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DVD Releases for August 25th, 2009 - Part I

August 25th, 2009

As is usual this time of year, TV on DVD dominates the list of this week's releases. This includes two of the three DVD Pick of the Week contenders: Samantha Who? - Season Two and NCIS - Season Six. The best High Definition release is Adventureland on Blu-ray, while all three are worth of the DVD Pick of the Week honors. It was a pretty busy week, especially in terms of spotlight reviews, and the list had to be split into two with the second part found here.

Adventureland - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
This film earned awesome reviews, but still managed to only grab $16 million at the box office. Did the critics get it wrong? Was it just the wrong time to open this kind of movie? Or perhaps the studio bungled the release?

Jesse Eisenberg stars as James Brennan, a recent college grad who has plans to travel Europe with one of his friends. However, his father recently was demoted at work and the cut in pay means he will no longer be able to travel abroad. In fact, he needs to get a summer job if he wants to go to grad school. But with a degree in Comparative Literature and Renaissance Studies, he's unqualified for almost everything. Almost. He gets a job at Adventureland, an amusement park in his hometown. The job sucks, and the pay is worse, but he does meet some cool co-workers, including fellow overly educated and under-qualified Joel. (College major: Russian literature and Slavic Languages. At least he should be able to say, 'Would you like fries with that?' in various Eastern European countries.) Also working there is Em, whom James immediately takes a liking to. The feelings seem to be mutual, but there are complications. She's having an affair with a married man, Mike, who has been acting like a mentor to James.

The film is written and directed by Greg Mottola, who previous directed Superbad. I think the studio was hoping for a film like that, and perhaps tried to market it as such, but this film is more mature than the previous film, although there are some connections. They are both coming of age movies featuring socially awkward leads trying to deal with the next stage in their lives. With Superbad it was going off to college, while here it is graduating from college. But there is a similar tone at times. I think this is the better movie, especially with how well Greg Mottola knows these characters, and he should, as it is semi-autobiographical. The performances are uniformly strong and if you grew up in the 1980s, then the soundtrack alone makes this movie a must see.

Moving onto the extras, the DVD has a good selection of extras starting with an audio commentary track with the director and the star. Early on Greg Mottola admits that the commentary track won't be a masterful 'mini-film school' like some directors manage, but it is entertaining and informative. Next up is a sixteen-and-a-half-minute long making of featurette that discusses the origins of the movie, as well as the casting, filming, etc. It's the usual mix of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie. There are three deleted scenes with optional audio commentary. They are funny, but at only two-and-a-half minutes there's not a lot there.

As for the Blu-ray, there are a few Blu-ray exclusives starting with Frigo's Ball Taps, a 'How to' guide to punching people in the nuts. On a side note, if someone did that to me, I would explain that if they did it again, I would put them in the hospital. If they did it again, I would put them in the hospital and I'm 90% sure I would be legally allowed to, as it would be considered self-defense. Lisa P.'s Guide to Style is an in character guide to all of the 80s fashion in the movie. Finally, there are several faux commercials, training videos, etc. for Adventureland. The exclusive features are presented in High Definition, mostly. (The 1980s commercials are not, but that's understandable.) On the other hand, nothing here pushes the technology. The video and audio are solid with no complaints. It's not the kind of film you will use to show off your home theater system, but it solid nonetheless. Comparing the prices, the Blu-ray is 33% more than the DVD, but it also includes the Digital Copy of the movie, so I would call it a significantly better deal.

On a side note, the "Unrated Label" is 100% marketing hype. This is the theatrical cut of the movie, and while there are some swear words in the extras, there's nothing worse than what you see in theatrical cut of the movie.

If you are looking for Superbad - Part II, then Adventureland might disappoint, as it is a more deliberate movie with a more mature tone. On the other hand, Adventureland is an excellent coming of age movie that deserved a wider audience. It is worth buying and the Blu-ray is easily the better deal.

The Adventures of Robin Hood - Season Four - Buy from Amazon
The fourth and final season of this 1950s British series hits the home market the same week as The Complete Series collection does. Both are amazingly cheap on a per minute basis.

American Son - Buy from Amazon
Nick Cannon stars as Mike, a Marine who is just out of training and on a four-day break for Thanksgiving before heading off to his deployment in Iraq. On his way home, he meets Cristina, who is from his hometown and they connect, but in order to get to know her better, he lies to her and doesn't tell her about his upcoming deployment to Iraq. Returning to his family is not as happy of a reunion as he would hope, as he has to deal with a neglectful step-father, a brother who is working on his third strike, and more.

Most of the movie is just Mike is hanging out with his old friends, most of which have not yet grown up, while trying to start a relationship with Cristina knowing he will be thousands of miles away in a week. It's not much of a plot, nor is it a unique plot, but the film is buoyed by the performances of the two leads. It is also a very balanced script that forgoes the politics of the war, for the most part, and deals with the more human impact shipping off has.

Extras on the DVD are better than expected with an audio commentary track with the director and two of the producers. There are also two deleted scenes, also with an optional audio commentary track, which run just over 3 minutes. Finally, there's a 12-minute long making of / behind-the-scenes featurette. That's better than expected, considering the film didn't get a theatrical release.

American Son had a few appearances on the Film Festival circuit, but for most people the DVD will be the first chance they get to see the movie. And it is worth seeing. Add in better than expected extras (many DVD releases like this are devoid of any extras) and it is worth buying over just renting.

Batman - The Brave and the Bold - Volume 1 - Buy from Amazon
Good show, but this DVD is very expensive on a per minute basis since there are only four episodes for $11. That's not an acceptable price and I assume the full season set will be a much better deal.

Beyond the Ordinary - Buy from Amazon
A single-disc TV on DVD release that includes the pilot episodes to four Sci-Fi TV series, starting with...

  • The 4400 - The show starts in the 1940s with the abduction of a small girl by some unseen force. We move to a decade later and an army man is being beaten by army mates and shortly after they leave him alone, he too is taken. Then a businessman is taken in Washington, D.C. in the 1970s. And finally two young men are drinking by the beach when one of them is taken and the other is left in a coma. Flash forward to the present day (which was 2003 when the series first aired) and there is a 'comet' approaching, but when it changes direction, Homeland security knows it's something more. At first they think it is a threat and the governments of the world try to blow it out of the sky...
    Has that ever worked? I don't think I've ever seen a movie or a TV show where blasting the incoming object ever did anything good.
    Fortunately, this hostile acted is shrugged off and the object lands near Seattle delivering the people we saw abducted, along with thousands of others. These 4400 returnees have difficulties readjusting to life back home, while several of them exhibit special abilities like precognition. In the meantime, Homeland Security has set up a team to investigate the 4400, as the returnees are known and more and more strange events occur.
    This series started not as a normal TV series, but a 5-part mini-series, which makes this arguably the most frustrating pilot to watch. Normally, the pilot of a TV series sets things up, and this includes a number of ongoing threads which can lead to unanswered questions. However, it still has to be seen as a separate entity, and therefore pilots are usually at least a little self-contained. In this case, because it was the first part of a five-part series, this is most definitely not case and the show ends in a cliffhanger for part two. It whets your appetite, because it is such a well made show, but as bad as it is to watch a show like this and have to wait a week for the next part, having to go out and buy another DVD is much worse.
  • Joan of Arcadia - Amber Tamblyn stars as the titular character, a high school girl who made a deal with god that she would do anything god wants if god lets her brother survive a car crash. Now god has come to collect on that deal. For the rest of the episode, and the series, god comes by in numerous forms asking to do what seems to be random tasks, but god insists they are part of a larger plan.
    An excellent show right from the start, and I'm still a little surprised that it was cancelled after just two seasons. (However, at the end of season two, it because clear that something was amiss and the High Concept was running out of steam. They introduced an evil opposite to Joan. Now that's a sure sign the writers didn't know what to do next.
  • Medium - Patricia Arquette stars as Allison DuBois, who pretends to be psychic in real life. In the show, Allison can talk to dead people and sometimes receives psychic dreams that she uses to help the D.A. crack hard cases. In the first episode, she receives psychic visions about a crime that took place in Texas, and if she can't convince the authorities to let her help, the crime will go unpunished.
    I used to watch this show, but it faded from the list of shows I kept up with. Going back and watching it for the first time in a few years and I noticed there's a few issues that started bothering me enough that led to me dropping the show. For instance, watching a scene only to have Allison sit up in bed revealing it to be a dream works, but only the first few times. Seeing it over and over again lessens its impact. Also, at times Allison seems ... medicated. I'm pretty sure this was a decision on the part of someone, but I'm not sure who and I'm not sure why.
  • Star Trek - The Man Trap
    I own this episode on HD DVD, Blu-ray, and on DVD, twice. I've reviewed at least two releases it was featured on, and I don't think there's a need for me to talk about it again.
Sadly there are no extras on the DVD. There are not even subtitles.

Like the other T.V. Sets releases, Beyond the Ordinary is a useful rental to see if you would enjoy some shows that you might have missed when they first aired. Shows that had shorts runs or that were on cable and never major hits to begin with. That said, while it's good for a rental, the DVD doesn't rise to the level of a purchase.

The Billy Jack Collection - Buy from Amazon
All four film in the Billy Jack franchise, which combined early martial arts action with political awareness becoming a cult hit in the process. This doesn't have the bonus disc from the previous collection, but that one's out of print and very hard to find. Also, this one does have two audio commentary tracks per movie, and that's plenty of extras for most fans.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Adventureland, Children of the Corn, Devil May Cry - The Complete Series, Duplicity, Fighting, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, The Informers, Lie to Me - Season One, Rudo y Cursi, Smallville - Season 8, Sunshine Cleaning, and Water Life - Collection
Not a strong list of High Definition releases. There are a lot of TV on DVD coming out this week, and so far TV on Blu-ray is lagging behind in terms of releases and sales. There are a few releases that are worth picking up, like Adventureland, but nothing here will be a major seller on the format.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and makes its home market debut on the 22nd of September. However, the DVD screener arrived early and I was able to get the review done this week.

Book of Blood - Buy from Amazon
Two points to start with. One: normally I don't review DVD releases this far in advance, and I certainly wouldn't do so during such a busy week; however, I misfiled the DVD thinking it was coming out on the 22nd of August. Oops. Two: I only have a DVD-R of the movie, which means I have no extras to review. There's not even a menu or subtitles.

Book of Blood starts in a diner with an injured young man eating breakfast. His face is scared and bleeding. Watching him is another man, who receives a phone call and it is clear he is there to find this man for reasons unknown. It turns out his been hired to skin the boy for a rich client, but he makes him a deal. If the young man tells him how he came to be in this situation, he'll kill him quickly and as painlessly as possible. And what follows is his story.

Mary Florescu is a profession of paranormal studies at a university who works with her assistant, Reg Fuller, to document hauntings and other paranormal events. However, in her entire career, she has never seen any evidence that her beliefs are correct. Then she meets a student, Simon McNeal, who seems to have 'the gift'. The three of them move into a haunted house, set up cameras, and wait for something horrible to happen. And there are a lot of scenes of both: waiting and horrible events.

If you've ever seen a horror anthology, you probably know the concept of the wraparound story. It's the story that links the other stories together. For instance, the Debbie Harry story from Tales from the Darkside. This movie is based on series of short stories by Clive Barker, but it is based on the wraparound story for this series. This is a very odd choice for adaptation. It's less of a coherent narrative, and more of a device used to tell a series of stories. In the books, you could remove this part and the short stories would work just as well on their own. You can't remove the short stories and have this part really work, on the other hand. There are parts that work, and fans of Clive Barker will definitely recognize his influence here, but the movie feels terribly padded out to fill its 100-minute running time.

Book of Blood does build a strong foundation of atmosphere and mood, and I can't complain about the acting or directing, but there's not enough here to sustain the movie. It's worth checking out, but lacks replay value. Perhaps there will be plenty of extras on the final retail version of the DVD, but for now I can only recommend renting it when it comes out on September 22nd.

On a side note, early in the movie Mary Florescu complains that she's been studying the paranormal for nearly a decade and she still doesn't have any real proof. She only has speculation and presumption. To which Reg responds, "Every scientific breakthrough in history has been based on nothing but speculation and presumption. Ask Galileo, Newton, Darwin." This is a load of bullshit. Real science is based on a foundation of facts derived from past experimentation. Great breakthroughs happen because, to paraphrase Bernard of Chartres, 'We stand on the shoulders of giants.' If you've spent a decade researching something and have nothing to show for it but 'speculation and presumption', then odds are your underlying theory is wrong.

Booker - The Collector's Edition - Buy from Amazon
I remember a time when almost everyone thought Richard Grieco would be the next superstar. That never happened. In fact, this role and his starring performance in the box office bomb If Looks Could Kill pretty much killed any chance of that happening. It was a dumb idea to leave 21 Jump Street.

Boot Camp - Buy from Amazon
Just a quick note that the DVD screener arrived late, but I will get to the review for next week.

Californication - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
This DVD might be coming out this week, it might be coming out next week. I've seen mixed reports. I think it's coming out this week in the United States and next week in Canada.

Season two starts off where season one left off, specifically, after Hank Moody derails the wedding of his ex-girlfriend, Karen to a book publisher, Bill Cross, and they run off with their daughter Becca. Season two starts off with Hank and Karen together, but that doesn't last, as Hank still as screwed up as ever. In fact, every character in this show is massively screwed up, and for the most part, not in a dramatically compelling way. For instance, Hank is still addicted to nearly everything a man can be addicted to: drugs, alcohol, sex, etc. Thinks he's wittier than he is, but tends to spout overly polished lines that feel like they were created by a team of Hollywood writers and not by a real human being. And he's not the most messed up character on the show.

There's a scene at the end of episode one that in many ways sums up the problems with this series so far. Hank gets into an altercation with a cop and is sent to jail. There are two major problems. Firstly, the way the situation escalates from a simple traffic stop to Hank being the victim of police brutality doesn't seem natural. When the cop starts talking to Karen it seemed like there was a sudden change in tone in the cop's behavior. Like they skipped a page when filming and missed a whole lot of dialogue from in-between. Secondly, even after he's hit in the balls with a nightstick, it's hard to feel sorry for him. He's just that repulsive a human being.

Other characters fair a little better in this season. For instance, Becca get her first boyfriend, which is at least a compelling storyline. However, the character is still written to heavily. She's a 'wise beyond her years' stereotype' that talks like a screenwriter's creation. His agent, Charlie, continues to be toyed with by his former assistant and loses his job, only to become a porn producer, but at least he's only the victim of how screwed up he is, and you can at least feel sorry for him. Most of the characters, like Mia and Dani, are manipulators and horrors in comparison.

On the positive side, there are more extras this time around with audio commentary tracks on episode six with Pamela Adlon, but it's not that compelling a listen. Over on disc two we find nearly 20 minutes of interviews with the cast and a featurette with Pamela Adlon on... body waxing. It's what her character does on the show, so it kind of makes sense. It's still a little weird to watch.

Season Two of Californication is a lot like season one, which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view. Considering the show's critical praise and the awards it has won, it should appeal to its fans; however, I do not count myself in that group. On the other hand, I was more impressed with the extras this time around, and if you bought season one, there's no reason to not grab season two.

Corner Gas - Season 6 - Buy from Amazon
A great show that is absolutely worth picking up on DVD. However, it is cheaper to import it from

Crime and Punishment - Buy from Amazon
The second T.V. Sets release this week. This one has the pilot episode for four police mystery shows starting with...
  • CSI - New York - Blink
    The third series in the CSI franchise. This one is not as good as the original, but better than CSI: Miami. Unfortunately, the pilot was not one of the better episodes. It felt like the writers were trying to be too bizarre with the crime instead of making something that felt more real.
  • Dexter - Pilot
    I've reviewed this series in the past when it came out on Blu-ray and there's not a lot more I need to say other than the show is instantly engaging.
  • Hawii Five-O - Full Fathom Five
    Kevin McCarthy stars as a conman who kills widow tourists and steals their money. And that's not a spoiler, since you see him off his latest victim before the opening credits. This episode isn't a Whodunit, but a Howdunit. Howdunits are police procedural shows where we see the crime being committed and we see the cops trying to solve it, as opposed to the more common Whodunit where we the viewer only know as much as the characters trying to solve the crime. Like I've said in past reviews of this show, all it takes is the opening theme song to get you in the mood for Hawaii mystery. It's an iconic example of the police procedural genre and a great addition to the DVD. Speaking of icons...
  • The Streets of San Francisco - Thirty Year Pin
    Karl Malden and Michael Douglas stars as two detectives in San Francisco. In the first episode, an old friend of Mike Stone is shot during the robbery at a jewelry and he's determined to find the punk who did this to him. Another iconic example of the genre, it is a near perfect Buddy Cop drama combining the grizzled veteran Karl Malden and newcomer Michael Douglas.
Like the other T.V. Sets releases, this DVD is a great way to check out four shows you might not have seen previously in order to figure out if it is worth picking up the full-season DVD releases. The only show I would not have included on this DVD is CSI - New York. After all, if you are not a fan of the franchise, it's not because you haven't seen it yet; the three shows are shown in syndication practically 24 hours a day. On the other hand, it makes sense to include the two older shows that might have gone off the air before you were born, or the show that appears only on a pay cable channel you likely don't have, as fewer people will have seen those shows.

Dungeons & Dragons - The Animated Series - Buy from Amazon
This is just a re-release of the previous DVD set at a very, very low price. So low Amazon is out of stock.

Duplicity - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
This film earned good reviews, but not great reviews. It opened well, but wasn't a major box office hit. As for the extras on the DVD, there's only a single audio commentary track, while the Blu-ray has no exclusives while it costs more than 50% more. Overall it is not worth picking up, but it makes a good rental.

Fighting - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
One of the most generic names I've ever seen for a movie. This is fitting because it is also a very generic movie. That said, its reviews were not as bad as I thought they would be and it did a little better than expected at the box office. That said, the DVD and the Blu-ray are nearly devoid of extras and are only worthy of a rental, at most.

Frayed - Buy from Amazon
An Indie Slasher about an escaped mental patient returning to the scene of his childhood crime. That's not a very unique setup, but maybe the movie can rise above it?

The film starts with the video taped birthday party for 5-year old Sara. Her brother, Kurt, has been acting up, including stealing one of his sister's new gifts, but that's nothing compared to the brutal murder of mother, which is caught on tape. Thirteen years later, he's still in a mental hospital but is about to be transferred to a more secure facility, but he escapes much to the horror of his father, who is now the sheriff. This is the same day his sister decides to go off to the woods camping with her friend and their boyfriends. The number of Slasher clichés are already building up, and we are barely 20 minutes into the movie. But there has to be a surprise twist in these movies, right?

Well, yes, that's true, but it didn't really help here, as there were too many flashbacks and some instances of foreshadowing that are too obvious. (For instance, we see a flashback of the young Kurt looking at a photograph that is opposite his hospital room. Meanwhile in the story taking place 13 years after the opening murder, these people keep popping up, and they haven't aged. It's obvious form this that what we see happen in the movie is actually just happening in Kurt's mind.) And that's the main surprise twist, and it's telegraphed from the beginning of the movie. I think the filmmakers were trying to be a little too clever and it really hurt the effectiveness here.

Extras include three behind-the-scenes / making of featurettes that combined run just over twenty-three minutes long.

For a low budget Slasher flick, Frayed is better than most; however, by trying too hard to be too clever in surprising the audience, they ruined what could have been a good ending. (They could have just shown the young Kurt staring at the photo and not revealed the faces until the very end.) This severely hurts the replay value and prevents the DVD from rising above a rental.

Goodbye Solo - Buy from Amazon
Still waiting for the screener for this movie to arrive. Hopefully the DVD lives up to its reviews, but even if there's no extras, it is worth a rental at the very least.

House, M.D. - Season Five - Buy from Amazon
A lot of people thought this show jumped the shark this season, but I liked Kal Penn, Peter Jacobson, and the other new characters introduced in season four. Granted, I stopped watching the show on a regular basis this season, but that's only because I simply don't have the time to keep up with every TV shows that I want to watch due to the number of reviews I have each week. Extras include an audio commentary track on one episode and featurettes on several topics including Cuddy, the medical accuracy of the show, etc.

Here's Lucy - Season One - Buy from Amazon
The final TV hit for Lucille Ball, who is one of the most successful TV comediennes of all time. Although like I Love Lucy / The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, this show is not so much of a new series for the actress, but a sequel to The Lucille Ball Show, just with more prominent roles for her kids. This version didn't win as many awards, but it was still very funny and a solid ratings winners. Extras include featurettes on the cast, as well as a slew of home movies. Worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
I'm pretty sure the film is coming out on DVD and Blu-ray this week. Or it could have come out last week. Regardless, I still just have the DVD, but if the Blu-ray does arrive, I'll update this review.

The film stars Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey. She stars as a magazine writer assigned to write an article on how women sabotage relationships. He stars as a guy who tends to be in a lot of relationships, but flees at the first sign of commitment. They meet when she decides to test out how women sabotage relationships by trying to get a man to leave her within ten days, and he has a bet with his co-workers that he can make a woman fall in love with him in ten days. You can see where these two goals would conflict. Also, since this is a romantic comedy, you know where this is going to go. They will initially hate each other. They will then fall in love. Their two secrets will be revealed. They will again hate each other. And then they will reconcile and live happily ever after.

Knowing the ending of the movie within 20 minutes of the opening is not a downside for a romantic comedy, in fact, it's to be expected. What matters is the chemistry between Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey. Personally, I thought there was none. I'm a fan of the genre and I liked the director's previous film, which isn't a true romantic comedy but did have some of those elements in there. However, this film was mostly a slog to get through. I did like Bebe Neuwirth, and some of the side characters, but I've seen Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey play these characters too often to enjoy it.

Looking at the extras on this alleged "Deluxe Edition" DVD, there's doesn't appear to be much that is new from the original release. The audio commentary is back, as are the deleted scenes. There are a trio of featurettes starting with How to Make a Movie in 2 Years, which details the making of the movie, starting with the genesis of the book. Why the Sexes Battle talks about how men and women choose mates. Then there's Girls Night Out talks to the two authors of book talking about their book and how it is not auto-biographical... mostly. Finally, there's a music video. All three featurettes are new, but the two featurettes from the previous edition are missing.

I do not have the Blu-ray, but hopefully it will arrive soon.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is not a bad movie compared to most romantic comedies, but I didn't like the chemistry between the two leads enough to recommend it. Additionally, if you have the previous DVD, the Deluxe Edition is not worth the upgrade.

The Informers - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Good cast, terrible reviews, box office bomb. Extras include an audio commentary track and a making of featurette, but that's not enough to lift it past a rental, and even that's being generous. Unless you are a fan of the author or some of the cast, it is safely skippable.

Lie to Me - Season One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Good show, but I have two major issues. Firstly, it's a police procedural show and even though it has an interesting hook (it focuses on a group of psychologists and experts in the art of reading people) there are just too many similar shows on TV right now. Also, it was a midseason replacements, but the DVD costs as much as full-season sets. The Blu-ray is a better deal by comparison, even though it appears to have no High Definition exclusives.

Life - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
The sophomore curse strikes again! I've lost track of the number of TV series that were canceled during their second season this year. This series is about a cop who was wrongfully convicted of a crime and set to prison for life, but was released and has part of his settlement for his wrongful conviction was given back his old job. However, his time in jail had changed his perspective somewhat, which actually helped him solve crimes better. However, even with this hook, the show wasn't able to distinguish itself from the vast number of police procedural shows that are on air at the moment. That could explain why season two didn't earn as strong ratings as season one, which in turn explains why it was cancelled. However, the quality didn't collapse as much as the ratings did and it is still worth checking out.

We will get to the rest of the releases on part two of this week's list, which can be found here.


Filed under: Video Releases, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Duplicity, Fighting, Sunshine Cleaning, Rudo y Cursi, Goodbye Solo, The Informers, Adventureland