order to steal Triton's trident. To protect her daughter, she forbids her from ever swimming in the sea, or even knowing about her mermaid heritage. Flash forward 12 years later, and she is obsessed with swimming in the sea, and when she finds a clue to her past, it becomes the opportunity Morgana has been looking for.

This direct-to-DVD sequel of the Disney hit first came out in 2000, during what could be described as the Golden Age of direct-to-DVD Disney sequels. And by that I mean there were a lot of them, not that they were high quality. This film, like so many others of its kind, it a pale imitation of the original in practically every aspect from the action, to the animation, to the songs. If I were to use just one phrase to describe it, it would be generic mediocrity. It's not offensively bad in any way, but it is hardly memorable either, and the replay value is limited.

As for the extras, there's one deleted song, a Silly Symphony short from 1938 called Merbabies, and four activities and games. These games include a three-part adventure game where you earn your fins as a merperson. There's a trivia game, a storybook, and finally a trivia game about life in the sea. These are certainly aimed at younger kids.

The Little Mermaid II - Return to the Sea is not as strong as Ariel's Beginning is and for adult fans of the franchise, it is safely skippable. Even for kids there's not enough on the DVD to warrant buying over renting.

On the other hand, the Little Mermaid Trilogy is a better deal with two movies that are worth picking up for $35.00.

Louis C.K. - Chewed Up - Buy from Amazon
Louis C.K. is one of my favorite stand up comics and I'm looking forward to reviewing this DVD, once it arrives.

Mamma Mia! - Buy from Amazon: DVD, 2-Disc Special Edition DVD, or Blu-ray
First a confession. I'm not a big fan of musicals in general and I hate ABBA. Therefore, there's little point in me talking about the quality of the movie, because either you agree with me and have no interest in this movie, or you disagree with me and don't care what an admitted ABBA-hater thinks. I will point out that the reviews are mixed and that is probably good enough for fans of the music. The various home market incarnations have a wide variety of extras starting with the DVD, which has just the audio commentary track, deleted song, and a sing-along extra. (Normally I call those subtitles.) The 2-Disc Special Edition DVD has those extras, as well as outtakes, more deleted scenes, and a several making-of featurettes with a combined running time of nearly an hour. Finally, the Blu-ray has all of that, plus it upgrades the featurettes to a picture-in-picture track, has another pop-up trivia track, and it is BD-Live enabled. I have to admit, while Universal arrived at the Blu-ray party late, they are taking advantage of what Blu-ray has to offer. If you are at all interested in this movie, grab the Blu-ray, it is worth the extra money.

The Mummy 3 - Buy from Amazon: DVD, or 2-Disc Special Edition DVD, or Blu-ray
The first movie was a fun popcorn flick that wasn't deep, but it was entertaining. The second film wasn't as good, but it was still worth checking out. This film, not so much. Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary track, as well as some deleted and extended scenes. The 2-Disc Special Edition DVD adds several making-of featurettes, including ones on the cast, the locations, etc. While the Blu-ray upgrades the audio commentary track to a Picture-in-Picture track, has another Picture-in-Picture track with interviews and more, trivia track, and more. Certainly worth the upgrade if you are interested in buying the movie. But I can't recommend doing that, since the movie just isn't worth it. Also coming out this week is The Mummy Trilogy on Blu-ray and The Mummy - The Animated Series: Volume One, Two, and three.

Peter Pan and Tinker Bell 3-DVD Gift Set - Buy from Amazon
A three-movie gift set containing the original Peter Pan, Return to Neverland, and Tinker Bell. However, for most people only two of the three films are really worth owning, and to be completely honest, I vastly prefer Tinker Bell over the original Peter Pan. And even there, I would recommend the Blu-ray over the DVD.

Petticoat Junction - The Official First Season - Buy from Amazon
The first two seasons of this show have already been released on DVD. However, while a different distributor had the home market rights to the first two seasons, they didn't have access to the original masters, so the video and audio quality was less than ideal. (And that's being diplomatic.) Now fans can grab these episodes on DVD with a quality that is as good as when it first aired.

Power Rangers - Jungle Fury - Buy from Amazon: Into the Jungle and Way of the Master
Jungle Fury is the latest incarnation of the Power Rangers franchise. This time we are introduced to a secret order of martial arts masters, Pai Zung, the Order of the Claw. They are looking for three masters to continue their destiny, but one of them snaps at a lower ranking member of the dojo, who defends himself with some previously untapped power. The master decides that this young man has potential, while the previous star pupil is too aggressive to be trained further. Snapping, he attacks his master and in the process unleashes Dai Shi, a great evil that terrorized the world 10,000 years ago. Once released, he kills their master, which forces them into the world looking for a new master, so they can continue their training in hopes of recapturing Dai Shi. Dai Shi, in the meantime, has assembled a new army of Rin Shin, lead by his lieutenant, Camille, and the Five Fingers of Poison, his elite fighters.

This is the second Power Rangers series I've reviewed, and I have to say this one is weaker than Operation Overdrive. There are a couple of issues I have. Firstly, there's the Rin Shin. The Rin Shin are based on the Jiang Shi mythology, which is based on Chinese lore. ... They are hopping corpses, and they look very, very silly. I couldn't take them seriously in a fight. Also, Flit the fly is majorly annoying, and he showed up at many of the battles making stupid jokes ruining what was otherwise the best part of the show. Also, and I admit this may seem like a small complaint, but why does the Megazoid use the Cheetah as one leg, the Jaguar as the other, and the tiger as the rest of the body? It would make more sense to have the Cheetah as both legs, the Jaguar as both arms, and the Tiger as the body and head. It certainly makes it seem like the three members are equal partners. That said, there's plenty of action, and the combination of animal spirit and new weapons and techniques means there's less repetitiveness that in previous seasons, and while it is not the best series in the franchise, it is far from the worst as well.

Neither disc has any extras, which is also a step down from the previous release. However, they do have play-all buttons, subtitles, and proper chapter placements. They also come with three cards from the CCG.

Into the Jungle and Way of the Master are the first two releases in the Jungle Fury series from the Power Rangers franchise. Fans of the previous shows will want to continue checking out this DVD, but the lack of extras prevents me from being enthusiastic with my recommendation. Call it a solid rental, maybe a purchase.

Rape of Europa - Collector's Edition - Buy from Amazon
How many times is this movie going to be released on DVD? According to my records, it's three times in roughly three months, although I think in this last case, it is just a matter of release date confusion.

Sangre de mi Sangre - Buy from Amazon
This film is about a young Mexican man who travels to New York City in order to find his father, only to have his identity stolen by someone trying to con his father out of his fortune. Or to be more precise, he's out to steal his father's alleged fortune. The film earned excellent reviews and did well during its opening weekend, but when it tried to expand, it collapsed, and that ended its theatrical run fast. Now it is coming out on a featureless DVD, which hurts its value. That said, it is still worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

The Traitor - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Movies that come out in late August are usually those that had potential, but the execution is flawed. I think that's an excellent way to describe this movie, but despite its flaws, it is still better than most and certainly worth checking out. As for the DVD, it has the standard array of extras starting with an audio commentary track and finishing with two featurettes (one on the locations and the other on the stunts). The Blu-ray has no additional extras, and it is not a disc you are going to grab when you want to show off your home theater system. That said, it only costs 30% more, and that's not too much to pay for the High Definition upgrade.

Transformers - Energon - The Ultimate Collection - Buy from Amazon
It's hard to be a Fanboy when they keep making shows like this.

This show is set after the events of Armada, which itself was not a well-liked series in this long-running franchise. The battle against Unicron was costly, resulting in the destruction of, among others, Megatron. With the loss of their leader, the Decepticons form an uneasy alliance with the Autobots as they try to rebuild all that Unicron destroyed while looking for the Energon that will be needed to power this reconstruction process. However, word is leaked that Megatron's spark has been found, and with that the alliance could end. And Megatron isn't the only former enemy that is making its return.

What's so hard about making a Transformers cartoon? You take cool vehicles, make them transform into cool robots, and have them fight powerful enemies. What you don't do is take a whiney, annoying teenager and make them the star of the show. I know, they had human characters in the first show, but Sparkplug and Spike were never the focus like they are here. Humans in Transformers should be secondary characters that are used minimally, if at all. Kicker makes me appreciate Suri from Transformers Animated so much more. The overall story arc of series is great, and there was a lot of potential, but the execution was weak, and not just the weak characters. The animation was really bad, terribly cheap looking at times. Especially the transformation sequences, which were so fast that it looked like the vehicles puked up a robot instead of transforming into one.

There are no extras on this 7-disc set. However, there are play all buttons and proper chapter placements, but no subtitles.

I was a huge fan of the original series, and still am. I think the original movie is fantastic, despite what many critics think. However, of the numerous spin-offs, there have been very few that I would consider worthy of the original. Beast Wars would be on that short list. Energon would not. Add in zero extras on the Ultimate Collection, and it is hard to recommend this DVD except for hardcore fans or completists.

TV on DVD - Full Series Megasets - Buy from Amazon: Mr. Bean - The Ultimate Collection and Mushi-Shi
These types of releases are becoming a lot less common, as the Christmas shopping season comes to a close.

Unstable Fables - Goldilocks and the Three Bears - Buy from Amazon
The latest direct-to-DVD digitally animated movie from the Jim Henson Company. This time around they take the Goldilocks fairytale and twist it with reality TV to come up with The Goldilocks and the Three Bears Show. Jamie Lynn Spears provides the voice for Goldilocks, who in this world is the star of Totally Fab Rehab, a reality show where she helps Fairytale characters with their houses by getting them looking fabulous. However, after messing up the house of the Three Bears, her show is canceled. But quickly she stars in another TV show featuring the three bears, this time more of a Real World deal. However, while she finds the family she desires, the bears have a different reaction to the show, and the fame it brings.

This is the third movie from this series I've reviewed, and it is clear they have hit their groove and this one has the same level of quality as the previous releases. Granted, the movie doesn't have the same quality animation as a theatrical release, but it is bright and colorful enough for its target audience. Also, the jokes are fun without resorting to references of bodily functions, while the family lesson is a little ham-fisted, but appreciated. Also, for fans of the first two movies, there are plenty of references to those shows, mostly in the form of background characters. If you like those two movies, you will likely enjoy this one as well.

Extras are also on par with the other two releases and include a 12-minute making of featurette and a 9-minute featurette on what a storyboard is and how to draw for animation.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears is the latest Unstable Fables to hit the home market, and those who felt the previous releases were worth picking up will want but this DVD as well. And if you have never seen them, at least give this one a rental.

Will Eisner - Profession - Cartoonist - Buy from Amazon
Fans of Will Eisner's comic book work might want to check out this documentary before his reputation is tarnished by the upcoming adaptation of The Spirit. To be fair, it could surprise and earn critical praise, but the buzz is terrible at the moment.

Will Shakespeare - Buy from Amazon
A 30-year old British mini-series starring Tim Curry as William Shakespeare and it takes a look at his early life. (Although the result is about an accurate portrayal of Shakespeare's life as Shakespeare's plays were historically accurate.) That said, the 6-hour mini-series is still worth checking out, and even with any extras, the 2-disc set is still worth picking up.

The Women - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
September is arguably the worst month of the year to release a movie on DVD and most that do come out that month suck. This movie is no exception and truly does suck, especially compared to the original from the 1930s. It did match expectations at the box office, but the DVD is still terrible with just two featurettes and a couple of deleted scenes while the Blu-ray has no additional extras, nor is it a disc you will grab when you want to show off your home theater system. Add in the weak reviews, and I can't recommend getting either format, even as a rental.

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Filed under: Video Releases, Mamma Mia!, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Old School, Coach Carter, The House Bunny, The Heartbreak Kid, Death Race, The Women, Grindhouse, Traitor, Into the Wild, Hot Rod, Hamlet 2, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, American Teen, Chu Chu and the Philly Flash, Padre Nuestro, The Rape of Europe, Grindhouse - Planet Terror, Tinker Bell