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DVD Releases for April 28th, 2009 - Part I

April 27th, 2009

We are about to enter the summer blockbuster season, which is great for box office numbers, not so good for the home market. In fact, it is arguably the weakest time of the year for DVD sales. Looking at this week's list, that's not a huge surprise. There are no first run releases that are must haves, nor are there are lot of smaller releases to pick up the slack. The clear DVD Pick of the Week is Star Trek - The Original Series - Season One - Blu-ray, which is better than the previous HD DVD release. Also worth picking up is One-Eyed Monster on DVD, but that has a more limited target audience. While there's not a lot on the top, there's plenty of bulk, so much so we need a second page, which can be found here.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 21st. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

America Betrayed - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about the Hurricane Katrina disaster and how it wasn't a "natural disaster" but due to massive, massive and I mean massive corruption, it was a manmade disaster.

Narrated by Richard Dreyfuss, the filmmakers (including writer / director / producers Leslie Cardé) makes the case that the Army Corp of Engineers, among other groups, were responsible for creating projects like that Mr. Go (Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet Canal) that were not necessary, poorly designed, poorly constructed, and created the problem by allowing Hurricane Katrina direct access to the heart of New Orleans. We hear from engineers, from politicians, from whistleblowers, from experts, from investigative reporters, and more about how the problem developed, and why the problems persist to this day. And this is not an isolated incident; for instance, the levees were supposed to be built up after Hurricane Betsy, which hit New Orleans in 1965. They were never fully completed before Hurricane Katrina. And these issues exist throughout the nation. An exceedingly effective documentary and worth seeing by more people. It ends with many, many people giving their idea on how to prevent this from happening again. First thing I would do... Publicly financed elections. The need for hundreds of millions of dollars every two years for elections is a recipe for corruption.

Extras on the DVD include a 9-minute interview with writer / director / producer Leslie Cardé where she gives answers to the questions she was asked during Q&A sessions that accompanied its film festival run / limited release. There are also seven-and-a-half minutes of interviews that were not featured in the movie along with bios and resources for additional research.

America Betrayed is a movie that slipped below most people's radar screens, and that's a shame. The DVD is worth checking out, and even with extras that are light, it is worth buying over just renting.

American Dad - Volume 4 - Buy from Amazon
Fans of this show will be pleased with the extras on this three-disc set, which include audio commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and a couple of featurettes (not to mention uncensored audio). Dividing the seasons into volumes, having episodes from multiple seasons on each volume, is a pain, but fans will be used to that by now.

Warning: This Blu-ray does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 21st. However, the Blu-ray screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Arctic Tale - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
The Blu-ray arrived just a little too late to review for last week, but it will be a short review this week.

First, the quality of the movie, which is mixed. On the one hand, the film does have some great shoots and looks amazing (for the most part, but more on that later). Following the polar bears, the walruses, and other animals is both beautiful and engaging. On the down side, there's the narration. Like I said before, I don't blame Queen Latifah, because she does a solid job with the material, but the material seems to be aimed at kids. They could have stripped the narration, added some background music, and the movie would have been better. Perhaps it wouldn't have entertained kids as much, but I would have liked it better.

As for the technical presentation... It's shovelware. This version of Arctic Tale is identical to the HD DVD that was originally released. Additionally, because the film was not entirely shot on High Definition, some of the scenes are quite weak in High Definition. Finally, with a price tag at $22, it is too costly for shovelware. Rent it now, but wait until the price comes down before picking it up.

Barbra Streisand - The Concerts - Buy from Amazon
A 3-disc set that features two concerts with Barbra Streisand, as well as the making of her Broadway album documentary. Loads of extras make this a must have for her fans.

Beethoven - Buy from Amazon: Beethoven, Beethoven's 2nd, Beethoven's 3rd, Beethover's 4th, and Beethover's 5th
All five movies from this franchise are being re-released on DVD this week. Here's the problem, the first movie was horrid, and the franchise managed to get a lot worse very quickly. Also coming out this week are two box sets, neither of which are worth picking up.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Amazing Journeys, Bride Wars, The Da Vinci Code, The Da Vinci Code - Gift Set, Hotel for Dogs, In the Realm of the Senses, JCVD, The Reader, Star Trek - The Original Series - Season One, The Uninvited, and What Doesn't Kill You
Another weak week for Blu-ray releases. There are a couple I'm interested in, including Star Trek - The Original Series - Season One. However, there are no obvious major sellers, as TV on Blu-ray is still in its infancy. As mentioned previously, The Reader comes out this week, while the DVD came out two weeks ago.

Bride Wars - Buy from Amazon: DVD and Blu-ray
This comedy about competing brides opened to even worse reviews than expected, but managed to top original expectations at the box office. Surprisingly, while the movie was a hit, the DVD only has a few deleted scenes and a short featurette on the wedding dresses, while the Blu-ray has nothing extra, and costs 65% more. Not worth the upgrade. Then again, the DVD not even worth renting, so it's moot.

Cargo 200 - Buy from Amazon
A dark allegory about the old Soviet Union days. A powerful but disturbing film that is worth checking out. However, reports are the DVD is very weak in terms of extras (none) and video and audio quality.

The Da Vinci Code - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon: 2-Disc Extended Cut or Gift Set
Just in time for the release of Angels and Demons, the original is getting a special edition Blu-ray, and a giftset. Sadly, my review copy has not yet arrived, so I can't say if either is worth buying, but hopefully they will get here before Angels and Demons hits theaters.

Empire of Passion - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
A Japanese ghost story about a married woman with a young lover, who together conspire to murder her husband. Extras are a little light for a Criterion Collection with a couple of interviews and a video essay, as well as the ever-present booklet, but it is still worth checking out for most, picking up for many. Also coming out this week by director Nagisa Oshima is In the Realm of the Senses, which is a little better known, and also worth checking out at the least.

Fallen Angel - Buy from Amazon
A British TV mini-series that traces the creation of a serial killer to find out how she became a monster. Based on a series of novels, the mini-series doesn't do enough to explain the plot, which is complicated due to its non-chronological nature.

Frost/Nixon: Complete Interviews - Buy from Amazon
'Bout time. I was expecting a DVD like this to have come out a lot earlier than this. There were some that have highlights of the interviews, but not the entire interview as originally broadcast. This 2-disc set also has a new interview with David Frost filmed in 2007 looking back at the impact of the events. Worth checking out, especially if you liked the movie or the play it was based on.

The Hairdresser's Husband - Buy from Amazon
A French film about a man with a fetish over female barbers. ... That's quite specific. The film earned excellent reviews, but I doubt many people here have even heard of it. The DVD does have two featurettes, one on the director and the other on the lead actress, and it is worth checking out for most, and picking up for fans of French cinema.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 21st. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Hawaii Five-O - Season 6 - Buy from Amazon
As promised last week, and despite receiving more than a dozen DVDs this week, here's the review for season six of Hawaii Five-O.

First an important note... That theme song has got to be one of the greatest theme songs in TV history. Just the first few notes of that song and I am in the mood to watch this show. Season six is the halfway point for the series, at least the end of season six is, and there's not a lot of change at this point. (There's only one cast change during the season, for instance.) There are a lot of solid episodes, including the season premiere, Hookman, where a killer is enacting revenge against the cops he holds responsible for his injuries. One Big Happy Family has a family of... hicks, for lack of a better word, who travel to Hawaii to continue their cross-country murder spree. The Flip Side is Death explores McGarrett's military past when a military drill leaves a bank vulnerable to a hit. In The Banzai Pipeline a crooked land developer has to take care of government official who he was bribing, but someone was there. But while the hit man thinks he's a witness, in reality, he stole the dead man's wallet. Nightmare in Blue has McGarrett and company on the trail of a serial rapist / murder, but when one of the victims survives, her husband doesn't want her to help the cops, because the perpetrator was a cop. There are some misses, like Tricks are Not Treats, which is about a pimp war. However, two or three misses out of 24 episodes is still a great track record.

As far as extras goes, many of the episodes have promos, which are of historical value, but I'm glad they are no longer in vogue (too many spoilers). There are also subtitles and proper chapter placement, but no play-all buttons.

Hawaii Five-O - Season 6 is a rather bare bones presentation of an excellent TV series. There are far more episodes that I would rate as nine out of ten than ones I would rate six out of ten or lower. I would like some more substantive extras, but it is still worth picking up.

The Hit - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
A early film from Stephen Fears about a man who turned informant on the British mob. While living in Spain, his retirement is interrupted by two hit men who have come after him. In the 25 years since the movie was released, it has been mostly forgotten, which is a shame since it deserves to be remembered. Extras are limited to an audio commentary track and a rather lengthy interview, which is less than expected for a Criterion Collection release.

Hotel for Dogs - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A quick note that I should be getting a screener of this Blu-ray shortly, perhaps even later today. I can say right now that the film's reviews were mixed, but in line with most kids movies, while its box office was stronger than expected. Hopefully the home market presentations live up to its box office performance.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 21st. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

House of the Sleeping Beauties - Buy from Amazon
A German film based on the novella by Nobel Prize winning author Yasunari Kawabata. The film opened to very poor reviews and went no where at the box office. Is this an undiscovered gem, or was this destined to happen?

At the beginning of the movie we meet Edmond, a man whose wife and daughter were killed in a car accident, although he suspects it was no accident but suicide. They had gotten into a big fight and there was talk of divorce, and to Edmond, that guilt makes his loneliness worse. His friend, Kogi, suggests he visit a "Maison" where he can sleep next to beautiful women, for "meditative" purposes, as Kogi puts it. At first he is drawn to the mystery of these sleeping women, but then he breaks the rules and does more than just sleep next to them. His curiosity also is peaked when he sees what could be a dead body being removed from the back.

I'm giving this film far too much credit by describing the plot. Most of the film is one monologue after another. Sometimes spoken by one of characters on screen, sometimes delivered through narration. These monologues are mostly delivered by Edmond, who talks about general topics, like getting older and loneliness, as well as specific incidents in his life. None of it is particularly interesting. I don't know what tone the filmmakers were going for, perhaps art house eroticism. But what they achieved was simply dull.

There are no real extras on the DVD, just some text-based bios, images gallery, etc. Not only that, but the film is in non-anamorphic widescreen. With the popularity of widescreen TVs, that's unacceptable.

I don't know what the target audience for House of the Sleeping Beauties is, and I don't want to know. I do know it is a very small target audience, and more 99% of the people reading this, the DVD is safely skippable.

J.V.C.D. - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The film that made a lot of critics say, "Jean-Claude Van Damme can act! Why hasn't he done this in the past?" The film earned shockingly good reviews, but still struggled at the box office after its opening weekend. This could explain why the DVD and the Blu-ray only have some deleted scenes as extras, but the movie is still worth picking up, especially if you are an old school Jean-Claude Van Damme fan like myself. As for which version to pick up? Granted, there are no additional extras on the Blu-ray, but it only costs 22% more, and it is worth that premium.

Jetsons - The Movie - Buy from Amazon
I remember when this movie came out that there was a lot of hype surrounding the acting debut of teen pop star Tiffany. I also remember it was panned by critics and mostly ignored by moviegoers. I don't know if it will do any better now, but there appears to be no extras to entice fans to buy the DVD.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 21st. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

A Jihad for Love - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about homosexuality and Islam. It's a niche market of a niche market, which partially explains why it struggled at the box office. Is it destined to remain in this small target audience, or would a wider audience be well served by giving this movie a chance?

There are many different styles of documentaries, including at one extreme Michael Moore's films where the filmmaker is the star of the movie. This film is at the opposite end of the spectrum, and the filmmakers are not even heard. The film is instead a collection of shots of various gays and lesbians living in the Muslim world. We see those living in oppressive regimes, those who are living as refugees in Paris, and other places. The stories are heartbreaking at times, as well as heart-warming. But for as many stories as it presents, the film is not as in-depth as I would like. I would have liked some more background information to go with the personal stories. That said, the film is still effective, and worth checking out.

Extras consist of seven additional clips starting with Parvez Uncut, a two-and-a-half minute talk by the filmmaker about the movie. Muslim Talk Radio is a 3-minute appearance of the filmmaker on talk radio. Traveling "Love Jihadis" runs two minutes and looks at the film's run in theaters. More of Mushin is a five-minute featurette on Mushin, and how Parvez convinced him to be in the movie. Tahir's Pakistan is a 4-minute interview with a social worker from Pakistan. Trans in Turkey is another 4-minute deleted scene about being transgender in Turkey, which is one of the more secular nations in the Middle East. Finally there's An American Muslim, a 3-minute interview of an American Gay activist. Overall there is a strong selection of extras and it adds significant value to the DVD.

A Jihad for Love is a documentary about homosexuality and Islam, but the DVD is worth checking out even if you don't belong to either group. I would have liked a little more background information, as well as some more extras (audio commentary) but this is still a solid rental / leaning toward a purchase.

Johnny Got His Gun - Buy from Amazon
The 1970 film Directed by Dalton Trumbo and adapted for the screen by Dalton Trumbo and based on a novel by Dalton Trumbo. Timothy Bottoms stars as a World War I soldier caught in a horrific explosion and who is brutally injured. He loses his arms, his legs, his eyes, ears and mouth. Unable to communicate, his doctors think he is in a vegetative state, but his full aware, sort of. The morphine makes it hard to tell what is real and what is a dream. The film has earned excellent reviews over the years, but it is better know as, "the movie in that Metallica video" than in its own right. Hopefully this DVD, which includes several extras (including that music video) will bring the film more attention, and it is worth buying.

Kavanagh Q.C - Buy from Amazon: Bearing Witness, Memento Mori, and Previous Convictions
A British courtroom drama series. High quality, but for more than $30.00 for less than 4 hours, it's expensive, even if you consider it a TV movie and not a TV series.

Legally Blondes - Buy from Amazon
A direct-to-DVD sequel to Legally Blonde One and Two, this time starring twins Milly and Becky Rosso whose previous work was recurring characters on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Here they play the new girls at a posh prep school who run amok of the "Queen Bee." The first movie was good, while the second movie was not. Early reviews on this one are much, much worse. Extras include an interactive yearbook with plenty of character bios, a making-of featurette, featurettes on the twins, and a final featurette on the fashion. Sadly, Legally Blondes is a lot closer in terms of tone and quality to The Suite Life of Zack and Cody than it is to the previous films, so keep that in mind when deciding if you want to rent it or not.

Little Dorrit - Buy from Amazon
A BBC TV mini-series based on the serial novel by Charles Dickens. This 4-disc set has all seven-and-a-half hours of program, but little in the way of extras. This is sadly common for imports like this. Still, fans of BBC costume dramas in general, or of Charles Dickens's work in particular, will want to pick it up.

The Looney, Looney, Looney Bugs Bunny Movie - Buy from Amazon
It has been 28 years since this movie was released. Although to be 100% accurate, it's not really a movie, but a collection of short films edited into a movie. Still, it is very funny and for fans of Bugs Bunny and others, it is worth checking out. Extras include three rare short films making their DVD debuts, which lifts the DVD to a solid purchase. And as a side note to Warner Bros. ... Chronological collections. You will get people double-dipping for Chronological collections of all your stars. Trust me.

Martyrs - Buy from Amazon
Religious horror about a sect that believes you can see the afterlife if you are martyred, so they kidnap women and torture them to try to find out about the afterlife. It's an interesting setup, but the movie itself is nothing more than Torture Porn. Wasted opportunity.

Mission: Impossible - Season Six - Buy from Amazon
The penultimate season of this classic TV series. The show follows the IMF, the Impossible Missions Force, as they go after criminals that have escaped conventional law enforcement agents, usually by using the most convoluted means possible.

For instance, early in the season in the episode Encore, they have to convince a mobster (played by William Shatner) that it's 1937, so he will re-enact a crime and lead them to where he originally disposed of a body of a rival crime boss. That's my favorite episode of the season, but there are some other strong ones, like Underwater, which involves stolen diamonds, and Bride, which is a little more difficult to explain. (There's a mail-order bride, a fake death, and smuggling syndicate cash.) That said, there are more misses than in years past. In fact, about a third of the episodes are only average, or worse, while only a handful are top-notch. That said, for fans of the show, almost all of the episodes are worth checking out, and there are still enough hits with replay value on this season.

On the other hand, extras on the 6-disc set are non-existent, but there are play all buttons, subtitles, and proper chapter placements. The proper chapter placements are key, as the opening credits use footage from that week's episode, meaning there are spoilers. I can't imagine why they would do that.

Mission: Impossible - Season Six is not as strong as past seasons, but if you have been collecting the show thus far, buying this 6-disc set it worth it.

Never Surrender - Buy from Amazon
A Mixed Martial Artist gets roped into an underground tournament but quickly learns it's kill or be killed. The movie has a lot of MMA stars in it, which seems to be a big draw. However, it might be the only draw... well, that and the sex and violence. This is definitely not a movie you watch if you are looking for an in-depth plot. Extras include a couple of making-of featurettes and a music video, and overall it is no better or worse than the average direct-to-DVD fighting film. And no, that's not strong praise.

Nicholas Sparks Film Collection - Buy from Amazon
Four movies based on the works of Nicholas Sparks. Only one of the movies, The Notebook, is good, and really it's only good in comparison to the other movies. Syrupy romance would be a kind way to describe these movies; however, they have an audience, which should appreciate the price here.

Nothing But the Truth - Buy from Amazon
I heard some talk that this film could have been a player during Awards Season last year. But that was before its distributor went bankrupt. It's hard enough for a film to get noticed during Awards Season, but to do it without any support is well neigh impossible. As it turns out, the reviews were good, but not great, and it likely would not have been a major player, but Kate Beckinsale could have earned a nomination, which would have helped the film immensely at the box office. Extras include an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, and a making-of featurette, which lifts the DVD to a purchase level.

Look out for a killer ... Ummm ... Yeah ... Just head over here for the rest of this week's list.


Filed under: Video Releases, The Da Vinci Code, The Notebook, Hotel for Dogs, Bride Wars, Nights in Rodanthe, The Reader, The Uninvited, JCVD, A Jihad for Love, Das Haus der schlafenden Schönen, Nothing But the Truth, Never Surrender, Legally Blondes, What Doesn't Kill You, Arctic Tale