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DVD Releases for April 14th, 2009 - Part II

April 14th, 2009

Not a busy week on the home market with the least number of new releases on this week for a number of weeks. (It seems busier than it is, because of all of the spotlight reviews. In fact, there are as many spotlight reviews as there are simple mentions. Additionally, there are more spotlight reviews for late arrivals than there are for this week's releases.) Looking for the best of the best, there's not a lot on top worth of the DVD Pick of the Week. The release I'm looking forward to the most is Lost in Austen - Buy from Amazon, which I'm awarding the DVD Pick of the Week. Thanks to the number of spotlight reviews, this week's list had to be split into two with the second part found here.

Mean Girls - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
I can't believe this movie is five years old. I can't believe Lindsay Lohan's career has stalled so badly for the past five years, as this is the last movie of hers to score with critics and moviegoers alike. In fact, most films of hers have failed to connect with either group.

Lindsay Lohan stars as Cady Heron, a girl going to public school for the first time after being home schooled by her parents, who are zoologist who till recently were working in Africa. However, while smart, she is completely unprepared for the social dynamics of school, so with her help of goth girl Janis and gay guy Damien, she is given a crash course in cliques, including the dreaded Plastics, headed by Regina, the Queen Bee, and that includes Gretchen and Karen. Janis used to be a friends with Regina, so when Regina invited Cady to sit with them, Janis sees this as a opportunity for revenge and uses Cady to break up the Plastics and remove Regina from power. What happens next shows just how mean girls can be.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the month, and practically at the beginning of every April, this is a transition month and the later in the month a movie opens, the weaker it tends to perform. This film opened on the last weekend of the month in 2004, but wowed critics and became a surprise hit. And watching it five years later, I'm happy to report it is still a great movie and not one that is outshined by its reputation. The writing by Tina Fey is fantastic, as is her acting. (I'm a little surprised that she hasn't penned another screenplay, but perhaps her TV series is keeping her busy.) The acting among the younger cast members is also fantastic It's hard to come up with real complaints about the movie, but I guess it wouldn't be unfair to say the movie is a little predictable at times, and the ending was wrapped up a little too neatly for me. Even so, it is definitely worth checking out.

Speaking of the ending, something always struck me as odd about it. Specifically when Regina tried to frame Cady for the Burn Book. Why would anyone believe Cady was responsible? After all, the Burn Book was started before she came to school. It undoubtedly contained information on students who left the school before she arrived. She couldn't be responsible, but people needed to believe she was to move the plot forward. It's a minor point, but one that struck me as odd the first time I watched it.

Extras on the Blu-ray are the same as those on the original DVD and include an audio commentary track that is worth listening to. There is also a making of featurette, a featurette on the book the movie is based on and its social themes, and a featurette on the fashion. There are several short deleted scenes, and some outtakes. Nothing exclusive to the Blu-ray, and none are in High Definition. At least the movie looks good in High Definition, but at $20 and zero additional extras, it's borderline whether it is worth picking up.

I really enjoy Mean Girls and want to be enthusiastic in my recommendation of the Blu-ray, but I can't. It's shovelware, and even shovelware for a good movie is at least somewhat disappointing. I'm going to recommend picking it up, especially if you don't have it on DVD yet.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 17th of March. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

The Nanny - Season Three - Buy from Amazon
This show ran for six seasons starting in 1993, and while it struggled in the ratings during its first season (it was opposite Home Improvement, which was the number one show that year) by the third season it was at the top of its game cracking the top 20 for the year for the first, and only time. Fran Dresher stars as Fran Fine, a typical Jewish-American girl who through a mix up at the beginning of season one goes from being a recently dumped hair dresser to a live in nanny for the Sheffield family helping raise Maggie, Brighton, and Grace. She has a not-so-secret crush on the father, Maxwell, much to the dismay of C.C.Babcock, Maxwell's business partner, who also has a not-so-secret crush on him. However, Fran has an ally in Miles, the family butler and frequent foil for C.C.

A lot happens this season, including Fran getting engages to a doctor, Niles & C.C. mutual hatred turning into passionate kissing (like you couldn't see that coming), Maggie turns 16 and Fran throws her a party, Maxwell starts to have a midlife crisis but the object of his desire has eyes for Fran, Fran decides to have a baby on her own, Maxwell manages to get Fran and C.C. to quit (separate episodes), Maxwell has another brush with a midlife crisis. There's even an animated Christmas special.

The humor can be formulaic at times with two main running gags. Firstly, one of the cast saying one thing, then immediately doing another: Fran "This is all her fault. Ever since I was a little girl, she's always pushing me to get married." Sylvia Fine "I never pushed" and then shoves her into Maxwell's arms. The other main running gag is Fran and Maxwell saying things that that shows they are obviously meant for each other, but they are oblivious to it. However, while the show is formulaic, the cast has enough charm to carry it off.

Sadly, there are no extras. There are subtitles, but in Spanish only, where are there play all buttons and proper chapter placements.

At the end of Season Three, we've reached the midway point of the series, and one could argue that The Nanny was at its peak during this year. By this point, the talent on both sides of the camera knew exactly what it was that was making the show work, and this formula had not run out of steam yet. The lack of extras is disappointing, but for fans of the show, it is still worth picking up.

Pillow Talk - Buy from Amazon
This is the third time this movie has been released on DVD. Granted, it is excellent, an this version does have better extras than previous releases (a featurette on the movie and another on the two leads) but I can't really recommend upgrading. If you like the genre and haven't seen the movie, check it out. Chances are you will become a fan and will want to add it to your collection.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and makes its home market debut on the 17th of March. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Punisher - War Zone - Buy from Amazon: DVD, 2-Disc Special Edition, Blu-ray
This is the third theatrical release of this comic book franchise. And since all three struggled at the box office, it might be the last for a long, long time.

Ray Stevenson stars as Frank Castle, a.k.a. The Punisher, a man whose family was killed by the mob and has now spent the last six years extracting revenge against every organized crime syndicate he can find. In his latest act of vigilantism, he brutally disfigures Billy "The Beaut" Russoti and unknowingly kills an undercover FBI agent. Because of this, and the cop who is now on his trail, he decides to retire. But when Billy Russoti, newly re-christened as "Jigsaw", kidnap the slain cop's widow, he goes in for one last mission.

Out of all three versions, I still like the Dolph Lundgren low-budget version from 1989 the best. That's one is not a great movie, but it's better than this one, as it is more realistic in its approach. (Or at least that's how I remember it. It has been a long time since I've seen it.) Like I mention below with Transporter 3, the action is so over-the-top, that it's entertainment value comes from the film not taking itself so seriously. The first Transporter know that, but this film does not. It treats the material like it was a serious dissertation on the social ramification of vigilantism, and not a movie where the titular character blows up someone in mid-jump with a grenade launcher. You can't take a movie seriously when it does that. (I do understand that Martin Soap was there for comic relief, but that didn't help. And what was with that Irish-Jamaican character? This is a straight up revenge flick and taking itself too seriously really hurt the film's effectiveness. It ranged from overdone to unintentionally funny. Not even the action scenes were entertaining, as they tended to drag on far too long.

The extras on the DVD include an audio commentary track and five short featurettes on the making of the movie, the training Ray Stevenson underwent, the make-up used to create the look of Jigsaw, the weapons seen in the movie, and another on the overall look of the film. Total running time is less than 30 minutes, but that's to be expected given its troubles at the box office.

The 2-Disc Special Edition has all of that, as well as a digital copy of the movie.

I don't have the Blu-ray, so I can't say if the A/V quality is worth the upgrade. However, there are no real exclusives (MoLog and Bookmarks don't count.)

Except for a couple of unintentionally funny scenes, there was almost nothing about Punisher - War Zone that was entertaining. I can't recommend renting, so it matters little which version is the better deal. If you think digital copies are worth a few extra bucks, then the Blu-ray is the better deal. Otherwise stick with the DVD.

The Reader - Buy from Amazon
The advance buzz for this film had this one being a major player during Awards Season. However, its reviews were only mixed. Kate Winslet was praised for her performance, and she did win her first Oscar, but I still think she's had given better performances in better movies and Meryl Streep should have won for Doubt. As for the DVD, it has a few extras, including a making of featurette, interviews, a look at the make-up used to make Kate Winslet look old, and more. Additionally, there are nearly a dozen deleted / extended scenes. As for the Blu-ray, it has no additionally extras, costs about 40% more, and doesn't come out till the 28th. I have no idea why they are doing that. It's like they are actively trying to make sure Blu-ray sales are low. Worth picking up for most, but there's not enough here in High Definition for that to be worth the extra expense.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and makes its home market debut on the 21st. However, the DVD screener arrived early and I was able to get the review done this week.

Ron White - Behavioral Problems - Buy from Amazon
I want to be 100% accurate. I didn't just get to this DVD early, I mis-filed it and I didn't realize it was coming out on the 21st till after I watched it and was starting the review. At that point, there's little reason not to get the review done early. Especially as the holiday left me with extra time and less DVDs to review.

Ron White is arguably best known for being part of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. He is also arguably to most mature of the four acts, and by that I mean his material is more risqué than that of Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Engvall, and he is just more mature than Larry the Cable Guy. In this 70-minute stand-up concert, he talks about various subjects from his wife, the joy of not cheating on your wife, his recent drug arrest, his USO tour experience, how to pay for the war, and much more. Most of the jokes work, not all, but most. And I don't want to insult his character, but I think he was a little drunk during the performance; I could tell because he messed up a couple of the jokes, but he seemed to take it all in stride.

Extras are limited to four bits that 'didn't make the cut'. They run a total of 14 minutes, and three of the four bits are worthy to be included in the show.

Ron White - Behavioral Problems is arguably a better value than You Can't Fix Stupid, but not as good as Tater Salad. Total running time is 85 minutes, which is good value compared to most stand-up concert DVDs and for fans it is at least worth renting, while most will want to add it to their collection.

The Ruth Rendell Mysteries - Set 4 - Buy from Amazon
Two more mysteries from this British series. If you consider it a TV series, it is way too expensive. Even for two TV movies the price is a tad high. Then again, the quality is very high, and it is still worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

Skins - Season 2 - Buy from Amazon
The box says volume 2, but this is season 2, or series 2, as seasons are referred to in its native U.K. This series follows a group of college students dealing with problems with school, parents, each other. It can get into Soap Opera territory a little too often, but for fans of such shows, it is worth checking out.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 17th of March. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

The Spectacular Spider-Man - Buy from Amazon: Volume 2 and Volume 3
It's a Spider-man double shot as we have two volumes of the latest TV show to review. Discs are late, no sense in delaying, so let's get right to the review.

The episodes on volume two are...

  • Market Forces - After an armored car is robbed, there's a new bad guy in town and Spider-man has to deal with The Shocker. What's most shocking is who is behind the robbery in the first place. It turns out Norman Osborn teamed up with the Big Man to rob his competitor in a little corporate rivalry; however, this plan soon backfires.
  • Competition - The Big Man forces Norman Osborn to make more super villains for Spider-man to fight, or he will reveal who was behind the creation of The Shocker. This time around he, with the help of Dr. Otto Octavius, transform petty crook Flint Marko into the Sandman.
  • The Invisible Hand - The new freak of the week is Alexander O'Hirn, who is transformed into The Rhino. Also, Spider-man learns of the head criminal who has been pulling all of the strings, the Big Man, a.k.a. L. Thompson Lincoln, a.k.a. Tombstone. Problem is, as L. Thompson Lincoln, he's a respected member of the New York City business elite.
Volume 3 starts off with...
  • Catalysts - There's a new freak in town, the Green Goblin, but instead of fighting Spider-man, he goes after Tombstone, and Spider-man has to come to the rescue.
  • Reaction - A lab accident causes Dr. Otto Octavius to be transformed into Doctor Octopus, who goes on a rampage.
  • The Uncertainty Principle - The Green Goblin continues his attacks against both Tombstone and OsCorp, but Spider-man thinks its Norman Osbourne behind these attacks. The truth is more shocking than that.
There are no extras on either disc, nor are there subtitles. They do have play all buttons and proper chapter placements.

Perhaps not the best Spider-man TV series out there, but this version still has all of the necessary elements to be a success. There's more than enough action, the crème de la crème of Spidey's nemeses. And there's even enough emotional support to hold up the series. That said, a list price of $20 for just three episodes and no special features is way too much. Wait for the full season sets, they have to be a better deal than this.

The Spirit - Buy from Amazon: DVD, 2-Disc DVD, or Blu-ray
Frank Miller was the man behind the original graphic novels for Sin City and 300. In fact, he helped create such a unique visual style with Sin City that he was given a directing credit on the movie. After this, someone must have thought, why not let him direct a movie for real? Why not? Because he has no experience. It takes more than a visual style to create a good movie, and that's all this movie has. As for extras on the DVD, there is an audio commentary track, alternate ending, featurette on the green screen work, and featurettes on Frank Miller and Will Eisner, who created the original comic book. The 2-Disc DVD has all of this and a digital copy of the movie too. Meanwhile, the Blu-ray is BD-Live enabled, and given the visual nature of the movie, it is worth paying extra for High Definition. That said, I can't even recommend renting; the movie is just a big mess.

Splinter - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A horror that opened in limited release this past October. Despite the great release date, the film failed to attract much of an audience, but such is the fate of most films of its genre that open in limited release. Given its reviews, it should earn a lot more on the home market, especially with extras like making of featurette, interviews, and more. The or Blu-ray as no exclusive extras, but it costs just 8% more, which is tiny and it is well worth the upgrade.

The Telling - Buy from Amazon
A direct-to-DVD horror anthology film starring the three playmates from The Girls Next Door. ... Next.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 10th of March. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in this review.

Transporter 3 - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc Edition, Two-Disc Fully Loaded Edtition, or Blu-ray
First a note, I only have the Two-Disc Fully Loaded Edtition, but it's pretty easy to find out what exclusives there are on Blu-ray, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Transporter 3 starts like the previous films started, with Frank Martin getting mixed up with the wrong group of people. This time he is forced to transport a package, and a passenger, across Europe. The twist, he has a bracelet attached to his wrist and if he is ever more than 75 feet from his car, he goes boom. There's more to the plot than that, but I won't talk about it for two reasons. Firstly, we would be entering spoiler territory too frequently. Secondly, the plot is superfluous in films like this. It's all about the stunts.

And how are the stunts? Sadly not as good as the first film. In the first movie, there were fights you just had not seen before, like the fight in the oil where Frank Martin was 'wearing' bicycle pedals for traction. I don't know about you, but that's not something I've seen before in a movie. Also, it was so over-the-top that you couldn't help but say, 'To hell with suspension of disbelief!' and go along for the ride. In this movie, there's a more serious tone; they are treating the film as a serious movie, and not an over-the-top slice of fun, and that really hurts the overall effectiveness. One late note, I did like newcomer Natalya Rudakova in the movie, perhaps not as much as Shu Qi, but more than most critics seem to.

On a side note, why bother hiring people to hunt down and find you daughter when you know who did it, and they are sitting in your office asking you to sign a contract. Knock them out (either with drugged alcohol or with a tranq gun) and 'convince' them to give her back. They are doing this for money. A little pain and they will change their minds, as it is not like they are doing this due to a dedication to some abstract philosophy, and you can't spend cash when you are dead.

As for extras, the Single-Disc Edition has an audio commentary track with the director, Olivier Megaton, a 14-minute featurette on real world transporters, a 16-minute making of featurette, a 3-minute look at a couple of unfilmed scenes in storyboard form, a 3-minute look at the special effects, and a 2-minute featurette on the sets. That's less than 40 minutes in total, which is roughly what I was expecting.

The Two-Disc Fully Loaded Edtition has all of those extras, as well as a digital copy of the movie.

Meanwhile, the Blu-ray has all of the above extras, plus MoLog and bookmarks, neither of which I consider real extras.

Overall, Transporter 3 is just worth a rental; however, if you are intent on buying, the Blu-ray is the better deal.

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.

UFC Classics - Buy from Amazon: Volume 11 and Volume 12
Two events from the early days of the UFC, and you can tell. Some of the rules have changed, including headbutts and holding onto the ring, while the styles are not as refined. But how are they overall in terms of entertainment value?

Volume 11 was from September 20th, 1996, in Augusta, Georgia. It's two-and-a-half hours and with single elimination tournament format, that should mean seven fights at roughly 20 minutes a fight. Sadly, pomp and ceremony before the fights usually lasted longer than the fights themselves. (I think the refs were a lot quicker to jump in and stop the fights when one person had an upper hand on the ground. I think this is a product of having one 15-minute round instead of three 5-minute rounds.) Only one match in the quarterfinals would have lasted more than a round, and it was practically 11 solid minutes of low action grappling on the ground. Not a highlight. The semi-finals had one fight that went the distance, including the 3-minute overtime, but there's more action that in the other long fight. Lot of action, but not a whole lot of technical skill. As for the final... There wasn't one. The second semi-final took out too much over the winner, and he couldn't continue. Very anti-climactic.

As for the extras, there are text bios on the fighters and an interview with the champion.

Moving onto the Volume 12, which was filmed in Dothan, Alabama on February 7, 1997. This is the first time there were weight divisions, but just two: 200 and more and 199 and less. Other rule changes include no holding the fence. It is also the first appearance of Joe Rogan, who handles the interviews, but I think he's a better play-by-play man then they have here. It's no surprise he moved up. By splitting into two weight categories, there's an opening for smaller, more technically skilled fighters, while there's not as wide a weight difference in some of the fights. (Although there's still a 100+ pounds weight difference here.) The fights have more action, and less grappling. However, only one fight went the distance, and is was more common for the introductions lasted longer than the fights themselves.

Extras consist of more bios, and a 20-minute featurettes on the basics of jiujitsu.

For fans of UFC, being able to watch the earlier matches is quite interesting, but I definitely think as the sport has evolved it has gotten better with more technically oriented fighters. (Even the changes from the first to the set event here make a world of difference.) Additionally, they cost more than more recent events that were released on DVD, and they have fewer extras. Maybe if you are a hardcore fan of the sport, Volume 11 and Volume 12 are worth adding to your collection, but I would wait for another multi-volume collection.

Wings - The Final Season - Buy from Amazon
Eight years. Say what you will about the show, you have to be at least a little impressed by a TV show that lasts eight years. Lasting eight years is not only impressive, it also makes writing reviews a little difficult; after all, there's not much I can say that will be fresh to those who have seen the show, while those who haven't have probably already moved onto another review.

The basic plot is relatively simple. The show takes place in Nantucket, which is most famous for its frequent references in limericks. It stars Tim Daly and Steven Weber as Joe and Brian, two brothers who run Sandpiper airlines, and small airline that has just one plane and just one other employee, Fay. (It used to have two others, but Thomas Haden Church left the show after season six.) The other leads include Crystal Bernard, as Helen Chapel who at the end of season seven married Joe, and her sister, Casey. They have to deal with a rival small airline run by Roy Biggins, while comic relief comes in the form of Antonio Scarpacci. (Tony Shalhoub was always my favorite character on the show from the moment he was introduced in season three.) By the time season eight aired, the show was a well-oiled machine, and while it was feeling its age at times, it still went out on a very high note.

Speaking of going out on a high note... A good series finale should wrap up storylines, show the characters moving on, offer some closure, but still leave open the possibility of more stories. You have to treat these characters are real people, people who will have lives after the final scene. Some of them will have radical changes in their lives, others will continue things pretty much as they are. This show does it right. Many shows fail at this task, including long running shows like Night Court or Seinfeld. But I think that almost all fans of the show will be happy here.

As for the extras on the three-disc set, there are none. There are also no subtitles. There are play all buttons, while the opening credits are so short they make proper chapter placements moot.

For fans of Wings that have been collecting the series sets thus far, picking up The Final Season is a no-brainer. For those who have never seen it, give it a rental, but start with Seasons 1 and 2, and then wait for the full series Megaset. It should not be that far off.


Filed under: Video Releases, Mean Girls, The Reader, Transporter 3, The Spirit, Punisher: War Zone, Splinter