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DVD Releases for February 17, 2009 - Part I

February 17th, 2009

This felt like a slow week to me, but looking at the list there were 15 spotlight reviews, which is a huge amount for one week. There are a large number of DVDs worth checking out, but looking at the top of the list, I think Christopher Titus - Love is Evol is the best DVD coming out this week, and the winner of the DVD Pick of the Week. As has happened pretty much every week this year, there are so many DVDs on this week's list that is had to be split into two. The second part can be found here.

Alice In Wondertown - Buy from Amazon
A controversial Cuban film that uses the Alice in Wonderland story to make a political statement. It was banned in its home country nearly immediately after it was shown, which merely enforced the point the movie was trying to make. Worth checking out.

Alien Raiders - Buy from Amazon
A direct-to-DVD Sci-Fi horror film about an alien invasion, and I don't think it would be unfair for most people to assume that means it's crap. However, The film has been earning some good reviews, and even won some awards at some genre film festivals. Extras on the DVD include 30 minutes of featurettes on the making of the movie, the special effects, etc. Definitely worth checking out, and many who do will want to pick it up.

America's Journey - Inauguration Day 2009 - Buy from Amazon
Like I said in a recent review, I don't like the pomp and ceremony involved in Inauguration Day, but given the number of people who watch it, I'm in the minority.

The Beverly Hillbillies - The Official Third Season - Buy from Amazon
I can't believe this show lasted nine seasons. That said, I think a lot of the appeal now is nostalgia, and the culture clash show could last nearly a decade today.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: 15 Minutes, 21 Grams, Body of Lies, Butterfly Effect, C.R.A.Z.Y., Changeling, Capote / Cold Blood, Cold Mountain, Constant Gardener, D.O.A. - Dead or Alive, Equator 1 - Power of an Ocean, Freddy vs. Jason, Ghandi, Good Will Hunting, High School Musical, High School Musical 3 - Senior Year, High School Musical - 3-Pack, Hostage, Jackal, Kramer vs. Kramer, Kung Fu Drunk, Midnight Meat Train, One Long Night, Over Her Dead Body, Painted Skin, The Passion of the Christ, Pulp Fiction, Quarantine, Seed of Chucky, and Tudors - Seasons 1 & 2
Another week with a relatively big list of releases, but little in the way of massive sellers. The top selling DVDs are either those that don't generally do well on High Definition (High School Musical 3 and The Changeling) or don't even have High Definition releases (Dead Like Me and Religulous), Body of Lies should be the biggest seller on High Definition, but I don't expect it to be a big hit.

Body of Lies - Buy from Amazon: DVD, 2-Disc DVD, or Blu-ray
A movie that missed expectations by a huge margin. It had an amazing cast, an A-list director, and an impressive ad campaign. What it didn't have was a solid script. The story of terrorism was just mediocre. There are no extras on the DVD, but the 2-Disc DVD has a featurette, some deleted scenes, and also has a digital copy of the movie. The Blu-ray has that and a massive making of featurette that can be watched as part of the movie, as well as a interactive debriefing. Additionally, the disc is BD-Live enabled. All this and it only costs $1 more than the 2-Disc DVD. That said, it is really only worth a rental.

Warning: This Blu-ray does not come out this week and mades its home market debut on the 10th. However, the Blu-ray screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

The Boondock Saints - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
The Boondock Saints is a movie that was reviled by critics and ignored by moviegoers. However, it developed a small, but incredible vocal group of supporters. I'm going to have to side with the critics here.

Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus star as the MacManus brothers, two highly devote Irish Catholics who while in their neighborhood bar run into some Russian gangster. The aftermath has them killing the pair in self-defense, which sets off a series of vigilante killings. Now they have to deal with the FBI, who are on their trail, and the mafia, who have sent a hitman by the name of Il Duce to take them out. But who will get to them first.

This is not a bad movie, but it is a predictable movie. It's like Troy Duffy, the director, watched too many mafia movies and eventually said, 'I can do that.' And proceeded to try, but instead of the normal elements that go into a solid movie, he instead filled it with violence and style. Neither of those are bad things, per se, but a too heavy reliance on them created a rather hollow experience, and if that style seems to... borrowed, well then there's little reason to watch this movie over the originals. The movie isn't as bad as its reputations, but it still isn't particularly good. It feels too forced, which kills any sense of cool the movie was going for.

Extras on the Blu-ray are the same as on the special edition DVD starting with two audio commentary tracks. The first is with the Troy Duffy, the director, who is bitter and uninteresting to listen to. Billy Connelly runs solo over the second track, but his character doesn't show up till late in the movie, and it sounds like he runs out of things to say before then. There are also some deleted scenes (in non-anamorphic widescreen) some outtakes, and the script in tiny images that I couldn't read unless I was really, really close to the screen. Video quality is good, but not great, and it is not a movie you will use to show off your home entertainment system.

The Boondock Saints has a reputations and the rise and fall of its director was the basis of the movie Overnight. Quite frankly, that movie is more entertaining than this one. Fans will obviously disagree, but unless you are a hardcore fan, the Blu-ray is not good value as a slice of shovelware.

Changeling - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
As soon as this movie was announced, a lot of people thought it was going to be a major player during Awards Season. It hasn't worked out that way. It's not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, it is just sadly average, which is well below Clint Eastwood's batting average this decade so far. Extras on the DVD including just two featurettes (one interview and one on the costumes), while the Blu-ray has these, a picture-in-picture track, and additional featurettes. But it does cost nearly 60% more. That is right on the border of being worth the extra money. It's worth watching for most, picking up for many, and the Blu-ray is worth the premium, barely.

Choke - Buy from Amazon
Early buzz had this film becoming the breakout success on the limited release front. However, like so many previous such films this year, it earned mixed reviews and struggled at the box office, to be polite. The DVD does have plenty of extras, includes an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, outtakes and several featurettes. It's worth checking out for most and worth picking up for many, but it is not the limited release breakout hit some were toting it as.

Christopher Titus - Love is Evol - Buy from Amazon
The latest stand-up concert performance from Christopher Titus, which was influenced by his recent divorce. Oh boy.

Christopher Titus is not the traditional stand-up comic, as he doesn't tell traditional jokes. It's not a series of setups followed by punchlines, he tells stories. Granted, the stories have a lot of jokes found within them, but this style feels a lot more satisfying than others. Also, because the topic is his life, it is a lot more personal, which gives it an added boost.

Extras on the DVD include a 2-minute look at the photoshoot for the DVD cover called Titus vs. Cupid. Next up is a 6-minute featurette on his fans talking about worst break-ups, worst first dates, etc. Finally, there are 14 minutes of tips from Christopher Titus on preparing for Valentine's Day, which can be found on his website as well.

I've reviewed a number of stand-up concert DVDs, and I can confidently say that Christopher Titus's Love is Evol is the best I've reviewed. It's a must have for fans of his, and worth picking up for fans of stand up comics in general. The only question is, How did his TV show get cancelled so soon?

Cool Dimension - Buy from Amazon
Three female Japanese assassins hunt down their target, only to discover it is their boss is the one they should be going after. This should be a great movie with a lot of kick-ass fights featuring women in tight leather outfits; however, it's not. It's rather dull.

Dead Like Me - Life After Death - Buy from Amazon
The direct-to-DVD based on the TV series Dead Like Me, which only lasted two seasons but developed a fan following in the meantime. Are these fans going to be happy with this movie? Will neophytes be able to appreciate it? Those are the two big questions.

The movie starts with a recap of the premise of the show with Ellen Muth telling us the background of the story. There are reapers who take the souls of those who are about to die, and after a certain amount of reaps, the reaper gets to move on, and the last soul they take becomes the new reaper. This is what happened to Georgia 'George' Lass five years ago. Since then she's been working under Rube and with her fellow reapers, Mason, Roxy, and Daisy. (Same character, but new actress, as Laura Harris did not reprise her role.)

After the intro, we find out that Rube has moved on, he got his lights, and there's a new boss, Cameron Kane. His style is a little different than Rube's was. Okay, a lot different. At first this is great news, but soon the gang start to think he's a bad influence and they try to figure out a way to change the situation. The other main storylines involves George: her boss dealing with her dying cat, and her sister grieving over more death in her life. The latter is the most significant of the three storylines, and it is this one that has the most heart.

Going back to the two questions I asked at the beginning of this review, I would say this movie is definitely made for fans of the show. That is not to say newcomers won't be entertained, they just might not get everything here. It's a great world created in the TV series, and there's not enough time to explain it all for newcomers. Also, not all the characters get equal time. In fact, Reggie Lass (played by Britt McKillip) has more screen time than any of the reapers besides George. This may upset some long time fans, but it is to be expected, since she was the main character in the show. Overall, it is not as good as the TV series was, but still worth checking out.

Extras include an audio commentary track with the director, Stephen Herek, and the star, Ellen Muth. This track has good energy and a lot of information and very few dead spaces. Back from the Dead: Resurrecting Dead Like Me is an interview featurette running 14 minutes and featuring most of the cast and much of the crew, with clips from the film and some behind the scenes footage. Worth checking out.

Dead Like Me - Life After Death tries to bring closure to the show (although there's definitely a way to continue the show should they choose to do so (and DVD sales will go a long way to convince them)). I hope this isn't the only direct-to-DVD release for the show, because there's clearly more stories that could be told and if they are this good, I want to see them. If you are a fan of the show, buy the DVD. If you've never seen the show, buy Dead Like Me Complete Collection, which is also coming out this week, then buy this DVD.

The f Word - Series One - Buy from Amazon
Part Reality TV series, part cooking show, all Gordon Ramsey. This program has the celebrity chef creating a 3-course meal in a way that he claims anyone can do at home, while simultaneously grilling several potential employees, the best of which will get a job at one of his restaurants. Gordon Ramsey is extremely talented in the kitchen, but is equally talented as a TV personality, and this makes the show very engaging. Sadly, it appears the 3-disc set has no additional features, and the price is a tad high on a per minute basis, but both of these problems are common for imports.

Feast III - The Happy Finish - Buy from Amazon
I don't care if it is happy or not, just as long as it is finished.

Starting off where the second one left off (I.E. small town overrun by killer monsters) in this movie we see the survivors of the first film, and a few new characters, try to keep alive. Most fail. That's pretty much the whole plot.

Is the movie any good? Well, it is arguably better than the second movie was in terms of production value, but the story is far worse. It had no internal consistency, the new characters were even less fleshed out than the ones introduced in the previous installment, scenes went on longer than need be, and the ending was one of the stupidest things ever put on film. It's a movie that offers nothing by blood and boobs, but I suspect even most fans of this genre will have a hard time sitting through this one.

Extras are DVD include an audio commentary track and a eight-and-a-half minute look at the director, John Gulager.

Feast III - The Happy Finish is worse than Feast II, and I hated that movie. The DVD isn't bare bones, but there's not a lot here either. For most people, it is safely skippable.

Flash of Genius - Buy from Amazon
Based on a true story, Greg Kinnear stars as Robert Kearns, the man who invented the intermittent windshield wiper, but who had his invention stolen and had to fight for years to get the recognition he deserved. It's an interesting story, but the reviews were only mixed. However, that doesn't explain its performance at the box office. The film opened a hair above the Mendoza Line and completely evaporated just three weeks later. Because of this, the DVD only has an audio commentary track and a few short deleted scenes as extras. That said, it is still worth checking out for most and picking up for many.

Warning: This Blu-ray does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 3rd. However, the Blu-ray screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Friday the 13th - Uncut - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
I reviewed the DVD here, so this will just be a quick update on the differences between the two formats.

There are almost none. There are no additional extras on the Blu-ray, however, most of the extras are presented in High Definition (retrospective, interviews, Jason reunion, special effects featurette, and Lost Tales from Camp Blood - Part 1). The only extra not in High Definition is Crystal Lake Chronicles. I was impressed by the Blu-ray's video quality, considering it's a low budget horror film that is nearly 30 years old, but the audio is nothing to be impressed by.

Comparing prices, the Blu-ray is nearly 50% more than the DVD. And since it is the only film in the series out on Blu-ray, I think it is best to wait for a box set of some kind. The price per movie should be a lot better then.

High School Musical - Remix - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
With the home market debut of High School Musical 3 - Senior Year, it is the perfect time to release the one that started it all on High Definition. I've previously mentioned this release here and here. For those who don't know the story...

The film starts with Gabriella and Troy meeting while on separate winter vacations. She's a brain, he's a jock, but they are roped into singing together at a party, and they connect. When schools starts again, they find out Gabriella is going to the same school as Troy. After the reconnect, they decide to try out for the high school musicale. This worries Troy's teammates, who are concerned that he won't have his head in the game and that will cost them the Basketball championship. Gabriella's friends in Chemistry club are worried that it will interfere with the academic decathlon. While Sharpay and Ryan are worried that they will be too much competition, and they always have the leads in the school's musical productions.

The movie isn't going to go down in film history for its nuances approach to High School life, but there's enough energy here and the songs are catchy enough that it should appeal to its target audience. And given its record breaking run on TV and on the home market, I'd say that was an understatement.

Extras on the Blu-ray are the same as they were on the 2-Disc DVD. Things start with a 9-minute long making of featurette, a 4-minute look at the one of the dances from the movie, a two-and-a-half look at the Hollywood premiere for the DVD, and a six-minute reunion. There are also several music videos. Finally, there's a dance-along featurette, which teaches some of the moves for two of the dances, and lastly there's a sing-along version of the movie, which is a must have for a movie like this. There are no new special features, nor are any presented in High Definition.

High School Musical - Remix on - Blu-ray is shovelware, and few people who are interested in the movie don't already have it on DVD, which further hurts the value. If you are a hardcore fan of the franchise it is likely worth picking up. Or you can grab it as part of the box set, but it is not that much cheaper than buying them individually.

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's 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 they 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, which 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.

Update: The 2-Disc DVD has arrived, and it is identical to the 3-Disc DVD / Blu-ray Combo, minus the Blu-ray disc, obviously. This means for a mere 30% more, you can get the film on High Definition to watch on the big screen in the TV room, and also a Standard Definition copy the kids can watch in their room or in the van while on the road. Excellent deal.

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.

Hobson's Choice - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
Not one of director David Lean best known or most beloved films, but look at the films he's directed, and you understand that is not an insult. "Not as good as Lawrence of Arabia is hardly an insult. In the movie Charles Laughton stars as the titular Hobson, a widower and father of three daughters. He runs a cobbler shop, or to be more specific, he drinks in the pub across the street while his daughters run the cobbler shop. They want to get married, but he wants to keep them as cheap labor. However, his eldest has a plan to change that. It's an excellent movie and the DVD has an audio commentary track and a featurette on the life of the star, Charles Laughton. Easily worth picking up.

Hounddog - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Dakota Fanning's most controversial film to date, which didn't help it at the box office. I think the reviews and the difficult subject matter had a lot to do with that. Not sure which had a larger effect, and until the screener arrives, I won't be able to say for sure. Hopefully it will arrive this week. Although, there's a chance the movie isn't coming out this week but makes its debut on the 24th. There's some confusion on the matter.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People - Buy from Amazon
I was looking forward to this film, as it has a number of actors I like, especially Simon Pegg. However, the reviews were not good and the film went nowhere at the box office. One of the worst performance of the year. Was this justified? Or was this film unfairly overlooked.

Simon Pegg stars as Sidney Young, a British journalist who at the beginning of the film is hired by Sharps magazine in New York City. Sidney sees this as an opportunity to become a serious journalist after toiling with his tiny publication; however, his first impression on the job is terrible. And he follows that up with an even worst second impression. (And third impression.) Now he has to deal with co-workers who hate him, a editor who treats him like an idiot, and a publicist who is trying to manipulate him, all while trying to get a starlet to sleep with him. (It's good to have goals.)

The book this movie was based on is a biting satire of the celebrity media industry, which is little more than a way of distributing press releases in glossy form while selling ad space. This is a subject that deserves attention, after all, what's the point of having access to stars if you can only write what their publicists tell you to write. What you do is write your story, and the next time you get negative news about them, ask for an interview, but don't tell them on what subject, and when they say no, write, "When contacted, they refused to comment on the allegations." This counts double for political journalists, who should really know better. ... Moving on.

The movie has some strong performances, especially from Simon Pegg, and the heart of the story is there, but there's not enough bite here. It is perhaps not as bad as the reviews suggest, and it is much, much better than its box office performance would indicate. It is worth checking out, but there are enough weaknesses that it is hard to be too enthusiastic with that recommendation.

Because of the films box office performance, I was expecting a totally empty disc as far as extras go. Fortunately, that is not the case. There are not one but two audio commentary tracks, the first with the director, Robert Weide, and the second where his is joined by Simon Pegg. The first is a more technically oriented track, while the second has a lot more entertainment value (and still has a lot of information as well). There is also a making of featurette that runs nearly 19 minutes. It's your typical making of featurette comprised of talking heads, behind-the-scenes featurette, and clips from the movie. Granted, it's not overloaded, but it is enough to be worth picking up.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is a flawed movie, but not as flawed as its box office or Tomatometer score would indicate. The DVD is worth checking out, but it is borderline rental / purchase. I guess it depends on how much you like the main cast, because they carry the movie.

Okay, eight spotlight reviews down, only seven to go. So let's continue onto page two...


Filed under: Video Releases, The Passion of the Christ, Cold Mountain, High School Musical 3: Senior Year, Freddy vs. Jason, The Butterfly Effect, Body of Lies, Changeling, Hostage, The Constant Gardener, Quarantine, Capote, Seed of Chucky, Over Her Dead Body, Flash of Genius, Choke, Deadly Blessing, How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, DOA: Dead or Alive, Hounddog, C.R.A.Z.Y., High School Musical, 21 Grams