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DVD Releases for December 26, 2007

December 26th, 2007

This week's a mess when it comes to DVD releases. Since Christmas lands on a Tuesday and no stores are open that day, the regular releases are coming out on Wednesday. However, several releases are hitting shelves on Sunday as a last minute Christmas gift, some of which I mentioned last week. Because of this, this is literally the weakest week I've seen in a long time, perhaps since I've been doing this job. It did give me a chance to catch up on a couple of DVDs that arrived late, and there is one DVD on this week's list worthy of a DVD Pick of the Week. The best of the bunch is Pan's Labyrinth and I would have to give the Blu-Ray the nod for DVD Pick of the Week.

American Pie Presents - Beta House - Buy from Amazon: R-Rated or Unrated
They have to stop making these. These direct-to-DVD sequels have gotten so out of hand that they are liable to make people forget why they liked the original. This movie is your typical frat house film and there are too many other, better films to waste time even renting this one.

Blu-Ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Pan's Labyrinth
Only one Blu-Ray release coming out this week. However, it is the best High Definition release and the best selling as well.

The Brothers Solomon - Buy from Amazon
One of many films that struggled this September, but it's hard to find one that failed at the box office as much as this one. And the box office wasn't the only place this film failed. There are not enough laughs to justify purchasing, or really even just renting. On the other hand, too much of the movie would have to be cut for TV. Perhaps the best bet is to tent it with a couple of other movies, just in case you given up on the movie ten minutes in and need a backup DVD.

Hatchet - Unrated Director's Cut - Buy from Amazon
There have been a string of low-budget horror film that have come out in limited release this year. None have succeeded at the box office. Hatchet did the worst. However, fans of old school teenage slashers should not be scared off by its weak box office performance.

Hatchet hearkens back to the days before horror was dominated by sadistic torture when teenage slashers instead relied on a simple hook and a lot of gory death scenes (and maybe some gratuitous nudity as well). Hatchet provides these simple elements and does a good job doing it. Granted, it doesn't add anything new to the formula, but it should please the target audience.

However, the DVD really shines when it comes to extras. Things start with an audio commentary track featuring the Adam Green Will Barratt, who keep things moving along with a strong pace giving a good mix of information and entertainment. Later in the track they are joined by the three main cast members, or at least the three main heroes, and these three add to the overall value of the track. In addition to the audio commentary track, there are five featurettes starting with 40-minute Making of Hatchet. As someone who sees more of these featurettes than I can remember, I can say that this one is better than most and provides a lot of information, including audition tapes, which is a nice touch. Meeting Victor Crowley talks about how the cast was just as scared of Kane Hodder as the characters were of Victor Crowley. A very entertaining 9 minutes. Guts & Gore deals with death scenes in the movie, which are both bloody and a couple of times rather inventive. Anatomy of a Kill! deals with the same subject, but focuses on one kill. Combined these two featurettes run 17 minutes and will probably be big hits with gorehounds. The last featurette, A Twisted Tale, talks about Adam Green meeting Dee Snider, the lead singer of Twisted Sister and it's a great story. (I'm looking forward to seeing it as a movie.) Finally, there are 3 minutes of outtakes, many of which are alternate lines.

For those who saw this movie in a theater, and there are only about 1000 who did, this DVD is a great pickup. For those who may have never heard of the movie but like teenage slashers in the same vein as Halloween, Friday the 13th, etc., then it is certainly worth checking out. Given the amount of extras on the DVD, it is worth buying over just renting.

HD-DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: Cat People, The Heartbreak Kid, Pan's Labyrinth, and Timecop
Just a warning, both Cat People and Timecop came out on the 23rd, but they made the switch late last week so I didn't mention it before.
Only one HD-DVD release worth picking up, and it is also coming out on Blu-Ray, which is the better deal. On a side note, Cat People reminds me of a Canadian TV show called Big Wolf on Campus. On of the running gags was Merton Dingle would say, 'This is just like what happened in classic 1942 movie, Cat People, and the less successful 1982 remake.' 'What happened?' "Well, some say they weren't able to recapture the magic of the original.' ' What happened in the movie, Merton?' ... I want that TV show on DVD.

The Heartbreak Kid - Buy from Amazon: DVD or HD-DVD
The re-teaming of Ben Stiller and the Farrelly Brothers for the first time since There's Something About Mary. There were high hopes for this film, both with critics and with moviegoers; however, things didn't work out as well as most people hoped. It should do better on the home market, thanks mainly to the lack of competition

Ben Stiller stars as Eddie Cantrow, a man whose love life has taken a turn for the worse when he thinks he's found the woman of his dreams. But as soon as they are married, she turns into a nightmare. To make matters worse, while on his honeymoon, he falls in love with another woman. This is a good set up for the film, but sadly it misfires at almost every turn. It starts with characters that I had a very hard time feeling any sympathy for. Eddie's troubles are all of his own making so I felt no sympathy for him. This disconnect was made worse by the illogical nature of the characters The lack of emotional connection to the character also impacted the humor in most cases. (And I don't know how Carlos Mencia got a part in this movie.) It isn't all bad as Jerry Stiller and Rob Corddry were great in the movie, but that's not enough.

As for the extras, there's the usual mix of features starting with an audio commentary track with the Farrelly Brothers, but it didn't really stand out. There are not many dry spots, but most of the time the information given is not scintillating. Up next is a 15 minute making of featurette, which is rather standard, but the 5 minute featurette on the father / son team was stronger. Two non-movie featurettes were more interesting starting with the 3-minute one on the Halloween costume contest and the second is on the egg toss contests. Both were more interesting than the movie itself. Rounding out the extras were six deleted scenes running over seven minutes and finally a 4-minute gag reel.

Sadly, there are no additional extras on the HD-DVD version, nor do any of the extras push the technology.

(There also a Easter egg. A 3-minute rendition of Peter Farrelly's best practical joke. It's funnier than anything in the movie. You can find it one the Special Features page (or the deleted scenes sub-menu on the HD-DVD), but that's all I'm going to say.)

The Heartbreak Kid has a lot of potential, but it seems to slip at every opportunity. I had great difficulty feeling any sympathy with the main character and that killed the movie for me. I have a hard time recommending even a rental and there's no reason to grab the HD-DVD over the DVD version.

How I Unleashed World War II - Volume 1 - Buy from Amazon
The first of a three part Polish trilogy about a soldier who thinks he's accidentally started World War II. One of the most popular films in Polish cinema. The movie as it was released in 1970 is almost 4 hours long, but here they are being released on DVD in three volumes with the first one coming out today, and Volume 2 will come out next month and Volume 3 in February.

Jackass 2.5 - Buy from Amazon
Dave England had it right, 2.5 is all the crap that didn't work well enough to be included in Jackass 2.

A direct-to-DVD sequel made from the bits they filmed for Jackass 2 that didn't make the cut for the movie, they weren't even good enough to be an extra on the DVD. I reviewed Jackass 2 - Unrated Edition when it first came out and I figured only about 20% of the skits were worth checking out. Here, it doesn't even reach that high and maybe hits one in ten. And since it only runs one hour, there are really only two or three bits that worked entirely, and another two or three that started out well but went on a bit too long. After watching it twice, El Matador is probably my favorite bit. It has a point, not just people hurting themselves in a practically random way, and it shows off Jason Acuña's athleticism. Other bits that worked to one degree or another were the post-Xanax King Kong bit, the Meatball slingshot (the kiss at the end was actually sweet), while Human Golf Tee, Doctor's Exam, and Cajun Obstacle Course went on too long and lost steam.

Extras on the DVD make up for its short running time somewhat starting with The Making of Jackass 2.5 runs 23 minutes and is more entertaining than the movie itself. The Making of Jackass the Game runs 21 minutes and is only intermittently entertaining but overstays its welcome. Finally Bonus Segments features bits that weren't good enough for the original theatrical release, the original DVD, the main feature here, so you know they are scrapping the bottom of the barrel.

If you liked the original DVD release, Jackass 2.5 is worth checking out. However, I would rent it first as the DVD doesn't have the same bang for your buck.

Kissology - Volume 3 - Buy from Amazon
The final concerts for one of the most famous rock groups of all time. This band really knows how to put on a show, with or without make-up.

More than ten hours are on this 5-disc set includes seven concerts starting with The Revenge Tour from 1992 filmed at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit, Michigan and ending with the final concert at the Continental Airlines Area in Earth Rutherford, New Jersey. Sound and video quality is not great, but about what I was expected considering most concerts are more than 10 years old. For that matter, Kiss was never known for being really musically talented when it came to their live performances. And I say that as a fan of the band. They were more known for putting on a show that playing their instruments.

I would have liked to see more behind the scenes / interviews with the band (the behind the scenes for MTV Unplugged was a highlight for me). And there is more than bit of repetitiveness. For instance, Rock and Roll All Nite is played six time on five discs including all but the very earliest concert, which predates the song. Granted, it is one of the all-time great rock anthems and I can't help but sing along with it every time I hear it.

Easily a must have for fans of the band, especially those who own Volume One and Volume 2. The sound and video quality isn't the best, and you do tend to hear the same songs over and over again, but it is worth picking up.

Pan's Labyrinth - Buy from Amazon: Blu-Ray or HD-DVD
The marquee release of the week, and it's not a DVD. The Blu-Ray and HD-DVD releases of this amazing, multi-Oscar winning movie including all of the features from the 2-Disc Platinum Edition and both also include Picture-in-Picture video commentary track. I know, technically 1.0 Blu-Ray players can't do true Picture-in-Picture, but thanks to their bitrate advantage and higher storage, they can brute force a realistic simulation of Picture-in-Picture. (Also, all PS3s can be upgraded to 1.1 already while the first 1.1 Blu-Ray disc will be released shortly.) Either version is worth upgrading from DVD, but if you have a choice, Blu-Ray is the better choice if for no other reason that Blu-Ray seems to be winning the Format War. Spending money on a format that could be all but dead in a month (after CES 2008) could be enough to make someone pick Blu-Ray.

Robin B. Hood - Buy from Amazon
An action comedy starring Jackie Chan and Louis Koo as two cat burglars and Michael Hui as their mentor. After all three suddenly find themselves in deep financial trouble, they take a job worth millions, a job they quickly regret.

Jackie Chan has gone back to his roots making four of his last five film in Hong Kong. And Robin-B-Hood is arguably the best. I am surprised as you are. Robin-B-Hood is a terrible name, and the cover of the DVD doesn't do the movie justice. In the movie Jackie Chan and Louis Koo are hired to... well... kidnap a baby, which would normally kill a movie because it would be impossible for the characters to redeem themselves after that. But, as you could probably guess, quickly go from being overwhelmed by the kid to becoming caring parents. Yes, there are a lot obvious jokes in the movie, but the overall pace and tone help sell them.

However, it is still a Jackie Chan film and there are some amazing martial arts fight scenes in the movie, as well as plenty non-fight stunts. Those looking for a light-hearted action film should be very happy with this film. For these stunts to stand out, there has to be a new and interesting twist, which this film has. For instance, the run-away baby stroller scene, or the diaper attack, which still makes me gag just thinking about it.

As for the extras, the 2-Disc set is stacked starting with an audio commentary track with the director, Benny Chan. The box says Bey Logan is there, but he's not. Also, Benny Chan speaks in Chinese. There are English subtitles, but this means you can't listen to the audio commentary track while reading the subtitles for the movie, which is how I like to listen to audio commentary tracks. Moving onto disc, there are five featurettes here (and the U.S. trailer), starting with Crashing the Hood: A Featurette with Star and Action Director Jackie Chan, There's not much more that needs to be said to describe this featurette. It's mostly just Jackie Chan talking for the full 40 minutes, but it does have some behind-the-scenes footage and clips from the movie. The Hand That Mocks the Cradle: A Featurette with Director Benny Chan is the same format, but with the director and 16 minutes long. Again, Baby Boomer: A Featurette with Co-Star Conroy Chan is a mix of talking head (this cast Conroy Chan), clips, and behind the scenes and runs just over 14 minutes. Playtime for Adults: On the Set of Robin B. Hood is the same mix but has more variety in the people featured including many more actors. For much of the featurette's 21-minute running time, the people are not speaking English, but there are subtitles. Robin-B-Hood: An Original Making Of deals a lot with working with the baby and includes the theme song sung by the three stars (four if you count the baby).

Robin B. Hood is not a movie that takes itself seriously, but this is to the film's advantage. A great mix of action and comedy and fans of Jackie Chan should be more than happy with the film. Add in the impressive extras including an audio commentary track and featurettes totaling close to 2 hours and the 2-Disc set is worth buying over just renting.

Secrets of Egypt's Lost Queen - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about Queen Hatshepsut, who helped usher in Egypt's golden age. But some time after her death, her legacy was systematically destroyed making her virtually unknown today, even to archeologists.

This documentary details the search for Queen Hatshepsut, which involves more computer scans than traditional digging in tombs. Unfortunately, watching people look at a computer screen is not very cinematic. There are also side runs talking about the amazing feats Queen Hatshepsut accomplished as Pharaoh, including the massive construction projects that were undertook under her rule, as well as information given on why she was removed from the history. I found these side trips more interesting. They do build the tension well and explain the science very well, and the pay-off is worth it in the end.

Sadly, there are no extras on the DVD.

Egyptologists should be thrilled with this documentary as it goes into great detail on every aspect involved in the hunt. Unfortunately, it is too long and doesn't have enough to draw in others. The lack of extras further limits the value. Worth checking out, but a rental will suffice.

Shattered - Buy from Amazon
As a sign of how weak the overall selection is, this film is being dumped direct-to-DVD and it is still placing in the top five on Amazon's sales chart for the week. It's a thriller starring Pierce Brosnan who kidnaps a child in order to destroy the perfect life for her parents. However, the film just doesn't work. The extras are better than expected given the film's release, but I can't recommend anything more than a rental, and even that might be too generous.


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Filed under: Video Releases, El Laberinto del Fauno, The Heartbreak Kid, The Brothers Solomon, Hatchet, Butterfly on a Wheel