DVD Releases for January 29, 2008
Another week without a marquee first run release. There are three movies that had wide releases in theaters on the list, which is not an abnormally low number, but not one of them is even worth renting. However, there are some limited releases, classic releases and TV-on-DVD releases that are certainly worth checking out. The best of these is The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters - Buy from Amazon - which is our DVD Pick of the Week.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force - Volume 5 - Buy from Amazon
Frylock, Master Shake, and Meatwad are back after their foray into movies. Even most fans of the movie would agree than the show works better in 15-minute installments, as the humor is too absurd to sustain itself for much longer. This season Carl seems to get the worst of it (we don't need to get into Hand Banana), but for the most part what made the show popular is still here and most fans will be happy it is coming out on 2-disc DVD tomorrow. Included on this DVD are all 10 episodes from season 5, four bonus episodes from the show, another from Space Ghost Coast to Coast, featurettes, music video, deleted scenes and a lot more. Easily worth picking up for fans, but not the kind of show you can go into blind. Make sure you've seen an episode or two on TV before you even consider renting it.
Blu-Ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Daddy Day Camp, The Damages - Season 1, Dispatch: Zimbabwe - Live at Madison Square Garden, The Invasion, King of California, and Monty Python's Life of Brian
A very weak week for Blu-Ray in terms of first run releases with two completely forgettable offerings. On the other hand, there is a TV-on-DVD release, a classic release, and a limited release that are all worth looking into.
Bordertown - Buy from Amazon
This movie was pushed back several times before being dumped direct-to-DVD. What could have been a compelling story is turned into a conspiracy theory thriller loaded with one cliché after another. Even for fans of the genre, this DVD is worth no more than a rental.
El Cid - Buy from Amazon: 2-Disc Deluxe Edition or 2-Disc Limited Collector's Edition
I can't think of this show without my mind wandering to El Seed, the sunflower villain from The Tick. The film stars Charleston Heston as the titular character, a Spanish hero who helped repel the Moors from Spain in the late 11th century. This film is a big epic from 1961 has stood the test of time. Sort of. It really needed to be remastered, but the original camera negatives might not be available at this point, and that would be a shame. This 2-disc set includes the movie spread over both discs (it is three hours long), as well as an audio commentary track, audio interviews, and two hours of featurettes. Easily worth picking up for fans of epics from the era. As for the 2-Disc Limited Collector's Edition, it has all of the features above, and a few physical features like reproduction lobby art. I can't say it is worth the extra money, but some would enthusiastically disagree.
The Comebacks - Buy from Amazon: Theatrical Version or Unrated Edition
David Koechner is a good actor with great comedic timing and he could carry a movie with excellent results. However, he needs better material to work with than this. I don't need to go into my rant about most modern spoofs, but I will say this movie is 100% laugh-free and should be avoided by everyone. Ironically, the DVD has more extras than many wide releases with an audio commentary track, several featurettes, music video and more. However, they just make an unpleasant experience last much too long. Skip it.
Curb Your Enthusiasm - The Complete Sixth Season - Buy from Amazon
The latest season of this show hits DVD, which is great for those waiting for season seven to come out. It is going to be a hard wait, because season six was one of the best of the show's run. On the other hand, there are only three extras: an interview, a featurette on the set, and a gag reel. That's not a lot considering the 2-disc set is only has 10 episodes and costs barely less than many 22-episode season sets. That said, given the quality of the show, it is still worth picking up despite the high price-per-minute.
Daddy Day Camp - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
The latest volley in Cuba Gooding, Jr's crusade to make everyone forget he won an Oscar. This movie earned some of the worst reviews of 2007 and bombed at the box office. With a movie this terrible, no amount of extras would make it worth picking up, or even renting, but the studio didn't even try and there are two extras (a making-of featurette and a quiz about the making-of featurette). On the other hand, they are releasing it on Blu-Ray.... Why? On a side note, there are rumors that this movie was planned from the start to be a direct-to-DVD release that was given a theatrical release at the last minute. There are also rumors that it cost more than $75 million to make. The former is unlikely since the release date was first announced months in advanced, while the latter better be false for the sake of the studio's bottom line. If it is true, someone needs to be fired.
Damages - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
TV-on-DVD has been slowly moving into the High Definition field, especially network TV. However, Damages isn't a network TV series (making its home on FX!) and like many cable shows, it is able to present storylines that are a lot more intense. The helped win over critics, and it even picked up a Golden Globe win in its first year. Extras include a behind the scenes featurette, an interactive timeline that may be necessary due to all of the flashbacks and a law handbook that probably has a disclaimer on it saying it is for entertainment purposes only. That's not a great selection considering the price-per-minute and I would recommend renting first.
Emergency! - Season Four - Buy from Amazon
A medical drama that focuses on the firefighters and paramedics from Station 51 and the E.R. staff from Rampart Hospital. Groundbreaking for its day, it was created by Jack Webb, who is most famous for his portrayal of Sergeant Joe Friday on Dragnet. However, while it was popular, I don't think it is remembered by as many people as some other shows from the 70s. Perhaps this explains why the 5-disc set is devoid of extras. Still, worth checking out, but had there been some substantive extras, I could have been more enthusiastic than that.
Feel the Noise - Buy from Amazon
Not so much a movie as it is an ad for the Reggaeton music genre. If you don't know what that is, this movie probably won't interest you. It's a weird dichotomy. On the one hand, the movie clearly wants to expand the music's audience. On the other hand, there's little to nothing here to entice novices to watch the movie. Add in a weak DVD and the end result it skippable.
Glow - Greatest TV Moments - Buy from Amazon
One of those shows from the 80s that I don't think could be made today. It would be considered too un-P.C. by some and the target audience has way too many options for titillating entertainment. If you could figure a way to throw in a Reality TV angle it could survive. However, that would probably ruin the fun.
Groundhog Day - 15th Anniversary Edition - Buy from Amazon
Quite possibly Bill Murray's best comedic movie ever, and that's saying a lot. Here he plays a TV weatherman stuck reliving the same day over and over again... and over, and over, and over again. (He spends six months learning how to flip cards and the director stated that he would take 10 years to learn to play the piano as well as he did.) Simply put, if this movie is not in your DVD collection, it should be. If it is, however, I can't really recommend the upgrade. This isn't the first time the movie has been released on DVD, it isn't even the first special edition, and while there are more extras than in the past, there's not enough for it to be worth the extra costs. If you really want to upgrade, wait for the Blu-Ray version. It can't be that far away.
Hannah Montana - One in a Million - Buy from Amazon
Oh lord help me, I'm starting to like this show. You know how I know? Because I was supposed to get a screener by today and it is late, and I was disappointed. Since it is late, we will have the spotlight review next week.
HD-DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: Dispatch: Zimbabwe - Live at Madison Square Garden, King of California, and Strauss: Die Fledermaus
Wow. Only one HD-DVD exclusive this week (Strauss: Die Fledermaus), and it is not what you would call a marquee title. It looks like Blu-Ray will expand its lead this week despite its weak slate as well.
Christian Slater's career got off to an amazing start is movies like Heathers and Pump Up the Volume. But something happened around Kuffs and he's never really been the same. This movie will show people that he's still at the top of the game and man, he should get a lot more roles because of this. ... Assuming anyone sees it.
(Note: This DVD came out a couple of weeks ago, but the screener arrived late.)
He Was a Quiet Man is a dark, dark comedy about a cubical drone who is about to snap. And when he snaps, a lot of people are going to die. His lone bright spot in his life is Vanessa, a co-worker. But even that isn't enough and one day he gets ready to kill, but before he can finish loading his gun, someone else starts firing first. It is out of this simple hook that were get this fascinating film.
The film is anchored by the performances by Christian Slater and Elisha Cuthbert, but there's a lot that works here. I especially liked how the fantasy elements get worked into the movie. From the very beginning there are things that make you question the reality of what you see. Things like the talking goldfish and other effects. It makes the movie just a little more surreal and this helps the mood and helps the movie build up to the ending.
Since the movie is a limited release with almost no theatrical run, one could assume that the DVD would be featureless. However, there are enough extras to compare well with most limited releases, and many wide releases for that matter. Things start off with the audio commentary track, which has the film school feel to it. Writer / director Frank A. Cappello talking about his experience in making a very low budget movie in just 21 days. There are also three deleted scenes and two alternate endings with an optional audio commentary. In total it runs 20 minutes and works well as an extra, but I think the ending in the movie works the best. Finally, there's a 10-minute making-of featurette that doesn't feel like the typical bit of fluff.
Overall, He Was a Quiet Man is one of those movies that is difficult to sell. It's a black comedy and those are hard to sell to moviegoers. It deals with several subjects that will turn off a lot of potential audience members (as the director mentions in the movie, it was made just after the Virginia Tech massacre). That said, it is worth checking out and the replay value of the movie, as well as the extras, makes the DVD worth picking up over just renting.
The Invasion - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
The third or fourth incarnation of this movie, the latest remake is arguably the worst. It was originally directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, who made Downfall, but apparently the studio felt it needed more action and gave that job to James McTeigue, who made V for Vendetta. Either man could have made an excellent film, but trying to combine the two styles killed the movie. As for the extras, they are as weak as the movie's box office with just a handful of featurettes, most of which don't add anything to the experience. As for the Blu-Ray, there are no additional extras and it is not worth the extra expense. In the end, this is just an example of wasted potential and I can't even recommend a rental.
Ira & Abby - Buy from Amazon
A romantic comedy about a couple who got married way too soon after they met and are just now learning about each other, and not everything they learn is good. It's a good movie that never found an audience theatrically, but hopefully that will change on the home market. With an audio commentary track and some outtakes, the extras are on par with most limited releases and worth more than just a rental.
Jackie Gleason: Genius at Work - Buy from Amazon
A biography of sorts on Jackie Gleason hosted by Jeff Garlin. While there are some biographical elements here (including an interview with his widow), much of the running time is devoted to showing clips of some of his classic characters and sketches. And for most fans, this is plenty to get excited about.
A courtroom drama made before CSI hit the stage, back when Law & Order dominated the genre. I've made jokes in the past about the sheer number of similar shows that are on the air, or have come and gone, and this is a huge problem for the genre. This show tries to set itself apart by using the military angle, which sometimes is enough, and sometimes not.
Season five has the cast split up with Commander Harmon 'Harm' Rabb, Jr. (played by David James Elliott) in the Adriatic Sea dealing with the NATO operations in Kosovo. The show has a lot more combat than I remember, at least at the beginning, but quickly things return to normal when Harm returns to his post at JAG. This happens within the first DVD, so those who like seeing him in a courtroom should not worry. Overall the season keeps up a brisk pace and has more solid episodes than weak ones. However, I still think the show's follow-up, NCIS, is better, both in terms of the quality of the show and in terms of extras.
Speaking of extras, there is only one bonus feature, a short gag reel found on the final disc. There are no other extras, no play all button, no subtitles, but there are proper chapter placements.
Overall this 7-disc set packs enough entertainment to be worth the cost. However, I can't help but feel many fans will continue to be disappointed with the lack of substantive extras for this series and would be happier paying more to get more. In short, I can still recommend picking it up, but I can't be enthusiastic.
King of California - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-Ray, HD-DVD
This film opened in limited release to reviews that were acceptable, but not exceptional. And while it got off to a reasonable start, it was never able to truly find a theatrical audience. It should be seen by more as it features a wonderful performance by Michael Douglas as a man who has been recently released from a mental institute who is trying to reconnect with his daughter... and convince her there's treasure buried under the local Costco. Extras on the DVD are better than expected given its short run in theaters with an audio commentary track, making-of featurette, and deleted scenes. Overall, it's worth picking up. The High Definition versions appear to have no additional extras, but at less than $20.00, they are still a good deal for an independent release. Also worth checking out is the Soundtrack. Because the treasure Charlie is looking for was buried when California was part of Mexico, the soundtrack supports a folksy Mexican flare and I found the instrumental music strangely infectious. There are more than a few tracks that are going to find there way to my playlist. (On a side note, this will be one of the last movies released in both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, unless a major studio decides to abandon exclusivity for neutrality, which seems unlikely. I can see a studio switching sides, but not going neutral at this point. )
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters - Buy from Amazon
One of the more unusual documentaries out there. It's a movie about rivalry and two people battling to be the best in their chosen endeavor. It's just that their chosen endeavor is Donkey Kong. While this doesn't have the same urgency as many of the politically motivated documentaries that came out last year, it is still one of the best. The movie should be seen by anyone who has ever dropped a quarter into a video game machine, or anyone who has known someone who takes video gaming a little too seriously, and the movie itself is strong enough to be worth picking up. However, the DVD is simply amazing. Extras start with not one, but two audio commentary tracks, each with serious replay value. In addition, there are nearly an hour of bonus footage, more than 40 minutes of extra interviews, an update from September (when the DVD was finalized), and more. Easily a contender for DVD Pick of the week.
Ladron Que Roba A Ladron - Buy from Amazon
A Spanish movie about two men trying to pull a heist on a man who became rich selling fake medicines to poor Latino immigrants. But when they can't put together a team, they decide to use their mark's own staff: his gardener, maid, chauffeur, etc. It's a fun heist movie that pulled in a very impressive $4 million in limited release. Now that it is on DVD, it is worth checking out for fans of the genre or of Spanish-language entertainment in general. As for the DVD, it has plenty of extras (audio commentary track, deleted scenes and two making of featurettes), especially considering its limited release roots, and it worth picking up over just a rental.
Lake Placid 2 - Buy from Amazon: R-Rated or Unrated
Why? This feels like the epitome of the unnecessary sequel. The original was not a great movie, but had enough fun factor to be a guilty pleasure for many, including me. This movie doesn't have the same sense of fun and what you are left with is B-movie horror typical of too many direct-to-DVD offerings. I can't even recommend a rental here. Wait 'til it appears on late night TV.
Masterpiece Theater - Mansfield Park - Buy from Amazon
Billie Piper in a Jane Austen adaptation? This mini-series is only earning mixed reviews including complaints about Billie Piper. While she's a good actress, her portrayal of Fanny Price is just a little too modern for the story and for Jane Austen fans this will seriously impact their enjoyment. However, that is not the only flaw, nor the major flaw. It might be worth checking out for fans of the book, but it won't have the replay value necessary for a purchase.
Monty Python's Life Of Brian - The Immaculate Edition - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
Monty Python didn't make many movies, but the three they did were absolutely amazing and Life Of Brian is arguably the best. (I do prefer Holy Grail for the sheer absurdity of the humor, but this movie is a better crafted story.) As for the DVD, there are several new extras including two audio commentary tracks, deleted scenes, an hour-long making-of documentary, and even an audio recording of a table-read with storyboards. Overall, an excellent selection. However, it is missing the documentary, The Pythons, which appeared on the previous release, so if you do upgrade, you will want to keep both versions. Speaking of upgrading, the film is also making its debut in High Definition with the Blu-Ray release. Unfortunately the source material is rather old, and never looked or sounded that great to begin with, so this is not one of the best Blu-Rays out there, but it is also just a few dollars more than the DVD version and at less than $20.00, it is worth the price.
Moving McAllister - Buy from Amazon
The latest attempt by Jon Heder to kill his career. If he doesn't start choosing roles that show he can play more than Napoleon retreads, his movie career will come to a grinding halt. Also, while I like Mila Kunis, she really needs to pick better film roles, but at least she has Family Guy to build a fanbase.
Mr. Untouchable - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about crime boss, Nicky Barnes. Earned good reviews, but not good enough for the tight limited release market. There were more than a few critics who raised the issue that this movie seems to celebrate Nicky Barnes instead of doing an expose on him. (Also, I think that, instead of earning some free publicity from American Gangster, that film stole this one's thunder.) Extras on the DVD include extra footage, interviews with the filmmakers, and even some audio from real wiretaps. Worth checking out, but the replay value just isn't high enough for a purchase.
The Nines - Buy from Amazon
Three interlocking stories starring the same three actors in different roles. It's a bit of experimental filmmaking that couldn't be pulled off in a mainstream film. Overall it works well enough to be worth checking out, but perhaps doesn't have the replay value needed to warrant a purchase by itself. On the other hand, the DVD is loaded with extras including two audio commentary tracks, deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, a storyboard featurette, and even a short film that helped inspire the movie. The movie combined with the extras lifts the DVD to the purchase level.
A four-part documentary about the early years of television. The hour-long programs deal with Late Night shows, Sitcoms, Game Shows, and finally Variety shows.
Each of these programs is a mix of talking heads and clips from the shows, and this simple but unflashy style allows for a lot of information, but a lot of times there's just so many things to talk about, it's hard to be in-depth as one would like. Late Night starts with Steve Allen, moves on to Jack Paar, and finally to Johnny Carson, with only a few side trips along the way (including ending with just a little hint of Arsenio Hall). Since it is mostly those three men discussed, you get enough information to feel substantial. On the other hand, Sitcoms feels like we are missing out on a lot of shows; it's like the program is merely an appetizer for a more in-depth course that never comes. Variety deals with a form of TV that just doesn't really exist anymore as the last prime time variety show ran 20 years ago. Even sketch comedy shows are mostly gone. Because of this, it truly feels like an historical document. Game Shows probably has the most rare clips that most people haven't seen before. On the other hand, I'm not a big fan of the genre, so I wasn't as interested as I was with the other three.
Extras on the DVD are limited to 15 minutes of additional interviews.
On the one hand, with a total running time of nearly 4 hours, there's a lot of information given on this DVD with regards to the early days of TV. On the other hand, you could probably do 4 hours on each genre and still not give enough information for some. However, if your only complaint is, "It made me want to learn more," then the DVD is worth picking up, and that is the case here.
Right at Your Door - Buy from Amazon
A thriller about a several dirty bombs set off in Los Angeles. The film earned reviews that were better than average, but not good enough to sustain a limited run. Now that it is on DVD, it should find a bigger audience, especially with extras that don't betray its limited release nature. These include an audio commentary track, an interview with the director, tips on making low budget films with the director, the scripted alternative endings, and more. Worth checking out, but I would rent it first.
Rocket Science - Official Site
As I said when the movie first came out, this is yet another in a long line of indie comedies that combine slightly depressed leads and quirky supporting characters and situations to build laughs. The film does this very well, but the glut of such films likely hurt it at the box office. It is likely because of this that the DVD has only a short making-of featurette and a music video as special features. Even so, it is still worth checking out, even if the weak DVD is only worth a rental.
Spongebob SquarePants - To Love A Patty - Buy from Amazon
Stick to the full season sets. That's really all I have to say about this release.
Sexual Parasite - Buy from Amazon
A Japanese sexploitation horror film about a parasite that attacks... well... sexual organs. If your immediate reaction isn't pure revulsion, it is actually a rather good movie with some social commentary over Japanese censorship. That said, it is not for the squeamish and there are no extras so I can't recommend anything more than a rental. ... Although now that I think about it, this is the kind of movie you want to buy from Amazon so you don't have to look some salesperson in the eye when you get it.
A romantic comedy that epitomizes the word, "mediocre."
(Note: This DVD came out a couple of weeks ago, but the screener arrived late, hence the delay in the spotlight review.)
Sarah Michelle Gellar stars as Brett Eisenberg, an associate editor who is wracked with indecision. This is amply demonstrated during the opening credits when she is shown editing a book and repeatedly changing her edits, to the point she's erased through the page. (In the end she is shown editing a book, using a pen, which seemed heavy-handed to me.) The main problem with this movie is this character. She's just not that compelling, is blandly written and performed, and her development never drew me in. And since the movie revolves almost solely around her, her weaknesses become the movie's weaknesses. The film is also hurt by the lack of chemistry between Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alec Baldwin, the latter of whom puts in the best performance in the movie. (Or second best if you count Peter Scolari's all too short role.)
As for the extras, there is just the audio commentary track with first time director, Marc Klein, who also wrote the screenplay. He does a good job of giving plenty of information, mostly on the choices he had to make as a first time director, but it is not particularly memorable.
Suburban Girl struggled to find a distributor for a while, and in the end it was dumped direct-to-DVD. There's nothing here that is offensively bad, but it is just a bland romantic comedy that is hard to get excited about. Call it a soft rental, but that's it.
Coming out tomorrow exclusively at Borders, the DVD is the first release from This American Life, a TV show based on the Chicago radio program that takes a theme and presents a couple of stories on that theme each week.
The show has a low-key approach that helps draw in viewers more than a lot of the flash that you see on TV today. You are presented with different stories on average people. People like the Mormon trying to recruit people to pose for his painting; the problem is, he's looking for people with beards, and Mormons are not allowed to have facial hair. Or the 13-year old boy who has sworn off love, and girls and sex forever... Yes he does play D&D. (His idea of the perfect life pretty much describes mine, except I collect movies instead of video games.) Or the politician who was just too honest to be elected. All are fascinating stories and the way they were told is excellent. I never thought that these people were being exploited, which is a major problem with a lot of similar TV shows today.
On the downside, there are no real extras (a bio of the host and some images), and with just 6 30-minute episodes, the price-per-minute is a little high for a TV on DVD release. As for the big three, while there are also no subtitles, there is a play all button and proper chapter placements.
Despite the bare-bones release, the show is enough to be worth checking out. And the replay value is high enough to be worth picking up over just a rental. On the other hand, more extras would allow me to be more enthusiastic about that recommendation.
Trade - Buy from Amazon
A movie that deals with a very difficult subject, the sex trade, much of which involves kidnapping. However, difficult subjects require a delicate touch, but this doesn't happen here. It's no surprise that the movie was not able to attract many moviegoers while the DVD is equally unlikely to gain an audience even with the audio commentary track and making-of featurette.
Twitches Too - Buy from Amazon
The sequel to Disney's TV movie, Twitches. The first film earned mediocre reviews, at best, but scored 7 million viewers when it first aired. This time around the film is better, but it still feels like a TV movie aimed at kids. Extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette and some alternate scenes. Not a lot, but only average for these releases. If you, or your kids, enjoyed the first, there's no reason not to try this one as well.
A massive two-disc set detailing the career of the progressive rock band, Yes. Even the most diehard fan will learn something new with this documentary. They better, after all, it's close to six hours long with all of the extras.
(Note: This is yet another DVD that came out a couple of weeks ago, but the screener arrived late. Thankfully it was a slower week than average in terms of screeners I received, so I was able to catch up on these releases.)
Classic Artists is one of the most in-depth documentaries on any band I've ever seen. It starts with the bands very early beginnings and details every single album, every single lineup change, every up and every down. What they don't give is the music. It takes nearly 30 minutes to get to the first performance, which is a long time even taking into account the long running time of the DVD as a whole. It takes 2 hours to get to the story of "Owner of a Lonely Heart", which as a Generator, I consider their best song. (I like a lot of their older work as well, but the band formed before I was born and I grew up listening to the Big Generator era. And that music video! That was one of the reasons I became a music fan.)
Needless to say, since Yes was such an influence, I found this documentary fascinating. However, even I found it long. Disc one holds the main featurette, which runs 3 hours and 20 minutes (sans credits), while disc 2 has more than 2 hours of extras. Much of this (95 minutes or so) is extended interviews. There are also 23 minutes of rehearsals and three music videos. The lack of music on this 2-disc set is the biggest fault I can find. (In fact, I would have liked a three-disc set with the feature and bonus interviews over 2 discs and a third disc with all their videos and a few live performances. Of course, I could just grab Yes: Greatest Video Hits, but that's not as comprehensive as I would like.) There are only three music videos, but "Owner of a Lonely Heart" is among them. If it were left out, I would not be able to recommend this DVD regardless of the rest of the content.
Yes - Classic Artists is an amazingly comprehensive look at one of the best bands of all time. It has longevity that most acts can only dream of. (Even if you take the time between their first gold album and their last, that's 20 years.) For all fans of Yes, this 2-disc set will have something to offer, and is worth picking up for the most diehard fans. It's too in-depth and too long for casual fans, who are probably more interested in the Yes: Greatest Video Hits.
Date posted: 2008-01-28