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DVD Releases for February 10, 2009 - Part I

February 10th, 2009

One of the busier weeks in the past several weeks, but there's little in the way of top-notch releases. The biggest box office hit was Nights in Rodanthe, which struggled to become a mid-level hit. The best release in my opinion is My Name is Bruce on Blu-ray, but only if you are a Bruce Campbell Fanboy. I am, and I'm awarding it the DVD Pick of the Week. While there were not as many top-notch releases, there were still more than enough bulk to force this column to be split into two. The second part can be found here.

60 Minutes Presents - Obama - All Access - Buy from Amazon
One of roughly seventeen billion DVDs being released over the past year or so dealing with the 2008 presidential campaign. This DVD has two episodes dealing with Obama, the first from November 16th and the second from December 28th, as well as plenty of extras. But is it worth picking up?

November 16th, 2008
The 44th President
This is the first interview Barack Obama gave after winning the 2008 election. Here he is asked policy questions, including the banking crisis & torture, as well as more personal topics, like his reading material.
The Next First Family
Michelle Obama joins him for this segment and the questions become more personal, covering the emotion of election night, how the family is transitioning, getting a new dog, etc.

December 28th, 2008
The Road to the White House
Includes an interview that happened the day before he officially declared his intentions to run and there are some very early looks at the phenomenon of 'Obamamania'. Critics called it the "Cult of Personality", but clearly it was more than that. Here we seen Obama giving a tour of the places in Chicago that helped form his early political career, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at his family. The second segment talks about the Democratic primary, while the third segment focuses on the head-to-head campaign against John McCain.

What You Haven't Seen
A 14-minute segment with more footage not seen during the original broadcasts.

Major Speeches
The majority of the running time on the DVD is dedicated to six major speeches from the Obama campaign starting with

  • February 10th, 2007 - Obama announces his candidacy.
  • March 18th, 2008 - Obama discusses his race and how it affects his campaign, and indeed the country.
  • July 24th, 2008 - Obama addresses a crowd of 200,000, which was the highlight of his international tour.
  • Auhust 28th, 2008 - Obama addresses the Democratic National Convention and in front of more than 80,000 people accepts the nomination to run for President of the United States.
  • November 4th, 2008 - Obama's victory speech on election night.
  • January 20th, 2009 - Obama's inauguration speech, which I hadn't seen until I watched this DVD. I'm not one who likes pomp and ceremony, and Inauguration Day seems like a load of pomp and ceremony.
For political junkies, there's little here that they won't already know. That said, 60 Minutes Presents - Obama - All Access is more of a time capsule than an educational tool. For this purpose, it succeeds and for those who are celebrating Obama's presidency, this is worth checking out, while many will want to add it to their DVD collection.

Against the Dark - Buy from Amazon
The latest Steven Seagal direct-to-DVD release. This time he's fighting an army of the undead. It can't be worse than Kill Switch, can it?

Alfred Hitchcock - Triple-Shot - The Lodger, The Paradine Case, and Young and Innocent
Three early films from Alfred Hitchcock. Very early films. In fact, The Lodger is more than 80 years old. If you are a fan of the director, especially his early work, than this is a great week for DVD releases.

Alvin and the Chipmunks - The Mystery of the Easter Chipmunk - Buy from Amazon
The latest DVD release from this franchise it yet another holiday-themed release. However, only one of the episodes has anything to do with Easter (but at least it's a double-length episode). I guess it's not a popular holiday.

  • The Easter Chipmunk - Alvin, Simon, and Theodore's grandfather claims to be the original Easter Chipmunk, but they dismiss his claims as merely a sign of eccentricity. However, when they get some evidence to back him up, they decide to sue. And by they, I mean Alvin.
  • Snow Wrong - The Chipmunks and the Chipettes try out for the school play, which is doing Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. But when Brittany is passed over for the lead in favor of the director's spoiled daughter, the rivalry heats up.
  • Special Kind of Champion - Alvin isn't trying hard enough in gym class because his short legs means he can't keep up with the rest of the class. So the teacher makes him a coach of athletes for the Olympics, the Special Olympics.
  • Thinking Cap Trap - Simon invents a cap to help make his family as smart as he is. However, after signing them up for Genius in the House, he loses the cap and he fears they'll go back to their normal intelligence.
  • Luck O' the Chipmunks - A new kid in class claims to have his very own leprechaun. It turns out it is Dennis Kucinich.
There are no extras on this DVD, nor are there subtitles. There is a play all button and proper chapter placements.

Is it Easter already? I can never figure out when that holiday happens. That doesn't really matter as Alvin and the Chipmunks - The Mystery of the Easter Chipmunk doesn't feature Easter in most of the episodes. Hell, they could have put Luck O' the Chipmunks first and called it a St. Patrick's Day release. That said, if you have been collecting the previous DVDs, this DVD offers the same value. I would prefer full season sets, but it is hard to imagine they'll start releasing those anytime soon.

Back to the Future - Buy from Amazon: One, Two, and Three
This franchise was previously released as a box set, but there were playback issues with some copies. Also, many people think that only the first film is worth owning, although I think the other two are underrated. That said, if you don't own it already, wait for the Blu-ray versions, as they can't be too far behind.

The Backyardigans - Robin Hood the Clean - Buy from Amazon
A digitally animated TV series aimed at preschoolers featuring...

  • Pablo - A blue penguin
  • Tyrone - An orange moose
  • Tasha - A yellow hippopotamus
  • Austin - A purple kangaroo
  • and finally
  • Uniqua - A pink... a pink... something
This DVD has four episodes:

  • Robin Hood the Clean - The villagers of Filthingham are being oppressed by Mayor Stinkypants, who forces them to wallow in the mud and refuses to let take a bath. However, the bandit Robin Hood is here to save the day. (And you thought I was going to say he was going to clean up the town.)
  • The Two Musketeers - Tyrone and Pablo are the Two Musketeers on the run from the empress's guards, Austin and Uniqua. When they are nearly captured, they are rescued by a masked lady, who wants to become the third musketeer. But they reject her. Will this decision come back to haunt them? And who is this masked lady?
  • The Masked Retriever - Uniqua is the librarian by day, and the Masked Retriever by night, a Zorro-like secret identity who is dedicated to tracking down all the books people have checked out and not returned.
  • To the Center of the Earth - After losing his lucky penny, Uniqua and Pablo use they new rocket wagon to travel to the center of Earth to find it.
Extras on the are limited to three music videos, which is not much, but better than nothing.

The Backyardigans - Robin Hood the Clean is the latest release from this award-winning TV series for preschool kids. It has bright colors and catchy songs, and fans of the show will want to add this to their DVD collections.

Blindness - Buy from Amazon
A film by the same director as City of God and The Constant Gardener. There were high hopes for this movie, at the box office and with critics, but it failed to live up to either. After watching the movie, I can safely say that the film was never destined to be a big hit theatrically, but critically it could have performed better.

The film starts one typical day in a busy city. We see at an intersection that there's a little bit of commotion as one of the drivers has stopped. Turns out, he's gone blind, and he's only the first. The doctor who tries to treat him goes blind, then some people who were in the doctor's waiting room go blind. Soon so many have the "White Blindness" that they are quarantined in an abandoned mental institute. For most of the rest of the movie we watch as society within this confined space crumbles, and it is not an easy thing to watch. I think this is the biggest complaint most critics will have of the movie; it is just so damn bleak that it is a chore to sit through. While the "solution" of quarantining people might start out as a medically wise thing to do, as more people are infected, it turns from a hospital without nurses and doctors to a prison without guards. Civility quickly disappears and horrors start. I won't go into those, as that's too much into spoiler territory. I will say, and this is major spoiler territory, I will say that I'm glad the movie ended on a hopeful note. Normally I hate it when studios change an ending to make it happier because the more realistic ending didn't "test well with audiences." However, after such a grueling journey, ending on a down note would have been too much.

Extras on the DVD include a making-of featurette and some deleted scenes. That might not seem like much, but the making-of featurette runs 55 minutes and details the genesis of the idea of the movie right up to a year after filming was done and it was premiering in Lisbon, Portugal, with the author of the novel present. An excellent featurette. There are also five deleted scenes, presented with written introductions by the director. They run just six minutes, and there's not much added here.

Blindness is a movie that some will love, but most will want to avoid. The DVD has enough extras that it is worth buying for fans, but definitely start with a rental first.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Amadeus, Boondock Saints, Chocolate, Connected, Djinn, Donnie Darko, Doom, Dragon Ball Z: Android Assault / Bojack Unbound, Frozen River, Halford - Resurrected - World Tour, A History of Violence, Miracle at St. Anna, My Name is Bruce, Nights in Rodanthe, The Pelican Brief, Ping Pong Playa, Pretty Woman, Raging Bull, The Rock Collection, The Rundown, Soul Men, The Strat Pack - 50th Anniversary Of The Fender Stratocaster - Live, Street Fighter - Extreme Edition, A Time to Kill, and W.
A big list this week, but little in the way of top notch releases. Sure, My Name is Bruce looks awesome, but I'm a Bruce Campbell fan. Likewise, Donnie Darko and Chocolate are of interest, but I'm part of a relatively small audience there. I don't think any of the films on this week's list will be major hits in High Definition.

Chocolate - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
This film earned great reviews, but crashed at the box office. It's not the right genre for a limited release, but it should perform reasonably well on the home market. Extras on both formats are limited to a single behind-the-scenes featurette, and while the Blu-ray has no additional extras, it does cost just $1 more. Certainly worth picking up for fans of the genre.

Clint Eastwood - American Icon Collection - Buy from Amazon
Four film from Clint Eastwood, including two he directed: The Beguiled, Coogan's Bluff, The Eiger Sanction, and Play Misty for Me. Reviews for these four films range from good to perfect, while the extras are better than expected. These are double-dips, but if you don't have them on DVD, yet, or only have one or two, they are worth picking up.

DEA - Season One - Detroit - Buy from Amazon
Lance Henriksen narrates this series, which is about the DEA unit in charge of protecting Detroit, which the opening narration describes as the city with the highest murder rate in the country. The tourism board for Detroit must love this show.

We watch the DEA team gather evidence, swing into action, flip dealers to get their suppliers, as well as more mundane aspects of the job like paperwork. It's like The Deadliest Catch, but with drugs instead of crabs. Unfortunately, I find the crabbing industry a lot more interesting to watch. The personalities presented here are not as intriguing, and it tends to get a little repetitive. Flipping small time dealers to get up the chain is not nearly as interesting to me as watching those pots get pulled up not knowing if they will be full or a blank.

There is just one extra on the 2-disc set, an episode of Real Vice Cops: Uncut.

DEA - Season One - Detroit is part of a genre of TV show that includes Dog the Bounty Hunter, as well as the original Cops. If you are a fan of these shows, this DVD is worth checking out; however, I'm not a fan, nor do I think there are enough extras to warrant purchasing over renting.

Death Note 2 - The Last Name - Buy from Amazon
The second live action adaptation of the popular anime series. A major hit in Japan, but it is going direct-to-DVD here.

Dragon Ball GT - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
The first Dragon Ball DVD coming out this week. They appear to be selling well, at least according to Amazon.

Dragon Ball Z - Season Eight - Buy from Amazon
Considering how well these DVDs sell, I'm starting to think the movie could be huge.

Dragon Ball Z - Super Android 13/Bojack Unbound - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Hat trick! The third Dragon Ball release of the week. Fourth if you could the Blu-ray release separately.

The Enforcer - Buy from Amazon
A Jet Li film from 1995 where he plays a Chinese cop, who we first meet undercover trying to stop a gang selling passports. However, it appears they are up to something a lot bigger planned in Hong Kong. He's so far undercover that his wife and kid don't even know he's a cop, and this puts a strain on his family-life, especially since his wife is sick, which in turn might put his life in danger during his job.

Not one of Jet Li's best films, as it is rather light on action for the most part, but there are some good dramatic moments, which are usually missing from martial arts action movies. The acting among the leads helps a lot with the dramatic moments, that is right up to the end when Jet Li's son is supposedly dead. The final scene with him being revived is so cheesy and so obvious that it hurts the overall effectiveness of the film. At least the father / son fight scenes are great. There have been some complaints over the dubbing. Normally Dragon Dynasty releases DVDs with the original language track with options for dubbing or subtitles. We don't get that option here, as the original language track is not present. Shame. I prefer subtitles.

Update: Turns out there's a good reason for this. They couldn't find a useable version of that track. The movie is only 14 years old, but it appears the original language tracks are not available. Hard to hold that against Dragon Dynasty.

Extras start with the ever-present audio commentary track featuring Bey Logan. If you're a fan of Dragon Dynasty releases, you know what to expect in terms of quality of these audio commentary tracks, and he doesn't let us down here. The rest of the extras are a trio of interviews with the producer Wong Jing, the former child star Tse Miu, and bad guy Ken Lo. Combined they run close to an hour.

The Enforcer has flaws, both with the movie and with the DVD release. There's not enough action for fans of the genre and the bad guy is a little over the top. Additionally, it’s the dubbed international cut and not the original cut with original language track. That said, for fans of genre in general and Jet Li in particular, this is still a worthwhile addition to their DVD collection.

Fist of the Warrior - Buy from Amazon
Quite a few recognizable names in this direct-to-DVD release; names like Sherilyn Fenn and Michael Dorn. The film stars Ho Sung Pak as a hitman out for revenge after a mob boss kills his girlfriend, while the mob turns to a corrupt cop to take him out. It was made in 2005, but delayed to this week, which isn't a good sign, nor are the lack of reviews, but fans of the genre might want to give it a rental.

Friday the 13th - The Series - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
I reviewed Season One back in September when it was released, and there's little that needs to be added to the overall show. It retains its horror anthology-like feel (although it might be better described as "Freak of the Week") with only a few episodes dealing with past episodes. Most episodes have Micki, Ryan, and Jack spending their time finding cursed artifacts and you could watch just about any episode in any order. This does limit the appeal of buying the TV series on DVD, but there are some good points about this season as well.

For instance, this is generally considered the best season of the three. There are arguably fewer "classic" episodes compared to season one, but there are also far fewer bombs. Unfortunately, the seasons starts off on a low point with the return of Uncle Vendredi. Fortunately, that's the last we see of him. There are a few too many similarities between the curses (several involve killing one person in order to cure another, for instance. In fact, nearly every cursed artifact needs someone to die in order to power it, with only one item (and therefore one episode) where no one is killed. I guess there's some internal consistency in that, but I would like more variation. Some of the special effects still feel incredibly dated, like in The Sweetest Sting. I suspect the person who created the effects in that episode had not seen bees before.

There are no extras on the 6-disc set, nor are there subtitles or play all buttons. The only DVD authoring here are proper chapter placements.

Season One of Friday the 13th - The Series has about five episodes were serious replay value, but with even more bombs. The best of Season Two is not as good as the best of the previous season, but is has more with serious replay value (six of seven episodes) while it has fewer outright misses (three or so). And the average is strong enough to be worth picking up.

Frozen River - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Starting with a quick note, I only have the DVD and I won't be getting the Blu-ray, so I won't be able to compare the two formats.

Melissa Leo stars as Ray Eddie, a woman and mother of two whose husband runs off with the down payment for their new mobile home, which he will likely gamble away. She finds his abandoned car, but it is stolen by a Native American woman, who claims she thought it was abandoned. That woman, Lila played by Misty Upham, is also in desperate trouble as her own, as she needs money to get back her infant son, which was taken by her in-laws last year. After a rough start to their relationship (and gun is involved and a shot is fired) they decide to go into business which each other smuggling illegal immigrants from Quebec, across the Mohawk reserve, and into New York State. They have to avoid the police and deal with some very shady characters, but it might take one last run to get the cash that they need.

This film earned excellent reviews and for the most part I agree. The performances by Melissa Leo and Misty Upham are great, but I thought the story lagged at times. Also, the one last run ending with them getting busted was way too predictable. I'm not surprised Melissa Leo earned an Oscar nod, but I'm kind of surprised the script did as well.

Extras on the DVD are limited to an audio commentary track writer / director Courtney Hunt and producer Heather Rae. It's not a particularly energetic track, but there's more than enough information here. I do not have the Blu-ray to compare, but there are apparently no additional extras, and it costs 50% more to buy. That's too much for this type of release.

Frozen River is up for two Oscars, but it might be a little too bleak for many people. The extras are also a little light given its modest success in limited release. It is still worth checking out for most, picking up for many, while the DVD is the better value than the Blu-ray.

The Guitar - Buy from Amazon
Didn't this come out last week? I reviewed it last week.

Warning: This movie does not come out this week and makes its home market debut on the 17th. However, the Blu-ray screener arrived early and I was able to get the review done this week.

High School Musical 3 - Senior Year - Buy from Amazon: DVD, 2-Disc DVD, or 3-Disc DVD / Blu-ray Combo
Just a quick note to start, I only have the 3-Disc DVD / Blu-ray Combo. However, since it contains the DVD versions, I should be able to compare the two versions. Hopefully next week I'll have the actual 2-Disc DVD, so I can make sure there are no differences.

It's senior year for the characters of High School Musical and despite their busy schedules, they all agree to participate in one last musical production. At least they agree after Kelsi Nielsen signs them up. While preparing for the musical, they also have to deal with graduating, prom, old rivalries, new rivalries, and of course choices for the future.

Having seen all three films in the franchise (in fact, I own seven DVD / Blu-rays of the films, all of which I received as screeners) I have mixed opinions of the movie. On the one hand, it is arguably bigger and more energetic than the previous installments were. I suspect that's because it was a theatrical release and they wanted to give it more theatrics. On the other hand, if you weren't a fan of the movies before, this one won't change your mind. There are also some new issues here, like the three new characters (Tiara, Rocket, and Donny) who were clearly added to film as a way of setting up High School Musical 4. I don't think they were well defined in this film, for the most part, and it hurt. Finally, they continue to under-use Olesya Rulin as Kelsi Nielsen, who is my favorite character. Yes, I've seen the movies enough that I have a favorite character. I did like some of the musical numbers, including "I Want it All" with Sharpay and Ryan (who are my next two favorite characters). On a side note, Ashley Tisdale looked really sexy dressed up as Gwen Stefani; yes, she's playing a high school student, but the actress is 23, so I'm allowed to call her sexy.

Extras on the DVD included in this set include a lot of the usual features: Deleted scenes, outtakes, and of course sing-along versions of the songs. There are a couple of featurettes on the making of the prom scenes, Night of Nights and It's All in the Dress, as well as a featurette on the cast goodbyes. I was hoping for an audio commentary track with the cast, but maybe they are saving that for the special edition.

The 3-Disc DVD / Blu-ray Combo has these extras, as well as a few more featurettes, including one on the new cast members, and another on the Senior Awards, which were awards handed out to the class & crew, which is a cute featurette. Also, if you go through the extras in the Yearbook form and not the index form, there are also plenty of Easter Eggs to hunt down, most of which are very easy to spot. Finally, the Disc is Blu-ray enabled with the standard Disney selection of features.

High School Musical 3 - Senior Year had the biggest opening box office for a musical ever. It also had the biggest opening for a film that failed to reach $100 million at the box office ever. Those two facts sum up the film's appeal quite well. On the one hand, I would predict most fans will love the movie and have had the 2-Disc DVD or 3-Disc DVD / Blu-ray Combo pre-ordered for months. If you didn't like the first two, there's no reason to try this one. If you haven't seen them yet, give it a rental, but start with the first one.

I Was a Teenage Ninja - Buy from Amazon
I'm starting to build up a collection of weird Japanese movies. I might have to add this one to that collection.

The Inauguration of Barack Obama on CNN - Buy from Amazon
For some the celebration continues. For others, like me, the joy of historic victory is taking a backseat to the difficulty in governing. I just wish more politicians would follow the advice of Paul Krugman. He is a Nobel Prize winning economist, after all, and he might have some good advice to give. Sometimes the center is the worst place to be.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and makes its home market debut on the 9th. However, the DVD screener arrived early and I was able to get the review done this week.

Madagascar 2 - Escape to Africa - Buy from Amazon: DVD, DVD Two-Pack, or Blu-ray
A quick note to start, this DVD came out last Friday, and not this Tuesday. Also, I don't have the Blu-ray yet, so I can't compare the two releases.

The movie starts off where the first one left off, with the gang on Madagascar looking for a way back to New York City. They think they have their way home, as the penguins have "repaired" the plane they found, and with the monkeys, and of course King Julian and Maurice, they fly home. They don't get there. But they land in a animal preserve in Africa where Alex meets more lions, Gloria meets more hippos, Marty meets more zebras, and Melman meets more Giraffes. However, will they be happy with their own kind, or will New York City keep calling them home?

Madagascar opened in 2005 to mixed reviews, opened with less than $50 million, but became a massive hit and nearly reached $200 million. This film opened with better reviews, earned more than $60 million at the box office, but failed to match its predecessor. In doing so, it became the first true sequel to a digitally animated film to not top the original at the box office. I agree with the overall reviews; the film is better, but still not great. The main characters are more fleshed out this time around, but it's still the Penguins that steal the show and when they are not on the screen, the humor level is greatly reduced. (Also, Sacha Baron Cohen feels like he's doing a Robin Williams impersonation. At least that's the way I feel.)

Extras on the DVD start with a crew audio commentary track, which details some of the challenges making the movie, both in terms of writing and technical issues. There are also a couple of making-of featurettes that run 20 minutes in total. There is a shorter featurette on the making of the plane crash scene, which as the big early action scene, and took a lot to plan. Next up is a featurette on the crew's trip to Africa, which sounds like a tax right-off / vacation more than a legitimate research trip. (Not that I am judging them.) Jambo Jimbo has some lessons in Swahili, but at only a couple minutes, there's not much to learn. Finally, there is a game and a sing-along versions of the songs.

The second disc of the DVD Two-Pack is from The Penguins of Madagascar, which is a new TV series starting on Nickelodeon. There are two episodes presented here: Popcorn Panic and Gone in a flash. Each episode is only 12 minutes long and suffers from TV quality animation and 'sound-alike' voice performances (for the most part). There are only 24 minutes of main program, and 24 minutes of featurettes. Not much for nearly 50% more money. Also, you can only get this DVD as part of this two-pack, and can't get it with the Blu-ray.

Madagascar 2 - Escape to Africa is a good movie. One the kids will likely want to watch more than once, which makes it worth picking up. I don't have the Blu-ray yet, but the DVD is the better deal as the DVD Two-Pack doesn't offer enough bang for your buck.


Filed under: Video Releases, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, High School Musical 3: Senior Year, The Rundown, Nights in Rodanthe, A History of Violence, Doom, W., Soul Men, Miracle at St. Anna, Blindness, Frozen River, My Name is Bruce, Ping Pong Playa, The Guitar, Desu Noto 2