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DVD Releases for December 11, 2007

December 11th, 2007

There's a deceptively weak selection of releases this week. Sure, we have DVDs from Harry Potter, Lost, High School Musical, and The Bourne Identity. However, outside of those four franchises, there are no releases in the top ten at Amazon. In fact, you have to get to 17th place on Amazon's charts to find a new release that isn't related to the big four. That said, all four are worth picking up, for different audiences, and three of the four are contenders for DVD Pick of the Week. It took a bit to narrow it down to one selection, but that is Harry Potter Years 1-5 Limited Edition Gift Set - Blu-Ray. Not only is this release worth getting in High Definition, it is worth upgrading to Blu-Ray for. (Although I still suggest waiting a little while longer for the first 2.0 Players to come out.) Also, I got to give out the rare DVD Puck of the Week to The Rocket - Buy from Amazon.

Arctic Tale - Buy from Amazon: HD-DVD
Just a very quick update from last week's DVD review focusing on the improved audio and video as well as the extras.

Some of the footage it this movie looks amazing, but not all of it was shot in HD, so there's not as much difference between the HD-DVD version and the standard DVD. Those who are expecting the same level of sound and visuals as they got in Planet Earth will be disappointed in this HD-DVD. Add in zero additional extras and it's really hard to say the HD-DVD version is worth the extra cost. On the other hand, the cost difference at Amazon is just $2, there's little reason not to, either.

Beverly Hills 90210 - The Third Season - Buy from Amazon
I'm trying to figure out if this is the season that the first of the high school kids turned 30 in real life.

Beverly Hills 90210 was the first of a new wave of nighttime soaps aimed at teenagers. At the time, many people thought it was groundbreaking and fresh. I thought it was typical of any other soap opera and a highly unrealistic look at high school life. Looking back all these years, my opinion hasn't changed. They do tackle some serious topics this season, but in a way that just feels disingenuous to me. You can't focus on the superficial so much and try and change gears like that.

Moving onto the extras, there are three fearuttes, 7 Minutes in Heaven, The World According to Nat, and Everything You Need to Know About Beverly Hills 90210 Season 3. 7 Minutes in Heaven is seven minutes of clips from season 3, which seems pointless. The World According to Nat is an interview with Joe E. Tata, who played Nat, the owner of the diner. Everything You Need to Know About Beverly Hills 90210 Season 3 has two guys mocking the show for 17 minutes, which was the only 17 minutes that I enjoyed on the whole DVD. And even it got a little tiring at the end. Finally, there are subtitles, proper chapter placement, but no play all button.

I never enjoyed this show when it first aired, and seven years after it ended, I still feel the same way. I care very little for most of these characters, and the storylines seem shallow, repetitive and inconsequential. Add in an 8-disc set with little in the way of extras, and surprisingly bad video quality, and I can't recommend buying. Even renting might be too much for most people and catching it on syndication might be the best choice.

Big Love - The Complete Second Season - Buy from Amazon
The second season of the HBO series about polygamy. The season is only 12 episodes long, but the price is above average for a full 23-episode show release, while the extras are way below average for a first run release. You do get three short bonus back stories that take place before season one, but the total running time is less than 12 minutes. HBO really needs to offer more extras to go along with its premium price.

Blu-Ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix, Harry Potter Gift Set, High School Musical 2, Masters of Horror - Season 1 Volume 4, The Legend of Zorro, Lost - Season 3, and Rent
A very nice selection of Blu-Ray releases, including the Harry Potter Gift Set and Lost - Season 3, both of which were contenders for DVD Pick of the Week.

The Boston Red Sox 2007 World Series Collector's Edition - Buy from Amazon
Buy this for a Yankees fan. Go ahead, it'll be fun.

The Bourne Ultimatum - Buy from Amazon: DVD or HD-DVD/DVD Combo
In the year of the trilogy, this is one of the few third installments that lived up to its predecessors both at the box office and with critics. However, while the DVD release should be a slam-dunk for DVD Pick of the Week, there's a couple of problems. The movie is coming out on HD-DVD as well, which is an important consideration. At first glance, the HD-DVD release seems to be the far superior release with two additional extras (Picture-in-Picture video commentary and Spy Training interactive feature). However, it is an HD-DVD/DVD Combo disc. This means not only is it more expensive (60% more than the DVD after taking into account Amazon's discount) but there is a higher likelihood of problems arising on some players. If you don't have an HD-DVD player, pick up the DVD version. If you do have HD-DVD, I'd give it a rental first and wait for a better release.

The Jason Bourne Collection - Buy from Amazon
All three movies from the Bourne franchise in one box set including a snazzy safety deposit box case and passport from Bourne. Would be a great purchase for anyone who loved the movies but didn't bother to buy them when they first came out. Otherwise you are paying $35, including Amazon's discount, for one movie and two physical extras. There's also a HD-DVD set being released this week, but it is just the three HD-DVD releases being sold under one price and not a real box set. Quite frankly, I was expecting more.

Bugs! A Rainforest Adventure - Buy from Amazon
The first 3-D IMAX movie I ever saw and an excellent example of Edutainment. The film was sold as a documentary on insects, but it is just an excuse to show really cool close-ups of insect life. Looks good on DVD, but looked better in 3-D.

Celine Dion - Live In Las Vegas - A New Day.. - Buy from Amazon
As a Canadian I feel the need to apologize for Celine Dion. I'm sorry. ... Moving on.

Dave Attell - Captain Miserable - Buy from Amazon
Dave Attell's latest stand up act, and arguably his best. Dave Attell's style of stand up is one that I like a lot, certainly more than many that I've seen, while adult subjects he mentions usually come across as genuine and not forced to sound edgy and raw. Worth checking out, but I have my doubts on its replay value.

December Boys - Buy from Amazon
I think it is safe to say that this limited release starring Daniel Radcliffe is coming out this week to take advantage of the publicity generated by Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It will need the help. It is not a terrible film, but there is simply not enough here to draw in viewers as it should. Add in light extras (just some deleted scenes) and it is hard to recommend anything more than a rental.

Dirt - Buy from Amazon
Courteney Cox stars as Lucy Spiller, an editor of a tabloid newspaper in this show that exposes the dark underbelly of celebrity obsession.

The problem with exposing the dark underbelly of anything is you have to look at the dark underbelly. This is the part of the business I hate the most. For a series to survive, you need at least one character has to be sympathetic, but here I couldn't help but root for failure. When one of the main characters comes under threat of physical violence, or even death, I shouldn't hope they get killed.

(Speaking of which, I keep thinking that something like this is bound to happen sooner than later in real life. In Los Angeles, any star famous enough to appear on the cover of a tabloid could murder the cast of the Today Show live on TV and still confuse at least one juror enough to get a mis-trial. I'm not advocating this, but Los Angeles is a dangerous town to mess with celebrities.)

But a complete lack of sympathetic characters is not the only problem. There's an issue of style, or more accurately, an issue of mixed styles. One of the lead characters, Don, is a functioning schizophrenic and he slips into a fantasy world a lot and this became distracting to me. If the show was just about him, and he had a different job, it would be a lot more intriguing than it is. However, it doesn't seem to fit as well with the main aspects of the show. There were also changes in tone from Courteney Cox as a tough business woman, which worked for me, to the personal lives of the cast, which just didn't work for me. Lastly, I also thought the show tries too hard to be edgy, but there are too many limits on what the show can get away with, even on cable. If you can't go all the way, don't try, it just looks bad.

Extras on the 4-disc set are not even average, starting with a trio of featurettes (on the show, on the character Don Konkey, on the celebrity obsession) with a total running time of just 18 minutes. Up next are nearly a dozen deleted scenes with intros on why they were cut. Finally, there are 90 seconds of outtakes, but they don't stand out. The extras are in non-anamorphic widescreen, but the DVD does have the big three.

This is a hard show to like just based on the premise. And while there are a few bits and pieces I liked, there was not enough to recommend the show overall. Add in extras that are below average, and I can't recommend the DVD past the rental level. Perhaps others will like the show more than I did.

Flight 29 Down - Buy from Amazon
All three volumes of the 'tween version of Lost. This is a surprisingly good show, especially compared to most shows aimed at the same audience. However, I have not been happy with the DVD releases so far. The show was released in three volumes, including the last one which is also being released this week. I would be a lot happier recommending this show if they hadn't broken the season into three volumes.

Frasier - The Tenth Season - Buy from Amazon
The tenth and final season to be released on DVD. I know what you are thinking, "Weren't there 11 seasons?" Yes, but season eleven was released on DVD years ago to take advantage of the publicity of the final season airing on TV.

Sadly, this is one of the weaker seasons for the show. It's clear that it is running out of steam and several long-running story lines no longer have the appeal they once had. It is still very well written and extremely well acted, but it stopped having the same zip to it, the same freshness. Even so, I enjoyed most of the episodes, especially the guest shot by Bebe Neuwirth, but I'm not sure the replay value was high enough for me to recommend buying over renting.

As for the extras, sadly this 4-disc set has none, and no subtitles. Does have a play all button while there's no opening credits so proper chapter placement is not an issue.

If you own the previous releases from this series, there is no reason to stop now. However, if you haven't started, perhaps waiting next year for the very likely full series Megaset is the wise course of action.

Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. - The Third Season - Buy from Amazon
Is it fair to call a show that's more than 40 years old dated? Is it even necessary?

The spin-off to The Andy Griffith Show sees Gomer Pyle leave Mayberry to become a Marine. Jim Nabors' naivety and gentle good-natured charm set in the contrasting toughness of the Marines is a great springboard for comedic situations, but these situations tend to get a little repetitive over a full season.

Sadly, there are no extras on this 5-disc set as well as no subtitles. In addition, there have been songs cut from the show, which is significant as Jim Nabors' singing was an important part of many episodes.

Jim Nabors was great on The Andy Griffith Show as part of an ensemble cast. Here the show is all about him, and I don't think the character can carry a full show. For those who grew up on the show, it offers a nice blast of nostalgia, but I can't be more enthusiastic than that.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc Edition, 2-Disc Special Edition, Blu-Ray, or HD-DVD/DVD Combo
There was a record-breaking number of $300 million movies this year. Of those that missed the mark, this film is the one that came the closest to joining them. However, it also earned better reviews than each of the $300 million films and with serious fanboy support, it could outsell those four films as well. And this is certainly a movie worth owning. The only question is what version to get? We can eliminate the Single-Disc Edition, while the 2-Disc Special Edition is only worth considering if you don't have a high definition player, which is roughly all but 3 million people in North America. However, those with one of the competing next generation formats will want to pick up either the Blu-Ray or the HD-DVD/DVD Combo. While those of us with both have an interesting dilemma on our hands. The HD-DVD/DVD Combo has a couple of extra features including Picture-in-Picture, which I like, and community viewing, which I don't like. I don't get the appeal of letting someone be able to control your HD-DVD player, nor do I get the appeal of being able to listen to people talk during the movie. I don't like it when people talk during the movie now, which is one of the reasons I don't like going to theaters, and at home I can at least throw popcorn at them to make them shut up. (Not to mention the fact that it is a HD-DVD/DVD Combo disc.) As for the Blu-Ray, it has the features you can see in Picture-in-Picture, you just have to watch them separately. Also, it has an additional featurette and, and this is the big selling point, all of the extras are in high definition. For me, this was enough to choose the Blu-Ray version. Picture-in-Picture is nice, and I will be upgrading when the first 2.0 Blu-Ray players come out, but the high definition features are worth more. So if you only have a DVD player, grab 2-Disc Special Edition. If you have either next generation player, or both, I would say, "Skip it." This may seem strange after reading the full review, but the next release explains it all.

Harry Potter Years 1-5 Limited Edition Gift Set - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-Ray, or HD-DVD
First things first, there is no point getting an incomplete franchise Megaset on DVD as there will be another, complete Megaset released in just a few years. However, now is the perfect time to upgrade to High Definition. Like I mentioned for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, it is quite a decision for those of us with both formats. However, I think Blu-Ray's superior storage capacity wins out by allowing more featurettes, and enabling those featurettes to come out on High Definition. So, given the choice, Blu-Ray is the best version.

Harry Potter Releases - Buy from Amazon: Socerer's Stone - DVD, Socerer's Stone - Blu-Ray, Socerer's Stone - HD-DVD, Chamber of Secrets - DVD, Chamber of Secrets - Blu-Ray, Chamber of Secrets - HD-DVD, Prisoner of Azkaban - DVD, Prisoner of Azkaban - Blu-Ray, Prisoner of Azkaban - HD-DVD, Goblet of Fire - DVD, Goblet of Fire - Blu-Ray, Goblet of Fire - HD-DVD, and Harry Potter Interactive Game
Also coming out tomorrow is every other Harry Potter in all three formats and the Harry Potter Interactive Game for a total of 13 more releases. However, none of these should be purchased. Either just pick up the latest release, or grab the box set depending on if you are upgrading to High Definition or not.

HD-DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: Bourne Ultimatum, Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix, and Harry Potter Gift Set
Not as many HD-DVD releases as Blu-Ray releases, which is normal, but HD-DVD has the biggest exclusive release and could win the week for the first time this year. However, all three releases are HD-DVD/DVD Combo discs, which I just don't like. They cost more to make, thus more to buy, and tend to have more problems.

High School Musical 2 - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
The record-breaking sequel to the record-breaking original hits the home market on both DVD and Blu-Ray.

Troy, Gabriella, and the rest of the Wildcats get summer jobs at the local country club, which just happens to be the summer haunt of Sharpay and her brother, Ryan. What should have been the best summer of their lives becomes complicated by Sharpay's schemes to win over Troy, and of course the country club's talent contest.

Even though I'm not in the target audience, I've reviewed the original and there's little difference in terms of quality between the two. The songs are as catchy, which is important since High School Musical 2 is a musical, as the name implies. The dance sets are bigger, the choreographing is more complicated, and it feels like a much bigger movie. Bigger isn't necessarily better and it does suffer from a lack of freshness, but fans of the first film should enjoy this one as well.

On a side note, maybe it's because I'm not in high school anymore that I sympathized with Troy more than the rest of the characters did. Getting a full scholarship to a university is a huge deal and would have to take precedent over just about everything else for most of the summer. It's called responsibilities. It's part of being an adult. ... Get off my lawn!

Now that I feel like a complete geezer, we can move onto the extras.

Things start off with 4 minutes of bloopers, which are on par with most collections of outtakes. The rest of the extras all have something to do with the music, including a handful of music videos, sing-a-long versions, karaoke versions, and rehearsals for all of the songs. That's not a whole lot, and leads me to suspect a special edition is in the works for when High School Musical 3 comes out next year.

As for the Blu-Ray version, there's nothing in the way of extras beyond what is on DVD, but it looks and sounds great, at least compared to its TV movie origins, and that's important for a musical, especially the sound.

Overall I can't be enthusiastic about this release. The movie is OK, but I'm far outside the target audience, the extras are light, and the Blu-Ray doesn't offer enough outside what you get on the DVD. That said, I'm sure there are plenty of fans of the franchise who can't wait to get this DVD this week. But for them, I would recommend the DVD and not get it on Blu-Ray until there's a special edition that takes advantage of the technology.

Interview - Buy from Amazon
The latest directing effort by Steve Buscemi, who also wrote and starred in the movie. The film earned mixed reviews and never really found an audience. Extras on the DVD are better than expected given its limited release with an audio commentary track, making of featurette, and another featurette called Triple Theo, Take One, which is about the trio of American remakes by the Dutch director, Theo van Gogh, of which this film is the first. Overall enough works to warrant a rental, but for most that will be enough.

Lost - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
Well, they've lasted longer than those poor folks on Giligan's Island did.

After an uneven second season, most fans will agree that season three was a return to form, for the most part. It is still not as good as season one, and too often we are introduced to new characters (they are marooned on an island, they shouldn't keep running into new people) and there's still a vague sense that the ultimate payoff might not be worth five years to get to. However, there isn't a nagging sense that the series will spin out of control and into self-parody, or worse yet, spin out of control and get canceled before the end is reveled.

As for the extras, they are massive both in terms of number and quality. Things start off with audio commentary tracks, four of them over the first six discs, but strangely none on the season finale. The rest of the extras are on disc seven and include featurettes on the making of the show, making of specific scenes, the making of the toys, the cast, some of the sets, the books mentioned on the show, the Others, etc. That's 17 featurettes in total with a running time of roughly 2 hours. And then there is the 6 minutes of outtakes, 9 deleted scenes running 17 minutes, Orchid Instructional Film, and three more flashbacks not seen in the show.

There are additional extras on the Blu-Ray release, which arrived a little late thus delaying the column, but at least we don't have to wait a week to review it. The show itself looks amazing since it was filmed in 1080p, meaning Blu-Ray is the only way to see the show as good as the source material and it will pop even compared to HDTV. The additional extras include looks at several locations hosted by cast members associated with that location (for example, Michael Emerson showing us around Ben's bungalow). There are also apparently more interactive features, but I can't play them cause my Samsung player needs a firmware upgrade, and has for the past month. (I swear that if I they don't release one by the end of the year, I will take it back and get a new brand.)

This is a fascinating show with a DVD release that really lives up to the quality of the material. However, I do have one concern: a full series Megaset. This is the only thing preventing me from giving this 7-disc set an enthusiastic recommendation. For anyone who is not patient enough to wait to 2 or 3 years for this Megaset, either the DVD or the Blu-Ray release is worth picking up now.

Masters of Horror - The V Word - Buy from Amazon
Too many clichés hurt this Vampire story but this episode is still worth checking out. However, despite the excellent extras, I still can't recommend purchasing this DVD as it is better to wait for the inevitable full season set. Also coming out this week is the next Blu-Ray release for the series, which is worth checking out.

The Rocket - Buy from Amazon
The story of one of the greatest hockey players in the world, Maurice "The Rocket" Richard. Richard is a legend in Canada, nearly a god in Quebec, and in the United States, he is practically unknown.

This inspirational rags to riches tale is based on real life events, but there have been complaints that, while true to life, they are many clichés in the film. And there are; but there is also a lot of drama and all fans of hockey should love the old style hockey action, although there's perhaps not enough for some.

(And you get to see Sean Avery beaten to the ice. Twice. ... Have I mentioned how much I hate the Rangers?)

As for the extras, this is a smaller film from Canada, making it a limited release and an import, so a small number of extras is to be expected. On the DVD, there is a 20-minute tribute to Maurice "The Rocket" Richard, which includes interviews with some of the cast, crew, and real-life hockey players and others associated with the man. The featurette is in French with English sub-titles. Also, there are a dozen deleted scenes with audio commentary, again in French with captions.

(On a side note, the English dubbing in the movie is significantly different from the subtitles at times. Not enough to change the meaning of the dialogue, but enough to be noticeable and a little annoying.)

As a hockey fan who is interested in the history of the sport, I found this movie to be utterly fascinating. However, I'm not sure there are enough fans in the States to take note of this film. That's a shame, because it should be seen by more. The light extras are disappointing, but to be expected, and it is still worth checking out for all hockey fans and picking up for many.

Silent Night, Deadly Night - Buy from Amazon
There have been a surprising number of teenage slasher films set during Christmas, and this is one of them. It's not the best, not the worst, and it's not very memorable.

Two-Lane Blacktop - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
This is either a movie that was ahead of its time, or one that could never be made today. Possibly both. Described as an existential road trip film that has a cult following, but isn't as well known as Easy Rider, for instance, but just as worthy of being seen. It could have languished in obscurity for a long time, but it is getting the Criterion touch this week in a 2-disc release that includes two audio commentary tracks, interviews, a making-of featurette, and more. Fans of the genre or moviemaking of that era should certainly check it out and most who do will want to add it to their DVD collections.

Undead or Alive - Buy from Amazon
This low-budget horror film stars Chris Kattan as a... come on, don't stop reading yet. It's a horror comedy western with zombies. It's not going to win many awards, but there's some cult potential here. However, start with a rental first.

United Artists Collections - Buy from Amazon: 30-Disc Gift Set or Prestige Collection
It's rare for a 30-disc box set to be the smaller of two release, but that is the case here. The Prestige Collection is 110 discs spanning about half of the studio's 90-year run starting in 1940s. It's an instant movie collection and an amazing value. But that price tag, and a few stinkers (Red Dawn?) will scare away most people.

Voltron - Volume 5 - Defender of the Universe - Black Lion - Buy from Amazon
Why didn't they release this show in five volumes? Five lions, five volumes. It just makes sense. However this is the fifth volume and we are just over half way through the show's run. Extras on the 3-disc set include a lost episode, featurette on the company, and previews for Vehicle Force Voltron, which was my favorite of the Voltron series.

Walt Disney Treasures - Buy from Amazon: The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, The Chronological Donald, Volume Three and Disneyland - Secrets, Stories & Magic
Three more limited edition releases from Walt Disney's vault.

Things start with The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, the very first Walt Disney cartoon character to have a successful run in short films. It's been 80 years since these cartoons first appeared, making this 2-disc set an absolute must-have for animation historians. On the other hand, the animation is outdated and might not appeal to today's animation fans.

Extras on the 2-disc set are aimed toward the adult collectors, and this one thanks them for that. Things start with a 14-minute featurette on the ... prisoner exchange program that helped Walt Disney's first cartoon character return home. Also on disc 1 are audio commentary tracks on three of the episodes and fragments from a lost cartoon, Sagebrush Sadie. Over on disc two, there is a feature-length documentary on Ub Iwerks, the head animator during the early years at Walt Disney and a pioneer of the business. There are also several cartoons from him, including those before Oswald and after. Anyone interested in the history of animation will want to watch and re-watch these extras. (It is also interesting to see how risqué some of the cartoons were back them. There's nothing about the medium that limits its audience to kids.)

Next up is The Chronological Donald, Volume Three. While Mickey Mouse is the most famous of Walt Disney's characters, Donald Duck is the most prolific, starring in more than 100 shorts over the years. This 2-disc set includes 30 shorts from 1947 to 1950 including three that were nominated for Oscars (two of those featuring Chip 'n' Dale) as well as 5 that are deemed inappropriate for kids. Mostly this is for racial stereotypes or bad behavior. (The first of these was for extreme violence, which reminded me of the typical Looney Tunes carton.)

Extras include introductions by Leonard Maltin, a featurette on the history of Donald Duck, a featurette on creating a maquette for Donald, and Easter Eggs from the opening of The Mickey Mouse Club. I would have liked audio commentary tracks on at least some of the shorts, particularly the Oscar nominated ones. There is also a pamphlet as well as a reproduction of the poster art for one of short films. There are also some Easter Eggs, but they are poorly done: they are the old animated opening for the Mickey Mouse Club and at the end of each Donald Duck does one of ten gags. All ten are on the DVD, but the end gag is literally the last 10 seconds of a 2-minute opening and you have to watch the whole thing to see the gag. It would have been better to show the full opening once and then have a montage of the gags instead.

Finally there is Disneyland - Secrets, Stories & Magic. This 2-disc set presents a brand new documentary on the creation of Disneyland, but that is far from the only thing on the two-disc set. People and Places: Disneyland, U.S.A., which is a promotional piece released in theaters in 1956. This 40-minute featurette can also be watched with audio commentary track with Leonard Maltin and Tony Baxter. Disc one also has a trivia game, which feels like a really big ad to me.

Disc two starts off with Operation Disneyland, a behind-the-scenes look at the live telecast of the park's opening day. There are also three seasons of The Wonderful World of Color that showed off the park and its attractions. In his introduction, Leonard Maltin says these might seem like extended ads today, and boy do they. It really shows that Disney has been a master at marketing for a long, long time. Finally, under Building Walt's Dream: Disneyland Under Construction, there are six smaller, silent films clips with audio commentary by several men, including Tony Baxter. After the introduction, there is time-lapse footage of the main sections going up.

Of the three Walt Disney Treasures releases coming out this week, The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is the best for animation historians, The Chronological Donald, Volume Three will have the most popular appeal, while Disneyland - Secrets, Stories & Magic is only for completists or hardcore fans of the theme park. I would have liked more audio commentaries on the cartoons themselves and I still think they can't live up to Looney Tunes collections, they are still worth picking up.

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Filed under: Video Releases, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Bourne Ultimatum, Interview, December Boys, Maurice Richard, High School Musical 2, Arctic Tale