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DVD Releases for November 6, 2007 - Part I

November 6th, 2007

Now that Halloween is over, the Christmas shopping season has (un)officially started and there is a flood of DVDs coming out this week, so much so that we again had to split the list into two parts. (And looking at next week's list, we might have to do it again.) Despite this long list, it was an easy choice for DVD Pick of the Week: Cars - Blu-Ray Release. Although when the other two Blu-Ray Pixar screeners show up, I might have to revise that choice.

Barry Manilow - The First Television Specials - Buy from Amazon
Barry Manilow is releasing a 5-disc set the same day Stephen Colbert is releasing a DVD of his own. That's what we call throwing down the gauntlet.

Beetle Bailey - The Complete Collection - Buy from Amazon
All 13 episodes on a 2-disc set for a low price. Unfortunately, that's all you get. I'm much rather pay a bit more and get some extras thrown in the mix.

Blame it on Fidel - Buy from Amazon
A young girl's life of luxury is shattered when her rich parents take up with leftist activists and renounced their privileged existence. Excellent reviews couldn't help the film find an audience during its limited release, but the DVD has better special features than many foreign language imports, (deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes, making of featurette), and is worth renting for most, picking up for many.

Blu-Ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: The Aviator, Beowulf & Grendel, Cars, Oldboy, Pixar Short Films - Volume 1, and Ratatouille
While the release of Cars on Blu-ray, along with other Pixar films is big news, I am more intrigued by the release of Beowulf & Grendel, an independent film, and Oldboy, a foreign import, come out on Blu-Ray. These are niche market releases, and if Blu-Ray has won over these producers, it is likely that the advantages HD-DVD had in terms of costs per disc are small enough to no longer be an effective weapon in the Format War. Costs of production for studios and the cost of the players for consumers are the two main advantages HD-DVD has over Blu-Ray.

Bob Hope Ultimate Collection - Buy from Amazon
More than 8 hours of the best of Bob Hope's many, many TV specials. I think many people would agree with me and would prefer full specials, but this is still a nice package.

Cars - Blu-Ray Release - Buy from Amazon
Cars was the first Pixar not to earn overwhelmingly positive reviews. That's not to say it is a bad movie, in fact, 76% positive is a very strong score and the movie is a very fun ride. But there was talk that the magic was over. Having watching the film several times, I think this was just a case of unrealistically high expectations.

The movie stars Lightning McQueen, a rookie NASCAR racer who is almost as talented as he is cocky, almost. After coming within seconds of winning the championship, he's forced into a tiebreaker race between the old veteran, The King, and the perennial runner-up, Chick Hicks. However, on his way to the race, he gets lost and finds himself stuck in a tiny town called Radiator Springs. Here he meets a wide variety of characters from Sally the Porsche, Doc the Hudson Hawk, and others. While in this town, he learns what it is to be a better racer, and a better human being... I mean car.

The story is strong, but I think technically this film shines. Not only is the digital animation extremely detailed, the details will blow away car nuts. This is both good and bad. On the one hand, if you are an animation aficionado or a car nut, you can spend the entire movie checking on the reflection in the chrome, looking at the scenery, check out that amazing waterfall, or looking at the details in the cars, the tire treads are accurate for each of the types of cars. The tire treads. On the other hand, you can spend a lot you're paying attention to these details that you stop paying attention to the story. At times it feels like the filmmakers were more concerned with these details than the story, which is probably why the critics were not as wowed as with previous Pixar films. But even those who have not interest in the inner workings of digital animation or cars should still be drawn into this world and the story.

As for the extras, this Blu-Ray disc really shines. Far too many high definition releases are shovelware, that is to say, they are exactly like the DVD release, only with the feature getting an upgrade to high definition. This disc has all the old features, plus a Radiator Springs Section and a Pixar Studios section. Radiator Springs has the Car Finder game, which is fun for kids, as well as several shorts. These includes the regular ones on the DVD as well as the epilogue as well as a little bit of Boundin' redone with cars. The Pixar studios allows you to watch the movie in Cine-Explore, a combination audio commentary track, (with a choice of two of them), image gallery, behind-the-scenes featurette, and deleted scenes. It adds a substantial amount of extras to the movie and listening to John Lasseter talk about the movie made me appreciate it more and that added serious replay value to the movie. (You can also watch the deleted scenes and the featurettes separately, thankfully.)

(On a side note, John Lasseter got it right. He pronounced Porsche correctly! Hearing the name mispronounced is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me and I can't describe how great it is to finally hear someone get it right.)

It is still early in the format war and so far I've seen very few releases that are worth upgrading for. If this Blu-Ray disc is any indication, it will be Pixar that leads the way. It's not quite worth upgrading your whole home theater system for, but if you have a high definition TV and haven't decided on which player to pick up, Cars - Blu-Ray Release, and the prospect of other Pixar films tips the scales in my mind.

Chinatown - Special Editions - Buy from Amazon: Chinatown and The Two Jakes
Both movies in the Chinatown franchise releases on special edition DVDs on the same day. This should be a major treat for fans of Film Noir. Should be.

Chinatown - Special Edition - Buy from Amazon
Jack Nicholson stars as P.I. J.J. Gittes, who is hired by a woman, Evelyn Mulwray, to spy on her husband, Hollis Mulwray, whom she says is cheating on her. But he finds out the case is a lot bigger than that when the real Evelyn Mulwray shows up telling him to stop investigating.

Chinatown is clearly one of the best examples of Film Noir ever made. In fact, it is just one of the best movies ever made. This movie has everything you want from Film Noir: a P.I. who has clearly been worn down for his job, a woman in desperate need of help, a mystery that might be too big to solve, and a system that's determined to keep the status quo. Throw in an award-worthy execution by nearly every member of the cast & crew and you have a movie that you can watch over and over again and it never loses its effectiveness.

On the other hand, for a film that is this wonderful, the DVD is sorely lacking. There's no audio commentary track, no deleted scenes, but just three featurettes. Starting things off is The Beginning and the End, which runs just over 19 minutes and is a making of featurette about how the movie first came into being and deals with the creation of the script, which lasted into filming. Filming is a little bit longer at 25 minutes and is pretty self-explanatory while The Legacy is a 10-minute long retrospective. Overall it's not a bad set of featurettes, but I was expecting more from a DVD billed as a special edition.

The Two Jakes - Special Collector's Edition - Buy from Amazon
It's rare to find a movie as compelling as Chinatown. It is also rare to find a sequel that feels as unnecessary as The Two Jakes.

Jack Nicholson returns as P.I. J.J. Gittes, who has seen is business and life improve in the decade since the events of the film movie. However, he takes a case that he know he should and next thing he knows he's deep in a mystery that gets him involved in a land development and the oil industry. This is not a terrible movie and it features good writing, good acting, and a rare turn with Jack Nicholson directing. However, in none of these aspects can the movie live up to its predecessor. Had you never seen Chinatown, this would be a worthy, but unspectacular, film. In fact, this would be a worthy film if they simply pretended it wasn't a sequel, but the comparisons to Chinatown kill it.

As for the extras, there's only one special feature, Jack of Jake. Here Jack Nicholson talks about the movie and how it came into being and how he came to direct it. It's 18 minutes long and is in-depth for its running time, but it is not enough to be called a special edition.

Chinatown is a classic of the genre and anyone who is a fan of these films will jump at the chance to add to their DVD collection. On the other hand, the sequel, The Two Jakes, is merely an average approach to the material. However, with weak extras, I have a hard time being enthusiastic about either DVD. Call Chinatown a purchase and The Two Jakes a rental.

On a side note, there's a doubleshot also coming out this week, but it costs more than buying the two movies individuals.

Christmas Releases - Buy from Amazon: Carry On Christmas, A Clay Aiken Christmas, The Family Holiday, Happy Doodle Holidays, Miss Spider's Sunny Patch - Hum Bug, Munster's Scary Little Christmas, and The Pink Panther - A Pink Christmas
Another batch or mostly forgettable Christmas releases.

Chuck Jones Collection - Buy from Amazon
Half-a-dozen animated TV specials directed by Chuck Jones, all produced in the mid-1970s. While Chuck Jones is a master at the medium, this is not is best known or most beloved work and without any extras, it is hard to recommend anything more than a rental.

Coen Brothers Gift Set - Buy from Amazon
Five movies from the Coen Brothers, (Blood Simple, . Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, and Fargo), and these are five of their best. Personally, I would have preferred The Hudsucker Proxy, but this is still a great collection.

The Colbert Report - The Best Of - Buy from Amazon
I hate TV on DVD that's Best Of sets. However, since this show produces 300 episodes a season, I can see why they decided to release a best of DVD instead of a full season set. Although I do remember Stephen Colbert doing a joke about his Best Of DVD set being a 40-disc set. ... I would but that set, and I am not kidding. This single-disc release features 2 hours of the best of The Colbert Report including bits like The Word, Threat Down, Better Known a District, and others. On a side note, you don't see Better Known a District bit that much anymore; I think after Robert Wexler's performance the politicians are scared. (On a side note, I loved how Robert Wexler got the joke and played along. It made me respect him more as a politician.) With only two hours, there's no way to include everything everyone wants, but it is still a great package and worth picking up. However, it could have been a contender if there were some extras on the disc.

The Cosby Show - Buy from Amazon: Season 5 and Season 6
Great show, terrible DVD. Also, I bet there will be a full series set released when they finish the run, and that will be a better value.

The Day of the Triffids - Buy from Amazon
A British mini-series based on a novel by John Wyndham. In the film, most of the population of Earth is rendered blind by a comet then hunted by carnivorous plants. ... It's more effective than it sounds and worth checking out. However, there are not enough extras to make the DVD a must have and for most people a rental will be enough.

Doctor Who - Buy from Amazon: Episode 123 - Time-Flight and Episode 124 - Arc of Infinity
Two more episodes from the longest running sci-fi TV series of all time. As with the previous releases, these two sets are very strong. Perhaps not as loaded of earlier sets, but at a very reasonable price. Worth picking up, as is the next release on our list.

Doctor Who - The Complete Third Series - Buy from Amazon
Each of the first three seasons of the relaunch of Doctor Who have brought about major changes in the key cast members. Each season the show has proven it can survive, and even thrive on the changes. This time around Billie Piper left the show while Martha Jones was added as the new companion to the Doctor. The 6-disc set contains a massive number of extras including audio commentary tracks on most episodes, deleted scenes, outtakes, behind-the-scenes, interviews, and much more. My only concern is the price, which may scare away a few fans, but you get what you pay for.

Deck the Halls - Buy from Amazon
One of the worst movies of last year, or any year. Films like this are one of the reasons I hate Christmas. It has better extras than I was expecting, but it is still worth skipping.

Flight of the Conchords - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
Two comedians from New Zealand travel to the States to try and make it big in the world of music. This is a great show, but the 2-disc set is devoid of extras. I'm not happy with the HBO home market division, but at least this release isn't overpriced as well. It is still worth picking up, but more extras could have made it a contender for DVD pick of the week.

Full House - The Complete Eighth Season - Buy from Amazon
I'm at a complete loss to explain how this show lasted eight seasons. But for really big fans, there's a Complete Series Box Set shaped like a house.

Gilligan's Island - The Complete Series Collection - Buy from Amazon
There was a time when nostalgia was considered a mental illness. And that's all I'm going to say about this release.

HD-DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: The Aviator and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
Only a couple HD-DVD releases, and the only one of note is The Aviator, which is coming out on Blu-Ray as well. The fact that the Blu-Ray version is outselling the HD-DVD version is important as Warner Bros. is going to re-evaluated the Blu-Ray / HD-DVD neutrality at the end of the year. Should Blu-Ray maintain its nearly 2-1 advantage over HD-DVD in terms of sales, it will be hard to image Warner Bros. sticking with HD-DVD. And if Warner Bros. goes to Blu-Ray, the format war will be all but over as they has a huge catalogue of movies to draw from.

Help! - Buy from Amazon: 2-Disc Edition or Deluxe Edition
The second film starring the Beatles and some would argue their best, (although I prefer Yellow Submarine, and yes, they were in that movie). The 2-Disc Edition has the movie, a making of featurette, featurette on the restoration, a retrospective, lost scenes, and more and is good value for the money. The Deluxe Edition costs five times as much, (with the Amazon discounts), and includes a reproduction of the annotated script, lobby cards. 60-page booklet, and a poster. However, I can't say that's worth the extra expense, but maybe really hardcore fans will disagree.

Heeere's Johnny - The Definitive DVD Collection from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson - Buy from Amazon
The massive 12-disc set is as close to full season sets as we are every going to get to full-season sets for this show. More than 18 hours from the show are collected in this box set, which includes four previously releases sets: Timeless Moments, Ultimate Collection, Stand-Up Comedians, and Carson Country. Good deal for most fans, depending on how many of the previously releases they have.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry - Buy from Amazon: DVD or HD-DVD
One of the worst reviewed films of the year, it nevertheless earned $100 million at the box office. The film had many problems; the humor was lowbrow, it managed to be preachy and offensive at the same time, it aimed low and missed the mark at times. The DVD is better than average with two audio commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and five featurettes. That may seem like a lot, but the average length of the featurettes is just 5 minutes and none have the depth needed to have any real replay value. I guess fans of the movie will be happy with the DVD, but for most of us, even calling it a rental is overstating it.

James Bond - Ultimate Collector's Set - Buy from Amazon
Yet another full franchise set, which is exactly the same as the last one, just with the Casino Royale - 2-Disc Set included. There is no reason to upgrade, and yes, they will release another box set when the next film is released. Possibly two of them, one when it hits theaters and another when it comes out on DVD. Also coming out tomorrow is Casino Royale - 40th Anniversary Edition, the spoof of the secret agent series.

The King of Queens - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
One of several full series set being release this week. This is a pretty standard sitcom with little to set it apart.

Kung Fu - The Complete Series Collection - Buy from Amazon
Another complete series release, this time for a show that I couldn't recommend regardless of the price.

Magnificent Desolation - Walking on the Moon - Buy from Amazon
Another IMAX film hitting the home market. These look amazing, but they are short and you lose the 3-D aspect. Still, worth checking out.

Manufacturing Dissent - Buy from Amazon
If you are going to make a film attacking Michael Moore, don't use his filmmaking tactics. It makes you seem like a hypocrite, at best, while odds are you just are not as good of a filmmaker as Michael Moore and your film will suffer due to the comparisons. I also would like to point out that nowhere in any of his documentaries has Michael Moore said all the events happened in the same order in real life as they do in his movie. Editing and scene selection is used to make a point, not to establish a timeline and this is true of every documentary, so stop bringing that up as if you are making a devastating point. There is an interesting documentary to be made about Michael Moore, but so far all attempts have been derailed by what seem like personal grudges. In a fit of irony, Michael Moore's attackers all seem to suffer from the very flaws they charge the documentarian with.

Martin - The Complete Third Season - Buy from Amazon
We are at the halfway point of this show's run, a show that introduced Martin Lawrence to millions of people. The film was a solid ratings winner, but never a runaway success, while the DVDs are devoid of bonus material. It's hard to recommend it for anything more than a rental.

MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge - Season 3 - Buy from Amazon
A goofy show that is almost impossible to not enjoy while you watch. However, it is also not a show that really benefits from the DVD treatment. Shows that work best on DVD are the ones where you want to see every episode, in order, likely in one or two marathon sessions. This show works just as well catching the occasional episode on TV. Add in limited extras and I can't recommend purchasing the 2-disc set unless you are a hardcore fan of the show.

My So-Called Life - The Complete Series (w/ Book) - Buy from Amazon
Claire Danes starred as Angela Chase in what some say is the most realistic portrayal of high school ever on TV. However, as is often the case with shows like this, while the show was beloved by a small and loyal audience, it was too small to survive. This isn't the first time the show has been released on DVD, but the previous attempt was, well, it was a mess. Will fans finally get the DVD they are looking for.

(The DVD was released last week, but my screener didn't arrive to this week, hence the delay in this review. Also, the screener only consists of the first disc and the final disc, therefor this review will be limited on those two discs.)

I didn't want to get sucked into this series. I didn't want be become invested in a series than I know ends after just 19 episodes. That's happened far too often to me. (In fact, I own more than two-dozen short run TV series on DVD, (shows that lasted three seasons or less), and that's just counting the ones that ran on American network TV. Add in cable, Canadian, and British shows and that number jumps up to three or four dozen. I'm a jinx for TV shows.) You'll get sucked in before the pilot is over. Also of note, the pilot has the only audio commentary on the screener. The commentary track features Marshall Herskovitz, Winnie Holzman, and Scott Winant who spend equal parts talking about the pilot and watching the pilot. This is a common problem with audio commentary tracks for shows are movies that are more than a few years old, but it adds to the charm as they clearly love the show.

The rest of the extras are on the sixth disc and consist mostly of interviews. My So-Called Life Story details the creations of the show from its initial genesis, the writing, the casting, the production and its eventual end. It runs just over 23 minutes and is mostly talking heads and clips from the show while featuring many members of the cast and crew. The next special feature is a conversation with Claire Danes, as well as writer / creator Winnie Holzman. When this release was first announced, there was no word that Claire Danes would appear on the DVD, so this is the feature that fans were looking forward to the most. That 21-minute conservation and the second, 14-minute conversation with Winnie Holzman and producer Marshall Herskovitz help give different perspectives on the series and what made it have such a lasting impression on its fans.

The next set of special features are three featurettes on the characters starting with Angela, then the family, and finally the friends. Each of these sections has the cast talking about not just their characters, but also the show, the other cast members, how they fit in, and what the future would have held for their characters, etc. There's also a second interview with Claire Danes. In total, these three sections run more than an hour and have serious replay value.

The third screen of features starts with a 15-minute featurette on the music and features a man named "Snuffy." The final featurette is the panel from the 1995 Museum of Television & Radio Panel, or at least highlights. The 31-minute Q&A session is quite fascinating and there is serious replay value.

Like I said last week, this is an amazing series that never found the audience it deserved when it was first on the air, but at least fans finally get a DVD release that lives up to the show. The 6-disc set is loaded with extras featuring almost all of the cast & crew and easily worth upgrading from the previous release. In fact, people who have never seen the show should check it out and odds are they will be fans before the pilot is halfway done.


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Filed under: Video Releases, Cars, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, The Aviator, Deck the Halls, Magnificent Desolation, Oldboy, La faute à Fidel, Beowulf & Grendel