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DVD Releases for January 20, 2009 - Part II

January 20th, 2009

A terrible week for first run releases. There are five such releases on this week's list, but they has a combined haul of around $130 million, and nearly $100 million of that came from two films. With no big releases, we had to look other places for the DVD Pick of the Week. Repo! The Genetic Opera on Blu-ray is a clear contender for that title, but its lack of mass appeal is troublesome. This American Life - Season Two is a safer pick, but it is a Borders Exclusive release. Regardless of these issues, both releases are worthy of the DVD Pick of the Week. Despite the weakness at the top, there are still more than enough total releases to cause this column to stretch into two parts. The first part can be found here.

MI-5 - Volume 6 - Buy from Amazon
A great show, but that price is hard to swallow for a lot of fans. Even compared to most imports, this is a very pricey 5-disc set.

MGM - When the Lion Roars - Buy from Amazon
A 6-hour documentary on MGM, which is one of the big studios from the heyday of the studio system in Hollywood. The mini-series was made in 1992, by which the studio was in decline. And now that Sony is shutting down its theatrical releases through the MGM label, it is rather fitting that it is being released on DVD now.

MonsterQuest - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
A paranormal investigation show, and you know how much I hate those. This one is about cryptozoology, i.e. Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, etc., although they also deal with some hauntings as well. Reviews for season two were down, and it seems like they are running out of imaginary animals to track (five episodes are devoted to Bigfoot, for instance). Even if you bought the first season, this one is likely only worth a rental to you. And if you haven't seen the show, there's no reason to start now.

Moonlight - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
A TV series about a Vampire Private Eye. The series debuted in the Fall of 2007 to tepid reviews and never really found an audience. However, the fans it did have were dedicated and they should be happy to get all 16 episodes on DVD, even if the 4-disc set is completely devoid of extras. If you are a fan, the lack of extras is disappointing but not enough to stop you from buying the DVD. If you've never seen the show, it's hard to even recommend renting it, as it doesn't work well enough to compensate for the fact that is was cancelled after just one season.

My Three Sons - Season One - Volume Two - Buy from Amazon
While he might be best know for starring in Dinsey movies like The Absent Minded Professor and The Shaggy Dog, Fred MacMurray starred for eight years as Steve Douglas on My Three Sons, a TV sitcom from the 1960s. The show started in 1960, and ran till 1971 and the character of Steve Douglas is still remembered today as one of the best TV dads of all time.

This 3-disc set includes the second group of 18 episodes from the first season and starts with Organization Woman, which has Steve's sister popping by for a visit while Steve is gone and as a surprise she decides to bring efficiency to the lives of his father, Bub, and his three sons, Mike, Robbie, and Chip, with mixed results. Mike tries to keep the gift he is making for his girlfriend a secret, but she suspects he's fallen in with the wrong crowd. It's life imitating art after Robbie gets in over his head after reading too many mystery novels. The Douglas family accidentally steals a baby (it's not as bad as it sounds). Tramp, the family dog, gets the family into trouble when he brings home a stick of dynamite. (Huh?) Robbie gets involved in a soap box derby race. Robbie has girl trouble, first trying to impress a girl using he example of his theatrical history teacher, then pretending to be an expert on classical music to impress a piano teacher. While the season ends on a series note as Mike has to rescue his boss while working his summer job as a forest ranger.

This is a classic family sitcom, both in terms of quality and in terms of age. Granted, not all of it has aged well over the years, but overall it is still very strong. Fred MacMurray is excellent as the father, while the three sons are written in a way to balance their energy while not feeling too 'sitcom precocious.' Replay value for these early episodes is very high.

On the other hand, the DVD presentation is quite low. There are no extras on the three-disc set, nor are there subtitles. There are play-all buttons and proper chapter placement (I'm impressed that they bothered with the latter, as the opening credits are literally just a few seconds long). On the other hand, there are some serious problems with splitting the series into two volumes. Granted, the full season is 36 episodes long, but 6-disc TV on DVD sets are rather common and shouldn't be an issue here. Also, a lot of long-time fans of the show have complained bitterly about the music replacement for this series, some going so far as the threaten to boycott the TV series as it comes out on DVD. I don't know if I'd go that far, but I understand the complaints.

My Three Sons - Season One - Volume Two is typical of many TV on DVD releases from the era. The series is split into two, there are no extras, and the music has been replaced. For a lot of fans, the last one is a deal breaker. However, for others, they will be happy to see that this show has aged rather well in the nearly 50 years since it first aired and this 3-disc set is definitely worth picking up.

National Lampoon's - Stoned Age - R-rated or Unrated
National Lampoon recently went bankrupt. I'm not surprised. Apparently the CEO was recently arrested. I was surprised after I learned it was for artificially inflating stock prices. I assumed he was arrested for making crap like this.

Adam Rifkin writes / directs / and stars in this movie, which is about a caveman called Ishbo, who is the son of the tribal chief. He's a philosophical type who prefers to invent ways doesn't fit in with the brutal pre-historic existence. He's in love with Fardart, who is in love his brother. His brother is the typical caveman, strong, brave, stupid, who just wants to club every woman on the head and take her back to his cave. Ishbo, on the other hand, wants to invent things like ladders and fishing nets to help the tribe survive. It is this conflict that sets the plot in motion and provide the humor. Except there is virtually no humor to be found in the movie. From cheap spit takes to poop jokes to crude sexual gags to lame stoner humor, almost all attempts at making the audience laugh falls flat. And it all devolves into one big, pointless chase scene. If you are stuck watching the movie, and you can tune out the incessant narration, you can play Spot the Cameo. There are a lot of (formerly) famous people clearly just earning a paycheck here.

Movie a movie this terrible, there's a lot of extras on the DVD, but they are mostly completely superfluous. The main extra is an audio commentary track with the director and his longtime editor, and they describe how the movie came into being, who joined the cast first, who did the special effect shots, etc. Nothing that interesting. Most of the rest of the extras are completely skippable, like the two versions of the "Caveman Song" (there's a rated and an unrated version). There's a shot of a nearly empty theater during an actual screening of the movie. There's a shot of a full theater with people laughing, which was clearly faked. There's deleted scenes, outtakes, behind the scenes of a couple photo shoots. But nothing here has any replay value.

National Lampoon's - Stoned Age is not the worst movie I've reviewed, but it comes close enough that I can safely say the DVD, either or version, is completely skippable. It's not worth buying. It's not worth renting. It's not worth watching for free on TV. It's a pathetic end to a company that went from Animal House to this.

Paranormal State - The Complete Season Two - Buy from Amazon
I hate the ghost hunter genre that seems to be so popular on TV right not, and this show has the reputation for being the worst of these shows. Calling it skippable is an understatement.

Poison Ivy 4 - The Secret Society - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Wow. They are still making installments of this franchise? The first film came out in 1992 and starred Drew Barrymore and was quite terrible. Far worse than its Tomatometer score would indicate. The next two movies were even worse, and I can't imagine this movie will be much better. The only part of the movie that is remotely interesting to me is that it stars Miriam McDonald from Degrassi - The Next Generations. But unless you are desperate to she her in a more adult role, there's no reason to even rent this one. On a side note, I'm surprised this film is coming out on Blu-ray. There are first-run features coming out this week that are not hitting High Definition, so this is a bit of a strange development.

The Powerpuff Girls - The Complete Series - 10th Anniversary Collection - Buy from Amazon
A fun kids show that ran for six years starting in 1998. If you already have the series on DVD, there's little reason to upgrade, but if you don't, this 6-disc set is worth picking up.

Repo! The Genetic Opera - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
There are some movies that are destined for cult status because there are simply too far outside the mainstream for anything else. This is one such film.

The film takes place in a near future world where a an epidemic of organ failure has devastated the population. Out of this tragedy, GeneCo arose, which specialized organ transplants, and if you can't afford one, the have an easy financing plan. However, if you fall behind in your payments, they send a Repo man to retrieve their organs, and their methods are lethal. Anthony Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) stars as Nathan Wallace, one such Repo man; however, his daughter Shilo (Alexa Vega from the Spy Kids trilogy) thinks he's just a doctor helping people. He works for GeneCo, because after accidentally killing his pregnant wife while trying to cure her blood disorder he was blackmailed into becoming a Repoman by GeneCo's owner, Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino from Law & Order), who was also his dead wife's former lover. At the start of the film he's dying and looking to decide which of his children to leave his company to, his son Luigi and his psychopathic temper, his other son Pavi and his surgery addiction, or his daughter Amber Sweet who is addicted to street Zydrate, which happens to be extracted from corpses of those who were addicted to the prescription Zydrate. (All together now... Ewww.) With no suitable choices, Rotti Largo sets his eyes on Shilo, and knowing a little secret about her condition, he might have the leverage he wants. ... Oh, then there's Blind Mag, a singer who is the face of GeneCo, who is also connected to Nathan and Shilo Wallace, as well as Amber Sweet, for different reasons.

Go that?

Nope? I don't blame you.

The number one flaw with this movie is its ungainly size. They have to explain the world, the large cast of characters and the even larger number of storylines. It would take a full mini-series to explain them all satisfactorily, and when limited to a 97-minute movie, it's a bit of a mess. Exposition is given a manner that is a little too ham-fisted at times, and the comic book cut scenes, while adding style, suffer from this. That said, this film has style to spare, and for a select audience, it will be something they will watch over and over again. I can definitely see me watching this movie again and again.

Moving onto the extras, the DVD has better than expected extras including not one, but two audio commentary tracks. The first involves the director, and three of the actors (Alexa Vega, Bill Moseley, and Nivek Ogre (who is credited as just Ogre)). The second has the director, the co-creators (Darren Smith and Terrance Zounich) and the music producer (Joseph Bishara). Usually the cast commentary is a lot more lively than the crew commentary, but here both tracks have plenty of energy, and both tracks give more than enough information that they have serious replay value. The DVD also has two featurettes: From State to Screen and Legal Assassin - A Repo Man on the Edge. The first runs just under 11 minutes, and explains the process the film went through from its beginnings as a 10-minute stage opera to a feature-length movie. The second runs just under 4-minutes and describes the Repo Man, as played by Anthony Head, which is encapsulated by the song "Legal Assassin." Given the film's short theatrical run, this is an impressive selection.

And the Blu-ray is even better. There are additionally featurettes starting with Zydrate Anatomy - Amber Sweet: Addicted to the Knife, which is about Paris Hilton's character, Amber Sweet. (On a side note, every week I watch a few of the films I review with a group of people, as to gage the reaction of others to get different opinions. After watching this featurette the following conversation happened. "Paris Hilton was in this movie?" "Yeah, she was Amber Sweet" "That was Paris Hilton? I didn't recognize her." "She didn't suck." "That's why I didn't recognize her.") Chase the Morning - Blind Mag: The Voice of GeneCo is the final character / song featurette.

Also exclusive to the Blu-ray are four sing-a-long tracks, a GeneCo Poster Gallery (a collection of posters seen in the background of the movie. Paris Hilton makes an appearance with the director for select scene commentary. (Four scenes with a total running time of just under 13 minutes.) Finally, there are four deleted scenes, also with optional commentary with Paris Hilton and Darren Lynn Bousma. Combined they run just over five minutes, and the first two are not in final print form.

Granted, nothing here pushes the technology, but there is still more exclusives than most first run features have on Blu-ray, so it's fantastic to see for a limited release.

I am confident in my proclamation that almost everyone who watches Repo! The Genetic Opera will either love it, or hate it. There will be very few in the middle ground. Those who love it will be thrilled with the extras on either the DVD or the Blu-ray, but the latter is clearly the better deal. However, I am equally confident that if the average moviegoer watched the movie, it is a lot more likely that they will hate it, as it is just too far outside the mainstream for mass appeal. It is DVD Pick of the Week material, but start with a rental first.

The Rockford Files - Season Six - Buy from Amazon
One of my favorite P.I. shows of all time makes its final appearance on the home market. ... That is till the Complete Series Megaset comes out, likely this fall. ... And it might come out on Blu-ray, but I don't know if the video quality will support High Definition. This 3-disc set has the final 11 episodes, but there are no extras. Still, if you have been collecting the series so far, there's absolutely no reason to stop now.

Save Me - Buy from Amazon: Theatrical Cover or Alternative Cover
I think the most interesting aspect of this DVD is the two covers. I guess some retailers balked at the sight of a man holding a cross like it was a gun he was going to shoot himself with. The film itself earned good reviews, but not great reviews, while the DVD has some deleted scenes and interviews as extras.

Saw 5 - Unrated Director's Cut - DVD or Blu-ray
The tagline on the DVD box says, "You won't believe how it ends." I think it is more likely that you won't care how it ends. The fifth installment of the franchise begins where the fourth film ended, more or less. (There is a trap that starts off the movie, but that has little to do with the actual plot. What little plot there is.) In Jigsaw's lair Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) shoots and kills Jeff Reinhart before being ambushed and finding himself in a trap. He frees himself and begins his quest to prove Agent Hoffman is Jigsaw's latest apprentice. Meanwhile, Hoffman has trapped five people and set into motion that latest series of traps in the franchise.

The original Saw was a huge surprise at the box office, and earned strong reviews compared to most low budget horror movies. However, the franchise quickly weaken with Saw II earning 36% positive reviews, Saw III earning 27% positive, and Saw IV earning 18% positive reviews. This film earned just 15% positive, and it's hard to argue with that. The police procedural pitting Strahm and Hoffman is uninteresting, as is the mystery of the connection between the five people trapped. The only thing left going for the movie are the traps, which feel very derivative at this point. Having the five people in one trap competing with each other could have been a novel twist, but instead it falls flat.

Extras on the DVD start with two audio commentary tracks. The first is with the director, David Hackl, and the First A.D., Steve Webb, while the second has two producers, Mark Burg and Oren Koules, and two executive producers, Peter Block, and Jason Constantine. I had a hard time siting through the movie the first time, but there's enough information given here that fans will want to give it a listen. Next up are three featurettes on three of the traps in the movie (pendulum, cube, coffin), a featurette on the five main characters, and a featurette on the editing of the cube trap. All combined the five featurettes have a running time of close to 34 minutes.

Moving onto the Blu-ray, it has the above extras, something called Molog and bookmarks. The former allows you to select and edit clips and post them online. Besides that, there are not exclusive extras on the Blu-ray. Additionally, I was not overly impressed by the sound or the video of the high definition presentation. The second disc of the 2-disc set is merely the digital copy for portable devices.

This franchise needs to die. In fact, this franchise needed to die sometime around the third installment. What little the film had going for it has long since ceased to be enough, and Saw V was a chore to sit through. Both the DVD and the Blu-ray have a good selection of extras, but neither is worth picking up unless you are a hardcore completist. The rest of us can safely skip this one.

Spain... on the Road Again - Buy from Amazon
A TV series with four celebrities travelling around Spain eating the food. There's Gwyneth Paltrow, chef Mario Batali, writer Mark Bittman, and Spanish actress Claudia Bassols. The PBS show has been called pretentious by some, but fans of food / travelogue shows might get a kick out of it. Extras include audio commentary track, deleted scenes, and behind-the-scenes.

Spy School - Buy from Amazon
Spy School, a.k.a. Doubting Thomas, stars Forrest Landis from Cheaper by the Dozen and AnnaSophia Robb from the upcoming Race to Witch Mountain. In the film Forrest Landis plays a young boy known for his lies and when he overhears a plot to kidnap the president's daughter, no one believes him. So it is up to him and his friend, Jackie to save her. By most accounts, it is a good movie for kids, but parents will likely not want to sit through it.

This American Life - Season Two - Borders Exclusive
Season Two hits stores this week, or should that be store, as it is an Borders Exclusive for the next few months. This single disc DVD contains all six episodes from season two, including the double-length season finale, and presents a few extras along the way.

  1. Escape - This episode presents stories of people trying to escape their surroundings, including inner-city kids who ride horses and a young man with severe disabilities trying to find some freedom from his mother, who he is entirely dependent on to survive.
    Season Two starts out on a very high note with two very interesting stories, the second of which is arguably the best of the season. (Although I like the Underdogs episode just a little bit better.
    This episode includes an audio commentary with the host, Ira Glass, and the co-director, Christopher Wilcha.
  2. Two Wars - An Iraqi travels to 'Red America' asking supporters of the Iraq war why they felt the United States needed to invade his homeland. Also, a Bulgarian immigrant finds a convenient excuse for why he doesn't mow his lawn.
    The first part of this episode was fascinating and frustrating at the same time hearing people pass on the same misinformation. It was touching hearing people apologize, on the other hand.
  3. Going Down in History - Two inmates find a unique way of trying to escape. A search for a bird that may or may not exist. And What yearbook photos do and do not capture for history.
    I love the first story, especially how enthusiastic the people are reciting it. Prison escapes should not generate enthusiasm amongst people in charge of enforcing the law, but this is clearly an exception.
  4. Underdogs - Two boxers who are professional oponents square off, and both are in a must win situation. Also, a group of kids learn to fight bullies with humor. This will not end well.
    The story with the two boxers is my favorite from this series. ... Second favorite. While I think using humor on bullies might backfire and get these kids beat up more.
  5. Scenes from a Marriage - An animated story about a husband and a wife telling the same story, with a very major problem. Also, a marriage suffers under the weight of a lawsuit that changes from a legal matter, to an obsession.
    The short animated bit from the beginning of this episode is the best part of this season, perhaps the series.
  6. John Smith - The story of the live of John Smith from just a few weeks old to death. Or should I say, the story of seven lives of seven men named John Smith.
    The season ends with a double-length episode that is more high concept that most, but it certainly works.
Extras include the above mentioned audio commentary track, and a 'live' presentation of the show that runs 77 minutes, more or less. The presentation includes a few bits from season two, some with alterations, others that are identical. However, these identical bits were trimmed from the DVD presentation (there's no need to repeat oneself, I guess). It also includes several Q&A sessions with different members of the cast. Any fans of the show will love to watch this as well.

This Tuesday, This American Life - Season Two makes its home market debut exclusively at Borders, while it will likely be released in stores nationwide at the end of summer. I can imagine most fans of the show will not want to wait. The episodes are just as good as season one, while the extras are a massive improvement. It is easily worth picking up, and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Vacancy 2 - The First Cut - Buy from Amazon
Why? A direct-to-DVD prequel to the original Vacancy, which is a movie that earned just mixed reviews and then bombed at the box office. It just seems to unnecessary. Granted, the only review on Rotten Tomatoes is positive, but other reviews confirm my initial reaction to all films like this one. It is more of a remake than a prequel. I guess if you liked the first one and want more of the same, it's worth a rental, but that's as far as I will go.

Waking the Dead - The Complete Season Three - Buy from Amazon
A British police procedural series that focuses on cold cases. The show has earned great reviews, and even won an international Emmy, however, BBC America is taking their sweet time releasing it. (They are already on the seven season back in Britain. Like most imports, the price is high on the per minute basis, and there are no extras, but fans will still want to pick it up.


Filed under: Video Releases, Saw V, Repo! The Genetic Opera, Save Me, Homo Erectus