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DVD Releases for May 12th, 2009 - Part II

May 12th, 2009

Thanks to last week's computer crash, and the overabundance of spotlight reviews, the rest of the list will be a lot shorter than usual. Unless the DVD is a contender for DVD Pick of the Week, it will only get a few sentences at most. As for the best of the best, I would go with Galaxy Quest, buy the Deluxe 10th Anniversary Edition as my DVD Pick of the Week. Also worthy is Star Trek - Original Motion Picture Collection. A big list means we have to split it into two, and the first part can be found here

Pie in the Sky - Series 1 - Buy from Amazon
Richard Griffiths stars as Henry Crabbe, a chef turned crime solver. A great show that is expensive on a per minute basis compared to most TV on DVD releases; however, fans of imports will be used to that by now.

Red Green Is Special - Buy from Amazon
Four TV specials from the Red Green Show. Very funny material here, but the price per minute is high for TV on DVD. Still worth picking up if you are a hardcore fan of the show.

S. Darko - A Donnie Darko Tale - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Donnie Darko is a cult classic, and I'm really looking forward to reviewing this movie. However, the screener(s) are late. You can also buy it as part of a two-pack, but it's DVD only.

Warning: This Blu-ray does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 5th. However, the screener arrived late, hence the delay with the review.

Saturday Night Fever - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
94% positive?

John Travolta stars as Tony Manero, a Brooklyn resident who works in a hardware store as a clerk, has to deal with fighting parents, friends that are juvenile delinquents, and seemingly no future. However, on the weekend he rules the dance floor in the discothèques. Tony figures if he can win the big dance contest, he have a way of starting a new future, but he needs the right dance partner. He usually dances with Annette, but when he sees Stephanie Mangano, he decides to make a change. However, she's from Manhattan, and a higher class than he is. Will she agree to dance with him? Will his friends endanger his plans? Will romance Bloom?

At the moment, this movie has a Tomatometer Score of 94% positive; however, I am convinced that has more to do with nostalgia than it does with any inherent quality of the movie itself. The story is simplistic about disaffected youth, which is a topic that has been done before and in better ways. I suppose for a lot of people, the music is the major drawing power, but good lord I hate the Bee Gees. As soon as the music starts and we hear "Stayin' Alive" I cringe. It doesn't help that I don't find the disco competition to be dramatically compelling, nor do I think John Travolta has the acting chops to carry a movie. I still don't think he does.

Extras start with an audio commentary track with John Badham, the director. There are too many stop and starts in the track; that's not to say there's a lot of dead air, but there are too many short stops for the track to maintain its momentum. Next up is a trivia track called '70s Disopedia that should interest fans. Catching the Fever is a nearly hour-long film making of featurette / retrospective. I kept rolling my eyes at the praise heaped on this film, but I have to admit, it is a well made piece. Back to Bay Ridge is a 9-minute featurette on the locations where the movie was filmed and how it has changed in the past 30 years. Dance Like Travolta is 10 minutes of dance lessons, but I would rather impale myself than attempt these moves. Fever Challenge! is another dance lesson. Finally, there are three deleted scenes with a total running time of three and a half minutes. None of the extras are new to the Blu-ray, and none are presented in High Definition. Additionally, neither the High Definition video nor the sound are truly fantastic. I know the movie is more than 30 years old, but it should have looked better.

Saturday Night Fever's Blu-ray debut is shovelware of the 30th Anniversary Special Collector's Edition. It doesn't do enough with the technology and I can't recommend spending $20 on this version. If you are a fan, wait for a sale.

Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The screener is late, but I will get to it A.S.A.P. after it arrives.

Star Trek - Best Of - Double-Shot - Buy from Amazon: The Original Series or The Next Generation
Two best of DVDs that hardcore fans can add to their collections, which at this point probably contains dozens of DVDs and perhaps hundreds of discs. Each single-disc release here has four episodes, so without further ado...

Star Trek: The Original Series - The Best Of...
The four episodes here are...

  1. The City on the Edge of Forver
    Bones has a fever and in a delusional state runs through a gateway to the past and something he does there causes Starfleet to cease to exist. It's up to Kirk and Spock to travel back in the past and fix things. But things get complicated when Kirk falls in love with a peace activist.
    Arguably the best Star Trek episode ever. And not just of the original series, but of all series. A perfect addition to this DVD.
  2. The Trouble with Tribbles
    Klingons, a petty bureaucrat, and a travelling salesman all complicate a simple mission, which has Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise trying to protect a vital shipment of grain on a space station.
    While not the best episode from the series, it is arguably the most famous. Quality-wise, it ranks in the top ten. Excellent addition.
  3. Balance of Terror
    The crew of the Enterprise travel to the neutral zone and for the first time they encounter Romulans, who look a lot like Spock.
    This is a great episode for two reasons. One, it is just well down and has some intense dramatic moments. Secondly, it is important to the cannon of Star Trek. Easily a top five episode.
  4. Amok Time
    Spock must return to his homeworld and undergo Pon Farr, the Vulcan mating period and meet his betrothed. However, things get complicated, as they usually do when Kirk is involved.
    What? No Space Seed? Even Mirror, Mirror would have been a better choice. Don't get me wrong, Amok Time is a top ten episode, but with only four on this DVD, there were better choices.
Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Best Of...
And the four episodes here are...

  1. The Best of Both Worlds - Part I
    Responding to a distress call, the crew of the Enterprise-D find an outer colony destroyed. And I mean destroyed as in, 'There's a big hole in the ground where the colony used to be.' When they learn Borg are behind the attack, it begins the biggest and best bad guys in Star Trek lore since the Klingons.
    Arguably the best episode from The Next Generation, and many who don't think it's the best probably think the next episode is better.
  2. The Best of Both Worlds - Part II
    After the events of the first episode, which I won't go into here, as to avoid spoilers, the crew of the Enterprise-D has to figure a way of defeating the Borg and undoing the damage they have done.
    Again, this two-part story is arguably the best The Next Generation, and there's a reason they decided to use this episode as the jumping off point for First Contact. This was a must have for this DVD .
  3. Yesterday's Enterprise
    A rift in the space-time continuum causes the Enterprise-C to travel to the time of the Enterprise-D, which has immediate effects on the present, including the return of Lieutenant Tasha Yar and a war with the Klingons.
    A fan favorite, and with good reason. The science of Time Travel is handled extremely well, the changes that feel natural and dramatic. Easily a top five episode. Also, it's nice to see Christopher McDonald playing a good guy.
  4. The Measure of a Man
    Starfleet scientists are looking for ways to develop new robotic technologies and have decided that they need to reverse engineer Data; however, this might destroy him. It is up to Jean-Luc Picard to argue in a court of law that Data is his own man and should get to decide his own fate, but William Riker is forced to argue the opposite side. And if he doesn't put up a rigorous case, Data will automatically lose his rights as a man.
    Certainly a top ten episode. That said, I might have replaced it with Cause and Effect.
Sadly, there are no extras on either DVD, nor do that have play all buttons. But they do have subtitles and proper chapter placements.

If you already own the complete series of Star Trek: The Original Series or Star Trek: The Next Generation on DVD, then there's little reason to grab the Best Of... DVDs. That said, they are good for more causal fans, and relatively cheap enough for hardcore completists.

Star Trek - Motion Picture Trilogy - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Three films from The Original Series run starting with... the second film? Sadly, I only have the DVD at the moment. I hope the DVD will arrive soon.

The Wrath of Khan
After the events of Space Seed from The Original Series, we see Kahn Noonien Singh living on a desolate planet. It turns out the planet he was exiled on wasn't the paradise all were expecting, and an environmental disaster turned it into a waste. He blame his situation, including the death of his wife, on James T. Kirk, and the first chance he gets, he manages to hijack a spaceship to get his revenge.

This movie is widely considered the best of The Original Series, and the best of the run until First Contact, and now Star Trek. The story is top-notch, bringing back one of the greatest villains from TV series. The story of revenge is both powerful and dramatic. The performances are uniformly impressive, and the special effects, while dated, are still great to look at.

Looking at the extras, things star with an audio commentary track with the director, Nicholas Meyer, and Manny Coto, who was a writer and producer on Enterprise. Good information, perhaps not a lot of energy, but no real dead spots. Starfleet Academy: Scisec Brief 002: Mystery Behind Ceti Alpha VI spends three minutes discussing the fate of Ceti Alpha VI. At just three minutes, it is too short to have much replay value. Collecting Star Trek Movie Relics is longer at 11 minutes, and talks the massive amounts props in a couple collections. James Horner: Composing Genesis talks about the score for the movie for close to 10 minutes. Finally, there's a 5-minute Tribute to Ricardo Montalban.

The Search for Spock
After the events of The Wrath of Khan, which I can't go into without reaching major spoiler territory, the crew of the Enterprise must return to the Genesis planet, which has been quarantined by Starfleet. To do so, they must break several Starfleet laws, including stealing the decommissioned Enterprise in what could be its final voyage.

A lot of people talk about the Star Trek curse. How odd numbered movies tend to do poorly compared to even numbered movies. Number one and five were weak, while two, four, and six were strong. Well, the third movie, The Search for Spock, was the best of the odd numbered movies (at least until the recently released Star Trek, which is technically number 11). It is the weakest of the three movies here, but it is still a rousing story with strong acting and more than enough action and drama to carry the picture.

Extras start with an audio commentary track, this time with Ronald D. Moore and Michael Taylor. Starfleet Academy: Scisec Brief 003 talks about the Vulcan Katra Transfer, which is of major importance in this movie. Star Trek and the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame spends 17 minutes talking about the franchises place in the universe of Science Fiction. There's a 14-minute featurette on the special effects of the franchise. Finally, there's Spock: The Early Years, which talks to actor who played Spock at age 17, Stephen Manley.

The Voyage Home
The final movie in this trilogy, it follows the events of The Search for Spock, but has the crew of the Enterprise returning to Earth to find an alien probe threatening to destroy the planet unless it can hear the song of a humpback whale, which has gone extinct. So it is up to the crew to travel back in time to rescue some of these animals so they can save the future.

The future meets the present with the crew interacting with 1980s San Francisco. This was Leonard Nemoy's second stint at director, and the first time as writer, on the franchise, and it was an improvement of The Search for Spock, but not as good as The Wrath of Khan. It did, on the other hand, have the best humor in the movie franchise, which helped add a more humor element to the story.

Extras are similar to the other movies starting with an audio commentary track with writer / producer Roberto Orci and writer / executive producer Alex Kurtzman, who helped created the latest Star Trek. Starfleet Academy: Scisec Brief 004 talks about the Whale Probe. Star Trek for a Cause spends 6-minutes on the environmental themes from the movie, which is a good theme. Star Trek - Three Picture Saga talks about how these three movies were true sequels and not just individual installments, like most of the movies have been. Finally, there's Pavel Chekov's Screen Moments, which spends six minutes with Walter Koenig, who clearly loves the movie.

Star Trek - Motion Picture Trilogy is a three-disc set that is great for the more causal fans of the show. However, if you can grab the Blu-ray, I would instead grab the Original Motion Picture Collection, which includes six movies and a bonus disc.

Taken - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc DVD, 2-Disc DVD, or Blu-ray
This film did better with critics than expected, especially given its release date, and was a smash hit at the box office. There's the rated and unrated versions of the movie on all three releases, while the later two have two audio commentary tracks (in French with English subtitles) as well as a trio of featurettes. Worth buying and the Blu-ray is the better deal.

Taking Chance - Buy from Amazon
Not a Made for TV movie per se, but it did debut on HBO instead of in theaters. It takes a look at what happens when the bodies of fallen soldiers come home, and it has been called moving, or emotionally manipulative, depending on who you ask. Extras are average for this type of release with a trio of featurettes, but for most a rental will be enough.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Season 7 - Buy from Amazon: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4
I'm supposed to get these DVDs to review, but the screeners are late.

Two and a Half Men - Season Five - Buy from Amazon
A competently made, but unchallenging TV sitcom. The three-disc set has three featurettes on the 100th episode, the vanity cards, and the crossover between in the writing staffs of this show and CSI, as well as a bonus episode of that show. Worth picking up for fans of the show.

Underworld 3 - Rise of the Lycans - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The third, and likely final, installment of the Underworld franchise was no better than expected, but at least it wasn't worse. The DVD has quite a selection of extras (audio commentary track and a trio of making of featurettes) while the Blu-ray has a number of exclusives (picture-in-picture track and interactive map). However, unless you are a hardcore fan, a rental will be enough. Also coming out as part of a Trilogy Box Set on Blu-ray, which is not a really obvious deal.

Walt Disney Animation Collection - Buy from Amazon: Volume 4 - The Tortoise and the Hare, Volume 5 - Wind in the Willows, and Volume 6 - The Reluctant Dragon
Three more volumes in the latest releases of classic Disney animated short collections. Let's just right into the shorts we're getting this week.

Volume 4 - The Tortoise and the Hare - Buy from Amazon
Six shorts are presented here, starting with...

  • The Tortoise and the Hare
    Everyone knows the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, although in this version, the hare only pretends to fall asleep, and actually loses because he's flirting with some schoolgirls. Arguably the best in this collection, as it won the Oscar in 1935.
  • Babes in the Woods
    The tale of Hansel and Gretel, who meet some forest gnomes, but are lured away by a witch who offers them a ride on her broomstick. (Clearly these kids have never been taught Stranger Danger.) The oldest short on this DVD, and it looks is. Not bad, just average.
  • The Goddess of Spring
    The Persephone myth retold without the pomegranate. Without context, the story loses its effectiveness. Also, it was made in 1934, and it feels dated in the terms of the animation. Again, not bad, bust just average.
  • Toby Tortoise Returns
    Max Hare and Toby Tortoise square off again, this time in a boxing match. Max Hare should have won this with ease, after all, he just needed a flurry on punches and won on the scorecard. But no, he had to go for the knockout punch and that backfired.
  • Paul Bunyan
    The longest short at 17 minutes, it is also the most famous and my personal favorite. (It was nominated for an Oscar in 1958, but lost to Knighty Knight Bugs.) Paul Bunyan is one of the most popular stories in American folklore. One of the newest shorts in this collection, it is nonetheless more than 50 years old.
  • The Saga of Windwagon Smith
    Made in 1961, it is the newest short on this DVD. It's about Captain Smith, a sailing man who decided to use windpower to travel the prairies on a windwagon. Since it is the newest short, I'm all the more disappointed with the racist caricature of an Asian man in it. Even ignoring that, the short is nothing fantastic, and like so many on this DVD, just average.
Volume 5 - Wind in the Willows - Buy from Amazon
And in volume 5 we find...

  • Wind in the Willows
    The ever-impulsive Toad develops a mania for cars, but his previous destructive behavior as left him with no money. But when he still managed to get a hold of a car, he is charged with Grand Theft Auto. (Or whatever they call it in England.) Originally released as part of a double-shot with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which is arguably the better short. However, is still better than average for the studio.
  • Ugly Duckling
    An ugly ducking is born and is ostracized by his family and isn't happy till he finds his own kind. ... not quite the progressive message of the original story. The animation is good, especially for a short than is 70 years old.
  • The Grasshopper and the Ants
    A grasshopper plays all day while laughing at the ants who do nothing but work. That is until winter comes and he has no food, so the ants take him in and feed him. Lesson to be learned: Play your fiddle and let the ants do all the work.
  • The Golden Touch
    A take on the Midas story, expect without King Midas' daughter being turned into a golden statue. The last short Walt Disney directed. I prefer the Disney short where he's producer and the directing is left up to others.
  • The Robber Kitten
    A young kitten tries his luck at being a highwayman, but when he runs into a real robber, he's scared straight. Weakest one on this DVD, but not that much worse than...
  • The Wise Little Hen
    A wise hen is planting corn but can't get the pig or the duck to help here. When it comes to eating her crops, the pig and the duck want to share, but she refuses. Obviously hens are smarter than ants.
Volume 6 - The Reluctant Dragon - Buy from Amazon
Only four shorts are found here, but they tend to be longer in length, so you are nto being shortchanged.

  • The Reluctant Dragon
    The animated portions of this 1941 feature-length film tells the story of a dragon who wants to live a peaceful life, but a brave and noble knight wants to defeat him in battle. What is a dragon to do? Easily the best short on this DVD. Fun and full of action.
  • Ferdinand the Bull
    Ferdinand is a strong and powerful bull, but he only wants to sit beneath his favorite cork tree and smell the flowers. When he it recruited to be in the bull fights, will he put on a good show? No. The answer is no. This short started off really well, but I was not happy with the conclusion, as Ferdinand is just put back to pasture. There's no real conclusion.
  • Goliath II
    Goliath II is the son of Goliath, the biggest bull elephant in the herd. However, Goliath II is merely inches tall. He is an embarrassment to his father, that is till there's a problem mouse, and only he's the right size to take him on. A well made cartoon that is fun to watch.
  • Johnny Appleseed
    Another slice of American Folklore, that probably should have been on the same DVD as Paul Bunyan and The Saga of Windwagon Smith. Good music and a fun story make this one of the better shorts coming out this week.
Like the first three volumes, these DVDs are devoid of special features. These are good for people who want to introduce these shorts to their kids, while adult collections would have grabbed the previous Walt Disney Treasures collections. It's a reasonable deal, for what it does, but I'm always willing to pay more to get more.

Wayne's World - Double-Shot - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon: Wayne's World and Wayne's World 2
First a note, I still have a Wayne's World poster. Hanging up downstairs. I got it when the movie first came out on VHS. I would like to say it cause I knew it would come out on Blu-ray and seem retro cool, but really, it's just inertia. It was easier to leave it up for the past 15 years than to change.

Wayne's World - Buy from Amazon
The movie stars Mike Myers and Dana Carvy as Wayne and Garth, two heavy metal headbangers who star in their own cable access show which is filmed in their basement. One day a TV executive, Rob Lowe, sees the show and is intrigued. Intrigued enough to offer the pair a chance to turn Wayne's World from a small local show, to a national show. But is he on the level, or just there to screw them over. And how will this effect Wayne's new relationship with mega-hot rock babe, Cassandra? Well, that depends on what ending you choose. Personally, I like the Scooby-Doo ending.

This is quite possibly the best Saturday Night Live spin-off movie of all time, although I prefer The Blues Brothers. It is certainly the highest grossing movie. And there's a reason for this success. This film takes a simple plot, but thanks to sharp writing, clever dialogue, and great characters, it is able to sustain its pace for a full 94 minutes. Too often similar shows really feel like a 5-minute skit that was stretched painfully thin to fill up a feature-length movie.

Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary track with the director, Penelope Spheeris. It's a solo track and early on there are a few breaks, but once she gets into the grove, it's a good track. Extreme Close-Up is a 23-minute long making of featurette, which is good, but it's the only other extra on the DVD. And it's not in High Definition. Speaking of High Definition, the transfer here is just average. Granted, it looks better than it does on DVD, but this is not a disc you will use to show off your home theater system.

Wayne's World 2 - Buy from Amazon
Follow the events of the first movie, it turns on the Mega-Happy Ending was the real ending, Wayne's happy existance is shattered by a dream. In this dream, he is told by the ghost of Jim Morrison that he needs to set up a rock festival called Waynestock and that he needs to invite bands and sell tickets. However, organizing such event turns out to be harder than it appears, and this is putting a strain on Wayne and Cassandra's relationship. Oh, and Garth is dating a woman, but she might have ulterior motives here. Will the concert turn out to be a success? Will Cassandra be seduced by her new manager?

This movie suffers from a lot of what ails most sequels. What made the original fresh is still here, but it's not as fresh. It can't be by the very definition of the word, 'fresh'. This includes general elements like breaking the fourth wall, as well as specific scenes like the 'meeting the rock star' moment (although in this film its Aerosmith and not Alice Cooper). The overall plot is not as strong, and more of the jokes miss than in the first movie. That said, it is still better than any Saturday Night Live movie that has come out since then.

Extras are on par with the first movie and start with an audio commentary track with the director, which is Stephen Surjik this time around. Like the previous film, there are a few starts and stops along the way, but it is mostly worth listening to. Extreme Close-Up is a little shorter this time, but follows the same format. Looking at the High Definition transfer, again I'm not impressed, but it's a comedy and it is perfectly functioning in that regard. It works, but it does not impress compared to most Blu-ray releases.

Wayne's World one and two are both fun movies and are worth having in your collections. However, the two Blu-ray and releases are nothing special and it's hard to recommend buying at these prices. Perhaps wait till you can get them on a two-for-one sale.

We Shall Remain - Buy from Amazon
Five PBS documentaries about the Native American tribes and their struggles to survive and keep their cultures intact. There's seven hours of material here, but no extras. Still worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

Wise Blood - Buy from Amazon
Not one of John Huston's best known movies, but it certainly should be seen by more. Plenty of special features make it worth picking up, as is Alexander Korda's Private Lives.

Without a Paddle - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
I've previously reviewed the direct-to-DVD sequel, Nature's Calling. I the best way to watch this movie is to see Nature's Calling first, as it will really lower your standards.

Seth Green, Matthew Lillard, and Dax Shepard star as three friends who reunite at their friends funeral. It turns out this friend, who had been around the world and done some amazing things, was on the trail of D.B.Cooper's stolen money. They decide to head into the woods with the map he left behind in an attempt to find the money, as a tribute to their friend, but an unfriendly cop, hillbilly pot farmers, tree-dwelling hippies, and strange mountain men all conspire to complicate their journey.

There might be a good idea for a movie buried somewhere here, but nothing here really shines. Well, that's not entirely true. Seth Green's C-3PO impressions were funny. In fact, most of the cast have at least one good line in the movie; however, while there are a few laughs, there are far too few of them for a comedy. Also, there's not enough action or adventure to pick up the slack. The script needed a serious re-tuning with more jokes based on well-written characters, but first it would need well-written characters. It would need a plot that was more coherent, and then it might be worth checking out.

On the other hand, it has some of the best extras of the spotlight reviews on this list. There's and audio commentary track with the director, a picture-in-picture track with the director and the five main cast members, 18-minute making of featurette, more than a dozen deleted scenes with optional audio commentary, half-a-dozen MTV Interstitials, and finally the trailer. The trailer is the only extra in High Definition, and none of them are new to the Blu-ray. At least the film looks good in High Definition. Sadly it is not the kind of movie you need to see in High Definition to enjoy.

Without a Paddle is strictly low expectation theater, but if you are looking to waste an afternoon, I guess you could do worse. As for the Blu-ray, there's nothing to really set it apart from the DVD, which costs half as much.


Filed under: Video Releases, Taken, Without a Paddle, Underworld 3: Rise of the Lycans, S. Darko