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DVD Releases for November 6, 2007 - Part 2

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.

NHL - Greatest Games in Pittsburgh Penguins History - Buy from Amazon
Imagine that, a sports DVD that presents games in their entirety, you don't see that very often as even championship celebrations usually only give you highlights. These 10 games stretch from the late 1980s to last season and include brilliant performances and a couple of Stanley Cup wins. On a side note, I first started watching hockey during the 1984-85 season and my four favorite teams were Vancouver, Hartford, New Jersey, and Pittsburgh. All four missed the playoffs. Only five teams missed the playoffs that year, and four of those were the teams I cheered for. No matter how bad my teams play now, I can at least take solace in the fact that that will never happened again. ... I hope.

NHL - Greatest Moments in Stanley Cup History - Buy from Amazon
I bet there's no mention of the Vancouver Canucks on this 7-disc set, not unless they are getting scored on. ... I hate the New York Rangers. Even so, I will admit that this 7-disc set is easily worth picking up.

NFL America's Game Super Bowl I-XL - Buy from Amazon
A 40-disc set featuring a look at every Super Bowl winner from Green Bay Packers in 1967 to the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2006. Would make a great gift for any NFL fanatic. ... Unless they cheer for the Buffalo Bills, then you are just rubbing salt in their wounds.

NFL Complete Game Set - 1985 Chicago Bears - Buy from Amazon
A 5-disc set with 12 complete games? Granted, for most of the time the clock runs while the play is dead, but still, you would think it wouldn't be possible to squeeze three games on one disc without losing something. For that matter, the Chicago Bears played 19 games that season, why only 12 games?

Opus N' Bill in a Wish for Wings That Work - Buy from Amazon
A Christmas special featuring the characters of Bloom County, or as it is now known, Outland. When it was first released the expectations were a tad high, unrealistically high, and many people were disappointed. I think now that time has passed, many will agree that while the end product doesn't live up to the level of quality the comic strip had, it is still amusing. Worth checking out, but only as a rental.

Pixar Short Films Collection - Volume 1 - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
Pixar started out as a division of LucasFilm but was spun off to sell hardware. At first their animated shorts were used only to showcase the hardware, but instead of just showing off animation techniques, they hired real animator to and uses the medium to tell real stories. The rest is, as they say, history.

This DVD includes 13 shorts starting with The Adventures of André & Wally B from 1984, which runs less than 90 second and looks absolutely archaic compared to today's standard. But was groundbreaking when it was first releases; in fact, when it was first released it wasn't even a finished project and it was still greeted with unabashed enthusiasm. Next up is Luxo, Jr., which has a legacy extends to this day in the Pixar logo. Red's Dream is the first short with a human character, environmental effect, a real plot. It's still relatively short at just 4 minutes, but you can see the seeds were planted. The shorts were no longer just about showing off the technology, but were also about telling a story. If you can tell a 4-minute story, you can tell a feature-length story, it's just a matter of improving the technology to make it easier to work with. You see this progression in Tin Toy from 1988 and Knick Knack from 1989. Two notes with Knick Knack, I love the song at the end of that short, and this is the edited version found on the Finding Nemo DVD and not the original version. I was hoping the original would at least be offered as an Easter Egg, but that was not to be.

That was the last of the pre-Toy Story releases, but not the end of the Pixar short films. However, now instead of using the technology to prove they can use digital animation to tell a story, they used the shorts to help animators get first hand experience at directing to help develop talent. For instance, Jan Pinkava, who wrote and directed the Oscar winning Geri's Game, co-wrote and helped direct Ratatouille. Speaking of Oscars, the 13 shorts on this collection earned seven Oscar nominations for Best Animated Short, winning three of them. Frankly I'm amazed a couple others didn't also win.

As for the extras, there are audio commentary tracks on 12 of the 13 shorts presented, with Jack-Jack Attack being the only exception. (I have no idea why.) The other main extra is the featurette, The Pixar Shorts: A Short History, which runs 23 minutes has does a very good job dealing the rise of Pixar and how they went from a tiny section of a bigger company to the best animation studio around. Very strong replay value here. Also included are four Sesame Street shorts done by Pixar featuring the two Luxo lamps from their second short. It's nice to have, but there's limited replay value.

(There are also some Easter Eggs, mostly animation tests, but I'll let the readers find them.)

I love short films. I have several collections of shorts on DVD and I jump at the opportunity to collect more. And of the companies of working in the medium today, Pixar is the best. Combined with the impressive number of extras it is a must have and clearly a contender for DVD Pick of the Week. The only question is if it's worth getting on Blu-Ray or not, but that's a question that will have to wait till next week.

Planet in Peril - Buy from Amazon
The 2-night CNN special that aired last week is being released on DVD this week. However, it is being released on Wednesday, not Tuesday like most DVDs. Overall it is effective, but tries to hard to give the appearance on impartiality by giving both sides equal weight. Sometimes one side is right and the other is wrong, and as always, the only way to avoid bias is to tell it like it is.

Project Runway - The Complete Third Season - Buy from Amazon
Reality TV in its most vapid form. Skip it.

Ratatouille - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
One of the best reviewed films of the year, it is also one of a record-setting group of $200 million hits. But will the DVD live up to the film?

(On a side note, this is a review for the DVD only. There was such a huge demand for the Blu-Ray version that my screener had not yet arrived. Hopefully next week I'll have a spotlight review on the Blu-Ray version.)

Ratatouille star Patton Oswalt as Remy, a rat with a taste for fine food. But it's hard for a rat get fine food, even one living in Paris. This is where he meets Linguini, a wannabe chef working at Gusteau's, a former five-star restaurant that has seen better days after the passing of its head chef, Auguste Gusteau.

This is a great movie that truly earned 97% positive reviews. The film tells a simple story of two people, Remy and Linguini, who share a dream of being a chef, a dream that is out of reach for both. But together they can achieve success. Like I said, it is a simple story, but it is told with amazing effectiveness. You quickly become emotionally involved in all of the characters' lives and there is a near perfect mix of drama, humor, and action. (I would like to point out that where there is a lot of humor, there are few jokes, as the movie generates laughs through the characters. I much prefer this type of film.) The sparse narration was effective, but I'm glad they didn't rely on this device to provide insight into Remy's state of mind. I am even happier that they didn't allow Remy to talk to human, just to other rats.

As for the animation, this is the best I've ever seen. There were a number of scenes early on where I was completely tack aback with the level of details, especially when Remy falls into the sink of water. Getting hairs right is hard enough, getting water right is hard enough, combing the two is nearly impossible. This was a scene that is sure to wow animators, however, it also will enthrall those who have no interest in how complicated the animation is. On the other hand, in Cars the big wow scene was at the waterfall. I remember when watching that movie for the first time how impressed I was with the animation, but I also thought that the scene would bore kids, and maybe even a few adults as it was more about the animation than the storytelling. This never happened while I was watching Ratatouille, in fact, by the time I was halfway into the movie, I had stopped paying attention to the animation and was completely focused on the story.

I do have a minor complaint about the character design for Peter Sohn, who provided the voice for Remy's brother, Emile. That voice just doesn't work for that character, and by character I mean Peter Sohn. After watching this movie and seeing him in interviews, I think that voice fits better with the slightly overweight rat more than it does with the real person providing it. This is a sign of perfect casting, but it might cause some neurosis with the actor.

Moving onto the extras, this was the only part of the DVD that I wasn't happy with. The total extras for this DVD are one interview, two shorts, and three deleted scenes. That's it. On the other hand, the quality of the extras was high. The interview, Fine Food and Film talks to the director, Brad Bird, and the chef, Thomas Keller, who served as a consultant of sorts on the movie. They talk about the drive it takes to become one of the best in their field and how they were mentored, and mentor others, etc. The two shorts are Lifted, about an Alien student driver trying to pass his Alien Abduction test, (which can be found on the Pixar Shorts - Volume 1 - DVD or Blu-Ray), and Your Friend the Rat, which has Remy and Emile talking about the negative image rats have. (I agree with the short that rats didn't spread the Plague. They didn't even spread the fleas that spread the plague. They can't; they have tiny little legs. They only travel as far as humans take them and if we weren't so filthy, they wouldn't follow us.) Finally three deleted scenes are presented in animatic form with intros detailing why they were cut. They were smart cuts, but make interesting extras.

(There are also some Easter Eggs, but I'll let the readers find them, as that's half the fun of having them.)

Overall, Ratatouille is arguable the best movie I've watched this year, and I watch a lot of movies. On the other hand, the extras are only average. I was expecting an audio commentary track and the featurettes that were on the official site. Had those been included, this would have been the DVD Pick of the Week. As it is, I still heartily recommend adding this movie to your collection.

Run Granny Run - Buy from Amazon
A poltical documentary about a 94-year old grandmother running for the U.S. Senate. A different kind of poltical documentary, one that gives you hope and doesn't make you want to hide under your desk in fetal position like most do. Worth checking out.

Sesame Street - Volume 2 - Old School - 1974 to 1979 - Buy from Amazon
Another TV on DVD release that isn't a full season set, but another release that is still worth picking up since this is not the kind of show that's suited for full-season releases. This is especially worth picking up if you grew up on Sesame Street and now have kids of your own that are the right age.

Sicko - Buy from Amazon
Michael Moore is the master of the advocacy documentary. Make no doubt about it, Michael Moore is not interested in giving equal time to opposing views, but this documentary is devastatingly effective, so much so that it is hard to image there being an argument that could withstand it.

Before I get further into the movie, I should point out that I am Canadian, which I have mentioned on numerous occasions. However, it is relevant here because Canada went through the same debate over socialized health care more than 40 years ago, and all of the scare tactics you here today were used then. And they were all proven wrong. In fact, as Michael Moore shows, they are more appropriate to the current American system. I've never been told what doctor to see, but as the film points out, some insurance companies force you to go to in house hospitals, even when it is an emergency and lives are at stake. I've never been told by a bureaucrat that I couldn't get the treatment prescribed by my doctor. We see that happened in Sicko a number of times.

I do have some complaints, for instance, I thought the use of the 9/11 rescue workers was a little heavy-handed. For me, the movie would have been more effective if it relied less on emotional arguments and more on the numbers. On the other hand, this might not be true for most people. Also, I think the Canadian debate should have been emphasized more in the film, as it is a clear parallel to the debate. Additionally, Michael Moore repeatedly refers to heath care in Canada, the U.K., and France as free, but it is not, it is paid through taxes. However, unlike the myths spread by opponents, these countries are not swimming in taxes. In Canada the average person making $40,000 a year pays 25% in taxes while in France it's 28%, in the United States is was 24%, same as the U.K. If you make $150,000 in Canada you pay 37% compared to 36% in France, while in both the U.K. and U.S.A. it is and 34%. Taxes are higher in Canada, but not a lot higher, and more importantly, the tax burden plus out of pocket health expenses is actually lower in Canada than in the States. If this point were made, that socialized health care will save money, it would kill half the arguments against it. Finally, the death rates for diseases should have been brought up, which would have killed the other half of the arguments. For instance, using a topical example, in the U.K. 27 out of every 100,000 men die of prostate cancer, while in the U.S.A. it's 26 out of every 100,000, which is merely statistical noise.

Moving onto the extras, this DVD shines with more than 80 minutes of bonus material, although no audio commentary track. There are additional / extended interviews with many people like British politician, Tony Benn, or a Cuban Nun who talks about religion in a country that most think has none. There are also stories on individuals who are trying to get health care without insurance that are also very effective. Not all the extras work, like What If You Work for G.E. in France which makes its point very fast but lasts way too long after that. Also, the music video didn't interest me.

Overall, Sicko is a very effective documentary on the state of the healthcare crisis in the United States. Michael Moore makes his points well and even adds more cinematic flare than most documentaries have. It is not a perfect film, but it is certainly worth checking out. Add in extras that are impressive in quantity and quality, and this DVD is easily worth adding to your collection.

Seinfeld - Season 9 - Buy from Amazon
With Jerry Seinfeld's first movie coming out over the weekend, it makes sense to release the last season of his Seinfeld TV series. This show maintained its impressive quality level right up to the end... well, expect for the series finale. I don't know what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting that. Like the previous releases for this show, this 4-disc set is overflowing with extras and is a clear contender for DVD Pick of the Week. Also coming out this week is the Seinfeld - Complete Series Box Set, which is a substantial savings over the individual seasons. However, it doesn't contain the cool extras from the overpriced gift sets that came out, so if you bought those you are not being screwed over by the studio, at least not as much. Regardless of which you are looking to buy, they are both worth the money and clear contenders for DVD Pick of the Week.

Stevie Ray Vaughan - Pride and Joy - Buy from Amazon
A collection of Stevie Ray Vaughan's music video that would go great with the 2-disc CD release from a few years ago.

Talk to the Hand - Live in Michigan - Buy from Amazon
The first live DVD for the Canadian band, The Barenaked Ladies. The band clearly have a fun time performing while their music tends to be on the humorous side more often than not. This aspect of the music tends to overshadow the more serious songs and have created just as many vocal opponents as they have supporters. For those in the latter category, this DVD should be a treat with 15 of their songs as well as an interview with the band. Worth picking up.

There's Something About Ashley - The Story So Far - Buy from Amazon
Ashley Tisdale of High School Musical fame recently released her debut CD, which is sure to be a hit with her fans. This DVD tells the story of the making of that DVD and includes several music videos. If you have a 'tween that's been collecting everything involved with High School Musical, this will also end up in their collection. Others can safely skip it.

Thou Shalt Laugh 2 - The Deuce - Buy from Amazon
Five Christian comedians performed for family audiences on this DVD. The comedy here is sadly just average and I'm not sure that even the target audience will find enough replay value here to warrant more than a rental.

Wildfire - Season - Buy from Amazon
There was quite a gap between Season 1 and this season. So much so that fans of the ABC Family series were starting to suspect it wasn't going to get another DVD release. In fact, if you want a third season to come out, better buy the DVD, and fast, to convince the studio there's a market.

Wings - The Fifth Season - Buy from Amazon
I think the best word to describe this show is, "Sitcom." And yes, I consider than an insult. There's not particularly bad about the show, but nothing that truly sets it apart either. Generic and forgettable. This words when you are flipping through the channels for low expectation entertainment, but it doesn't really sell DVDs. Add in zero extras and this 4-disc set isn't really worth renting.

Wonder Woman - The Complete Collection - Buy from Amazon
Yet another full series set, this one is novel because it is not that much cheaper than the individual seasons.

The X-Files - The Ultimate Collection - Buy from Amazon
The X-Files was one of the first shows to be released on DVD coming out for the first time in 2000. The first season set cost $150.00 compared to $231.00 for the full season, including Amazon's discount. Wow. That's a major difference. (However, it is important to note that back in 2000, $150 for a full season releases wasn't considered unreasonable.) For those who always wanted the series on DVD but were scared away by the price, (even the reduced price DVDs that were released last year), now is the perfect time to pick it up. For those who bought them at the original price, now is the perfect time to drop an F-bomb. (Also of note, this 61-disc set includes all the full season sets, the movie, and the extras that were originally only available in the Mythology releases so there is no reason to have any other release.)


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Filed under: Video Releases, Cars, Ratatouille, Sicko