DVD Releases for July 22, 2008 - Part II

Wow. Another week without a single first-run release that struck me as worth picking up. This really is the slowest time of the year for DVD releases. That said, there were a number of other releases that caught my attention, including a couple of TV on DVD releases and a couple of classics from Criterion. The latter include Vampyr - Buy from Amazon and High and Low - Buy from Amazon while the former include Robot Chicken - Star Wars - Buy from Amazon and Spaced - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon. It would be virtually impossible for me to narrow it down to one selection, but Vampyr - Buy from Amazon is the better Criterion release and Spaced - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon is the better TV on DVD release. As with last week, there were so many spotlight reviews that this week's list had to be split into two. Part One can be found here.

Pete Kelly's Blues - Buy from Amazon
A film from 1955 set during the prohibition at a speakeasy starring Jack Webb as a leader of a blues band who has troubles when the mafia. The movie itself is good, but not great. However, the real draw is the music, which is fantastic. As for the DVD, it only has a couple of vintage shorts, but for fans waiting for this film to come out on DVD, that will be enough for them to pick it up. If you haven't seen the film but like jazz, give it a rental.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and makes its home market debut on the 29th. However, the DVD screener arrived early and I was able to get the review done this week.

Phineas and Ferb - The Fast and the Phineas - Buy from Amazon
A Disney Channel series that made its debut on TV just this past February and is now makings its debut on DVD next week. (The 29th. Just in case I forget to change this intro next week.)

The show focuses on two stepbrothers, Phineas and Ferb, who have to find eventful ways of spending their summer vacation. Joining them on their plans are Isabella, the leader of local Fireside Scout Girls troop who has a crush on Phineas, and Perry the Platypus, who is the boys pet and a secret agent. Their nemeses are Candace, the boys' sister, and Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, a mad scientists bent on ruling the world, or destroying the world, or not exactly the world, but the tri-state area.

Episodes on this DVD include...

  • One Good Scare Ought to Do It - Part I & II
    A two-parter with Phineas trying to cure Isabella's hiccups by building the scariest haunted house ever. Meanwhile, Dr. Doofenshmirtz plans to light the sun on fire. Actually, that was the plan of Professor Destructicon, who was recently arrested before being able to carry out his fiendish plan.
  • The Fast and the Pheneas
    Pheneas & Ferb trick out their mom's car and enter it into a race. Meanwhile, Dr. Doofenshmirtz plans to deflate all the tires in the tri-state area. And you thought setting fire to sun was a dumb idea.
  • Lawn Gnome Beach Party of Terror
    Pheneas & Ferb create a beach in their backyard, and Candace actually has fun. But when she doesn't try and call her mom every 5 minutes trying to get the pair into trouble, her mom becomes suspicious and comes home from the spa early potentially ruining her fun. Meanwhile, Dr. Doofenshmirtz plans to steal all of the lawn gnomes in the tri-state area to get revenge for a childhood trauma.
  • Are You My Mummy?
    Pheneas & Ferb try to find a mummy at the local theater, but thanks to stale gum and toilet paper, they mistakenly find Candace instead. Meanwhile, Dr. Doofenshmirtz tries to... I'm not sure. But it involved magnetic wood.
  • Flop Starz
    Candace tries to become the next big thing in reality TV music acts, while Pheneas & Ferb just want to be a one-hit wonder. Meanwhile, Dr. Doofenshmirtz turns his office building into a giant robot.
  • Raging Bully
    Pheneas runs afoul of the school bully, Buford. Meanwhile, Dr. Doofenshmirtz plans revenge for all the years of bad birthday parties he has suffered through by inventing a machine that will hypnotize people into celebrating his birthday.
  • Lights, Candace, Action!
    Candace is hired to replace a temperamental actress in a movie adaptation of The Princess Sensibilities, but is horrified to learn Pheneas & Ferb have been hired to co-direct and are changing her beloved novel into mindless monster movie. Meanwhile, Dr. Doofenshmirtz is doing, well, nothing, which is suspicious, so Perry the Platypus is sent in to investigate.
  • It's About Time! - Part I & II
    A trip to the museum sends Candace, Pheneas & Ferb back in time, and it is up to Isabella and her Fireside Scout Girls troop to save them. Meanwhile, Dr. Doofenshmirtz finds a new nemesis, which is awkward for Perry the Platypus.
The episodes show a remarkable similarity between them following the same basic set up. Pheneas & Ferb get an inspiration on how to spend their day, Candace tries to catch them in the act and prove to her mom what they are doing. Meanwhile, Dr. Doofenshmirtz has a new scheme, but Perry the Platypus stops it, and at the same time accidentally destroys all of the evidence Candace is looking for. However, where there is definite pattern, the show works and there's a lot of creativity that can involved in this set up and the energy really helps sell the show. Even when the jokes are predictable, like when they used a photo of Ashley Tisdale to represent a 'digitally enhanced picture of Candace. It was an obvious joke and I saw it coming for a mile (Ashley Tisdale provides the voice for Candace) but I still laughed.

Extras are on par with most similar releases and include the pitch pilot for the show, which is basically a storyboard with narration from one of the creatures, Dan Povenmire. At just under 22 minutes, it runs the length of a two-part episode. However, the episode in question, Rollercoaster, was not included on the DVD. Shame. There are also four games, each of which are basically hit the right arrow button on your remote at the right time. Nothing too special, but they are a fun diversion.

Additionally, there is a play all button, subtitles, but no proper chapter placements. In fact, each 11-minute episode is just one chapter. Granted, since the shows are only 11 minutes long, only one chapter is needed.

Phineas and Ferb is a fun new cartoon on the Disney Channel that is making its DVD debut on the 29th. While I vastly prefer full season sets to best of DVDs, this is very unlikely for a Disney Channel DVD and The Fast and the Phineas offer good value for the money. Worth picking up for fans of the show while it is worth checking out for kids who haven't seen it yet.

Picture This! - Buy from Amazon
Starring Ashley Tisdale from High School Musical fame as Mandy Gilbert, a high school senior trying to get the attention of school jock Drew Patterson. However, when she finally get him to notice her and ask her to a major party, she is grounded by her overprotective father, played by Kevin Pollack. Now she has to sneak out of the house, get to the party, avoid Drew's jealous ex-girlfriend, all while using her picture phone to convince her dad that she is studying at a friends house. Sure, it's fluff, but it is high energy fluff and should entertain its target audience. As for the DVD, it has more extras than most TV movies have with scene specific audio commentary track, making of featurette, trivia track, and more. Worth picking up for its target audience.

Robot Chicken - Star Wars - Buy from Amazon
TV on DVD that is not a full season set. It is not even a best of DVD. It is a single episode. A single episode that costs $10. But is it worth it. Not only is this Star Wars parody arguably the funniest episode of Robot Chicken, at least so far, the single disc release has more extras than most full season TV on DVD releases that come out on the average week. Commentary tracks, making of featurettes, behind-the-scenes, deleted scenes, Q&A panel, and more. A lot more. It almost feels like the episode is an afterthought here. And even though it will certainly be released as part of the next full season set, it is worth picking up now. I just wish they did what Family Guy did with Blue Harvest and gave us a collector's edition with physical extras. Would have been a good way to get even more money out of the fans.

Warning: This Blu-ray came out two weeks ago, but the Blu-ray screener arrived late. Hence the delay in the review.

The Ruins - Blu-ray Edition - Buy from Amazon
I've already reviewed the Unrated DVD here, so there's no reason to go over the movie again, and I will just jump into what's different on the Blu-ray.

Nothing.

The only extras on the Blu-ray are the audio commentary track, three featurettes, and a few deleted / alternate scenes. However, at least everything is presented in High Definition, including the trailer. That said, the high definition transfer is not among the best I've seen. Granted, there's nothing overtly wrong with it, but it doesn't wow either, and without any additional extras, the transfer better wow.

Like I said before, The Ruins didn't impress me as a movie, and the DVD is hardly better. The best part of the Blu-ray is its price, as it is only $1 more than the DVD and if you have the option and are set on buying, there's no reason to not get the Blu-ray. That said, I can only recommend renting, no more.

Satantango - Buy from Amazon
A movie that took two years to film, and takes almost as much time to watch. Okay, I am exaggerating, but the movie is seven and a half hours long and it takes a strong constitution to be able to watch the whole thing, but those who can sit through all 4 discs will be rewarded.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and makes its home market debut on the 29th. However, the DVD screener arrived early and I was able to get the review done this week.

Shine a Light - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A combination documentary / concert film, as directed by Martin Scorsese. This is both good and bad.

If I had one complaint about this movie, it is that they should have picked documentary or concert film and not tried to do both. As a documentary, it was woefully inadequate with just a 10-minute look into the making of the concert where Martin Scorsese and the members of the Rolling Stones tried to figure out cameras, the set, the lights, etc., as well plenty of interview clips cut between performances. Sometimes cut into performances. We don't learn a whole lot from these interviews, some of which are archival, some original, and they are certainly not enlightening enough to interrupt a song for. On the other hand, the movie works a lot better as a concert film and hardcore fans will love this DVD. Even more casual fans will find the 2-hour running time sail right by.

As for the extras, there are light for a documentary, but on par for a concert film. The most special feature on the DVD are the four additional four songs, however, there is also a 15-minute featurette. The featurette includes more interview clips, as well as some rehearsal footage. Certainly worth checking out.

As for the Blu-ray, there are no additional extras, but the concert looks and sounds great. It does cost 50% more, but for hardcore fans of the band that have a top-notch home theater system it could be worth the upgrade.

I can't quite believe Miley Cyrus kicked the Rolling Stones' asses at the box office. There's something strange about that. She's likely to do the same on the home market, but at least Shine a Light will get a head start and both the DVD and the Blu-ray are worth picking up, but the latter is for more hardcore fans with higher end home theater systems.

Spaced - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
Pop culture junkies' dream come true. Spaced features Simon Pegg and Nick Frost from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz in their first major collaboration together. Good news, this is an amazing show that has developed a serious cult following here, while even more have never seen it. Better news, this 3-disc set is absolutely backed with extras. Bad news, there are only 14 episodes total and this 3-disc set will leave you wanting more. Each episode does have two audio commentary tracks, one from the original U.K. release and another new retrospective track done for this release. There are also trivia track with all of the pop culture references pointed out (including some where the TV series itself was referred to in other shows). The third disc is entirely filled with extras starting with a feature-length making of documentary and an extensive Q&A session. Additionally, there are deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes, outtakes, and more. Easily worth picking up, even if you have never seen it before, and clearly the DVD Pick of the Week.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and makes its home market debut on the 29th. However, the DVD screener arrived early and I was able to get the review done this week.

Tai Chi Master - Buy from Amazon
Tai Chi? Isn't that what old people do in the park? That's hardly the vision one gets when they think of kung fu action. However, the movie explores the not to real life creation of Tai Chi, and its very real combat potential... aided by a lot of wire work.

Jet Li and Chin Siu-Ho star as two Buddhists monks who are thrown out of the monastery after numerous infractions for the rules and are forced to go out into the real world for the first time since childhood. However, Junbao is not comfortable with the world and wants to maintain his Buddhist traditions while Tienbo wants to use his martial arts training to gain power and wealth. Because of this, they split up with Junbao helping the repressed and Tienbo joining the brutal regime's army, thus setting up the inevitable showdown.

The film is an action film, and there several top-notch fight scenes, including many with Michelle Yeoh, who can more than hold her own. However, the movie also a lot more humor than I was expecting (including some that is rather broad and slapsticky). There's a high degree of wire work, most of which enhances the fight scenes, even if it is a little obvious at times. The film's reviews are barely over the overall positive level, however, it is important to note that this DVD has the original Hong Kong cut and not the previous, butchered video release, (which was released under the name, Twin Warriors). This version is certainly worth checking out for fans of Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, or Hong Kong action films in general.

Moving onto the extras, this is a Dragon Dynasty film, and you know what that means... Bey Logan! Yes, Bey Logan sits down for an audio commentary track that is up to his usual standards as he explores practically every aspect of the film. The next extras is an interview with one of the stars, Chin Siu-Ho, which is done in the stand style of Dragon Dynasty releases, i.e. a mix of interview clips and scenes from the movie. Next up is a featurette on Tai Chi hosted by Winnie Wong, which also features interview clips mixed with scenes from the movie, but looks at the development of the art, and the city of its origin. Finally, there are two more featurettes each featuring interviews with Brett Ratner and Elvis Mitchell (filmed separately). In the first they talk about the director, Yuen Woo-ping, and in the second they talk about Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh. In total these four featurettes run just over an hour and are as strong as most Dragon Dynasty releases.

Tai Chi does not have a reputation stateside as a powerhouse martial art school, however, hopefully this won't prevent people from checking out Tai Chi Master, which is an excellent example of Hong Kong cinema. Additionally, the number of extras on the DVD are more than enough to lift it past the rental level and to the purchase level.

Transformers - Cybertron - The Ultimate Collection - Buy from Amazon
One of the latest series from the Transformers franchise, which has lasted close to 25 years. Most fans agree that the original series is the best, even if they admit nostalgia might be playing a part with that conclusion. However, while fans might argue which series is the best, this one will not be at the top of the list

The show combines digital animation with anime influenced 2D animation, which is a major mistake, as the two styles simply don't mesh well. This issue is exasperated by the low quality of the digital animation. (The facial animation for the robots is particularly bad.) The show is from 2005, but the animation looks like it is a decade old and was a major roadblock for me to get involved in the story. Additionally, many of the characters didn't feel like their previous incarnations, and some were just plain annoying with voice work that couldn't live up to the original show.

This is a shame, as the story certainly had an epic scope to it. The plot revolves around the quest to find the four Cyber Planet Keys that are needed to close the black whole created by the destruction of Unicron at the end of Energon. These keys were hidden long ago on four planets, Earth being one of them. (Amazing how Earth always seems to be at the center of these ancient plots.) The other planets include a speed world, a beast world, and a giant world, so there are a lot of characters in the series, including the return of many fan favorites. The epic scope of the story and the return of so many older characters should have made it a fan favorite, but the results are merely mixed given the weak animation and unfortunate character choices.

The 7-disc complete series DVD lack real extras, but there are two versions of the pilot here, Fallen and Inferno. There are play all buttons on the disc, and there are proper chapter placements, but no subtitles.

Transformers - Cybertron suffers from many of the flaws of the most recent cartoons, including animation that is sub-par. Additionally, The Ultimate Collection DVD lacks substantive extras, but the 7-disc set is still a bargain for fans of the show.

Turn the River - Buy from Amazon
Famke Janssen stars as a pool shark trying for one big hustle so she can get her son back from her alcoholic ex-husband. Like a few other limited releases coming out on DVD this week, this one earned good reviews, but not great reviews. It is certainly worth checking out, and with an audio commentary track and a making of featurette, it is worth picking up over just a rental.

TV Funhouse - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
A TV series created by Robert Smigel, who is best known for his animated bits on Saturday Night Live and for creating Triumph the Insult Dog. This show is a combination of those two ideas, which should have been an easy path to comedic greatness.

(Before I get to the review, I feel the need to point out that while I am a fan of Ambiguously Gay Dou, Fun With Audio, and most of the animated bits, I was never a fan of Triumph The Insult Dog and this show has more in common with the latter than the former. Take that into account while reading this review.)

This show is in part a parody of a Saturday morning kids TV show with host Doug and his friends, the Anipals. Doug is there to introduce cartoons and short bits like Porn for Kids and The Safety Gang while having themed days like Western Day and Caveman Day. But mostly the show follows the exploits of the anipals, who are oversexed, amoral animal puppets. It's a show that aims for bizarre and outrageous, and in this area it hits the mark more often than not, but they fail to capitalize on that and generate real laughs due to no real sense of comedic timing. More times than I care to remember, they took what could have been an interested and funny bit and beat it to death with a heavy-handed approach or simple repetition, sometimes before the bit even starts. For instance, there's a parody of Scooby Doo that takes the show A Pup Named Scooby Doo one step further creating Fetal Scooby Doo. It's basically Scooby Doo but everyone is a fetus and they all have really long umbilical cords. ... That's it. Other than that, it is practically identical to every other Scooby Doo spoof out there. And as I said, before the introduction was finished, the joke was already explained and the actual parody felt unnecessary.

There were some funny bits, which I won't spoil here... okay, one spoiler... I laughed the most at the scene with the puppet cat 'giving birth' to the real life kittens, especially when one tried to climb back. It was a good chance for some improve. However, these were outnumbered by the jokes that just don't work, the jokes that went on too long, or the jokes that were repeated too often till they killed the humor. I can't imagine they would have been able to keep the show going for a full season, so it is probably best that it ended after just 8 shows.

On the other hand, for a short-run series, the 2-disc set is packed with extras. All 8 episode have audio commentary tracks by the 3 men most responsible for the show, creator Robert Smigel, writer Dino Stamatopoulos, and actor Doug Dale. As one would expect, the three fill the tracks but they lean to the entertainment side of the spectrum. Other extras include a video commentary with some of the anipals that runs just under seven minutes, but even then it overstays its welcome. There are 8 minutes of outtakes and finally two behind-the-scenes bits. Over on disc two there are two additional appearances by Triumph and a deleted sketch. This is more than one would expect given the show's short run and fans should be happy.

TV Funhouse was a show that lacked the proper comedic timing with too many jokes that went on way too long killing whatever humor was there. Watching an anaconda hack up a big meal might be funny to some, but not when it takes a minute for him to do it. And the second time they use the same gag, it is even less funny. That said, the show does have a cult following, and for them The Complete Series is certainly worth picking up. If you have never seen the show before by like some of Robert Smigel's work on Saturday Night Live, then you should check it out, but give it a rental first.

Two Tickets to Paradise - Buy from Amazon
A road trip with three men going to the College Football Championship Bowl with only two tickets. It's a buddy comedy that only sporadically works. It's not a bad movie per se, but it is overloaded with clichés to the point that by the end it loses steam. Performances by the three leads help, which includes John C. McGinley and D.B. Sweeney, and it is worth checking out, but for most a rental will be enough.

Vampyr - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
A German vampire movie that was made more than 75 years ago, but one that still stands up today. Simply put, if you are interested in early cinema, especially the early use of sound in cinema or early horror film or vampire movies specifically, this is a must have. The only real question is whether this 2-disc edition is worth the upgrade from the previous DVD. The answer to that is yes. Not only is the film being released in its original aspect ratio (1.19:1, which was common for very, very early talkies), but there is an audio commentary track with film historian Tony Rayns, featurettes on the film, the director, and audio only essay and more. On a side note, like many Criterion Collection releases, this DVD comes with a booklet, sort of. Many times the booklet is 32 or 48 pages long; this one is over 200 pages in length. This isn't a booklet, it's a book. Easily worth picking up and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Without the King - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about the last absolute monarchy in Africa and how the royal family of Swaziland live compared to their citizens. The film earned excellent reviews but went nowhere at the box office. Perhaps watching a documentary that focuses so much on unlikeable people was part of the problem, as seeing the royalty live like... well... royalty while their citizens suffer is too much for most to take. As for the DVD, there are additional scenes, bonus interviews, and even a music video by the princess. Worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and makes its home market debut on the 29th. However, the DVD screener arrived early and I was able to get the review done this week.

The Wizards of Waverly Place - Wizard School - Buy from Amazon
The second Disney Channel series making its DVD debut on the 29th.

The Wizards of Waverly Place stars Selena Gomez, who is also known as Mikayla on Hannah Montana. Here she plays Alex Russo, a 14-year old wizard who tends to overuse and abuse her powers, so she is sent to Wiz Tech, , much to the chagrin of her older brother, Justin, the more mature and responsible wizard. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

The DVD debut has three or four episodes, depending on how you count the 2-part episode that leads off the DVD. The episodes are...

  • Wizard School - Part I and II
    After a magical mishap, Alex is sent to summer school at the Wiz Tech. There, instead of her being the cool kid and Justin being the nerdy kid, his prowess with magic makes him the popular one and he's even brought in to play 12-ball and could prove to be the most powerful wizard there. However, one of his teachers, Dr. Evilini, is evil, and have a plan to use his powers for ...... well... evil.
    Those who dislike the show might call Wiz Tech a blatant rip-off of Harry Potter, however, calling it a parody might be a more accurate way to describe it. It certainly is more generous. It's a good way to start off the DVD and certainly helps get people into the series, although the parody is a little goofy at times, and the laugh track is a little too obnoxious. Additionally, the B-stories with Max, the youngest of the three siblings, are not as entertaining.
  • Curb Your Dragon
    While shopping online on the World Wide Wiz Web, Alex and Justin find a dragon seller who has a dragon charmed to look like a dog. However, like one shopping on the real web, it's buying beware and when their dragon goes missing, they have to figure a way of getting it back, all while keeping its true nature hidden.
    A solid episode that is not burdened by a weak B-story. In fact, there is no B-story.
  • Disenchanted Evening
    Alex gets in trouble for using magic as a shortcut, again, but then she meets a boy from her school who is allowed to use magic all of the time. It turns out that he has placed a charm on his parents so he can do what he wants, and then does the same to Alex's parents.
    A case of 'be careful what you wish for' type of episode, which I can't imagine are uncommon in this show. (However, I haven't seen enough episodes to confirm that.) But it is pulled off well. In fact, none of the episodes are weak on this DVD.
(Strangely, while Jennifer Stone appears in the credits, she doesn't appear in any of these episodes.)

As for the extras, there is a single 9-minute featurette featuring the three kids talking about their hobbies, what they do when they are not working, what music they are listening to, etc. Not very in-depth, but typical of many Disney channel DVD releases. There is also a play all button and subtitles, but no proper chapter placements. In fact, there are no chapter placements at all and each episode is a single chapter. That's lazy DVD authoring.

The Wizards of Waverly Place can be thought of as a Sabrina for the next generation and has become a big hit with its target demographic, 'tween girls. If you are one, and you have one in your household. Odds are you will be buying this DVD. I would prefer if they skipped the single disc releases and went right for full season sets, but this is Disney, so we know that's not going to happen and what you get here is on par with their typical release.


- C.S.Strowbridge


Date posted: 2008-07-21