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DVD Releases for May 5th, 2009 - Part I

May 5th, 2009

The last of the Best Picture Oscar Nominees hits the home market this week. And while the Blu-ray arrived late, the Two-Disc DVD of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is worthy of the DVD Pick of the Week. On the other hand, no other release on this week's list came close to be a contender for that title, and overall it was a rather slow week. Still not so slow that I didn't have to split this week's column into two parts, with the second part found here.

Attack of the Giant Leeches - Buy from Amazon
What's worse than a movie about killer leeches? A remake about killer leeches.

Between Love and Goodbye - Buy from Amazon
A gay romance that earned mixed reviews and went nowhere at the box office. It should perform better on the home market, mainly because it would be nearly impossible not to.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Amazon, Bleak House, Blue Sea Trilogy, The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons, Dexter - Season Two, Dog Soldiers, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Grease, Incendiary, It Could Happen to You, Journey into Amazing Caves, Last Chance Harvey, The Magic of Flight, The Red Piano, Roxanne, Saturday Night Fever, Trailer Park Boys, Twilight, and Twilight (Gift Set)
Not exactly a stellar weak for Blu-ray releases. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is the best selling release, while Twilight is making its non-exclusive debut. However, after that, there's not much here that looks like it will be a big seller. On a side note, the Trailer Park Boys Blu-ray doesn't come out till Saturday. I'm not sure it's a movie that requires High Definition to be appreciated, but it is a fun movies. Much better than its Tomatometer score would indicate.

Boston Legal - Season Five - Buy from Amazon
The fifth and final season of this award winning show. The final season only ran for 13 episodes, but that's not really reflected in the price. Then again, if you've collected the previous DVD releases, it's not likely you are going to balk on this one, and the studio knows that.

Chandni Chowk to China - Buy from Amazon
A Bollywood martial arts movie about mistaken identity. The film earned mixed reviews, which is better than most Bollywood films, which are not even reviewed outside of genre critics. Like most Bollywood films released this year, it has struggled at the box office, but it should perform better on the home market, even if it is just worth a rental for most.

The Charles Dickens Masterworks Collection - Buy from Amazon
A massive 10-disc collection from the BBC featuring five adaptations of the works of Charles Dickens. This includes some recently released works, like Little Dorrit, as well as a couple that are coming out on DVD this week, like The Old Curiosity Shop and Bleak House. Also of note, Bleak House is coming out on Blu-ray.

Crusoe - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
Promoted heavily by NBC during the summer, this series opened to weak reviews and say its meager audience sliced in half by the time then end came. In fact, it was so obvious that the series wasn't going to make it that NBC started advertising it as a 13-part mini-series. There appears to be no extras on the 3-disc set, but it comes with a copy of the original novel.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Two-Disc DVD, or Blu-ray
First a quick note, actually, two quick notes. Yes, this is a Criterion Collection release. Normally that company is known for releasing classic movies; in fact, if they release a movie that is less than a decade old, it is quite unusual. Secondly, and more importantly, the Blu-ray has yet to arrive. Hopefully it will arrive later this week. (Last minute update: The Blu-ray arrived, but the column is already a day late thanks to a number of later arrivals on Monday, and I can't push it back anymore.)

Brad Pitt stars as the titular Benjamin Button, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. The movie starts at the end with Daisy on her deathbed on the eve before Hurricane Katrina. She gives her daughter a diary to read, which begins the story of Benjamin Button, who was born the day World War I ended. His birth was not the usual kind. Not only did his mother die in childbirth, but he was born as a 80-year old man. But instead of passing away quickly, as the doctor imagined, he grows younger with each passing day.

If that were it, the film would just be a curiosity. An impressive display of technology, but little more. Fortunately, the film is, at its heart, a love story between Benjamin Button and Daisy (played by Elle Fanning, Madisen Beaty, and Cate Blanchett throughout the years.) He first meets her when she was seven and he was... well, I think he was seven as well, but he looked like he was in his late 80s. He is smitten right away, but the world treated him like he was an old man, and while they would meet again and again later in life, but they were always things keeping them apart. It was like fate was just dicking them around, at least till they arrived at the same age.

This is a very good movie based on a story that is fascinating to watch and there are several great performances here. But it might be the visual style that makes it stand out the most. You can definitely tell it's a David Fincher film, thanks to his style. This might not be a selling point for everyone, as some have complained that the special effects are almost oppressive at times. You get caught up looking at the special effects instead of getting wrapped up in the movie. Also, the emotional aspect of the movie is a little overdone at times. However, and this is important, I'm comparing this movie not to the average movie, but to the more than a dozen Oscar nominated movies from last year that I've reviewed, and the few others that I watched but didn't review. It is a fantastic movie that is better than its Tomatometer Score, but not among the top five I've seen from 2008. (I would have nominated WALL-E and The Dark Knight ahead of this movie for Best Picture.)

I only have the Two-Disc DVD at the moment, but the first disc has just the audio commentary track by David Fincher, and I assume that's all the Single-Disc DVD has in terms of extras. Despite being a solo track, there's almost no dead spots as he finds plenty to say on just about every topic. Excellent quality with high replay value.

Over on Disc Two, there is a massive making of documentary that you can watch as a single 3-hour documentary, or as many smaller sections, which includes footage not seen in the whole, as well as several image galleries. This documents practically every aspect of making of the movie, including the long process the film went through going from a short story to a screenplay and how they needed the technology to catch up to the story. Again, high replay value.

I don't have the Blu-ray yet, but there appears to be no additional extras on it. However, given the visual nature of the movie, it would be nearly impossible for the Blu-ray to not be a better deal, especially since in only costs 13% more.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a movie that should be seen, and most who do see it will want to see it again. Buying is a no-brainer; the only question is which version to get. The Single-Disc DVD doesn't have enough extras, but is good if you are only interested in a rental. The Two-Disc DVDdoesn't have a lot of extras in terms of numbers, but it's amazing in terms of quality. Meanwhile, unless there's a problem with the transfer, the Blu-ray is the version to buy. Hopefully next week I will be able to tell if that is the case for sure.

Warning: This Blu-ray does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 28th of April. However, the screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

The Da Vinci Code - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon: 2-Disc Extended Cut or Gift Set
Just in time for Angels and Demons, the original gets the full special edition release on Blu-ray. I won't spend as much time as usual on the movie, because it's a special edition, and for most people reading this, it is not an issue of whether or not to buy the movie, but whether or not to buy the movie a second time.

Based on the novel by Dan Brown, the movie stars Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon, a symbologist who is lecturing in Paris when he is contacted by Jacques Saunière, the curator of the Louvre. Unfortunately for both men, the latter is killed by and the former is the chief suspect by the French police, led by Jean Reno. But the slain man's granddaughter, Audrey Tautou, intervenes and explains that her grandfather left clues for her, and him, to follow to under the conspiracy that led to his death. I don't want to say anything more than that for two reasons. One, we would be entering major spoiler territory. Two, it's overly complicated and quite silly at times. The layers here do not add to the intellectual weight of the movie, as the filmmakers had intended, they just strain credibility and push suspension of disbelief past the breaking point. That said, if you don't mind saying, 'Oh come on!' a few times, it is better than its Tomatometer Score would otherwise indicate.

Extras on the 2-disc set start with Unlocking the Code Interactive Picture-in-Picture. I like everything about this feature, except the Interactive part. I don't watch movies with the remote control in my hand, so I don't like having to click around to read all the trivia bits, or watch the picture-in-picture interviews. It would have been much better to have a Cine-Explore-like treatment that is automatic. That said, there is a huge amount of information here on a variety of subjects (cast, locations, props, etc.) and even the most ardent fan of the novel will be hard pressed to absorb it all in one sitting. Next up on Disc One is select scene commentary with Ron Howard. On the one hand, Ron Howard is great here given plenty of information. On the other hand... Select scene? Granted, there are 17 scenes selected, but why not the whole movie? They should have thrown him in a room with Tom Hanks and I'm sure two would have had more than enough energy to fill up the track for the full movie. There is also a clip from Angels and Demons with an intro by Ron Howard. Finally, Disc One is BD-Live enabled with cinechat and a promise of exclusive highlights from the Red Carpet premiere of the movie. Should be a strong selling point for fans of the franchise.

Moving onto Disc Two we find several featurettes. More than a dozen of them. The first eleven of these were from the 2-disc DVD. (First Day on the Set with Ron Howard, Discussion with Dan Brown, Portrait of Robert Langdon, Who is Sophie Neveu?, Unusual Suspects, Magical Places, Close Up of Mona Lisa, Filmmaker's Journey Part I & Part II, Codes of The Da Vinci Code, and Music of The Da Vinci Code). Most of these are short, under 10 minutes, but they are worth checking out. New to the Blu-ray are several more featurettes starting with Book to Screen, which talks about how the book was adapted. The Da Vinci Props talks about the creation of the number of key props from the movie. In the same way, The Da Vinci Sets discusses the sets. Re-Creating Works of Art is very similar talking about how they re-created the art that was so important to the movie. The Visual Effects World of The Da Vinci Code is one of the longer featurettes at 15 minutes and it talks about the special effects from the movie. Finally, Scoring the Da Vinci Code talks about the music. That's an hour of new material to go with the 108 minutes of previous featurettes. (On a side note, the new material is in High Definition, will the ported over featurettes are not.)

I'm not sure what is in the Gift Set. The DVD Gift set has a reproduction of the Cryptex and Robert Langdon and I believe they are the physical extras here, but I can't be sure.

The Da Vinci Code is a flawed movie in many ways, but for fans of the film, the 2-Disc Extended Cut is loaded with extras, including Blu-ray exclusives, and is easily worth the price to upgrade. And if you are a fanatic fan, then the Gift Set is worth the extra $15. In fact, I've seen the Cryptex on sale for more than $15, so if you really want it, you can convince yourself you are saving money.

Dexter - Season Two - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
A quick update from the previous review. I reviewed this season of Dexter back when it came out on DVD, and I loved it. In season one, Dexter helps to catch the Ice Truck Killer. The season, he is called in to help catch the Bay Harbor Butcher, which is a bit of a conflict of interest, as he IS the Bay Harbor Butcher. He also has to deal with a stalker, his relationship with Rita, his sister's reaction to the events of season one, and more. Just an excellent season.

Like I said previously, this season is better than the first, but the extras on the DVD were disappointing. Sadly, they are not better on the Blu-ray. The only extra found on the 3-disc set is a short game called Tools of the Trade, where you get to select which tools Dexter uses in his tool set. After you get them all correct, you can read short descriptions of each tool and what their normal uses are. The rest of the extras on the Blu-ray, are not on the Blu-ray. You have to download them. These consist of a dozen or so interviews with the cast members, most of which are rather short. There's also the first two episodes of United States of Tara starring Toni Collette as a interior decorator on the verge of a nervous breakdown. At least that's what I gleamed from the show during the 5 minutes I watched till my internet went out. (This is why you don't have download only extras.) Downloadable features are fine, if they are additional stuff that can be added later on. (Like The Da Vinci Code having footage of the premiere of Angels and Demons, which won't have happened when the Blu-ray is first released. Don't use downloads as an excuse to not have these extras on the discs themselves.

(On a side note, they do have subtitles on the Blu-ray, which the DVD didn't have. Thank you for that.)

Dexter is an Amazing show, but I'm not happy with the home market releases for Season Two. The Blu-ray has almost nothing to set it apart from the DVD, and it costs nearly twice as much. Granted, it looks great, but not 'paying twice as much great.' This is a common problem with TV on Blu-ray, which tends to cost a lot compared to TV on DVD releases. Till that changes, these releases will lag behind in sales.

Doctor Who - Buy from Amazon: Episode 112 - 114 - The E-Space Trilogy - Full Circle/State of Decay/Warriors' Gate and Episode 156 - Battlefield
Two more DVD releases from the longest running sci-fi franchise ever. The E-Space Trilogy ran from 1980 to 1981 running for 12 episodes where the doctor fights vampires, time traveling slavers, and a new companion, and nemesis, for the Doctor. Battlefield is the first episode from the final series in 1989 and deals with the Knights of the Round table, but in a modern setting. The former is better that the latter in terms of quality of the episodes, but both are loaded with extras are hardcore fans will want them both.

Enchanted April - Buy from Amazon
I can't believe this movie, which was made in 1991, is coming out on DVD for the first time this week. Hopefully it was worth the wait.

The film stars four women who decide to rent a castle in Italy for the month of April in order to get away from their lives. The two friends, Lottie Wilkins and Rose Arbuthnot, wish to get away from their marriages. Lottie is married to Mellersh, who cares more about getting noticed at his work than with his marriage. Rose is married to Frederick, who writes scandalous novels for a living, much to the chagrin to his god-fearing wife. To mediate the expenses, they take with two other women: Mrs. Fisher, who is an older distinguished woman that is set in her ways, and Caroline Dester, a younger woman tired of the unwanted attention she gets from men. When can you really take a vacation from your life? Or is it true that no matter where you go, your life will follow.

This is a British period piece that is among the best of its genre. The acting is superb, as is the directing and the writing. It's not entirely good news here, as the movie was filmed in 16mm for British TV and the print quality is quite bad at times. Shockingly bad at times. It's hard to admire the beautiful cinematography when there are scratches on the print. Additionally, there's only one extra on the DVD: and audio commentary track with the director, Mike Newell, and the producer, Ann Scott. Despite an early warning that they might not recall all of the details of the making of the movie, the track is filled with information, and while not exactly overflowing with energy, it isn't too dry either. What we get is great, but I would have liked more, including retrospective / interviews with some of the cast.

It took a decade for Enchanted April to come out on DVD and many fans of the movie should be very happy it is finally be released. Too bad the DVD presentation is flawed. The print has some scratches and other problems (like the 'cigarette burns') and the extras are rather light. That said, the movie itself is fantastic and it has high enough replay value that the DVD is worth picking up while waiting for a remastered special edition. Hopefully it won't take a decade to come out on Blu-ray.

The Fall & Rise of Reginald Perrin - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
A British TV series about a middle-aged man who is dissatisfied with his life and his attempts to change things. It is being released on DVD now likely to take advantage of the remake, which started airing just a couple of weeks ago in its native U.K. The original will likely be better, but as a fan of Martin Clunes, I'm looking forward to the remake.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off - Blu-ray- Buy from Amazon
I've already reviewed this movie when it came out as part of the first wave of the I Love The 80s DVD. Or I sort of reviewed it. It was a mini-spotlight review.

To re-cap...

Matthew Broderick stars as Ferris Bueller, a high school student who decides it's just too nice of a day to go to school, so he gets his best friend and his girlfriend and heads to Chicago to have some fun. While they are having the time of their lives, Ferris Bueller's sister and his principal try to bust him so he can catch all the hell that he has coming to him. That's pretty much it for the plot, but the movie isn't about plot, it's about characters, and all five of these characters are great. (Well, four of them are. I always thought Sloane was a little under-written.)

As for the Blu-ray presentation, there are some good news and bad news here. First of all, the video quality is surprisingly good. Yes, it is Blu-ray, but it's a comedy from the mid-80s, and I wasn't expecting a top-notch encoding. There are also some impressive extras ported over from the Bueller...Bueller... Edition DVD. This includes a 28-minute retrospective complete with old and new interviews with many of the cast and crew. There is also a 15-minute making of featurette, which is very similar in nature. Who is Ferris Bueller? is a 9-minute featurette on the main character. The World According to Ben Stein is an 11-minute interview with Ben Stein, who had an important cameo in this movie. There are 10 minutes of 'Lost Tapes' with Matthew Broderick and Alan Ruck interviewing each other. On the other hand, the audio commentary track that was on the I Love The 80s edition is not found here. Also, none of the extras are presented in High Definition.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off is a great movie with plenty of replay value that shines on Blu-ray. The only downside is the lack of Blu-ray exclusives, and the missing audio commentary track. I think it is still worth picking up.

Flirting With Forty - Buy from Amazon
A TV movie starring Heather Locklear as a divorcee who starts a romance with a much younger man. It was one of Lifetime channel's biggest hits of last year, but it is still a Lifetime channel movie.

Frankenhood - Buy from Amazon
A take on the Frankenstein's Monster story with the monster being animated to participate in a 3-on-3 basketball tournament. ... Okay. The reviews are few and far between (in fact, while searching online, I found more DVD rips than reviews) but they are mostly positive, which I was not expecting. Granted, this is still 'Low Expectations Theater' but those looking for that kind of film might find enough here to like.

Gene Roddenberry's Earth - Final Conflict - Season 1 - Buy from Amazon
Finally. The first two seasons of this series have been stuck in legal purgatory while armies of lawyers hash out who owns the home market distribution rights. That seems to have been sorted out, so fans can finally get the first season this week. Season two shouldn't be too far behind, while seasons three and four have been released a while ago.

Warning: This Blu-ray does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 28th of April. However, the screener arrived late, hence the delay in the review.

Hotel for Dogs - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The Blu-ray arrived a bit late, while the DVD isn't going to arrive at all. I much prefer it this way rather than the opposite.

Emma Roberts and Jake T. Austin star as two siblings who are trying to get by living with inattentive foster parents / failed Rock Stars, Lois and Carl. Their foster parents don't allow them to have a dog, and they are tired of hiding him in garages, parks, etc., so they decide to transform an abandoned hotel into a home for strays, which is a not so subtle analogy for their situation. With the help of several other kids, they go around collecting the stray, building overly complicated inventions to take care of the dogs, all while waiting for their plans to go horribly wrong. And no, that's not a spoiler. You know from the beginning how this one will end.

Yes, the movie is predictable and overly sentimental at times (and there were too many dog poop jokes). But it is also cute. And I think the target audience (kids and dog lovers) will enjoy the movie. Crossover appeal, on the other hand, is rather limited. There are some good performances in the movie ( Don Cheadle is great, like he usually is), and the kids bring the charm necessary to their roles. However, there's just not enough here in the script to really sink their teeth into. Even members of the target audience might not find enough substance here to warrant repeat viewing.

Extras, on the other hand, are a real selling point, starting with the audio commentary track with the producer, the director, and the two and stars. It's a good mix of information and entertainment, perhaps a little more on the latter than the former. Next up is a 19-minute long making of featurette that obviously focuses a lot on the dogs. That's the Coolest Thing I've Ever Seen! runs 6 minutes and its about the inventions in the movie. K-9 Casting has more on the dogs in the movie, as does Bark on Cue! Finally, there are 8 deleted scenes with a total running time of just under 11 minutes.

There are no additional extras on the Blu-ray, but at least they are all in high definition. However, it also costs 50% more on Amazon, which is too high a premium to be paid for this kind of movie. I have no complaints about the sound or the audio, both of which are great, but it's not a visually intensive enough movie to be worth paying that high a premium.

For kids and dog lovers, Hotel for Dogs is a solid rental, perhaps worth buying. However, given the choice between the DVD and the Blu-ray, there's simply not enough on the latter to make it worth buying over the former.

We're about halfway done, but you can imagine what will happen when you click here.


Filed under: Video Releases, The Da Vinci Code, Twilight, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Hotel for Dogs, Last Chance Harvey, Trailer Park Boys: The Movie, Chandni Chowk to China, Between Love & Goodbye, Incendiary