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DVD Releases for June 19, 2007

June 18th, 2007

It's another slow week for DVDs, but this is good news in a sense as it gives me more time to do spotlight reviews -- seven of them in total. (Of course, four of these were mini-spotlight reviews as they were almost a package release.) When it comes to the best of the best there was really only one that stands out, Bridge to Terabithia - Buy from Amazon, but there are several others that are worth picking up.

009-1 - Volume 1 - Buy from Amazon
An anime program about a female spy. And yes, as you probably guessed from the name, it does owe a lot to the James Bond franchise, but also works in its own right. Extras include interviews, featurettes, an even a 16-page booklet with artwork from the show. Fans of either anime or spy thrillers should certainly check it out, and many who do will consider it worth picking up.

The Abandoned - Buy from Amazon
Part of the After Dark Horror-fest, this film earned a wide release of its own. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the marketing department. Granted, the reviews were not good, but an effective, and aggressive ad campaign should have helped the film finish in the top ten, at least. For fans of films that build their scare through mood more than gore or sadism, this is a good film and worth checking out. However, with just a short making-of featurette as its lone extra, a rental will suffice.

Animaniacs - Volume 3 - Buy from Amazon
The latest volume of the animated show that was aimed at adults just as much as kids. These episodes are certainly entertaining for kids, but make plenty of cultural references that most kids won't get (and that's not discussing the aspects of the show like Minerva Mink and Hello Nurse). This 5-disc set also contains one of my favorite inside joke bits, "Variety Speak." Extras are acceptable; the numbers may be low, but the quality is high. The first of the two interview / featurettes deal with the character design and talks with a lot of animation crew while the second deals with the songs and talks with the writers, composers, and the cast who performed the songs. I would have loved some audio commentary tracks, or some of the deleted scenes that were mentioned, but this is still better than most TV on DVD releases for cartoons.

Author! Author! - Buy from Amazon
Not one of Al Pacino's best known or most beloved films, it nonetheless has its champions. However, while these people will be happy the movie finally hits DVD, they won't be pleased with the lack of extras and most will admit a rental will suffice.

The Big Nothing - Buy from Amazon
Simon Pegg and David Schwimmer star as two hapless con-men who try to make a quick buck by black-mailing a priest whose taste in Internet porn is... less than legal. The film is a dark comedy with Neo Noir elements that works, for the most part, but the lack of extras limits the appeal to a rental.

Bridge to Terabithia - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
Bridge to Terabithia was the first wide release of the year to wow critics, and is still one of the best reviewed wide releases of the year. (Strangely, none of the films that have outperformed it with critics were able to become hits at the box office.) Now that it has hit DVD, it has a clear path to being the biggest seller of the week and possibly the DVD Pick of the Week as well.

Bridge to Terabithia stars Jess Hutcherson as Jesse Aaron, a son of a poor farmer who is an outcast at school, and AnnaSophia Robb as Leslie Burke, the new girl in town who helps him break out of his shell. The movie was advertised and a special effects fantasy film very much in the same vein as Narnia, but is instead a family drama with elements of fantasy that are only in the minds of the two leads. This may have scared fans of the book, who thought the focus was dramatically changed in the movie, while others might have been upset over being deceived by the trailer. However, once they got into theaters and were sucked into the story, all would be forgiven. It really is one of the best movies I've seen this year and even people who have never heard of the book should check it out.

The extras were... well... mixed. On the one hand, there were two audio commentary tracks, the first with the writer, the director, and the producer, and the second with Jess Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, and a second producer. Both of these tracks move well, provide plenty of information, and have strong replay value. The first delves a little deeper into the technical side while the second one's main strength is the chemistry between the two young actors and they have strong replay value. On the other hand, the two featurettes were not as strong. Behind the Book: The Themes of Terabithia feels like it is aimed at teachers more than moviegoers. The second, Digitial Imagination: Bringing Terabithia to Life, is more of your typical making-of featurette, but one that focuses on the effects. Both are comprised of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie and run a combined 20 minutes. Finally, there's music video for the song, "Keep Your Mind Wide Open" by AnnaSophia Robb; she mentions in the commentary track that she's not a singer but liked the opportunity to try something new. I know a lot of fans were worried she'd try to become yet another actor who tries to have a singing career. Although, to be fair, a lot of singers try their hand in acting, so I'm not sure why when the reverse happens it is met with more hostility.

This is one of the best movies of the year and the DVD package is strong, but not overwhelming. It adds up to a clear purchase and is even a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Daniel Boone - Season Four - Buy from Amazon
This series is being pushed out on DVD, and fast, which should please fans. On the other hand, this 8-disc set is devoid of special features and that limits the value to a rental.

Die Hard Collection - Buy from Amazon
A cheap money-grab in the worst way. It hasn't been that long since the Ulitmate Collection came out, and this box set has less extras. And the new extras are mostly ads for Live Free or Die Hard. Skip it. I'd even go so far as to say, "Skip it and write a letter to the studio", but past experience suggests it wouldn't make a difference.

Escape To Canada - Buy from Amazon
I feel it is my duty, as a Canadian, to inform people who see the cover of this DVD that marijuana is not legal up here. Do not come up here to buy pot or get high in a public park, and for the love of god, don't ask a Mountie to borrow a light for your joint. (A friend of mine witnessed that one first hand.) As for the film itself, it is a documentary that doesn't take itself, or its subject very seriously. Because of this, you are not left with many answers to probing questions, but it is more entertaining that it otherwise would be. Extras are limited to about an hour of extras interviews, but the replay value is not high enough to enthusiastically recommend buying the DVD. Call it a solid rental.

Gray Matters - Buy from Amazon
A romantic comedy starring Heather Graham and Thomas Cavanagh as sister and brother trying to find true love and falling for the same woman. This film crashed and burned with critics, but managed to do even worse at the box office. Add in nearly no special features and for most people, it's not even worth a rental.

HD-DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: Dreaming Arizona, Uncommon Bach
Is it just me, or does Uncommon Bach get released every few weeks?

Lovejoy - The Complete Season 1 - Buy from Amazon
Ian McShane as Lovejoy, an antiques dealer / con-man. Maybe con-man is a little harsh, but he is certainly not above getting the best of the deal by shady means. This 3-disc set has all 9 episodes from the first season and an interview with McShane. Worth checking out, but I don't know if it needs a purchase over a rental.

Lucille Ball Film Collection - Buy from Amazon
Five films starring Lucille Ball, all of which can be purchased individually. However, the box set is less than half the cost. None of these are the best films Ball made. In fact, the best of these is sadly mediocre. On the other hand, the extras are better than most movies this old receive on DVD, with most having vintage shorts (one live action and the other animated), while the most recent, Mame, has a vintage featurette. Overall, the more hardcore fans of Lucille Ball will probably be interested in picking up the box set, but for most it would barely rate a rental.

The Manhattan Project - Special Edition - Buy from Amazon
A movie about a homemade nuclear bomb, which also describes the level of failure at the box office. This is a shame; granted, it is not the best movie ever made, but it didn't deserve this fate either. As for the DVD, it is nice upgrade from the previous release with an audio commentary track, making-of featurette, and a set of interviews with real nuclear scientists. I would call it worth a purchase, but for most a rental will do.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh - The Friendship Edition - Buy from Amazon
Originally released as three short features, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too!, and then combined in a feature-length release in 1977, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. This film is an absolute classic and one that I've enjoyed since I first saw it as a child.

Based on the stories by A.A.Milne, it tells the story of a boy named Christopher Robin and his collection of stuffed toys that live in the 100 Acres Wood. Although I probably don't need to tell you who they are as Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger and the rest are some of the most famous characters around and this film is one of the best. I love the fact that the movie is a storybook and the characters interact with it. For instance, when it floods, the words are washed away. This helps it stand out. Also, the film has some of the catchiest tunes from any Disney film including Pooh and Tigger's theme songs, I'm Just a Little Black Rain Cloud, and others. Those who remember the movie from their childhood will certainly want to check it out and not just for nostalgia, while those with younger kids could hardly find a better choice for their children.

That said, this is not the first time the film's been released on DVD so the real question is whether this version is worth the upgrade. Extras from the original DVD are all here, including some of more substantial extras like the 24-minute long making-of featurette and the equally long short film A Day For Eeyore. Other returning extras including the DVD storybook feature and the theme song sung by Carly Simon, while the only new extras is an episode of My Friends Tigger & Pooh.

Without any substantial difference between the two versions, it is not worth the upgrade. On the other hand, if you don't have this movie in your DVD collection, now is the perfect time to fix that problem.

Miss Potter - Buy from Amazon
Renee Zellweger stars in this period BioPic as the author / artist Beatrix Potter, who created the popular children's books Peter Cottontail, and others.

I don't think it is unfair to call this film busted Oscar bait. Given the subject matter and the release date, it was clearly made to win awards, but that didn't happen. It's not like the film was terrible, but with a 65% positive rating among critics, the film wasn't up to the level needed for a major player during award season. That said, there's more than enough here to recommend watching it. Performances by the three main leads, Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, and Emily Watson were very strong, as were supporting performances. The story of Beatrix Potter's life was also ripe with dramatic potential although I have to admit that after Norman Warne, Beatrix Potter's publisher and lover interest died, I did lose some interest in the story as I didn't find William Heelis nearly as compelling. On a side note, much of what Beatrix Potter did during her life was very much ahead of her time considering the women of her day were expected to marry someone their parents approved of, have kids, and run a household. However, now all that seems very foreign and that might lessen the dramatic impact somewhat.

Moving on to the extras, they are rather limited with just the audio commentary track, a making-of featurette, and documentary featurette, and a music video. There's nothing wrong with the quantity, which is better than expected given the film's struggles at the box office, but the quality is rather low. For instance, the audio commentary track is a little dry at times and suffers from dead air while the documentary feature is also dry, and a little too academic. (It does touch on a lot of aspects of Beatrix Potter's life that are not covered in the movie and it is worth checking out for that reason.)

This is one of those films that hard to rate as it fits nicely in between two levels. It is certainly worth checking out, but unless you are a fan of biopics, Beatrix Potter, or some of the actors in the movie, it is probably only worth a rental.

On a side note, the film can also be purchased with "Beatrix Potter: A Journal" as part of a package deal, but that is for hardcore fans only.

The Nightcomers - Buy from Amazon
A prequel to the novel, "Turn of the Screw" by Henry James, which was made into a movie called The Innocents. This film isn't terrible, but is completely unnecessary and is one of Marlon Brando's lesser works. Add in no real extras, and this is a DVD that is safely skipped. On the other hand, The Innocents is a great movie and is worth checking out.

The Panic in Needle Park - Buy from Amazon
The second Al Pacino film to come out on DVD this week. This one is the better movie and is more well known, but without extras is still only worth a rental.

Perry Mason - Season 2 - Volume 1 - Buy from Amazon
Raymond Burr stars in this quintessential courtroom drama, but while fans will be happy it's coming out on DVD, the lack of extras, not to mention the splitting the season into two volumes, is not optimal. The quality of the show is so high that even with these problems, this 4-disc set is still worth picking up.

Pinky and the Brain - Volume 3 - Buy from Amazon
The third, and final volume of the Animaniacs spin-off hits DVD. Though it started with a very simple premise, the show was effective throughout its 65 episode run mainly due to the strong writing and the vast array of times and places they decided to set the action in. Extras are again light, with just a single featurette, but for most fans the 4-disc set is still worth picking up.

Powerpuff Girls - Season 1 - Buy from Amazon
After coming out on half-a-dozen DVDs, this series finally gets a full-season set, but it might be too late. It has been several years since the show was on the air, even longer since its popularity peaked. The 2-disc set is being billed as a collector's edition, but the extras aren't up to that level. I can still see fans wanting to pick it up, but the sales won't be as strong as they would have been had the studio not messed around with individual episodes first.

Reno 911!: Miami - Buy from Amazon: Theatrical Version or Unrated Edition
A movie based on a cult TV series, which is a risky proposition. Too often these films feel like an episode that is stretched too far, or it loses something intrinsic to the success of the series trying to feel like a movie. This film doesn't suffer for those problems too much, but just enough to hurt its effectiveness. That said, most fans of the show will find enough that works for the film to be worth checking out. As for the DVD, there are two versions, the Unrated Edition, and the other one that no one is buying. The Unrated Edition is loaded with extras including three audio commentary tracks, six extended scenes that run more than an hour, and several movie theater PSAs. Worth picking up for fans of the show, and others who have never seen the show should give it a rental.

The Secret of NIMH - 2-Disc Family Fun Edition - Buy from Amazon
Don Bluth's best film and one that made it seem like he would be the new master of animation. (The story of why that didn't happened is long and doesn't have to be dealt with here.) Extras on the 2-disc set are rather light with an audio commentary track, retrospective, and some games. You would think that would fit on one disc. Even so, it is still easily worth picking up, but a fully fleshed out 2-disc set would be an easy contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Shaw Brothers Collection - Buy from Amazon: 36th Chamber of Shaolin, King Boxer, a.k.a. Five Fingers of Death, My Young Auntie, The One-Armed Swordsman
Four films from the legendary Shaw Brothers coming out on Dragon Dynasty films DVDs. This is not the first time I've reviewed films from this company, but this week we have four such DVDs. Fortunately, they are quite different from each other and any fans of for Kung Fu movies will find something in this week's selection that they will like.

36th Chamber of Shaolin
Gordon Liu stars as San Te in a story that has become the template for martial arts movies. A man stands up against oppression, is defeated, trains to improve himself, and then avenges his earlier loss. What makes this movie stand out so much is it is one of the earliest examples and set a lot of the conventions of the genre. This is the best of the four films that are coming out tomorrow.

Extras: Extras start with an audio commentary track with movie critic, Andy Klein, and Wu-Tang Clan member, The RZA. The RZA might seem like a strange person to be involved with an audio commentary track, but the Wu-Tang Clan have always been promoters of Kung Fu films and he is incredibly knowledgeable on the subject while his enthusiasm adds to the overall experience. Other extras includes interviews, with the star, Gordon Li, and with the two audio commentary participants in the other. Wrapping things up are a making-of featurette and a live performance by the Wu-Tang Clang, as well as image and trailer galleries.

King Boxer, a.k.a. Five Fingers of Death
Two rival schools prepare for a tournament that will help determine who controls the town. This movie is filled with great action and plenty of double-crosses (and even triple-crosses). Billed as the first international martial arts hit, it is easy to see why. However, it is also arguably the weakest of four films in this group as it feels the most generic. It isn't as well done as 36th Chamber of Shaolin, it doesn't have the humor of My Young Auntie, or the unique swordplay of The One-Armed Swordsman.

Extras: Audio commentary with Quentin Tarantino, film scholar David Chute, and film critic Elvis Mitchell. Tarantino is one of those people that should be invited to do audio commentary tracks for every movie ever made as his knowledge of movies is encyclopedic... no, that doesn't go far enough. His knowledge level is autistic. He's the Rain Man of movie trivia, except he's also very charismatic when he speaks on this matter and even those who are not as interested as he is will be drawn in. Other extras include a trio of interviews, as well as image and trailer galleries.

My Young Auntie
My personal favorite of the four films coming out tomorrow as I love the mixture of Kung Fu action and humor. (Although, as the commentators say, a lot of Kung Fu purists hated this change in martial arts movies as they feel it harmed the purity of the genre.) Not only does this movie have great action and humor, it also has an almost musical feel to it and that helps it stand apart.

Extras: This film's audio commentary track is down by film scholars David Chute and Andy Klein. (Starting to recognize the names? Thought so.) While the interviews are with the star Kara Hui and another with the aforementioned film scholars. Things are wrapped up with the image and trailer galleries.

The One-Armed Swordsman
Finally we get to The One-Armed Swordsman, a story about a man raised by a master swordsman who is maimed by his teacher's daughter, only to relearn his craft and return to defend his master. (That's not really a spoiler, as the basic setup is well known at this point.) This is the earliest film in this group of four, and in some ways it shows. It is also a film that has been imitated numerous times over the years and after just one viewing you will know why. So much here has become iconic over the years that it will seem like you've seen the film already.

Extras: Starting with an audio commentary track with David Chute and Andy Klein. (The box says Quentin Tarantino is here, but he's not. They do mention his absence on the track, but don't say why he's not there.) Other extras include a featurette on the director, Chang Cheh, as well as interviews, images and trailers.

36th Chamber of Shaolin is widely regarded as the best of the group, but My Young Auntie is my personal favorite. That said, all four of these films are worth picking up for fans of the genre and even newcomers will want to check them out.

Silver Spoons - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
The quintessential 1980s family sitcom, and I don't mean that as a compliment. I grew up when this show was first on the air and I hated it then and I hate it now. Granted, there are fans of the show, but I'm not sure if they will respond the same 20 years later and the total lack of extras further hurts the value of the show. I can't even recommend renting it, but others may have differing opinions.

The Tomb - Buy from Amazon
Has less to do with H.P.Lovercraft, whose name graces the cover, than it does with Saw. I like H.P.Lovercraft, which is why terrible movies that like this are so painful to watch. Granted, his style doesn't translate well into film, but there are at least a few stories out there that could be turned into amazing movies and crap like this hurt the chances that will ever happen.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea - Season 3 - Volume 1 - Buy from Amazon
This show continues its rollout on DVD. This was Irwin Allen's longest running show and because it was his most sophisticated as well, it holds up the best. That said, in many aspects it is hopelessly out of date, like the special effects, but that's true of every science fiction show of the era. Those who have picked up previous releases won't be surprised by the lack of extras, but won't be persuaded into not adding this 3-disc set into their collection.

The Wood - Back in the Day Edition - Buy from Amazon
My first reaction to this release is a common one with Special Edition. "Was the world really crying out for a special edition?" I'm not saying this is a bad movie -- it's not -- but it's not one that really needs a second run at a DVD release, especially one that's not a special edition. Sure, it's called the Back in the Day Edition, but the only extras here are an audio commentary track and a short making-of featurette, hardly what one would call special and not enough to really warrant an upgrade.


Filed under: Video Releases, Bridge to Terabithia, Reno 911!: Miami, Miss Potter, The Abandoned, Gray Matters