Follow us on

DVD Releases for May 19th, 2009 - Part I

May 19th, 2009

It's a strange week when it comes to spotlight reviews with a lot of movies coming in pairs. We have a pair of Ben Affleck releases, a pair of Westerns from the Centennial Collection, a pair of Philip K. Dick releases, a pair of World War II films, a pair of stand up concert DVDs. We even have a spotlight review featuring twins. Besides that quirk of fate, there were a few releases that were contenders for the DVD Pick of the Week, including Terminator 2 - Judgement Day - Skynet Edition, True Blood - Season One, A Bug's Life - Blu-ray, all of which are coming on Blu-ray. In fact, the only contender for DVD Pick of the Week that is actually on DVD is The Guild - Season Two. That said, the best on this week's list is A Bug's Life - Blu-ray, and it is this week's DVD Pick of the Week. With all the double-shots, it comes as no surprise that this week's list had to be split into two, while the second page can be seen here.

24 - Season Seven - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A series that started out great, but one that I think has run its course. The seasons are getting too hit and miss. Extras are impressive with plenty of audio commentary tracks, deleted scenes, making-of featurettes, etc. Also, the Blu-ray is a solid value compared to most such releases.

3 Days of the Condor - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
A taut political thriller starring Robert Redford as, Joe Turner, a ... and that's all I can say without getting into major spoiler territory, so bear with me ... a employee of the CIA. But he's not a James Bond kind of secret agent. He's someone who reads a lot looking for patterns that could be evidence of intelligence organizations. However, early in the movie he is the lone survivor of a hit on his department, and when he tries to contact his superiors, another agent tries to kill him. It is at this point he realizes his own people could have arranged the hit and he has nowhere to go. He has to figure out who is behind this and why, and try to survive until he does.

Sydney Pollack directs what is arguably his best movie. (While many might pick Tootsie instead, few would argue that this isn't at least close behind.) It has an excellent script and amazing performances from its lead, Faye Dunaway (who was nominated for a Golden Globe), and Max won Sydow (a.k.a. Brewmeister Smith). The film is definitely a product of the post-Watergate era of political distrust of one's government; however, it still works today and has aged very gracefully.

On the other hand, the Blu-ray is devoid of real special features (it's nice to have the trailer, but I do not consider it an extra). Also, while the film looks good for its age, it still shows its age in terms of video and audio quality. (There are minor problems with the print, while the audio is solid, but not challenging.)

The Blu-ray debut of 3 Days of the Condor is mixed. On the one hand, the movie is worth owning. On the other hand, there's not a lot here to lift it above the DVD. Perhaps if you can catch it on sale, it would be worth picking up.

8 Simple Rules - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
One of the most tragic turns a show can take, as its star, John Ritter, died suddenly after suffering a heart attack on set. Hopefully my screener will arrive soon and I'll be able to give a more detailed review, but for fans of the show, or of John Ritter in general, it is worth picking up.

Ben Affleck - Double-Shot - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon: Changing Lanes and Paycheck
Not one, but two films from Ben Affleck making their Blu-ray debuts this week, starting with...

Changing Lanes - Buy from Amazon
Ben Affleck stars as Gavin Banek, a lawyer in a New York City law firm, while Samuel L. Jackson stars as Doyle Gibson, an insurance salesmen trying to buy his first house so he can gain custody of his kids. However, the two men meet by accident, literally, as they crash on the freeway. As a result of this accident, Doyle misses a court date and loses custody of his kids, and Gavin loses important documentation that will potentially cost his firm a huge case. As the two men blame each other for their circumstances, they engage in a series of acts of revenge, each one-upping the other, but where will it end?

Clearly the better of the two films here; this movie has great performances by both leads, but the premise is kind of weak and the ending is a bit melodramatic. The actors rise above the material, however. As for the Blu-ray presentation, I'm not impressed. The audio and video quality are better than the DVD, but not by a lot. It's just average technically speaking. Also, while all the extras from the DVD are here (audio commentary track, making of, deleted / extended scenes, etc.) there's nothing new. Shovelware.

Paycheck - Buy from Amazon
Ben Affleck stars as Michael Jennings, a man who works in a high tech future as a engineering problem solver for corporations with very, very high security standards. So much so, that as part of his job, he has his memory erased at the end. After his latest job, when he's looking to get his paycheck, he is informed he signed over his paycheck and all he's getting for his three years of work is an envelop containing 20 mundane objects. Knowing he wouldn't give up all his money without a reason, he sets off trying to figure out what the relevance of these objects are, and solve the mystery.

Fans of Philip K. Dick are looking for the perfect adaptation of his work. This is not it. (Blade Runner is the only film that really comes close.) This is a really cool premise ruined by sub-standard execution. Well, not exactly sub-standard execution, but what is a cerebral story is overrun by chase scenes and mindless action. It's too bad, because even with the overblown action, it's still an interesting mystery. Extras on the Blu-ray include two audio commentary tracks, two making of featurettes, and some deleted / extended scenes. Not a bad package, but there's nothing new here. Additionally, the video is only average, while the audio is marginally above average.

Both Changing Lanes - Buy from Amazon, and Paycheck - Buy from Amazon, are making their debuts on Blu-ray this week. However, both are cases of shovelware. I'm not willing to pay $20.00 for shovelware, but if you can get these on sale, maybe they are worth adding to your collection.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: 24 - Season Seven, 3 Days of the Condor, Batman, A Bug's Life, Changing Lanes, Circle of Iron, Dr. Dolittle - Million Dollar Mutts, Dragon Ball Z - Fusion Reborn / Wrath of the Dragon, Driven to Kill, Eden Log, Enemy at the Gates, Fast Company, Lions for Lambs, The Machinist, Paul Blart - Mall Cop, Paycheck, My Bloody Valentine, Sisterhood, Terminator 2 - Skynet Edition, T2 - Limited Edition Complete Collector's Set Endoskull, True Blood - Season One, Valkyrie, and WWE: Wrestlemania XXV - 25th Anniversary
Some strong Blu-ray releases this week, but not much in terms of first run releases. Sure, True Blood - Season One is coming out day and date with the DVD, but it’s a TV release and not a theatrical release. Fortunately, catalogue releases like Terminator 2 - Judgement Day and A Bug's Life helped lift the overall quality significantly. In fact, all three of these releases were contenders for DVD Pick of the Week.

A Bug's Life - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
This is the only Pixar movie I don't own on DVD. It's not that I don't like the movie, it's just that I never got around to buying it, as I didn't have a DVD player when it first came out.

The second Pixar release, this film follows the adventures of Flick, an ant whose crazy thinking is at odds with the conformity of the nest. One day, he accidentally destroys the food gathered by the ants for Hopper, the leader of a grasshopper gang that terrorizes the colony. In order to make amends, he decides to travel far away to the city to find the toughest, meanest, baddest warrior bugs around, who can come and fight off the grasshoppers. Instead, he accidentally recruits some failed circus performers, including Rosie, a black widow spider; Francis, a male ladybug; Slim, a walking stick; and more. But will their combined talents be enough to come up with a plan to save the ants? Or with they all be exposed for who they are?

A Bug's Life feels almost like a forgotten gem, even though it is barely more than a decade old. The film earned amazing reviews, but it is weak compared to its predecessor and its successor, both of which earned perfect reviews. Perhaps the proximity between its release and that of Antz hurt, and perhaps that cost it a positive review or two. Also, the movie is perhaps aimed at the youngest audience; some might consider it a kids movie, as opposed to a film for adults that kids can also enjoy. However, I must stress that these are minor, minor complaints, and nothing compared to the overwhelming positives. The film looks amazing, the voice acting is awesome, and most importantly, the writing is great. Easily an 8 out of 10, if not a 9 out of ten.

Looking at the extras on the Blu-ray, there is good news, and bad news. The good news is, there are plenty of extras here, including some that are exclusive to the Blu-ray. The bad news, none push the technology. Those who were looking forward to another Cine-Explore will be disappointed. The first exclusive feature is a short intro, which is actually worth watching, despite only being 71 seconds long. Second up is a Filmmakers' Roundtable, which is a 21-minute discussion from four of the filmmakers on the creation of the movie. For fans of Pixar, this is a must see. Speaking of the Filmmakers' Roundtable, about 2 minutes in they talk about the original story for A Bug's Life. On the Blu-ray, they have the original story with animated storyboards narrated by Dave Foley. Also, it is BD-Live enabled and it has the usual array of features (movie mail, movie chat, etc.). Finally, the Blu-ray comes with a digital copy.

As for the video and audio quality, it is arguably best described as, "nearly perfect." And I'm not sure about the "nearly" part. If there's a problem, I didn't see it. It truly looks perfect to me. Pixar has never let me down before, but as an older movie, I wasn't expecting as much from this release, but I was blown away.

As for the extras ported over, they include an audio commentary track, two short animated films (Geri's Game from 1997 and The Grasshopper & the Ants from 1934), both sets of outtakes that are seen in the end credits, and close to 80 minutes of production featurettes on pretty much every aspect of the filmmaking process. An excellent collection of extras.

A Bug's Life makes its debut on Blu-ray this week and my only complaint is the lack of a Cine-Explore track. That's a pretty minor complaint compared to how amazing the movie and the Blu-ray both are. Easily worth upgrading, a must-have if you don't own it already, and the DVD Pick of the Week.

Centennial Collection - Double-Shot - Buy From Amazon: El Dorado and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
The latest releases from the Centennial Collection are two John Wayne Westerns starting with volume 8, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. But since I prefer going alphabetically, I'm starting with...

El Dorado - Buy from Amazon
John Wayne stars with Robert Mitchum in this Howard Hawks Western. Here, Wayne plays a hired gun, Cole Thornton, brought in by a land baron named Bart Jason, but before he can accept the job, he has a talk with his friend, and sheriff, J.P. Harrah, who convinces him that Bart Jason is not the good guy. Instead he decides to throw his lot in with the McDonalds, who own land Mr. Jason is interested in but refuse to sell. Unfortunately, a misunderstanding results in an accidental death of the youngest of the McDonald sons, which in turns sets of a series of repercussions.

I watched this movie and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance back-to-back, and while this movie earned better reviews, I prefer the latter to the former. (It is important to note that both films are earned excellent reviews, easily within the margin of error given the number of reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.) The film does have some great performances, but The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance just has more to say. Extras start with two audio commentary tracks on disc one, and disc two has three featurettes. Ride, Boldly Ride is a seven-part, 42 minute making-of featurette. The Artist and the American West is a five-and-a-half minute featurette from 1967 about artists from the American West, who helped preserve the time of the Old West. Finally, there's the latest installment of Behind the Gates, this time its about John Wayne. That's a great collection of extras, especially for a film that is more than 40 years old.

(On a side note, for fans of Robert Mitchum it is a great week as The Friends of Eddie Coyle is also coming out.)

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - Buy from Amazon
Here John Wayne stars with James Stewart. The former is a tough local rancher named Tom Doniphon, while the latter plays Ransom Stoddard, an idealistic lawyer. The film starts with Senator Stoddard and his wife returning to Shinbone for the funeral of Tom Doniphon. The local press want to know why such a prominent man would come to bury a "nobody" like Tom, so Ranson Stoddard tells them the story of how it came to town, and how he became famous for being the man who shot Liberty Valance. Liberty Valance is a gunslinger that has been terrorizing the small town of Shinbone for quite some time; in fact, he robs and brutally beats Rance while he is traveling into town for the first time. He is found and rescued by Tom and healed by Hallie. The movie focuses on the two men and the opposing points of view on how to deal with men like Liberty Valance. Rance believes that if good men settle their differences with guns, they are no better than the bad guys, and so one should rely on the law. Tom believes there is no law to protect innocent people, so one must rely on a gun to protect them. Add in the love triangle between the two men and Hallie, as well as the Lee Marvin as the titular bad guy, and you have all the ingredients one needs for a top-notch movie.

This is the better of the two films, at least in my opinion. The film has more to say and it is not just about the characters and the situations they find themselves in. The writing, the acting, and the directing are all fantastic, and even those who are not fans of the genre should enjoy this movie. As for the extras, disc one starts with an audio commentary track with Peter Bogdanovich, which includes some archival interviews. There is also a second track, but it is select scenes. Over on disc two, there is a seven-part, 51 minute making-of featurette called The Size of Legends, the Soul of Myths. There is also the original trailer and several image galleries.

I love reviewing Centennial Collection movies, as so far they haven't released a dud. Every film they've released has been worth adding to your DVD collection, and that includes El Dorado and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. If I were forced to choose just one, the latter would be the easy choice for me, but both are worthy.

Crips and Bloods: Made in America - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about two of the most infamous gangs in America. The film earned strong reviews and opened well, but it collapsed at the box office and quickly disappeared. Extras on the DVD include a making of featurette and additional scenes / interviews and these run about an hour in total. Worth checking out, but a rental will be enough for most.

Dr. Dolittle - Million Dollar Mutts - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
This is a franchise that started out poorly, at least with critics, and quickly got much, much worse. Now it has been reduced to the realm of direct-to-DVD sequels that should be avoided by all.

Dragon Ball Z - Season Nine - Buy from Amazon
I assume the studio was hoping the movie would be a big hit, thus improving the DVD sales. That didn't happen, but these are still selling well. Also coming out today is a Dragon Ball Double-Feature, Fusion Reborn / Wrath of the Dragon, which is coming out on DVD or Blu-ray.

Driven to Kill - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Buy from Amazon
A direct-to-DVD movie starring Steven Seagal. I reviewed his previous such release, and I still haven't recovered from the psychological harm.

Eden Log - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A French thriller involving a man with amnesia, not to be confused with Eden Lake, a Hoodie Horror film from Britain. This movie has earned mixed reviews with many critics complaining that the movie is very visual, but not engaging. Worth checking out, but give it a rental first.

Enemy at the Gates - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Based on true life events, this movie depicts the World War II Battle for Stalingrad. The Russians, lead by men who are clearly as evil as they were stupid (if you have machine guns, use them on the enemy, not your own troops) were battling the invading forces of Nazi Germany, who are clearly as evil, but far less stupid (they were smart enough to bring tanks). (On a side note, if someone hands me a gun and asks if I would like to avoid the red tape, implying I should shoot myself, I'm shooting him.) Into this meat-grinder Vassily Zaitsev, a young recruit, is sent, but he manages to survive the initial onslaught, and his skill with a rifle is quickly shown. So much so, that he is promoted to a sniper division, and causes so much damage to the German forces, or so we are told, that the Germans bring in their own expert sniper, Major Konig. This sets up a sniper duel between the two men.

This is a potentially excellent movie that was very nearly undone by a few issues. Firstly, the film takes too many liberties with the truth, including the Russians shooting their own soldiers in the initial battle. Secondly, the film does a little too much telling and not enough showing. That's a big sin in cinema. For instance, instead of showing us how unstoppable the German army is, they talk about it while showing gray spreading across a map of Europe. Instead of showing us the early kills that brought Major Konig to Stalingrad, they just talk about it. Finally, there was no need for the love triangle. It seemed tacked on and superfluous. (There's also a minor issue with accents, as no one seems to be using the proper accent.) That said, the film is still entertaining at times and it is worth checking out; it is just not as good as it should be.

Extras include a very standard making of featurette, and I mean standard. Promotional fluff, and not an in-depth look at the movie. There is a second making of featurette with more interviews with the cast and crew. Finally, there are nine deleted scenes with a total running time of just over 10 minutes. All of these features are from the DVD, and they are all presented in standard definition. As for the technical quality of the work, the film looks and sounds better than it does on DVD, but this is not a Blu-ray you will grab to show off your home theater system.

More shovelware coming out for $20. Enemy at the Gates is a good movie that is worth checking out, but I'm not sure the Blu-ray is worth upgrading to for that price. $20 is just too much to spend on shovelware.

Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood - Live from Madison Square Garden - Buy from Amazon
For the first time in roughly 40 years, these two legends of rock toured. This DVD documents the three shows from MSG, which are edited into one performance. Should please fans of the two musicians.

Fanboys - Buy from Amazon
This film was pushed back so many times, many were starting to think it would never come out. Then when it finally did, it earned weak reviews and went nowhere at the box office. That said, the film has cult classic potential, and the DVD has better than expected extras (audio commentary track, making of / behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, etc.). Perhaps waiting for the Blu-ray makes sense, but who knows how long that will take. I suggest buying this one, as the wait could be years.

Friday Night Lights - The Third Season - Buy from Amazon
A show with a small but loyal audience. Too small to survive on network TV, but thanks to a deal with DirecTV, it will remain on air for another two seasons. I don't think this is a smart plan on the part of NBC, as the low ratings are hurting the rest of its lineup, both the shows that come immediately before and after it, as well as on other nights. If people are not watching your network, how are you going to tell them what shows you have on? Additionally, the critical response has grown more tepid since its debut, which is another bad sign.

The Guild - Season Two - Amazon Exclusive - Buy from Amazon
An internet series that has become so popular that this Amazon exclusive release was able to creep into the top 25 for the week. It stars Felicia Day as a World of Warcraft obsessed woman dealing with crises in her personal life, as well as the lives of her guildmates. If you have the first season, this is a must have. If you haven't seen the first season, buy that DVD and this one. On a side note, I have a major corruption issue with World of Warcraft and spend eight hours downloading, installing, repairing, re-downloading, and re-installing the full game and patch after patch after patch. And by the time I finally got it to work, the weekly maintenance had started. Oh well, I was too busy to play anyway.

Invasion Iowa - Buy from Amazon
A Reality TV series about a film crew that invades a small town in Iowa claiming to be making a major movie with William Shatner. Of course, it is all a big hoax.

Jo Koy - Don't Make Him Angry - Buy from Amazon
The first of two stand up concert DVDs on this week's list. I watched the Russell Brand DVD first. This turns out be a mistake, as Jo Koy is not nearly as funny as Russell Brand is.

He's described as aggressive and energetic, but while I agree with energetic, his delivery lacks focus, especially early on. Bits about touring in Alabama and going to France fail to hit their mark, as does his road rage bits while his Michael Phelps jokes are hit and miss. And those all happen early on, which sets a bad tone for the rest of the act. The jokes about family are better, and as the night goes on he seems to relax and get into a grove with his delivery, but overall I don't think there's a lot of replay value here, especially since the act is barely more than an hour long.

Extras are better than most stand up concert DVDs and things start with his appearance on Comedy Central Presents. There's a performance by APL.DE.AP, doing the song Jo Koy used as an intro in this set. Next up are a couple of interviews with the dancers seen in said performance. One of these dancers then plays some basketball with Jo. There's a short clip with Jo's son, and an even shorter clip of Jo dancing. Finally there's a 21-minute interview with Jo Koy. There's a lot here, but only the first and the last are worth checking out.

If you are a fan of Jo Koy - Don't Make Him Angry is worth checking out; however, his delivery is too uneven and his material feels dated. (Making fun of France? I thought we were over that.) While the extras include a couple of interesting bits, and a lot of filler. It adds up to a rental, but that's it.

Labou - Buy from Amazon
Might get this DVD to review in a few days. I know almost nothing about it, and really can't add anything else at this moment.

For the most extreme weight loss program ever, and other releases, head over to disc two here.


Filed under: Video Releases, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Paycheck, My Bloody Valentine, Lions for Lambs, The Machinist, Fanboys, Crips and Bloods: Made in America, Driven to Kill, Eden Log