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DVD Releases for April 10, 2007

April 9th, 2007

A slow week for DVDs, both in terms of total numbers and top notch releases. Nothing really jumped out as a must have with Phantasm - Buy from Amazon being to best of a limited selection. Its appeal is too niche-market for the DVD Pick of the Week, but it is the closest we have.

The Aura - Buy from Amazon
Written and directed by Fabián Bielinsky, who previously brought us Nine Queens, and that alone should get more than a few people interested. (Tragically, Fabián Bielinsky suffered a fatal heart attack shortly after finishing the film.) The Aura earns reviews that are nearly as strong the his previous film and deals with a similar subject matter as heist movies have a lot in common with conmen movies. On the down side, there are no extras here, but that's not a surprise for a foreign language import. Even so, it is easily worth picking up.

Avatar The Last Airbender - Book 2 Earth - Volume 2 - Buy from Amazon
On the one hand, this is a very popular anime series and is as good as most such shows that are imported from Japan. On the other hand, there's only 5 episodes on this DVD, and I hate it when TV on DVD is broken into volumes. In this case, all 4 volumes could run about $40, which is a tad high for TV on DVD, and with just a bonus comic as an extra, it might not be worth picking up for the more casual fans.

The Batman - The Complete Third Season - Buy from Amazon
A look at the early years of Batman. Not the best of the more recent batch of Batman cartoons, but still enjoyable. Extras are limited to a single featurette overview of the season, but it is still worth picking up for the more dedicated fans.

Blu-Ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Dog Day Afternoon and A Scanner Darkly
A Scanner Darkly is actually a good choice for Blu-Ray. The movie is cool enough, and visual enough, to take advantage of the format, but not quite enough of either to make it worth the upgrade.

Bobby - Buy from Amazon
Busted Oscar Bait. I think that's a fair way to describe this movie.

The film starts with several audio clips with actual quotes from Robert Kennedy, Johnson, and others from the era. There are some powerful words and scenes, but the film never reaches the level that the real words have.

Part of the problem is the sheer number of characters in the movie. There's about two dozen main characters and nine or ten main threads in the plot (some intersect quite deeply, but most are independent of each other). This scope could have given the movie an epic feel, but in the end hurt more than it helped. For instance, it takes so long to introduce them all that we practically forgot who the first ones are before we see the last ones. And to make matters worse, we never really get to know any of the characters in enough detail to form an emotional connection.

Also, with the number of actors in this movie, there are bound to be several that each viewer will like, but equally likely that there will be a few that they don't. For instance, I really liked Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt's performances in the movie, but I can't say the same for Ashton Kutcher and some of the others.

As for the extras, there are just two: Bobby: The Making of an American Epic and Eyewitness Accounts from the Ambassador Hotel. The first is a typical making-of featurette, for the most part. There is a large section in the middle where instead of talking about the movie, it takes a more in-depth look at Robert Kennedy himself. Its 28-minute running time is well spent on the number of topics and is worth repeat viewing. The second is a panel discussion with several people who were there that night and runs nearly 30 minutes long. There are also some trailers, but no audio commentary track.

Overall, there's enough about the movie that works to be worth checking out, but not enough to warrant purchasing. Call it a rental.

Coming Soon - Unrated - Buy from Amazon
This reminds me of a joke from the TV series Duckman, which I can't repeat here. I wish that show was on DVD.

The Doris Day Collection - Volume 2 - Buy from Amazon
Six more films from Doris Day's career. Kind of a mixed bag here with none of the biggest or best but more of her early work. The six-disc set is better than most with vintage shorts, cartoons and more on each disc and is worth picking up for fans of the actress. Each movie is also available separately, but at twice the cost of the box set. Even if you are only interested in a couple of these films, it is better to buy them all in one package.

Game Box 1.0 - Buy from Amazon
A direct-to-DVD affair set in the world of virtual reality. It stars Nate Richert of Sabrina, The Teenage Witch and Danielle Fishel or Boy Meets World, so we are halfway to a TGIF reunion, but despite all this, the movie is surprisingly entertaining. No, it's not great art, or even a good movie, but it is entertaining in a B-movie sort of way. That said, the total lack of extras limits its value to a rental, and even that is for a limited crowd, those who appreciate their films with an extra helping of cheese.

HD-DVD Releases: Buy from Amazon: Dog Day Afternoon and A Scanner Darkly
The same two films as the Blu-Ray releases this week.

How William Shatner Changed the World - Buy from Amazon
This is a great program that plays on William Shatner's egotistical stage persona to tell people how Star Trek either predicted / inspired today's technology or how the show changed how we look at the future. Now, it is important to note that the filmmakers gave a little too much credit to the show, but it is still entertaining and mostly educational.

Jonestown - The Life & Death of Peoples Temple - Buy from Amazon
This is why you need skeptics around at all times. If your evidence is compelling, you can convince a skeptic, but they'll be able to tell you drinking the Kool-Aid is a bad idea. (Yes, I know it was actually Flavor Aid at Jonestown.) This is an excellent documentary on a subject matter that many people have heard of, but few know the details. Extras on the DVD include deleted scenes and an interview, which is enough to lift it to the solid rental / weak purchase level.

Major League - Wild Thing Edition - Buy from Amazon
When I first saw this release I thought that Major League wasn't the kind of movie that was screaming for a special edition. But in retrospect, that's unfair. The first movie was actually really good. One of the best baseball comedies of the decade. The sequels, on the other hand, quickly killed the franchise. (They were so bad that they actually blocked the good memories from the first movie. That's saying a lot.) As for the DVD, it's kind of mixed. There's not really enough here (audio commentary, couple featurettes, alternate ending, etc.), to really earn the Special Edition label, but enough to lift the DVD past the rental level.

Payback - The Director's Cut - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-Ray, or HD-DVD
Mel Gibson is one of those performers whose off-screen antics have really soured me on his on screen performances. This version of the film is very different from the theatrical version; it's darker in mood, less of the humor, rawer. These changes make the movie better, which is good because the theatrical version was just a middling revenge flick. Extras on the DVD deal a lot with the changes, both in the audio commentary track and in the featurette, Same Story, Different Movie. Other extras include an interview with the author of the original book and a look at the filming locations. This can also be purchased with Braveheart and We Were Soldiers, but odds are you either have those movies on DVD, or you don't want them.

Phantasm - Buy from Amazon
The term "cult appeal" doesn't even begin to describe this film. On of the more surreal franchises out there, it's hard to describe the appeal ... or even the plot for that matter. Written and directed by Don Coscarrelli, who also wrote and directed The Beastmaster and Bubba Ho-Tep. The movie has a sense of style that will either suck you in, or turn you off. But if you haven't seen it and are a fan of low-budget horror, especially from that era, then you have to give it a rental. On the other hand, if you have seen the movie you've probably already pre-ordered the DVD and you will be happy when it arrives. Extras include an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, making of featurette that was cut from the feature-length version from the U.K. box set, interviews including a vintage one from 1979, featurette on Angus Scrimm's induction into the Fangoria Hall of Fame, and even home movies from the set, and more. I'd love to have the full documentary, but that likely won't show up unless they do a full franchise box set. Also coming out tomorrow is Phantasm III, which is not nearly as good, but still has some good moments for fans of the franchise.

Pride of the Yankees - Anniversary Edition - Buy from Amazon
Gary Cooper stars as Lou Gehrig in a movie that chronicles his life from childhood, to his days as a Yankee, to his famous, "luckiest man on the face of the earth" speech. Despite my absolute hatred of the Yankees, this is an excellent movie and well worth checking out for all baseball fans. On the other hand, the DVD is devoid of special features. I'm sure if they tried they could have gotten a baseball or a movie historian to sit down and do an audio commentary track, or at least a short interview. Something. It's still worth renting, but that's as high of a recommendation as I can give without any extras.

Scooby Doo, Where Are You! - The Complete Third Season - Buy from Amazon
One of the best cartoons of the era with an excellent message, namely, if you see a ghost, it's a man in a suit. Also, if you are going to split up, don't go with the stoner and his dog, they're going to run into trouble every time. This 2-disc set has the last 16 episodes from the show's Scooby's All-Stars run as well as featurette on the artists. Worth checking out for most, picking up for the more hardcore fans.

Shanghai Surprise - Special Edition - Buy from Amazon
One of the least necessary special editions I've seen in a while. Attacked by critics, ignored by moviegoers, long forgotten by most, it stars Madonna and then husband Sean Penn. For Sean Penn, this is easily his worst movie ever. Even for Madonna there's not much in her career that even compares, with Swept Away coming the closest. Avoid this movie at all costs. Even fans of bad movies won't find much entertainment value here.

Slaughter Night - Buy from Amazon
A horror film from the Netherlands that is being advertised on the DVD case with, "a whole lot of gore." This is a shame since the movie, while flawed in its execution, is effective and worth checking out for more than the fake blood. On the other hand, a rental will do for most people.

Sleeping Dogs Lie - Buy from Amazon
A surprisingly touching film, given the subject matter. As for what that subject matter is... well, I don't even want to say, but it was enough to kill any chance the film had of box office success. The DVD should do better, but without any extras the value is limited to a rental.

The Streets of San Francisco - Season 1 - Volume 1 - Buy from Amazon
Another TV on DVD release this week that is being split up into two volumes. People hate this and instead of soaking a little bit more money out of fans, the studio will just cut sales in half. What's even more frustrating is this is my favorite TV show to get a DVD release this week and it's not worth grabbing.

Sweeney Todd - The Director's Cut - Buy from Amazon
This TV movie first aired on the BBC last year. Better than most TV movies, but not the best version of the story, that would be the 1982 version with George Hearn and Angela Lansbury. It's still worth checking out, especially if you can't wait for the upcoming film starring Johnny Depp.

Teen Titans - The Complete Third Season - Buy from Amazon
For the most part this is a good show. Sometimes the art is a little too stylized for my liking and this season was weaker than the first two, but it is still better than most shows aimed at the same target demographic. There's one extra on the 2-disc set, which is a recap of the villains. Interesting to watch, but I would have liked more. It's enough for most fans to want to pick it up, but I can't be enthusiastic in my recommendation.

The Untouchables - Season One - Volume 1 - Buy from Amazon
Set in 1930s Chicago, the movie tells the story of special agent Eliot Ness and his team who are in charge of trying to take down Al Capone. This is a great show and many people have found memories, but I hate it when they split the season into two volumes. The price on a per episode basis is just too high, especially for a set with no extras.

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Filed under: Video Releases, Bobby, A Scanner Darkly, El Aura, Sleeping Dogs Lie