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DVD Releases for December 5, 2006

December 5th, 2006

The first week of the month is often the busiest, and that's the case here. However, while there are a lot of big releases, there's not much in the way of quality to be found. The best of the recent releases is Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest, but that was weak compared to the original (although a fun ride nonetheless). In order to find the DVD Pick of the week one must travel deeper... into the list of box sets (The Premiere Frank Capra Collection - Buy from Amazon), special editions (Black Christmas - Special Edition - Buy from Amazon), and TV on DVD (Dungeons & Dragons - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon). Of those three, I'm giving the honor to The Premiere Frank Capra Collection - Buy from Amazon, but all three could end up in my DVD collection before long.

1900 - Special Edition - Buy from Amazon
This is the five-hour plus edition that was shown in most of Europe and is an hour longer than the American cut. However, it is still a bit of a mess. That's not to say there's nothing here to enjoy; the film looks beautiful, but that's not enough.

20 Centimeters - Buy from Amazon
A musical about a man looking to get rid of the one thing preventing him from being a woman. There's a lot of style here and the song numbers are great, but the movie as a whole just doesn't work.

24 - Season Five - Buy from Amazon
What could have been a cheap gimmick (one day played out over real time throughout the series), turned into a great show with a dedicated fanbase. The series was showing signs of fatigue after the previous two seasons disappointed. However, this season the show stormed back and is arguably the best so far. As with the previous releases, extras are excellent with audio commentary tracks on 12 of the 24 episodes, deleted and extended scenes, as well as featurettes on the 100th episode, the music and more. Easily worth picking up and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Animaniacs - Volume 2 - Buy from Amazon
Warner Bros. is one of the few studios out there that realizes that cartoons are for adults. They are at their best when they touch on pop culture that kids just won't get. (How many kids do you know who will understand Goodfeathers is a parody of Goodfellas?) When it comes to the DVD releases, they aim them at adult collectors, which is why the Looney Tunes - Golden Collections are such amazing sets. Tomorrow's DVD release for Animaniacs, and Pinky and the Brain, also appeal more to adults than to little kids but the extras are much, much lighter. Sure, the 30-minute featurette on the writing of the show is great, but it will leave you wanting more.

The Architect - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-Ray, or HD-DVD
Releases in theaters on Friday and coming out on DVD on Tuesday. Like other films that used the same release strategy, this one failed. But it is impossible to tell if they release was the problem, or if the quality of the movie itself was the biggest obstacle to success. As for the DVD, it's about average for a limited release with an audio commentary and some deleted scenes, but that's not nearly enough to make up for the quality of the movie.

Attack Force - Buy from Amazon
Yet another direct-to-DVD release from Steven Seagal. How's this guy still making movies? At this point I probably have a bigger box office draw he does.

Beerfest - Buy from Amazon: R-Rated or Unrated
There are good movies that have bad trailers, and bad movies that have great ones. This was a bad movie with one of the worst trailers I've ever seen. While the movie wasn't as terrible as the trailer made it look, it was still quite bad and it failed to make much noise at the box office. The DVD should perform much, much better than the theatrical release did, not because it is all that great, it isn't, but at least you can get drunk in the privacy of your own home while watching. And for most people, that's the only way they will be able to get through the film. Personally, I think any movie that needs chemical enhancement is one that should be skipped.

Black Christmas - Special Edition - Buy from Amazon
What's the most important step in releasing a remake? You know the rest. One of the earliest Teenage Slasher flicks made, a remake of this 1974 film is about to be released it what will undoubtedly be a inferior product. Black Christmas is a forgotten, under-rated film that was high on tension and scares and knew how to work the genre years before anyone knew who Michael, Jason, or Freddy were. The DVD is better than expected, given the age of the film and its relatively unknown stature, with some interviews, deleted scenes, making of featurette, and more. Overall an excellent selection of extras, even if there's no audio commentary track to be found. Fans of the genre will likely want to check out an early example of such films and the package is worth picking up.

Blu-Ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Flight of the Phoenix, From Hell, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and Rising Sun
Just a quick note that Flight of the Phoenix is the remake and not the original.

Charlie Chan Collection - Volume 2 - Buy from Amazon
It doesn't happen often, but the movies in Volume 2 are better than the movies in Volume 1. But this series continued to get stronger as it went on. As for extras, the 4-disc set contains a featurette for each movie as well as restoration comparisons and is worth picking up for fans of the franchise.

The Conformist - Extended Edition - Buy from Amazon
This is the second film from Bernardo Bertolucci to be released on an Extended Edition DVD tomorrow, and this one is far, far superior. However, like 1900, the DVD is not all it could be. There are three featurettes, but I was hoping for an audio commentary track, if not by the director, then by a film historian.

The Dukes of Hazzard - The Complete Seventh Season - Buy from Amazon
Even fans of the show will admit it has run its course by the seventh season. However, those fans will also want to pick up the final season, even if it is just for completeness. To be fair, there are some good episodes here, but the production value took a hit as the ratings were dropping and the studio cut the budget. And while the extras are on the light side, they add enough to the value that fans will be happy.

Dungeons & Dragons - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
This is one of those shows that I loved as a kid but hasn't aged well. Some would argue that the 1980s were a low point for cartoons, especially Saturday morning cartoons. That is not to say the writing or the acting were bad, they were great for the time, it's just that the animation is weak compared to what is seen today. This 5-disc set is much better than expected in terms of extras - after all, the show only lasted 27 episodes. There are audio commentary tracks on 2 episodes, a 30-minute making of featurette, short live-action film, choose your own adventure game, and much, much more. Despite the weak animation, the series is still fun to watch and the DVD is easily worth picking up and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton Film Collection - Buy from Amazon
Four films featuring the pair including a new, 2-disc special edition of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? That film is clearly the best of the bunch while The Sandpiper is the weakest. However, all are worth checking out. Extras vary with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? containing two audio commentary tracks, interviews, making of featurette, and look at the reaction to the film ("Too Shocking for Its Time"), and much more. The other three have just two vintage featurettes combined. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is also available separately, and it might be the better deal. The box set is cheaper on a per-disc basic, but for many people Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? will be the only film in the set they watch more than once.

Garfield - Behind the Scenes - Buy from Amazon: With Toy or Without
15 more episodes featuring Garfield and U.S. Acres, both created by Jim Davis. Unfortunately, the only extra is the toy, which costs about $4 more.

HD-DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: A Christmas Story and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Only the two releases, both of which are also coming out on Blu-Ray. While I love A Christmas Story, it really doesn't need HD-DVD to be enjoyed; this is a long time problem for the format and will need to change before it begins to eat away at DVD's dominance.

High School Musical - Two-Disc Remix Edition - Buy from Amazon
This musical became a cultural phenomenon among its target audience, setting a record when it first appeared on The Disney Channel and selling countless copies of the DVD. Now it is getting a 2-disc special edition just in time for Christmas and should sell a bundle more. The extras on the disc are clearly better than the original releases with interviews, behind-the-scenes featurette, a look at the premiere, and more. Is it worth the upgrade? That depends on how big of a fan you are, but for many the answer is yes.

Holiday - Buy from Amazon
One of several films that Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn did together and while The Philadelphia Story and Bringing Up Baby are arguably better, this is still a fantastic movie. On the other hand, the DVD is a little weak with just a featurette and some photographs, but to be fair, the film is nearly 70 years old so that's not unexpected.

How to Eat Fried Worms - New Line Platinum Series - Buy from Amazon
This adaptation of the popular book failed miserably at the box office even though its reviews were better than average. The DVD is also better than average with an audio commentary track, making of featurette, deleted scenes, outtakes and more. Worth checking out, but for most a rental will do.

Idlewild - Buy from Amazon
Great music plus sub-par writing meant this film could only earn mixed reviews while it struggled to find an audience at the box office. Unfortunately, the DVD is well below average and won't help this movie find the audience it deserves.

Look Both Ways - Buy from Amazon
This film opened in limited release during a very busy week and unfortunately fell through the cracks. It certainly deserved to find a wider audience, but with just a couple of interviews and some photos on the DVD, it is unlikely to find it there.

Mad Cowgirl - Buy from Amazon
For fans of truly bizarre cinema. The first time you watch this film it will make you say, "What was that?" The second time you'll say, "No seriously, what the hell was that?" Subsequent viewing won't clear the matter up.

Miami Vice - Buy from Amazon: R-rated Edition, Unrated Director's Cut, or HD-DVD / DVD Combo
When this movie was first announced it was greeted with an overwhelming wave of ambivalence. Many people were diehard fans of the original TV series, remembering it for its groundbreaking depiction of drugs and violence in the Miami drug trade. However, most people remembered it as quintessential 80s kitsch that was concerned more with the clothes and music that with drama. This latter opinion was so prevalent that there were some that thought the film should be made as a buddy cop comedy instead. It's not positive whether that would have resulted in a bigger box office or a better critical reception, but it certainly would have cost a lot less, possibly a third of its $135 million production budget. As for the DVD, it too disappoints with just two featurettes. The phrase, "Upcoming special edition" springs instantly to mind when I see that and I can't recommend this DVD for anything more than a rental.

Mission Impossible - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
I, like most fans, preferred the TV series to the movies. In fact, the best thing about the final film in the franchise was the announcement that the series would finally come out on DVD. However, the 7-disc set fills me with ambivalence. On the one hand, the show has never looked better. On the other hand, there's nothing but the show. No extras. None. Audio commentary tracks, interviews, retrospectives, maybe some vintage promotional materials. There's so much they could have included that the total lack of extras is just so disappointing. That said, it is still worth picking up. But a decent amount of extras would have made it a DVD Pick of the Week contender.

My First Wedding - Buy from Amazon
I admit it, I'm a sucker for romantic comedies. I know 90% of them follow the same formula, but they usually get by on the charm of their stars. However, while Rachael Leigh Cook is good in this movie, almost nothing else is. Add in a very slim DVD presentation, and you have a renter, at the very most.

NFL - Buy from Amazon: Greatest Super Bowl Moments, Hall of Fame, Pittsburgh Steelers Giftset
When it comes to football, for me it's CFL or nothing.

The Oh in Ohio - Buy from Amazon
When this movie was nearing its release date, there was talk it would be this year's indie breakout hit. Then the reviews started coming out and that talk ended really quick. There are some good performance and some great scenes, but overall the film has a sitcom feel to it. Add in rather weak extras, even for a limited release, and you have a DVD that can't rate about a rental.

Pinky and the Brain - Volume 2 - Buy from Amazon
A companion release with Animaniacs - Volume 2, and pretty much everything that can be said about that show applies to this one as well. It is certainly aimed at adults who grew up watching cartoons and like to relive their childhood through the medium of animation. As for the quality of the episodes, they are arguably better than the first volume and include several classic episodes while the extras remain light with just one 30-minute featurette, but it is a well-done extras and worth watching. Overall, fans will certainly want to pick up this 4-disc set, but a little more could have made it a contender for DVD pick of the week.

Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest - Single Disc Edition or 2-Disc Special Edition
The biggest hit of the year and only the third film to top $1 billion worldwide. On the other hand, the reviews were a lot weaker than the original's were missing the overall positive level. As for the DVD, the 2-disc set is packed with an audio commentary track, making of featurettes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, outtakes and more. On the other hand, there is a practically 100% likelihood that there will be a super-special edition coming out before At World's End hits theaters and possibly a meg-super-special edition as part of the trilogy box set. So the real question isn't whether you want to add this movie to your DVD collection, you do, it's whether you want to buy it two or three times.

The Premiere Frank Capra Collection - Buy from Amazon
Frank Capra is arguably one of the greatest directors ever, having won Best Director Oscar three times (and another for Best Picture for You Can't Take It With You). The films in this box set are Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, It Happened One Night, You Can't Take It With You, Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, and American Madness. On a side note, American Madness is an excellent film but in this set it feels like filler as it is the only one not to win an Oscar. The final film is Frank Capra's American Dream, a documentary narrated by Ron Howard and in addition each movie also has an audio commentary track and a featurette. Overall the box set is easily worth picking up and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Pulse - Buy from Amazon: PG-13 or Unrated
I wanted to like this movie, I really did. And not just cause it starred Kristen Bell, altough that had a lot to do with it. But in the end, I simply was not engrossed by the movie. The original was able to create a sense of dread in the viewer by combining moody settings and creepy visuals with a sense of confusion. You didn't quite know what was happening, and you certainly didn't know why. However, when it was remade for a North American audience the executives thought that the average moviegoer wouldn't understand what was going on and so they decided to add in several scenes of exposition to clear things up for viewers. Here's the problem: the exposition doesn't really explain anything while interfering with the mood. I did like some of the visuals, and there were some good performances, including Kristen Bell, but overall I was disappointed.

Turning to the DVD, there are a number of extras on the disc, including two audio commentary tracks, a couple of behind the scenes featurettes, deleted / alternative scenes, and a featurette of 'real' paranormal phenomenon. The quality of most of these featurettes were okay, but I had a major issue with Pulse and the Paranormal, which tried to claim some of this crap was real. It's all Pareidol, which is a well understood phenomenon and has nothing to do with the supernatural. One last note, the alternate ending didn't work for me. Not that I was upset that they... Begin Spoiler... killed off Dexter, I just didn't buy Mattie's reaction. This is strange since I've liked Kristen Bell's acting in practically everything I've seen her in, but here I just didn't buy the emotion. Spoiler Ends.

Final Verdict: Fans of the genre will probably want to check out the movie, but even with more extras than most movies, it is still just worth a rental.

Rocky Anthology - Buy from Amazon
This reminds me a lot of last week's Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition. There's a lot of movie here for a low price, but outside one or two, they are not worth repeat viewing. The best of them by a wide, wide margin is the original Rocky, which is also available separately as a Special Edition. That edition has three audio commentary tracks, making of documentary, several behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, and of course, a sneak peek at Rocky Balboa. If you have the previous box set, Rocky Special Edition is the only movie that is worth the upgrade. And if you don't have the previous box set, then chances are Rocky is the only movie you'll want to watch more than once. One last note, the original is also coming out tomorrow on Blu-Ray.

Roseanne - The Complete Sixth Season - Buy from Amazon
This award-winning show lasted nine years, but this was the first with Sarah Chalke as Becky. I always thought Sarah Chalke made the better Becky, and not just because she's Canadian. Season 6 is also widely considered the best season during the show's run and even the total lack of special features will not stop fans from picking it up.

Saturday Night Live - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
Now this is a release I never thought I'd see. This is a show that has lasted so long as has so many Best Of... releases that putting out full season sets seemed highly unlikely. The first seasons, which was called NBC's Saturday Night, was not the best as it took the show a while to find its legs, but there are still some amazing bits here (the word association test with Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase is hilarious and still ranks as one of the best during the show's entire run). Despite the series being hit and miss early on, and more miss to be frank, it is still worth checking out and even with little in the way of extras, it is still worth buying.

Survivor Vanuatu - The Complete Season - Buy from Amazon
Has this show been canceled yet?

TCM Archives - Forbidden Hollywood Collection - Volume 1 - Buy from Amazon
Three films from early Hollywood before the production code. These films caused an uproar when they were first released, but seem tame by today's standard. The films include Waterloo Bridge, Red-Headed Woman, and two versions of Baby Face, including the pre-censored version that was thought lost for 70 years. Since these movies are more than 70 years old, it is forgivable that they are so light in extras, but a little more historical context would have been nice.

Tracks - Buy from Amazon
Dennis Hopper stars as a Vietnam vet returning home with the body of his best friend so he can be buried in his home town. The film has a lot of fans, but an equal number of detractors. It is either a brilliant metaphor for the war, or a confused and incoherent trip. Fans of Dennis Hopper will want to check it out, but go with a rental first.

Unknown - Buy from Amazon
This film came out just last month but never found an audience. The main problem with the film is it felt like a rehash of several other films like Cube, Saw, etc. It could have been a reasonably good had it been released a few years ago, but the premise seems tired and overused now and the film isn't strong enough to overcome these weaknesses. It is worth checking out for fans of the other movies, but even then it is only worth a rental.


Filed under: Video Releases, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Miami Vice, Flight of the Phoenix, Pulse, Beerfest, How to Eat Fried Worms, Idlewild, The Oh in Ohio, Look Both Ways, Unknown, My First Wedding, Mad Cowgirl, The Architect, 20 centiímetros