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DVD Releases for April 7th, 2009 - Part I

April 7th, 2009

The last of the winter releases are trickling on to the home market; however, we are at the tale end of the hits and are getting the near misses now, which leaves a void in major hits at the top. I do like Deadliest Catch - Season 4, but I can't rate a featureless DVD as the DVD Pick of the Week. So that honor goes to Doubt, which is worth buying on DVD or Blu-ray. But I would go with the latter. As has become customary, this week's list has to be split into two, with the second part found here.

1612 - Buy from Amazon
A Russian film set in 1612 during the Time of Trouble. The film was a mid-level hit in its native market, but it will likely be mostly ignored here.

Alexandra - Buy from Amazon
A Russian / French co-production about an elderly woman traveling to Chechnya to visit her grandson. The film earned amazing reviews but it was never able to find an audience here (at its widest, it was only playing in four theaters). Sadly, I've found no information on the DVD release, so I can't tell if it is worth buying, but it is worth a rental at the very least.

American High School - Buy from Amazon
A direct-to-DVD teenage sex comedy in the same vein as American Pie. Or perhaps a parody of teenage sex comedies like American Pie. If it's the latter, it's a weak attempt at skewering the conventions of the genre. If it's the former, it is an even bigger failure.

The Beauty of Snakes - Buy from Amazon
A 44-minute long nature documentary that first appeared on Animal Planet. Although after watching this, I feel the need to put documentary in scare quotes. This is not a Blu-ray that you need to watch if you want to learn a lot about snakes.

The information presented here is rather basic stuff. I'm not an expert on snakes by any stretch of the imagination, but there was very little presented here that I didn't know. The mating rituals of garter snakes, the lack of eye lids, why they have forked tongues, the heat sensitive pits in pit vipers, spiting cobras, etc. None of this was new to me. That said, the selling point here is not the information given by the narrator but the visuals, and those are more impressive. The high definition presentation is fantastic, for the most part, and even the shots of nature without the snakes stands out. I could have done without some of the over-dramatic narration. "If the mother or child puts a foot down now, they could be dead within hours." No they couldn't, because this is clearly a staged shot. And this hurt what was otherwise an effective program.

There are no extras on the DVD, which means it costs $14.00 on Amazon for just 43 minutes. That's a bit steep for my taste. Still, it's worth checking out, even if it is just worth a rental.

Warning: This Blu-ray / DVD Combo-Pack does not come out on Tuesday, but makes its home market debut on the Sunday. Because it straddles two release dates, I'm including it both on this week's list and next week's list.

Bedtime Stories - Buy from Amazon: DVD, DVD + Digital Copy, or Blu-ray / DVD Combo
This is the second time Disney has released the Blu-ray / DVD Combo ahead of the DVD release. Hopefully it will work better than with Bolt, because apparently retailer confusion meant the Bolt DVD came out at the same time as the Blu-ray in a lot of places. It's hard to tell if the plan worked if most retailers didn't follow the plan. But that's not important here...

Bedtime Stories starts in 1974 with Marty Bronson narrating the story of the hotel he ran and his life with his two kids, Wendy and Skeeter. Sadly, while he was a great father, he wasn't a good businessman and he was bought out by Barry Nottingham on the condition that, if Skeeter showed promise, he would give him a chance to run the place when he grew up. Flash forward 25 years and Skeeter is working as a handyman in the hotel and still waiting for his chance to lead. However, he is passed over for promotion for Kendall, who is dating Mr. Nottingham's daughter, Violet (played by Teresa Palmer). At this time he is also asked to baby-sit his niece and nephew while his sister looks for a job in Arizona. In order to get the kids to go to bed, he tells them a bedtime story, and the next day it comes true, sort of. He figures the next night he can use his stories to get ahead in life, but that's when he figures out that it's the kids that control the power, not him.

This is a Disney kids movie released on Christmas day that stars Adam Sandler and is directed by Adam Shankman, who previously made Cheaper By the Dozen 2 and The Pacifier. I wasn't expecting Oscar caliber entertainment here, just lighthearted fluffy entertainment aimed at kids. And that's exactly what this film is. It's the kind of movie that by the time it's over, you will have forgotten most of it. I certainly have, which makes it hard to write this review. It's disposable entertainment that should generate enough laughs in its young target audience, but most adults will not want to sit through it more than once.

Extras on the DVD consist of a 4-minute featurette on the special effects, a five-and-a-half-minute featurette on the child actors in the movie, a 4-minute featurette on Bugsy, seven minutes of outtakes, and 10 minutes of deleted scenes. Total running time for the extras is just 30 minutes and 30 seconds. That's not a whole lot to offer.

The DVD + Digital Copy includes all of those extras, plus a digital copy of the movie. Blu-ray / DVD Combo has all of those extras, and has them in high definition. Additionally, the Blu-ray is BD-Live enabled with the usual set of Disney extras (movie mail, movie chat, movie rewards, etc.). Also, it comes with a digital copy of the movie and a DVD copy of the movie. And, it comes out 2 days earlier than the other editions.

Bedtime Stories is fluff that should entertain younger kids, but unless you are in that demo, or have kids in that demo, you can safely give this movie a pass. If you are interested in watching the movie, the extras are rather light, but the Blu-ray / DVD Combo is arguably the best deal.

Ben 10 Alien Force - Season One - Volume 3 - Buy from Amazon
Good show, but not enough bang for your buck. I would rather grab a full season set.

Beverly Hills 90210 - Season Seven - Buy from Amazon
I hated this show right from the beginning; however, I will admit that it did last a long, long time, so it must have had a lot of fans. That said, even most fans will admit it wasn't as fresh by this point in its run.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: 2010: The Year We Make Contact, Above the Law, Africa's Elephant Kingdom, American History X, The Beauty of Snakes, Bricktown, Collateral Damage, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Doubt, Final Destination, Fly Away Home, Gettysburg - The Battle and the Address, Iditarod, John Q, Mars - The Quest for Life, No Country for Old Men, Not Easily Broken, Passchendaele, Point of No Return, Primera Fila, Taking Lives, The Tale of Despereaux, Tango & Cash, The Wedding Singer, Winged Migration, The World's Biggest and Baddest Bugs, and Yes Man
Not a great week for Blu-ray. Granted, The Day the Earth Stood Still should do well on Blu-ray compared to its DVD sales, but I don't think it will be a blockbuster. A couple of interesting notes though. Passchendaele is coming out on Blu-ray this week, but while it is a Canadian release, it is cheaper to import it from the states than order it from up here. Strange. One final note, there are several nature documentaries coming out on high definition this week, but the best of these is Winged Migration.

Boys from Brazil - Buy from Amazon
Oh glorious cheese. Aged cheese. Glorious, aged, smelly cheese.

The movie starts in Paraguay with a very young Steve Guttenberg following a group of men. After he has been spying on them for a while, they retreat to a secluded mansion. He informs famed Nazi hunter, Ezra Lieberman, that there are Nazis in South America, but at first Ezra just dismisses him as an over-enthusiastic young man who is in way over his head. However, after Barry learns that Dr. Mengele is in that mansion and that he has hatched a plot to bring about another Third Reich. (Wouldn't that be the Fourth Reich?) Before Barry can give Ezra the details, Barry is murdered, which spurs Ezra into action.

On the one hand, many people like this movie. On the other hand, it seems many of these people like it because it is so ludicrous. The main plot involving -- Warning - Major Spoilers -- the main plot involving clones of Adolf Hilter wasn't particularly believable then, and it comes across as laughable now. Additionally, while both Laurence Olivier and Gregory Peck earned major award nominations (the former an Oscar and the latter a Golden Globe) they both appear to my untrained eye to be overacting somewhat. Additionally, the movie moves slowly and takes itself too seriously, but there are some interesting points as well, including the strong score.

As for extras, there are no real extras (there are some text-based bios and production notes, on the other hand). There are also no subtitles, and the movie is in non-anamorphic widescreen. Wow. Talk about bare bones.

Boys from Brazil does not have a good reputation today, and for the most part the label of cheese fits. The movie is worth watching, but the DVD is worth no more than a rental.

Cleopatra - 75th Anniversary Edition - Buy from Amazon
This is not the Cleopatra from 1963, the film that is considered one of the most expensive movies ever made, but an earlier version from 1934. This is good news, because this version is much better than the 1963 version was. Extras include an audio commentary track, featurettes on the star, the director, and the production code of the era. Certainly worth picking up for fans of early cinema.

The Day the Earth Stood Still - Buy from Amazon: 2-Disc DVD, 3-Disc DVD, or Blu-ray
First a note: I only have a single-disc DVD screener, so I'm limited in what I can say about the various sets coming out tomorrow. That said, it's not really an issue.

This movie is a remake of the classic sci-fi film from 1951, only this time it has been modernized somewhat. The film focuses at the beginning on Dr. Helen Benson, a scientist brought in by the government to deal with an impending planetary collision, one that will strike in just over an hour and is projected to destroy New York City. However, instead of an asteroid, it is a spaceship, of sorts, and out pops a strange and weird looking alien, who is shot by the military almost immediately. Brought to a military base for medical help, the alien, named Klaatu, asks to address the world leaders at the U.N., but that idea is nixed by Regina Jackson, the Secretary of Defense who wants to interrogate him and learn if he is the start of an alien invasion; however, it seems she has already decided that he is. Dr. Helen Benson feels otherwise, which is what prompts her to help him escape so he can complete his mission. And that mission is to determine if mankind is fit enough to stay on the Earth, or whether they have to be sacrificed in order to allow the Earth to survive.

The original was a classic cold-war paranoia film that is still effective to this day. This version has improved special effects in a technical sense, but it is weaker in nearly every other regard. (On a side note, this is exactly what I feared would happen.) For instance, the reveal that the shiny body of the alien was just a carrying case was poorly done. It felt clumsy. Very few of the characters were compelling, and this was a major, major hurdle. On the one hand, Keanu Reeves makes a good alien, because he has trouble displaying real human emotions. However, his Klaatu feels too cold and distant and doesn't draw us in like in the original. Kathy Bates character was too set on treating him as hostile, which is self-fulfilling. And as a character, Jacob was just completely annoying. I don't fault the actor, but the character was insufferable. There were some good points to the movie, including John Cleese as a scientist trying to make the case for human survival, but overall that was not enough. It is perhaps not as bad as its Tomatometer Score would indicate, but it is completely forgettable.

I only have a single-disc screener, so I can't say with 100% authority what extras are on what version, but here's what I got...

Extras start with an audio commentary track with the writer, David Scarpa. It's a solo track and he clearly doesn't have enough to say to fill it up. In fact, there were so many dead spots, that I turned it off before I got halfway through. There are three deleted / extended scenes but they have a combined running time of under 2 minutes, so there's not a lot of value here. Next up are four featurettes starting with Re-Imaging The Day, which is a 30-minute making-of featurette and is the usual mix of talking heads, clips from the movie, and behind-the-scenes footage. Unleashing Gort runs 14-minute and it is about the long process the filmmakers went through to come up with the design of Gort. It's very interesting to watch, especially with the end design is so similar to the original. I'm glad they decided to go in that direction in the end, as Gort is one of the few parts of the movie that works. Watching the Skies: In Search of Extraterrestrial Life is a 23-minute featurette on the real-life search for extraterrestrial life. It includes real scientists, "UFO enthusiasts", and Michael Shermer representing the skeptics. Finally, there's The Day the Earth was "Green", which spends 14 minutes talking about how the film was made in a Green process to minimize negative environmental effects of the film production. The featurettes are all interesting and Watching the Skies has more replay value than the movie itself.

As far as I can tell, disc two of the 2-Disc Edition is the Digital Copy while disc three of the 3-disc Edition is the original movie. I like that... sort of. The original movie is much better, but I think it is better just to grab it by itself.

The Blu-ray appears to have a picture-in-picture track, but I don't have any other details.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is not as bad as its reviews would indicate, but it is also not that good. Call it a rental. On the other hand, the original is worth grabbing on Blu-ray.

Deadliest Catch - Season 4 - Buy from Amazon
Head back to the icy seas of Alaska and check in on the men of Northwestern, Time Bandit, Cornelia Marie, and the others. A great show and this 5-disc set is worth picking up, even without extras.

Donkey Punch - Buy from Amazon: R-Rated or Unrated
A movie named after a violently misogynistic sex act. At least you know what you are getting yourself into from the start. The film failed to find an audience during its limited release, but that's no surprise as it was the wrong genre and had mixed reviews. It should perform better on the home market, especially with a healthy list of extras (audio commentary, making of featurette, interviews, deleted scenes) but rent it first.

Doubt - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
This film earned reviews that were only good, not up to the level one usually sees in the major Awards Season player, but that's exactly what it turned out to be with all four main cast members earning nomination after nomination after nomination. It's an interesting dichotomy and one that was on my mind when I watched it.

The movie is set in 1964 in a Catholic school where there is a battle of wills between the old guard, Sister Aloysius, and the new priest, Father Flynn, who wants to modernize the church. He wants them to sing some secular songs in the Christmas pageant. He uses a ballpoint pen. He takes three lumps of sugar in his tea. But there's something more at work here, and when Sister James reports something unusual is up with one of her students, Sister Aloysius attacks. The rest of the film is a battle of wills between Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn over much more sinister allegations than whether "Frosty the Snowman" is an appropriate song for the Christmas pageant.

First of all, this movie is based on a play, and at times you can tell. In many scenes the film feels confined, which is a real restriction when on stage, and while the movie opens up a bit, you can still feel its origins. However, and this is important, that's my only real complaint. I found myself completely drawn into this movie the first time I watched it, and the second time I watched it with the audio commentary track, I found myself paying attention more to the movie than the to director who was talking. All four lead actors deserved their nominations, and quite frankly, as I said just before the Oscars were handed out, Meryl Streep should have won. In fact, all four leading actors could have won and I wouldn't have been too surprised. Okay, I would have been really surprised, as Amy Adams and Viola Davis were competing against each other, but either could have won and I would have been happy with that selection. While in a normal year, Philip Seymour Hoffman would have been one of the favorites to take home the hardware.

Although I will say that I don't think the ending is as ambiguous as some do. I agree with Sister Aloysius, if he wasn't guilty, the lie would not have worked. It reminds me of Mystic Rivier in that regard; when the cops lied about having evidence against Dave, he didn't confess, but instead gained confidence and turned the tables on his accusers. I think if Father Flynn was innocent, he would have done the same.

Moving onto the extras on the DVD, I don't have it yet. I might not get it, as Disney appears to be phasing out support for the format. At least when it comes to promoting it. I think this is a wise decision, as even dramas are selling 10% of their total units on Blu-ray, while if you are a professional critic and you have not made the leap to High Definition by now, perhaps reviewing movies is more of a hobby.

The Blu-ray has the audio commentary with the director / Screenwriter / Playwright, John Patrick Shanley. He's not overly energetic, but he does provide a lot of information on both the movie and the real life inspirations. Certainly worth listening too. The rest of the extras are featurettes starting with From Stage to Screen, a 19-minute making-of featurette that is composed of talking heads, clips from the movie, and behind-the-scenes footage. Next up is The Cast of Doubt, which is 14-minute interview with all four main cast members. Scoring Doubt runs four-and-a-half minutes and it is about how Howard Shore wrote the score. Finally there's Sisters of Charity, a six-and-a-half minute featurette on the real life nuns that inspired the movie. I don't believe any of these are exclusive to High Definition, but the film looks and sounds great, and only costs $5 more for Blu-ray, and that's a premium that is worth paying.

I would consider Doubt to be one of the more under-appreciated movies of the year, at least with the critics. It is better than its Tomatometer score would indicate, and it earned 78% positive reviews. The extras are good, but not overwhelming, and either the DVD or the Blu-ray is worth picking up. I would go with the latter if you have the choice.

Dynasty - Season Four - Volume One - Buy from Amazon
I hate soap operas. I hate soap operas that focus on the lives of the fabulously wealthy and their petty, self-inflicted problems. I also hate TV series having seasons split into two volumes and released without special feature, so there's nothing for me to recommend here.

The Fox and the Child - Buy from Amazon
A lot of sources have this movie coming out this week, but Amazon says it doesn't have a release date.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 31st of March. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Hope & Faith - Season 1 - Buy from Amazon
As long time readers may have noticed, I tend to use the term, "sitcom" as an insult. Shows like this are the reason I do that.

Faith Ford stars as Hope Shanowski, the grounded more mature of the two sisters. Kelly Ripa plays Faith, the former soap opera star that never quite grew up. After losing her job, she realizes that she doesn't have any money and is forced to move in with her sister and her sister's family. But how can these two polar opposites survive living together? It's a rather lazy set-up, which generates rather lazy humor. It was part of TGIF on ABC, and it feels like a cheesy family sitcom meant to be low expectation entertainment without challenging anyone. While these types of shows are popular, I dislike them, a lot, and I think they really lack replay value, which is devastating for TV on DVD.

On a side note, I think the studio knew they were in trouble with this show from the beginning, as there were a ton of stunt casting right away. Guest spots in the early episodes include Regis Philbin, Mimi Rogers, Clint Black, Tom Arnold, Lynda Carter, Robert Wagner, etc. Clearly they were compensating for something else.

On the other hand, the extras on the 4-disc set are better than expected with audio commentary tracks on four episodes, as well as a 30-minute making-of featurette and five-and-a-half minutes of outtakes.

The humor in Hope & Faith is very broad and very generic. It's a safe family sitcom. Season 1 didn't generate enough laughs for me to recommend the 4-disc set, but there are enough extras that it is worth picking up for fans of the show.

House - Buy from Amazon
A horror film aimed at the churchgoing set. This movie has more than a couple of connections to Thr3e, being based on the novel by the same author and directed by the same director. Given that film's reviews and box office performance, that's not a good sign.

The film starts with a woman trying to escape a creepy house, only to be killed by her husband. We then cut to a couple traveling down a country road. They are obviously lost, but that's okay, as they are not interested in making it to their marriage counselor meeting anyway. After nearly contributing to an accident, they are instructed by a state trooper how to get back to the highway and home. But after running over some debris in the road and having two flat tires and one only spare, they decide to take refuge in a scary rundown bed and breakfast, the same scary rundown bed and breakfast from the beginning of the movie. There they meet another couple, who are also lost and stranded. With plenty of rain and no phone service, they decide to take up the owners' offer and spend the night. This turns out to bad mistake when the Tin Man shows up and demands they kill one of their own, or he will kill all of them. But this is not just some average serial killer, as there appears to be more at work here.

I haven't seen Thr3e, but if it is anywhere near as bad as this movie, I don't want to see it. I lost track of the number of clichés this film throws at the viewer, including, but not limited to: jump scares, creepy cops, disabling a car with debris on the road, cell phone reception that goes out, "a dark and stormy night," creepy house in the middle of nowhere, residents of said house that are a "little off," a son that is even more off than the others, etc. Once the real horror starts, it gets even worse as we learn what the past sins of the four main leads are. The main couple lost a child due to their neglect (although the mother is blamed more than the father) which is not a bad plot point, if a little predictable. The man in the other couple shot his abusive father while hunting, which is less "sinful." Finally, the other woman killed the man who was molesting her. ... I have a hard time calling that a sin. Worst still, the movie implies it was her fault for being a temptress and portrays the adult as bit of a tramp. (She's only with her boyfriend for his money, and hits on the married man.) Had the movie been more effective as a horror film, this would have been enough for me to completely hate this movie. As it is, it is just one more flaw in a long list of flaws that start at the beginning, and go right through the end. Speaking of which, in the "dramatic" climax, a girl named Susan is shot by the big bad guy, and is shown getting pushed back by the blast, in slow motion... twice... using reverse angles. It is so overdone calling it unintentionally funny is an understatement. And I'm not even going to talk about the surprise twist, which was a true groaner.

On a side note, I didn't mind the heavy-handed Christian themes in the movie. The bad guy claims to have killed god, the crazies keep talking about sins, the crazies tun out to be devil worshipers, the good girl talks about the light defeating the darkness, etc. I just accepted this as flavor. Maybe if the rest of the movie were good, this would have stood out as a major flaw. As it is, it is a minor one on the list.

This DVD wouldn't be worth renting if it was loaded with extras, but that's not a problem as it is bare bones as you can get.

House is an absolute disaster as a movie and the DVD is totally skippable. On the other hand, it did make me want to watch the other House on DVD.

I.O.U.S.A. - Buy from Amazon
A very strong documentary about the upcoming financial crisis. At least it was upcoming when the movie was released in theaters. It's the current financial crisis now. I do have a few problems with some of the points made in the movie; for instance, Social Security and Medicare have lower overheads than private run equivalents, so they are saving money overall. That said, it is still worth checking out, but with no extras, a rental will be enough.

Now we can move onto part two, which can be found here.


Filed under: Video Releases, Bedtime Stories, Yes Man, The Day the Earth Stood Still, No Country for Old Men, The Tale of Despereaux, Doubt, Taking Lives, Not Easily Broken, Passchendaele, I.O.U.S.A., House, Alexandra, Donkey Punch, Le renard et l'enfant, 1612