DVD Releases for August 18th, 2009 - Part I

It's that time of year again. It's getting closer to the start of the new TV season, which means there is a flood of TV on DVD releases this week. And next week. And all next month. While there are several TV on DVD releases that are worth picking up, like Dexter - Season Three, there are no releases this week that combines an excellent show plus excellent extras, and therefore there are none that rise to the level of DVD Pick of the Week. However, while there are not a lot of top tier releases, there are plenty of total releases and this week's list had to be split into two. The second part can be found here.

The 5 Deadly Venoms - Buy from Amazon
This economic downturn has hurt a lot of people, including the Weinstein Co., which has cut back its promotion budget. This is why I'm not longer getting Dragon Dynasty DVDs to review. Damn. There's not a huge amount of extras on this DVD, but it does have an audio commentary track with Bey Logan and it is worth checking out for fans of the genre.

Absurdistan - Buy from Amazon
A German movie filmed in Azerbaijan. It's about a small village in the mountains that has no water because the men are too lazy to fix the pipeline that brings water to them. So the women come up with a plan. No water. No sex. Excellent reviews should encourage fans of whimsical films to rent it, and a lot of those who do will want to add it to their DVD collections.

Angry Monk - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about Gendun Choephel, who was believed to be the reincarnation of a Buddhist lama, but who gave up the monastery life to a more real-world experience. He also railed against the religiously conservative government of his homeland, Tibet, and traveled to the outside world. The film earned excellent reviews, but never found an audience theatrically. The DVD has an interview with the director, as well as excerpts from Gendun Choephel's writings, and it is worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

The Beast - Season One - Buy from Amazon
Patrick Swayze stars as Charles Barker, a veteran FBI agent who goes undercover to bust drug dealers, weapons dealers, etc. In the first episode he gets a new partner, Ellis Dove played by Travis Fimmel, and promptly shoots him. (The guy almost blew their cover, and he very likely saved his life in the process.) However, Ellis is later approached by a group of FBI agents that inform him Charles has gone rogue, but they don't know how rogue. He might just be bending the rules to bust the bad guys, or he might ... rogue rogue. They want Ellis to keep an eye on Charles and send any evidence their way that would implicate him as a double agent.

This show is part police procedural show and part double agent thriller, but I don't think it works 100% on either front. Part of the problem is the overstuffed pilot that tries to fit in too many plot points too early in the series. I've talked about this in the past calling it Pilotitis and I think the show would have been better served if they had spent a few episodes building Charles' and Ellis' rapport before we learn of Charles' possibly shady past. If I were Ellis and I knew the FBI was investigating my partner for corruption, and that new partner's old partner was killed, I would be a lot more open to listening to them and what they had to say. Being loyal to him from day one without even looking at the evidence seems foolish. That said, the show has potential and I'm glad it is continuing for at least one more season. Hopefully it will improve upon its strengths, which includes the performance by Patrick Swayze, and avoids some of the weaknesses, including the lack of uniqueness. (How many shows have there been about the dangers of losing oneself to undercover work?)

As for the extras on this 3-disc set, I'm not impressed. Each episode has a short behind-the-scenes featurette, but the keyword here is short. Really short. Some are only 90 seconds long and that's just not long enough to get into the making of the series in any real depth.

The Beast is a show that only works intermittently throughout its first season, while the DVD does have a whole lot extras. It's still worth checking out, but for most a rental will be enough.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Dexter - Season Three, Dexter - Three-Season Pack, The Fighter, Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue - Music Experience in 3-Dimensional Sound Reality, Go, Hannah Montana the Movie, Julieta Venegas - MTV Unplugged, Kagemusha - Criterion Collection, The Last House on the Left, The Last Starfighter, Playtime - Criterion Collection, Sons of Anarchy - Season One, Surveillance, Tyson, Visions of Britain and Ireland and Visions of Italy
Not a particularly strong week for Blu-ray releases, at least not when it comes to sales potential. The best selling release according to Amazon is Dexter - Season Three, and TV on Blu-ray is not a major market right now. I am looking forward to getting The Last Starfighter and a few others on Blu-ray, but there's not a blockbuster Blu-ray release coming out for the next few weeks.

The Bridge to Nowhere - Buy from Amazon
No, this movie has nothing to do with politics in Alaska. It's about a group of amateur pimps who run afoul of the local crimeboss. The film has zero reviews despite a pretty good cast, which is a bad sign. Perhaps those really interested in seeing Blair Underwood's directorial debut could give it is rental, but I don't think that's a huge target audience.

Can't Think Straight + World Unseen - Buy from Amazon
A re-release of this 2-movie set, this time with the CD soundtrack. Even so, still a bit on the expensive end of things, even compared to most Indie films.

Cracker - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
The American remake of the British mystery series. The original starred Robbie Coltrane while this version starred Robert Pastorelli. This version never really captured the essence of the original and only lasted one season, so it's a little strange that this is the second complete series release for the show.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 4th. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Demon Warriors - Buy from Amazon
This is a movie that slipped beneath my radar when it was released a couple weeks ago, and if the screener had not arrived on my desk, I would have never seen it. Being able to see movies that I would have otherwise never watched it one of the cooler aspects of my job, as I love finding undiscovered gems. But not ever such film that slips under my radar is an undiscovered gem.

The movie focuses on a group of Opapatika, or Demon Warriors, who were created when the people they used to be committed suicide. Each has a special power, but each power comes at a cost. The newest 'recruit', Techit, has the ability to read minds, but each time he does, he loses one of his other senses. (Or at least that is what he is told, it turns out the penalty is more complex than that, unless speech is considered a sense now. Personally, I think he loses his ability to connect with the real world. He can see, he can't smell, he can't talk, etc.) He is recruited by Sadok to hunt down four other Opapatika for reasons that are unclear in the beginning, but are explained through the ever present narration from Sadok's second in command, a human named Thuwachit.

If I were to use just one word to describe this movie, it would be 'confusing'. I don't know if the narration is in the original Thai version of the movie, but without it, this movie would be incomprehensible. They do eventually explain it all, but in an exposition heavy way that doesn't feel natural enough to be effective. There are some cool fight scenes, but they seem to get weaker as the show goes on. Too often they rely on mass numbers of generic victims to pad the body count and we don't see enough one-on-one fighting. Even when we do see one-on-one fighting, the fights devolve into stalemates very quickly, as the Opapatika are overpowered and without vulnerabilities they can exploit. Even the climax seems anti-climactic. And when there are no fights happening, the movie grinds to a halt and all we see are the main characters moping about complaining about how being an Opapatika sucks.

The only extra on the DVD is a 16-minute making of featurette that is in Thai with English subtitles. Speaking of Thai with English subtitles, that's the way to watch the movie, as the dubbing is quite weak at times and it hurts the atmosphere the movie tries to build.

Demon Warriors has a potentially cool mythology that is ruined by a flawed execution. The DVD might be worth a rental to those who are into Asian action flicks, but that's as enthusiastic recommendation as I'm willing to give.

Dexter - Season Three - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
First a note, I only have the Blu-ray and it seems unlikely that I will get the DVD to compare it to. I prefer getting both versions, but if I can get only one, I would much rather it be this way and not the reverse.

Season three starts with a number of major changes from the end of season two. This includes changes in nearly every member of the main cast. For instance, Dexter starts the season going after a drug-dealer, Freebo, who killed two college students, but when he gets there, another man is trying to kill Frebbo, and Dexter kills that man instead. That man it turns out is the brother of Assistant State's Attorney Miguel Prado, played by Jimmy Smits. Miguel Prado takes a special interest in Dexter, which only intensifies after he learns about Dexter's extracurricular activities. Meanwhile, Dexter also has to deal with a changing personal life after learning he is going to become a father, and possibly a husband, if he can convince Rita to marry him.

Other character also have major changes in their lives, including Angel Batista starting the season with a promotion. Joey Quinn joins the department as Debra Morgan's new partner. Debra Morgan is approached by Yuki Amado of IA to check out on her new partner, offering her a promotion as a reward. And more.

Dexter is a rare show that just keeps getting better. The stand-alone episodes are gone and every single show moves some plot thread along. The writers and the actors know these characters perfectly now, which combines into amazing performances. The 'big bad guy' of season three isn't as much as the focus as they were in seasons one and two, as characters became more important. We learn more about the personal lives of almost the entire cast, which makes them all the more compelling. I'm trying to come up with some weaknesses of season three, but I'm drawing a blank. My biggest complaint is so petty, I'm almost embarrassed to mention it. Because season four is already being filmed, it impossible to think that Dexter is going to be killed off at the end of season three. Because of this, the finale is a lot less tense, as you know Dexter is not going to be killed.

As I previously stated, I only have the Blu-ray but there are a few extras on the 3-disc set. However, you have to download them. I like BD-Live, if it is used to get extras you can't get offline. On the other hand, if you are just using it to make fans go through one more loop to watch the interviews, for instance, you are not winning over any fans with this practice. On a side note, if you are going to make the only extras BD-Live exclusive, make sure they are online before the street date, so that critics like me was watch them. Otherwise it seems like you are intentionally trying to get a bad review.

On the other hand, the show does look and sound great in High Definition. However, it also costs 85% more over on Amazon.com, which is far, far too much. It is also coming out on a Three-pack with the first two seasons, but it's not that much of a deal.

Dexter the series keeps getting better. The home market releases, on the other hand, remain substandard. At just $20, the DVD is a great value and is certainly worth picking up, but the Blu-ray is overpriced in comparison and lacks substantial extras.

Dirty Sexy Money - The Complete Second and Final Season - Buy from Amazon
It's hard to get excited to review a TV series that ended after just 23 episodes spread over two seasons. It's much harder when you realize season two was actually a step backward from season one.

Season two starts off six months after the events of season one, and there are a few changes that happen right away, including a death in the family and a high profile murder trial, which are strangely unrelated. However, it does mean there has to be major changes in the Darling corporation, which leads Tripp Darling to ask Nick George to help him pick a successor. You can pretty much guess where that's going, as there's nothing Tripp likes to do more than screw with the minds of his kids. Things go downhill from there, both in terms of the family dynamic, and in terms of the compelling nature of the show.

As I stated in my review of season one, I was worried the show would be a nighttime soap opera about the rich and power and their petty, self-inflicted problems. In season one they avoided that trap, for the most part. This is not true of season two. The plots became less realistic and therefore less compelling, and the characters became caricatures. In the end, I was not surprised the show didn't survive, despite several great performances.

All the extras on the 3-disc set can be found on the final disc, starting with Directing the Darlings, which is an eleven-and-a-half-minute long featurette on the making of the series and the challenge of directing a TV series. A Total Knockout is about Natalie Zea, who plays Karen Darling, the serial divorcee. Dirty Sexy Crafty looks at crafts services, which handles the catering on set. ... Okay. Not the subject I would pick for a featurette. Finally there are some outtakes and deleted scenes. There are no audio commentary tracks this time around.

Dirty Sexy Money started out well, had its first season cut short by the strike, and then Season Two was cut short due to low ratings. Sadly, I'm not surprised. Additionally, not only did the quality of the series go down, so did the quality of the extras on the DVD release. If you bought the first season, I can see why it would be worth it to complete your collection, but I can see a lot of people who own season one giving up on the show during season two.

Donald in Mathmagic Land - Buy from Amazon
This is the Oscar-winning educational animated short featuring Donald Duck from 1959. As the 'Oscar-winning' label would indicate, it is amazing. However, it is also less than 40 minutes long for $10, which is too much, especially since it has been released on DVD previously. Of course, the volume is now out of print, but if you have it, it is the much better deal.

Eli Stone - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
You know what? If I was suffering from hallucinations, I would very, very quickly learn not to interact with them, lest people see me doing something strange and think I've gone nuts. Why doesn't Eli Stone ever figure that out.

Season two starts out six months after the end of season one where Eli had surgery to remove the brain aneurysm, which he thought was the cause of his musical hallucinations. However, he still has troubles getting his life back to his pre-musical days, which is made worse when his brother starts to gets the visions. (This turns out to be temporary, but it is a portent of major changes to come for this season. This includes Jordan Wethersby deciding to take the law firm in a new direction, which instead tears it apart. It is these divided loyalties that are a major moving force in the shortened second season, but we also get to see Eli come to accept his visions more.

This show reminds me a lot of Pushing Daisies, which also had a healthy amount of quirkiness. That show had too much quirkiness, but still had the charm to develop a loyal fanbase. This film had a lot more conventional stories as well, which should have helped it find more mainstream success, but both shows were cancelled after just two seasons. This is a shame, as it is a very charming show and I think it could have taken its somewhat high concept a lot further. Unlike the previous show I reviewed above, it was getting better, not worse, and had potential to be a solid show for years to come.

Extras on the 3-disc set are what you would expect for a short run show. There are two featurettes, the first on the massive song and dance number from the season opener and the second is about two of the cast members, Sam and Julia, a.k.a. Matt and Maggie. Finally there are three deleted scenes that run a combined four minutes and two minutes of outtakes. That's not a lot, but it has already been cancelled, so it's about what was expected.

Eli Stone is one of the shows that I will miss from last year and if you bought the first season, there's no reason not to grab Season Two. If you haven't seen it, give it a rental, but start with season one, obviously. It is worth checking out, but it's hard to be too enthusiastic about recommending a show that ends so suddenly.

Everybody Hates Chris - The Final Season - Buy from Amazon
This show was kind of cancelled but kind of not. In real life, this is the point where Chris Rock left school to become a Stand-Up comic, so it makes a lot of sense to end the show at this point. That said, I believe it would have been hard to convince the network to keep it on another year, as the ratings were never as good as the critical response.

The Garden - Buy from Amazon
The Oscar nominated documentary comes out this week. It's a good movie, but I'm not sure its Oscar-worthy. That said it is certainly worth checking out, and for fans of documentaries it is worth picking up.

The Golden Boys - Buy from Amazon
Three retired sea captains, Bruce Dern, David Carradine, and Rip Torn, are bachelors living in 1905 Cape Cod and are sick of their living arrangements. It is decided that one of them needs to get married, as to have a woman around to take care of the cooking and the cleaning, and take the other two on as borders. After flipping coins to figure out who will be the unlucky one (Jerry) they write an ad in the Nuptial Times saying what they want in a perfect woman and await the answer. That answer comes in the form of Martha B. Snow, a widow who has been spending her whole life taking care of sick relatives, but now she wants to live for herself. You can see the conflict here. Also, while the three men thought the prospect of getting married was a punishment, once they meet Martha they change their minds and the three start to compete for her affections.

This film opened in the spring to weak reviews and went nowhere at the box office. The obvious question to ask is, whether this was a fitting fate or not. The answer is yes and no. The movie has its charms, including the performances by the four leads; however, it also has its flaws. The movie's pace is quite slow, extremely slow to be blunt. And some of the dialogue goes beyond old-fashioned and into the realm of corny on more than one occasion. Also, the B-story of the rum licensee and the arson is quite pointless. Overall the positives balance the negatives, almost, and it works as a rental, but nothing more.

The only extra on the DVD is a 40-minute featurette called From Zen Master to Shipmaster: The Life and Career of David Carradine. It's not just about the late actor, but also a look at the making of the movie.

For those looking for an old-fashion, deliberately pace film, The Golden Boys is not a bad choice for a rental. But that's as enthusiastic a recommendation as I'm willing to give the DVD.

Gossip Girl - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
I'm blaming this show for the return of 90210 and Melrose Place. It's a teenage soap opera, an over-the-top teenage soap opera and its success encouraged the remake of Beverly Hills 90210, which led to the remake of Melrose Place, which led to the downfall of Western Civilization. Okay, that last part hasn't happened yet, but it's coming.

Greek - Chapter Three - Buy from Amazon
Chapter three starts off during Greek Week, the Olympic games of fraternity / sorority competition. This competition makes the friendship between Rusty and Calvin when their respective fraternities go to war. Speaking of war, the internal struggles at Zeta Beta Zeta reach the point of civil war when Frannie tries to regain the presidency from Casey and when that fails, in a way no one was expecting, she starts her own sorority. The chapter ends at the end of the first year at college, and with Hell Week where the pledges must prove their worth. In addition, relationships also have a way of changing, for nearly everyone, and not always for the better. The writers certainly did pack a lot of story into just ten episodes.

This is the third DVD release for this show I've reviewed, and damn, it's addictive. There are three main drawing points to the show: The politics of the Greek system, the relationships, and the humor. Personally I never understood the draw the Greek system; perhaps it's because I'm Canadian, and we just don't have fraternities up here. College sports is also not as big of a deal up here as it is down south. That said, the stories are pretty universal and are more about interpersonal rivalries and relationships than the minutia of the Greek system. As for the humor... first a minor spoiler. Due to Rusty's over-eagerness to impress Cappie, he does some research into a Kappa Tau pledge named Joshua Whopper and as a result, Cappie has to pass a midterm test for a course he's never taken. A Gender Studies course on the phallus. They cram so many penis puns into just a few sentences, and the actors play it perfectly straight. That's exactly the way to go with material that immature. And this is typical of the high quality level of the writing and the delivery of the humor in the show. It is also thanks to the writing and the acting that the relationships never seem to enter the soap opera territory, despite the high potential to do so.

Extras on the 3-disc set include audio commentary tracks on three of the ten episodes with a wide variety of participants. Having several different participants on each track ensures that they never get stale. Over on disc three there is a 16-minute interview featurette with the cast answering 20 questions. Finally there are three minutes of outtakes.

Greek is a very fun show and the three-disc DVD release for Chapter Three has enough extras that it is a solid buy. I look forward to Chapter Four arriving on DVD and I would watch the show on TV if I got ABC Family up here.

We will get to Hannah Montana the Movie and the rest of this week's home market releases here.


- C.S.Strowbridge


Date posted: 2009-08-18