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DVD Releases for April 24, 2007

April 24th, 2007

It's a busy week for DVD releases, but the signal to noise ratio is a little high, and that made it harder to find the DVDs that were truly worthy of attention. (And even then, I went off track a couple of times.) As for the DVD Pick of the Week, there is really only one choice for me, The Queen - Buy from Amazon. However, I'm also giving that honor to Burning Annie - Buy from Amazon, which would have won a few weeks ago if I had got the right information on the quality of the DVD.

10 Items or Less - Buy from Amazon
A limited release that seemed to have a lot going for it, but despite earning better than average reviews, it never found an audience. The DVD should do a bit better with extras like an audio commentary track and making-of featurette, but not enough to lift it much past the rental level.

.45 - Buy from Amazon
A direct-to-DVD revenge film staring Milla Jovovich. Jovovich doesn't have a reputation for starring in critically acclaimed films, and it is unlikely that this film will change that. It's not terrible, but it does not accomplish what it sets out do to.

Al Franken - God Spoke - Buy from Amazon
A political documentary that follows Al Franken as he contemplated his move from political commentator to politician. The film earned mixed reviews and only had a short theatrical run. However, it should do better on the home market for a couple of reasons. For instance, since the film was made and shown in theaters, he has formally announced his bid for the U.S. Senate and that should help the film's publicity. On the other hand, the DVD doesn't really give enough extras to warrant more than a rental.

Anna Karenina - Buy from Amazon
An adaptation of the Leo Tolstoy novel of the same name. This novel has been adapted into more than a dozen movies, mini-series, etc. over the years, but most agree this version is the best. This new edition of the DVD includes the silent film era version, or at least the one from 1915. It also has a few featurettes on the making of the movie, the restoration of the print, and the legacy of Tolstoy. Worth checking out.

Blu-Ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Failure to Launch, Secret Window, Ultimate Avengers Collection
Not much here this week, certainly nothing that makes me want to upgrade. On a side note, Ultimate Avengers Collection is the first and second film on one Blu-Ray disc.

Born to Fight - Buy from Amazon
A martial arts action spectacle from Thailand. As the box cover says, it's from the same people who made Ong-Bak and The Protector, so you know exactly what you are getting into before the first credits role. There's lots of action, incredibly choreographed fight scenes, and a plot that is... well... superfluous. Now, if you go into the movie knowing this, you will likely love it. On the other hand, if you are looking for a plot with nuance and depth, you are in the wrong place. Then again, if that's what you want, you are not likely to grab a movie called Born to Fight. As for the 2-disc set, it is excellent with an audio commentary track, a nearly feature-length making-of featurette, and a behind-the-scenes featurette. Highly recommended for all fans of these movies.

Burning Annie - Buy from Amazon
This DVD was released several weeks ago, but I relayed some misinformation about the DVD. The information I got was that the DVD was typical for a limited release with limited extras. However, the truth is that it's loaded. It has not one, not two, but three audio commentaries as well as deleted / extended / alternate scenes, two featurettes, and the full soundtrack. Easily worth picking up and a contender for DVD pick of the Week, this week or the week it actually came out.

Caffeine - Buy from Amazon
This is a movie that seems to be following a simple formula. Take several quirky characters, give them some hip dialogue, and put them into angst-filled situations. Mix well and serve. While a lot of films can survive those elements, too often when filmmakers aim for "Quirky, Hip & Angst" they end up with, "Derivative, Artificial & Unoriginal." Okay, maybe that's a little harsh, but the film certainly doesn't live up to its potential. Given the limited extras on the DVD, even for fans of this type of film, it's not even worth a rental.

Code Name: The Cleaner - Buy from Amazon
One of the worst-reviewed movies of the year, it completely failed to find an audience during its short theatrical run and the DVD isn't likely to perform that much better. Even if the DVD was a 2-disc special edition it wouldn't be worth the rental, and it's not even close to that. Skip it.

Columbo - Mystery Movie Collection - Buy from Amazon
At this point Columbo went from being a TV series to a group of made for TV movies, and quite frankly, it worked just as well. This was not a show you needed to tune into each week or miss out on a key event in the personal lives of the main characters. This 2-disc set has five mysteries from 1989, all of which are solid to strong. Extras, on the other hand, are non-existent. Even so, it's worth checking out.

Déjà Vu - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
Déjà Vu is a movie about terrorism, and it is about time travel, and it is about 10 minutes too long.

This was a movie that was really close to being really good. It has several good performances from veterans like Denzel Washington and Val Kilmer, as well as newcomers like Paula Patton. (Adam Goldberg was also great in the movie, but while he's been in a lot of movies / TV shows / etc., he's still not a household name. He's a great actor who deserves bigger roles.)

I also like the hook that helped add something to what could have been a typical action movie. (Yes, I know this hook has been used before in a very similar fashion in films like Frequency, but it is effective here.) I also liked the realistic, or at least semi-realistic approach to the science. Too many times in science fiction films the science can be summed up as, "A wizard did it." Here they try to make the science sound, and they work hard at making the continuity work, for instance. However, while I appreciate the attempt, it did make the mistakes stand out.

Another issue I had with the film was the pacing. We learn in the trailer that the Snow White isn't some advanced surveillance system, but a form of time travel so there's little reason to try and hide that from the audience for as long as they did. I understand why they wanted to push back the reveal in the movie, but it made the beginning of the movie move a little too slow without adding anything. They should have either changed the pacing, or changed the marketing.

As for the extras, they are basically divided into two sections, the Surveillance Window and the deleted / extended scenes. The Surveillance Window can be described best as a combination of audio commentary track / making of featurette. While watching the movie you hear from producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Tony Scott, and writer Bill Marsilii. Throughout the movie there are also jumps to behind-the-scenes / interview footage that focuses on certain aspects of the film. I liked this extra, but it might have been better suited if they just had a traditional making of / behind-the-scenes featurette. Or at the very least, have the 10 or so jumps viewable as one featurette. As for the deleted / extended scenes, the first group contains five scenes with a combined running time of just over 8 minutes and include optional audio commentary. There are also three extended scenes (running time of five and a half minutes), also with an audio commentary track. These were cut mostly for pacing reasons and were good edits but are interesting as extras.

Overall the movie works, for the most part, but there's enough little problems that add up. Go in with the right attitude and you can have a fun time. (On the other hand, there can be a lot to pick apart if that's what the viewer wants.) Likewise, the DVD is also good, but not great. I'd call it a solid rental, with leanings to a purchase.

Déjà Vu - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
Déjà Vu is a movie about terrorism, and it is about time travel, and it is about 10 minutes too long.

I'm kidding. I promise that is the (second) last Déjà Vu joke I will do... Unless they put out a special edition some time down the road.

The Drew Carey Show - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
This is not the first DVD release for this series, but it is the first full-season set and for a lot of people, that's the only type of release that counts. Drew Carey stars as a man who has a white collar job who has just enough power to be to focal point of disgruntled co-workers without having any real power to change. However, he copes by spending time with his friends, who like him are not quite adults. On the one hand, this was a great show to begin with. On the other hand, the show lasted at least one season too many. (When Christa Miller left, the show should have ended. In fact, it probably could have ended the season before that.) As for the 4-disc set, there are only two extras, a 20-minute featurette and a spoof of a commercial. Both are a little light, but better than nothing, and enough to lift the value past the rental level for most fans.

Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy - The Complete Second Season - Buy from Amazon
A Canadian cartoon about three friends who are all named Ed and who are all obsessed with jawbreakers. I'm happy this show is coming out on full season sets and not best-of releases like so many other shows aimed at kids. I'm even happier that this 2-disc set has more special features than expected and fans of the show should definitely pick it up.

Essential Classics - Buy from Amazon: American Musicals, Dramas, Family Films, Musicals, Romances
Each box set has three previously released films from the same genre in one package. However, while they have been released in the past, these particular versions are simple single-disc releases and not the massive special edition that many were released as. Personally, I'd rather spend the extra money.

Fellowship of the Dice - Buy from Amazon
A direct-to-DVD mockumentary about RPGers. I must start with a confession, I am an RPGer and I have been since high school. Because I know a lot about the culture of RPGers, I get a lot more of the inside jokes than most people would but I also recognize that this movie is not very accessible to the general public. Still, anyone who has been to a convention should check it out, and even with little in the way of extras (alternate opening and some outtakes), hardcore gamers should pick it up.

Fixed Bayonets - Buy from Amazon
A Korean War film from 1951 that seems all but forgotten. It was the first film Samuel Fuller directed for a major studio and is still one of his best. As for the DVD, there's almost nothing here in terms of extras, but it is still worth checking out, but a rental will do for most.

Flipper - The Original Series - Season 1 - Buy from Amazon
A show that has probably benefited from nostalgia over the years. That's not to say it is bad, it is just old-fashioned in a way that makes it seem quaint these days. However, people who grew up on the show, either during its original run or more likely during its syndication days, will want to check it out again. That said, the lack of substantive extras limits its value to a rental.

The Ghost - Buy from Amazon
A horror film from South Korea that works on its own but might be seen as unoriginal when compared to the number of other such releases that have come out over the past few years. The amnesia angle mixed with the haunting may or may not be enough to lift it above the crowd depending on how many of the other movies you've seen and your particular level of fandom for the genre, but it is worth checking out.

Harry and the Hendersons - Special Edition - Buy from Amazon
You couldn't really call Harry and the Hendersons high quality filmmaking, but it is a good family film. As for the DVD, the special features are on par with most first run releases (audio commentary track, deleted scenes, making-of featurette, and more), but perhaps not up to the level of a Special Edition. Overall it is worth renting for most, and many that do give it a chance will likely want to add it to their DVD collections.

HD-DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Failure to Launch, The Nutty Professor
The only film here worth picking up is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

In Debt We Trust - Buy from Amazon
A look at the consumer society we live in and how consumer debt is building up and affecting us on an individual and societal level. With growth in spending outpacing incomes and saving rates already in the negative territory, expect a lot more films dealing with this subject in the future.

Ironside - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
Raymond Burr's second massively popular TV series. Here he plays Robert T. Ironside, a police detective left paralyzed after a failed assassination attempt. While not quite as masterfully done as Perry Mason, this is still one of the best shows of its era. This 8-disc set contains all 28 episodes from the first season, as well as the TV movie that started it all, but there are no extras. This is a shame, but given the age of the show, not a surprise. You can also buy the first two discs separately to get a taste of the show before putting up the cash to buy the full season. However, I think if you are unsure whether you want to buy or not, rent the full season instead of buying the intro.

James Cagney - The Signature Collection - Buy from Amazon
James Cagney is a great actor and made some great films, so you'd think his The Signature Collection would be better than this. Perhaps the problem is the number of Cagney films that have appeared in other box sets like the Gangsters and Tough Guy collections. Even so, there are still enough films here that are worth checking out, and enough extras on the 5-disc set to recommend it, but I can't be as enthusiastic about it as I would like.

Jane Eyre - Buy from Amazon
One of numerous adaptations of the novel by Charlotte Brontë, or possibly Emily. This version stars Orson Welles and is arguably the best. (At least, the best theatrical version. One of the BBC mini-series adaptations might be better. However, a lot of that has to do with the time constraints put on a theatrical movie. It is easier to tell this story over three or four hours than to compress it into 90 odd minutes.) While the movie is great, the DVD is only average given age of the movie. I still recommend checking it out, but I can't give it much more than a rental.

John Cleese Comedy Collection - Buy from Amazon
Three films from John Cleese. Well, one movie, one short film, and one TV special. The TV special, How to Irritate People features Cleese and many Python alumni before Python days and includes some sketches that were borrowed, adapted, continued in that show. While hit and miss, it is worth checking out for that reason alone. Romance with a Double Bass is based on a short story by Anton Chekhov and doesn't have the same absurdist humor Cleese was known for at the time, but is still very well done. Finally, The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It is one of those projects that seemed like a good idea at the time but didn't quite gel. There's some very funny moments in the movie, but not enough to work as a whole. On a side note, one might assume since there are three titles that the DVD is quite a deal pricewise. However, only one of the three films, How to Irritate People, is over an hour and in that case it is barely so. It is still worth checking out for fans of John Cleese, but I'm not sure most will want to pick it up.

Kidnapped - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
TV on DVD is a haven for short-lived TV series. This is one of those shows that earned great reviews from critics but was cancelled before most people knew it was on. At least this 3-disc set allows people to watch all 13 episodes, including the half that were never aired, as well as a behind-the-scenes featurette. Worth checking out for most, picking up for those who were fans from the beginning.

Les Miserables - Buy from Amazon
Both the 1935 and the 1952 adaptations of the famous Victor Hugo novel. This is another novel that has been adapted time and time again. It's hard to say which version is the best, but these two are way up there. Extras include a featurette and restoration comparisons.

Moral Orel - Volume 1 - The Unholy Edition - Buy from Amazon
A stop motion satire of the old Davey and Goliath shows. It features Orel Puppington who uses his pious optimism as a guide to life... which never quite works out for him, but he never lets that get him down. This show has cult appeal, but it is certainly not for everyone. However, those who do like it will be happy with the 2-disc set that includes a behind-the-scenes featurette, uncensored opening, and more. Worth picking up.

NCIS Naval Criminal Investigative Service - The Complete Third Season - Buy from Amazon
One of nearly 800 police procedural shows out there, this one separates itself from the pack with its military nature. While the show is high quality, it's hard to recommend picking it up on DVD as so many similar shows are on TV, either on networks or syndicated, that a show has the be truly special to warrant picking up. The extras do help, with audio commentary tracks on 4 of the 24 episodes, featurettes on the real NCIS, the female members of the cast, changes in season three, making of, etc. This show is better than most of its contemporaries, and so is the DVD, enough so that I can recommend picking it up, but not enough for me to be overly enthusiastic with my recommendation.

Night at the Museum - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc Edition, 2-Disc Special Edition, or Blu-Ray
One of the biggest surprise hits of the year. The film managed just average reviews but started strong and lasted long, eventually becoming the second biggest hit among films released in 2006, earning $250 million domestically and close to $600 million worldwide. There are two versions of the film coming out on DVD tomorrow: the Single-Disc Edition and the 2-Disc Special Edition, but it's not contest which is the better deal. Both has the two audio commentary tracks, but the 2-Disc Special Edition also has deleted scenes, outtakes, and several featurettes on the making of / behind the scenes of the movie. Overall, it is a good movie for kids and most adults will be able to watch it with them, but I can't recommend picking it up if you don't have members of the younger set in your household.

The Odd Couple - The First Season - Buy from Amazon
It's hard for a TV series that is based on a movie to live up to that movie; even harder when the movie in question is a classic like The Odd Couple. But this series was one of the best during its run, and it was on during what could be called the golden age of SitComs. As for the 5-disc set, there are more extras than most shows from the era, including audio commentary tracks on a handful of episodes, audio intros, outtakes, footage from talk shows, stage play, award ceremony and more. Easily worth picking up and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

One Day at a Time - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
A groundbreaking show, this was the first network TV show to be led by a single divorced woman. However, without the groundbreaking nature, it doesn't live up as well as other Norman Lear shows like Maude or All in the Family. Ironically, the 2-disc set has better extras than most other Norman Lear releases, including the reunion special.

Parenthood - Special Edition - Buy from Amazon
DVDs like this are proof that sometimes Special Edition just means better than the previous editions. This film earned amazing reviews and took in $100 million, but until now hasn't has halfway decent DVD release. In fact, the previous two editions weren't even in widescreen. This one does have a few featurettes, which isn't enough to earn the Special Edition label, but it is enough to be worth upgrading for those who own the Pan & Scan versions and worth picking up for those who don't.

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes - Buy from Amazon
Directed by the Brothers Quay, this film certainly had something to offer, but watching the movie seemed like a chore to be completed rather than art to be enjoyed. There are some incredible visuals in this film, and that might be enough for some, but it's tough recommending the DVD for those alone. On the other hand, Phantom Museums: The Short Films of the Quay Brothers is also coming out tomorrow and this collection of short films is the better deal.

Planet Earth - The Complete BBC Series - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-Ray, or HD-DVD
This mini-series narrated by David Attenborough contains more than 10 hours of footage filmed in all corners of the planet from the arctic to the desert to the mountains to the ocean. This is an amazing show and a perfect reason to pick up a High Definition TV and player... except the regular DVD edition has more features. I have no idea why they would do that. In order to encourage people to spend the money to get the next generation electronics, you need to give them more, not less. Even so, I do recommend the DVD version as a solid purchase.

The Queen - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
One of the best movies of the year. Helen Mirren gives one of the best performances you will ever see. It's really that simple.

Covering the week following the tragic death of Princess Diana, the movie showed the stark contrasts between the traditional ways of the monarchy and the public demands for public spectacle. A lot of people have said that this film helped explain the Royals' reaction and has made a lot more people sympathetic to the whole ordeal, and this is one of the key strengths to the movie. (I have to say I was not one of those people, but I never blamed the Royals as I did the media. The media hounded Princess Diana during her life and after her death attacked the Royal family to try and get the heat on someone else.)

The strengths for this movie are numerous. Not only is the story amazing, but practically every performance in the film was award-worthy. Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II, Michale Sheen as Tony Blair, James Cromwell as Prince Philip, and the rest. What could have easily been melodrama was avoided thanks to not only the writing and deft direction, to create a sensational, but not sensationalistic movie.

Moving on to the extras, they are small in number, but strong in substance. Starting things off are a pair of audio commentary tracks, the first with director Stephen Frears and writer Peter Morgan while the second has royal historian Robert Lacey. Both tracks are worth checking out, repeatedly, however the first is more technical, how the film was made from script to screen while the second deals more with the politics and traditions involved. Personally, I preferred the second, but it's a subjective opinion. Finally there is a 19-minute making-of featurette. This is your typical making of featurette with a mix of talking head, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie. Worth checking out and has good replay value.

The Queen is a great movie and while the DVD isn't overloaded with extras, it is still worth picking up and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Schoolgirl Report #1: What Parents Don't Think Is Possible - Buy from Amazon
Every once and a while doing research for this list I run across a name that makes me stop and take notice. Usually the name is the only interesting thing about the DVD. This is not the case here. This German movie is a curious combination of documentary and... well... softcore porn. It's a pornumentary. (Although to call it porn is overstating maters and there's nothing here that seems out of place in an R-rated movie. You could show it uncut on Canadian TV.) The movie is meant to be titillating while pretending to be educational, sort of like those nature shows that pretend to teach people about sharks but are really there just to show cool shots of them jumping out of the water with all their teeth showing. So you have a mix of 'erotica' that is positively quaint compared to the latest American Pie direct-to-DVD offering and man-on-the-street interviews, half of which are real and half of which are fake. Positively bizarre. And oh so German, and I say that as someone with a German heritage. On the other hand, the novelty isn't enough to earn a recommendation.

Steven Wright - When the Leaves Blow Away - Buy from Amazon
Steven Wright has a style that sets him apart from all other stand up comics; his deadpan delivery is perfectly suited to his material. This DVD contains some of his best work including a stand up act filmed at the Elgin Theater in Toronto as well as the excellent short, One Soldier. Individually they are worth checking out, together they are worth picking up.

Thr3e - Buy from Amazon
A serial killer flick aimed at Christians. However, it doesn't work as a thriller, it doesn't work as Christians message movie, and, in fact, it just doesn't work. As for the DVD, there are no special features and it doesn't even rank an rental. Skip it.

Until Death - Buy from Amazon
I'm shocked that Jean-Claude Van Damme is still making movies. Even direct-to-DVD movies. On the other hand, early reports are better than expected.

WKRP in Cincinnati - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
Oh boy. On the one hand, WKRP in Cincinnati is a great show and a lot of people have been waiting a long time for it to come out on DVD. On the other hand, this is a show that had music at the very heart and soul and that music is expensive. Very expensive. So expensive that almost all of the songs were replaced in this 3-disc set. Not only that, but in some cases entire scenes were removed because they couldn't get suitable replacement songs. It's worse than the syndication versions. I want to recommend this set, but I can't. One day the copyright laws will be changed back to their original intent and it won't cost $50,000 to play a single 7-second snippet of a song and this show will come out on DVD the way it was meant to be seen, and heard. Wait for it then.


Filed under: Video Releases, Night at the Museum, Failure to Launch, Déjà Vu, The Queen, Secret Window, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Code Name: The Cleaner, An Eye for an Eye, Thr3e, Al Franken: God Spoke, Ten Items or Less, Piano Tuner of Earthquakes, Burning Annie, Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther, Ultimate Avengers - The Movie