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DVD Releases for December 30, 2008 - Part II

December 29th, 2008

This week is a mess because we are dealing with DVDs released on the 26th, the 27th, and the 30th. Additionally, we are dealing with the latest two waves of Paramount Blu-rays, so there are a lot of spotlight reviews this week. (Although when it comes to those particular Blu-rays, I have previously reviewed nearly half of them previously, and I have seen more than half of the rest, so it was easy to review.) It was so easy, in fact, I was able to get a couple reviews done in advance, which lead to a record number of spotlight reviews. There are more spotlight reviews this week than the previous four weeks combined. Needless to say, the column had to be split into two, with the second part found here. As for the best of the best, Serenity - Blu-ray easily won the DVD Pick of the Week, while Duckman - Season Three and Four is the DVD Pick of Next Week. Also worth grabbing are Event Horizon on Blu-ray, Ghost Town on either DVD or Blu-ray, Greek - Chapter Two, and The Truman Show on Blu-ray

Making Maya - Buy from Amazon
A coming of age story about a young high school graduate, Maya (played by Amy Minderhout), who is training for a free-throw contest that she hopes will launch her career in basketball. However, with the arrival of Sam (Sara Marie Taylor), she begins to question her goals, her life, her sexuality. The movie was made several years ago, but outside some film festivals has been seen by many. Hopefully that will change on the home market.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and makes its home market debut on the 6th of January. However, the DVD screener arrived early and I was able to get the review done this week.

Ni Hao, Kai-Lan - Celebrate With Kai-Lan - Buy from Amazon
The cartoon features the adventures Kai-lan, a 5-year old Chinese-American girl, and her animal friends, Rintoo, a emo tiger; Tolee, a koala bear who is obsessed pandas; Hoho, a monkey and the youngest of Kai-lan's friends; and finally Lulu, a rhinoceros that can fly with the aid of a balloon tied to her horn.

The episodes on this DVD are...

  • Happy Chinese new Year! - Kai-Lan and her friends celebrate Chinese New Year and get to carry the dragon in the parade. However, Rintoo doesn't want to be in the middle, so he stops. Can he learn the value of teamwork in time to get to the parade?
  • Safari Pals - Kai-Lan and her pals go on a safari and meet up with Stompy, and elephant. However, Rintoo becomes jealous because Stompy is bigger, louder, etc. and become all mopey, again. Can Kai-Lan help him get over it?
  • Kai-Lan's Campout - Kai-Lan and her pals camp out in the backyard in her ladybug tent. However, Tolee brings his panda bear toy and doesn't want to share. Can Kai-Lan teach him the value of sharing?
  • Tolee's Rhyme Time - Kai-Lan convinced Tolee to sing a rhyming song in the music show. But when coming up with rhymes becomes too hard, he quits. Can Kai-Lan teach him the value of hard work.
There are no extras on the DVD. And there are no subtitles, nor are there any proper chapter placements, but there is a play-all button.

Each episode in this series uses to interactivity to help kids learn a little Mandarin, learn about the Chinese culture, while teaching various lessons to the kids about dealing with jealousy, teamwork, sharing, etc. If you have a pre-school kid who likes the show, then Celebrate With Kai-Lan is worth checking out. And if you thought Super Special Days was worth picking up, then so is this DVD, as it offers the same level of value. It offers the same level of value as most Nick, Jr. DVD releases do.

Nip/Tuck - Season Five - Part One - Buy from Amazon
I can't say I ever got into this show, but it started out with very impressive, and after a bit of trouble last couple seasons, it rebounded somewhat last year. The reviews are better than average compared to most TV shows, but still weaker than the first two seasons. This 5-disc set includes the 14 episodes from season five that have already aired (the final 8 from season five air starting January), as well as a season long recap (w/ a lot of spoilers, so beware) and deleted scenes, and outtakes. Just an average release.

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

Old School - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
The next pile of shovelware is Old School, which I though I had reviewed previously, but I can't seem to find the review. Granted, as I write this is the 3:30 am in on Christmas Eve, so I'm not searching really hard.

The film stars Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and Will Ferrell as three middle-aged adolescents who decide to start a Fraternity despite no longer being in college. It is a Frat Pack flick from the Golden Age of such movies, however, it is only average. There are enough funny moments in the movie to make it worth checking out, but not enough to grant the movie high replay value. That is, unless you are a really big fan of the Frat Pack, that is.

As for the Blu-ray, it's nearly identical to the HD DVD release in terms of video and audio quality (the audio has an improved mix and is TrueHD 5.1 Surround, however, it doesn't do much beyond simple stereo). Extras are identical with an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, outtakes, making of featurette, and a spoof of Inside the Actors Studio. Sadly nothing here pushes the technology, in fact, none of this is presented in High Definition.

The math is simple. The Old School Blu-ray costs $20 to buy, which is too much for shoveware. However, if you have the DVD, there's a $10 mail-in rebate, which drops the price to just $10, which is perfect for this type of release.

PSI Factor - Chronicles of the Paranormal - Season Three - Buy from Amazon
A Canadian TV series about a government agency that investigates paranormal activity. They market the show on the premise that it is based on real life events. It's not. But fans of X-files might enjoy it.

Resident Evil - Degeneration - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A direct-to-DVD installment in the Resident Evil franchise. This movie isn't a sequel, or a prequel, or even a spin-off, as it has nothing to do with the live action trilogy, and is instead more directly based on the video game franchise. (In fact, you could call it a prequel to the upcoming video game, which comes out in March.) The video games fit in the horror / survival genre, which I have argued in the past are the easiest to adapt into movies. However, this movie drops the horror aspect and instead the film is more of an action film, and that hurts the film's quality. Hardcore fans of either franchise will likely want to check it out, but there's no crossover appeal. The DVD does have a number of extras including a making of featurette, profiles on the characters, 'outtakes', a fake interview with Leon, etc. The Blu-ray has those extras (mostly in high definition) and a Picture-in-Picture track and a Pop-Up trivia track. Also, the Blu-ray is BD-Live enabled. All this and it costs no more than the DVD. Sweet. However, for most fans, a rental will be enough. The rest can safely skip it.

The Secret Life of the American Teenager - Season One - Buy from Amazon
Shailene Woodley stars as Amy, the typical good girl who is part of the high school marching band. She's smart, a little shy, and she just found out she's pregnant, and it was only her first time. After telling her two friends, she has to deal with the father, which is the school player, who is currently dating the school slut, who had sex with the school's football star, who is currently dating the head cheerleader, who is a devout Christian who made an abstinent pledge. Follow all of that? Don't blame you if you didn't, as there's definitely a teen soap opera vibe to this show, and that's not one of its better attributes.

I did like the performance by relative newcomer Shailene Woodley. I think I've only previously seen her in an episode of My Name is Earl (she was the girl Earl shot with a BB), but she handles the role very well. I also liked seeing Molly Ringwald again, although I thought her role as mother was underwritten. In fact, almost all of the secondary characters feel underwritten. It's hard to be interested in a character and what they do if it doesn't feel like they have real motives for their actions. On the other hand, it did win the Choice Summer TV Show at last year's Teen Choice Awards. So perhaps I'm just not in the target audience.

The only extra on the 3-disc set is a 6-minute featurette on the show with interviews with the cast and creator.

If you are a fan of The O.C., then you might enjoy The Secret Life of the American Teenager. On the other hand, if you are looking for a more realistic approach to high school without the soap opera vibe, check out Degrassi instead. Regardless of my opinion of the show, I was not impress with the first season DVD, as it was nearly devoid of extras and I can't recommend it for anything more than a rental.

Serenity - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
The list of Blu-ray releases this week is long, but mostly filled with shovelware. This is not shovelware. This is a movie that has been released on DVD, Special Edition DVD, and HD DVD, so this version better bring a lot for it not to feel like a simple cash grab. And it is does. It has all of the features found on the previous editions (audio commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes, several featurettes, etc.). The Blu-ray also as a Picture-in-Picture commentary track, picture-in-picture making of track, pop-up graphics track, introduction, featurettes on the ship, the cinematographer, and the path the TV show took as it went from the TV to the big screen. Add in a technical presentation that includes a new DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround mix, it is clearly worth upgrading for, and it is also the DVD Pick of the Week.

Surfer, Dude - Buy from Amazon: or Blu-ray
First a quick note, I only have the Blu-ray to review, so I can't compare it to the DVD and say for which features are exclusive or not. Although, I think it will be rather obvious when we get there.

This film stars Matthew McConaughey as Steve Addington, a surfer who returns to Malibu after a worldwide, six-month surfing tour. However, while he was away things have changed and he hooks up with Eddie Zarno to pay the bills. Actually, his old sponsors sell out to Eddie Zarno to pay their bills, and now his hooked up with some Reality TV gig and a video game. Feeling left out of the new digital age, he's freaked out by the virtual video game and turned off by Reality TV, he decides he'd just rather be surfing and to hell with finances. But then disaster strikes. There's a drought of waves.

This is a movie that tries to combine surfing and smoking pot into a deep life philosophy. There's a problem with this, listening to stoned people talk philosophy lacks appeal for me. And given its reviews, I'm not alone in feeling that way. It was a chore to get through.

Extras on the Blu-ray are better than expected given its box office performance starting with an audio commentary track with Matthew McConaughey, who is a little too mellow to bring much in the way of replay value here. There is a 25-minute long making of featurette called Surfer, Dude: The Real Story and there are also 11 minutes of deleted scenes, however, they are presented in one large chunk without chapter breaks between them. Finally, all 12 webisodes from the movie site are here. It also comes with a digital copy of the film.

All of the above can be found on the DVD as well, but the Blu-ray does have some benefits. This includes some of the surfing scenes, which sure look nice in High Definition, but there's not enough of that to sell High Definition. Also, the disc is BD-Live enabled, but so far there's nothing online to check out.

Doing a bit of research about Surfer, Dude after watching the film, and apparently it is supposed to be a comedy. I couldn't tell. Maybe if you are really into stoner philosophy, this film might be worth a rental, but that's a really limited target audience. Regardless, I can't recommend buying either the or the Blu-ray. There's not enough replay value here.

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

Tommy Boy - Holy Schnike Edition - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
A buddy comedy starring David Spade and Chris Farley. In the movie David Spade plays the straight-man to Chris Farley's bumbling dumb fat guy routine, as the two try and help Chris Farley's father's election campaign>. No wait, that's Black Sheep. In this movie David Spade plays the straight-man to Chris Farley's bumbling dumb fat guy routine, as the two try and help Chris Farley's father's auto-part company stay afloat after his untimely death. The plot doesn't really matter, as this is a simple road trip movie where two polar opposites are forced to be in close quarters for long stretches of time. Many people consider it a guilty pleasure. I think it's entertaining, the first time you see it, but it doesn't have the replay value needed to warrant purchasing over renting.

Additionally, the Blu-ray is rather average, both in terms of the extras and the technical qualities. When High Definition was first proposed, no one said, 'Wow, I can't wait to see Tommy Boy on High Definition.' It's a modestly budgeted comedy that is not very visual, and the transfer is merely average, nothing more. Good news, all of the extras from the Special Edition DVD were ported over: the audio commentary track, making of featurettes, deleted scenes, 19 TV spots, etc. (On a side note, 19 TV spots? Why?) However, there are no additional extras, nor are any of the extras presented in High Definition. Typical shovelware.

Tommy Boy is hardly a film that needs to be seen in High Definition, even those who think it has a lot more replay value that I think it has will agree to that. Buying the Blu-ray for $20 is not worth it. Upgrading for $10 thanks to the mail-in rebate might be, on the other hand.

Towelhead - Buy from Amazon
Anyone else find it weird that Towelhead and Baghead are coming out on DVD on the same week? Summer Bishil puts in an award-nominated performance as Jasira, a 13-year Lebanese girl living with her strict father in a conservative part of Texas. It's a coming of age story that deals not only with her sexual awakening, but also with the racial hatred flamed by the Gulf War. However, while it has some promise, and Summer Bishil is amazing, it doesn't come together as a whole. There is only one extra on the DVD, but it's a huge, feature-length discussion on some of the subjects tackled by the movie. Overall it is still worth checking out, but I would rate it as a rental over a purchase.

The Truman Show - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
This is arguably the best of the most recent wave of Paramount Blu-ray releases. ... Make that easily the best. Jim Carrey stars as Truman Burbank, who, as an infant, was purchased by a TV studio who then made his life into a Reality TV, and for the next 30 years or so, he doesn't know what is going on. Then one day, a light falls from the sky, specially the one used to similar Sirius, the Dog Star. But this starts him thinking about his life, and the carefully controlled façade starts to fall apart. I've often complained about Reality TV and how it is ripe for parody, satire, or something to show it for what it is, but while several films have attempted to do this, no film seems to get it right. I think I was overlooking this movie, because this movie is amazing. I'm surprised it didn't win any Oscars. I'm surprised Jim Carrey wasn't at least nominated. If you haven't seen the movie, see it.

But do you need to see it on Blu-ray? It is very visual for a drama and truly shines in High Definition. On the other hand, the extras are all from the Special Edition and none are presented in High Definition. That said, I rated that DVD as a DVD Pick of the Week when it was first released so it is hardly a bad package. I would have really liked something new, like an audio commentary track, but I can't complain too much.

The last of the Paramount Blu-rays coming out this week, at least alphabetically. Quality wise, The Truman Show is the best, and the Blu-ray is certainly worth picking up, especially if you have the DVD and can take advantage of the mail-in rebate.

Woman on the Beach - Buy from Amazon
A South Korean film about a filmmaker who travels to the beach to charge and battle writers block. While he is there, he falls for a woman, but at the last minute spurs her advances. Later her returns to the same beach with another woman, who looks remarkably similar to the first, only to run into the jilted woman. Reviews are excellent, while the DVD has a making of featurette and interviews with the cast and crew. Easily worth picking up, and for most worth purchasing over just renting.


Filed under: Video Releases, Old School, Serenity, Ghost Town, Towelhead, Surfer, Dude, Haebyonui Yoin, Resident Evil: Degeneration