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DVD Releases for September 15th, 2009 - Part I

September 15th, 2009

The Christmas shopping season starts early this year, as it seems to do every year. Only 15 days into September we have the first summer blockbuster of the year coming out. While X-Men Origins - Wolverine will easily be the biggest release of the week, it won't be the best. I think the best selections out there are from the TV on DVD categories, which is common this time of year, and I would rank Sanctuary - Season One and Transformers - Season Two - Volume One as the best of the best and both are my DVD Picks of the Week. There are a large number of spotlight reviews, including a trio that arrived late, so the list had to be split into two. The second part can be found here.

Astro Boy - Buy from Amazon: Volume One, Volume Two, Volume Three, Volume Four, and Volume Five
A Japanese Anime series based on the Manga by Osamu Tezuka, who is known to some as, "The God of Manga." The graphic novels were first adapted for TV in 1963 and again in 1980. However, this version was made in 2003 to coincide with the fictitious birth date of the titular character. It was re-dubbed and re-cut for American audiences, but many felt the changes hurt the overall feel of the show, as it was not as overly optimistic as before. I prefer these changes, but perhaps that's because I'm old enough to remember the 1980s version, which also had a darker tone. I also like the overall storyline of the series, which is a battle between men and robots. Or at least the battle for robot rights, which Astro helps by being an ambassador of sorts between the two groups, while others like Dr. Tenma, The Blue Knight, etc. want to turn the conflict into a outright war. This is a classic Sci-fi storyline, and I think it works well here.

On the other hand, the show really had no chance to find an audience here, because it switched between two networks. Dealing with a scheduling change is one thing, switching between networks is asking for cancellation.

As for the DVD releases, skip 'em. The show has already been released in a Full Series Box Set, and that version is still available and at a much better price. In fact, the 5-disc set costs less than 50% more than a single volume of this five-volume set. And because there is an overall story arc, you can't just buy one volume and skip the rest; it's all or nothing. And "All" is the better option.

Barbie and the Three Musketeers - Buy from Amazon
An amazingly popular line of digitally animated direct-to-DVD movies based on the equally popular doll. I don't have anything else to add, as I'm way outside the target demographic.

The Big Bang Theory - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
A sitcom that focuses on a group of nerds and their difficulties interacting with the rest of society. Season two saw an increase in the show's viewer numbers, while the 4-disc set has better extras this time around. Sadly, they are still on the light side with a making-of featurette, a featurette on the science, and some outtakes. Even so, it has enough replay value that it is worth picking up for fans of the show, while if you have not seen it so far, at least give it a rental.

Bionicle - The Legend Reborn - Buy from Amazon
A popular line of digitally animated direct-to-DVD movies based on the popular line of Lego sets. I'm closer to the target demographic than with the Barbie release above, but not close enough to make any insightful comment.

Blood and Bone - Buy from Amazon
Michael Jai White stars as Isaiah Bone, an ex-con who gets mixed up in an underground fighting ring. There's not much in the way of reviews online, but the only one I could find was very positive. I wouldn't risk a blind buy on it, but if you are interested in a direct-to-DVD action flick, it's likely worth the rental.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Amadeus, An American Werewolf in London, Army of Darkness, The Blind Swordsman Zatoichi, Camille, Child's Play, Crash - Season One, Deep Impact, Easy Virtue, Grace, Hannibal Lecter Anthology, Iron Monkey, Jet Li's Hero, The Legend of the Drunken Master, Lies and Illusions, Misery, My Name is Earl - Season Four, The Ultimate Force of Four, Van Helsing, Varsity Blues, Wrong Turn, Wrong Turn 2 - Dead End, X-Men Origins - Wolverine, and X-Men Franchise Box Set
Could be a massive week on Blu-ray with the release of X-Men Origins - Wolverine, which I will be reviewing when it arrives. It isn't the only Blu-ray coming out this week that's of interest, but it will be the best selling, likely by a large margin.

Bodyguard - A New Beginning - Buy from Amazon
A Hong Kong gangster flick in which an aging crime boss, Wong (played by Richard Ng) realizes it's getting near the time to retire, but is hesitant to leave his undisciplined and inexperienced son, Yeun (played by Carl Ng), in charge of the empire he built. Because of this, his son turns to a new rival, Kai (played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), in a bid to overthrow his father and take over. In the meantime, Wong sends his trusted bodyguard, Leung (played by Vincent Sze), to the U.K. to protect a young woman, Chloe (played by Stephanie Langton), who has some connection to Wong, a connection that could bring him down. Knowing this, but little else about her, Kai sends goons to follow Leung to find this woman, hoping he will gain the leverage he needs to take over his rival's criminal empire.

I've seen a lot of martial arts action movies, and sadly there's little in this movie that makes it stand out. There are some solid performances by some of the veteran actors, but the lead is rather wooden, which makes the romantic subplot less believable, and certainly less compelling. Some of the fight scenes are entertaining, but not very memorable. It's like a light snack. A martial arts action movie that you can watch once and forget by the next day.

Extras include an 8-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, and that's it. It's the usual mix of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie and it is worth checking out, but has limited replay value.

There's nothing about Bodyguard - A New Beginning that stands out as new, while the DVD has just one featurette as an extra. If you are a fan of the genre, it might be worth checking out, but even then, a rental will be enough for most people.

Bonanza - The Official First Season - Buy from Amazon: Volume One and Volume Two or Volume One and Two
The term, "official" might confuse some people, but as has been the case with a few recent releases, there are some episodes of Bonanza that are public domain and have been released on DVD already. However, this is the first time the show has been released in a Full Season Set using the original elements, and the original theme song.

For those who have never seen the show, Bonanza starred Lorne Greene as Ben Cartwright, a thrice widowed man with three sons, one each from his three wives. His eldest is Adam, the smart and responsible one. The middle child is Eric, better known as Hoss, the gentle giant. The youngest is Little Joe (played by Michael Landon) who has a bit of a temper, but in a "acts before he thinks" kind of way, and not with any malice. They are rather xenophobic in the first season; in fact, in the pilot they draw their weapons and fire on someone, merely for being on their ranch. It's clear that the writers hadn't quite found the right tone for the show just yet. Those who are used to seeing the peak of the show in syndication might be a little bemused by the early episodes, but while the show started somewhat slowly, it's equally clear that it has all the right parts to become the classic it is know as today.

Extras on the two DVDs are impressive, especially given the age of the show. Volume One has featurettes with the show's creator, David Dortort, who talks about the famous map, some of the actors, etc. There is also a rare alternate ending to the pilot, which is great to see, but it's in rough shape. There is also an episode of Fireside Theater called Man of the Comtock, which was written by David Dortort. There are also some archival promos from the series, as well as plenty of images. Volume Two has more featurettes with David Dortort talking about how the Ponderosa got its name, as well as the rest of the cast, including Victor Sen Yung, who played Hop Sing. Volume One and Two is just the two single volumes sold as one at about 10% less cost. It's obviously the way to go for fans of the show.

I am a little annoyed that the first season of Bonanza is split into two volumes, but at least they are being released on the same day, along with a slightly cheaper box set. If you have collected any of the previous DVDs, you will want to buy these, as the show has never looked better. Plus, the original theme song is here, unlike the public domain releases.

Camille - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
James Franco stars as an ex-con who marries his parole officer's niece in hopes of using his honeymoon to Niagara Falls as a way of escaping the country. There's only one review on Rotten Tomatoes, but it is positive, which is a good sign. That said, it sat on a studio shelf for two years and the DVD and the Blu-ray are devoid of extras, which is a really bad sign. I would say check it out, but stick with a rental.

Crash - Season One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Based on the multi-Oscar-winning movie of the same name. The reviews have been mixed, but it did well enough in the ratings to earn a second season, which starts shortly. Extras on the DVD include an alternate ending to the season finale, making-of featurette, etc., while the Blu-ray has an interactive exclusive to help detangle the storylines. It's pricey on a per minute basis, but worth checking out.

CSI - Miami - Season Seven - Buy from Amazon
Now I'm in a foul mood. First of all, this and several other DVDs arrived late, which threw my schedule off. Given the number of DVDs I had to review this week, I wouldn't be entirely out of line to push it back till next week; however, I already have a dozen DVDs waiting to reviewed for next Monday, and half a dozen in the late pile that all arrived late, not to mention more than two dozen that are late and could show up at any time. Secondly, at least the other two shows that were part of the same late delivery I'm excited to review, but I am not a fan of this show to begin with. And finally, it's very apparent that this show has jumped the shark.

The season does start on a high note with the assassination of Horatio Caine. Sadly, death is even less of a fan of his squat and squint acting, so he's granted another go on planet Earth. Then again, death doesn't seem to have much say on this show given the events at the end of the season opener. Death does get its act together at the beginning of the second episode of the season and we get back the usual murder mystery elements of the series. (On a side note... Dude. Drop and roll.) There are some interesting cases this season (like the child kidnapping) but even the best episodes are overshadowed by the oppressive style. A relatively simply task like dusting for fingerprints is loaded with cuts & pans, freeze-frames, speeding up the video, dropping to black & white, and other obvious directorial flares that are just distractions. If they cut those out, and all of the shots of Miami, each episode would only be 15 minutes long. I'm not a big fan of Dogme 95, but I think the creative forces on this show would really benefit from using a strict set of rules like that to get back to the basics of filmmaking. If you can create a story within those rules, then, and only then can you start adding in the visual flair. If you use visual flair as a crutch, you never develop the basics of simple storytelling.

Extras on the seven disc set include audio commentary tracks on two episodes, pop-up trivia track on another, a featurette on the sounds effects in the series (which is not a selling point, as it is as overdone as the rest of the show), there's a featurette on the new AV lab (which is just as overdone as the sound), and finally an overview of season seven. On a side note, here's the new AV lab as seen from the perspective of a computer nerd... Every visual flair you see takes CPU runtime, CPU runtime that would be better used comparing fingerprints, for instance. This is why no matter how powerful a computer gets, a well made program still relies on little more than a progress bar and a rotating hourglass to show it's working on something. This is clearly something designed by artists and not computer engineers.

I think what the creators of this show need to understand that sometimes less is more. Focus more on the crimes being solved, and less on the style of the show. Until they do, CSI - Miami will always be the weakest in the franchise. Season Seven doesn't correct these problems; in fact, they get worse. Stick with the original and New York and give this one a pass.

Dark Shadows - The Vampire Curse - Buy from Amazon
For those who don't know, Dark Shadows was a daytime soap opera that started in 1966 but was nearly cancelled due to low ratings. However, the introduction of the vampire character Barnabas Collins changed that and it became a massive hit. The show has been released on DVD, but this single-disc release has a collection of stories that introduced the world to Barnabas. It also has an all-new interview with the actor, Jonathan Frid. Also coming out this week is The Haunting of Collinwood, which deals with the werewolf Quentin Collins. Not as popular as Barnabas, but that DVD is also worth checking out.

Doctor Who - The Next Doctor - 2008 Christmas Special - Buy from Amazon
Doctor Who took a break last year and instead of the regular season, there were several specials. Because they are specials, they feel like they should be more... well... special. Most fans will agree they are worth checking out, but they are not among the best of the latest incarnation of the series.

Dragon Ball - Season One - Buy from Amazon
Season one comes out this week, while Season Two comes out in November. It's a great time to be a fan of the franchise. It's just too bad about the movie.

Easy Virtue - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A fun film starring Jessica Biel an as American woman to travels to England with her new husband. She immediately clashes with her new mother-in-laws, which puts a strain on her marriage. Granted, the reviews were not great, but it still did relatively well in limited release. The DVD has an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, outtakes and a featurette on premiere. The Blu-ray is BD-Live enabled and only costs 30% more, which is acceptable for this type of release. Regardless of which format you choose, it is worth picking up.

Fame - Buy from Amazon: The Original Movie and TV Series - Season One and Two
The new movie comes out in roughly ten days and the original movie and the TV series are getting DVD releases this week. I think the new movie will suck, but fans of the first should be happy about being able to see these releases coming out this week.

Fear Itself - Season One - Buy from Amazon
A horror anthology series that started last summer and was created by Mick Garris, who previously created Masters of Horror. That series was also a horror anthology series that had episodes directed by prominent members of the genre, and both shows never found an audience. But at least fans of the show will be able to pick up the entire series this week, but will fans of the genre in general find something to like?

Like all similar shows, it is hit and miss. Community, Eater, and Spooked were misses for me, which is a shame since they are all on the first disc and such a slow start hurts. Disc two does present solid hits in Family Man and New Year's Day, but there's a miss with In Sickness and in Health. Disc three has Chance, which is an evil twin story, which is a miss. Echoes was a stronger story, as was The Spirit Box. The series ends with The Circle, which is the only episode on disc four and is neither a hit nor a miss. Some of the misses did have their strong parts, like Elisabeth Moss's performance in Eater, but you can't just tilt the camera and expect me to be scared. That's the key to a show like this, scares. Scares and a good twist. Neither of which were found in a lot of the episodes. Overall the hit to miss ratio is not high enough to justify a blind buy, but it is worth checking out.

As for extras, some of the episodes are 'director's cuts' while every episode has an interview with the director. A side note about the packaging. On the positive side, the case looks really cool. On the negative side, they used flipper discs. They used flipper discs and a spindle, which is just asking for scratches. Also, there are no play all buttons, nor are there subtitles. Finally, the menus are not user friendly and you can't skip the overly long intros. It seems that every opportunity they had to mess up something, they did.

Fear Itself is one of many horror anthology shows that have appeared on TV over the years. Sadly, while there are some that lasted years and years, most are short lived like this one. Season One has enough episodes that worth that it is worth checking out, but there are enough that don't that for most a rental will be enough.

Four Dragons - Buy from Amazon
Apparently, this is the first Malaysian martial arts movie. I have no way to confirm or disprove that, but it's an interesting factoid. Set in the Kinta province in Malaysia, which became famous for its tin reserves and in the late 18th century many people immigrated there from southern China in hopes of striking it rich... with tin. Anyone else find it hard to believe that people once got excited about the prospects of discovering tin? Regardless, instead of striking it rich, these immigrants were treated as slaves by the mine owners, and this injustice four warriors rise to defend their people: Dragon, Tiger, Ace, and Blaze. I think. The details of the plot are a little... unnecessary. This is a simple martial arts action flick that care little about explaining the plot. (Although when they do it's with an exposition laden voiceover.) All that matters here are the fight scenes, and I have some good news and some bad news.

Good news: the fight scenes are loaded with style. Bad news: style is the only thing going for the movie. Worse news: the style can be oppressive at times. I don't have an issue with CG blood on principle. When done well, like in Zodiac, it's a very useful tool to add realism to the film, without having to do practical effects, which take a long time to set up, and even longer to reset when you need a second take. However, if they are just there to add more blood for the sake of gore, like in several films I've reviewed, then it looks goofy. If its used to add a comic book esthetic, like I think it is being used here, it has the potential to be cool, but the overused kills its effectiveness. I've seen so many martial arts movies that they really need a hook to stand out, and when they hook backfires, like it does here, there's nothing to fall back on.

The DVD does have a 16-minute making of featurette, which is better than expected in terms of extras, but not enough to really change the overall value.

For fans of the genre, Four Dragons might be worth a rental, but the movie doesn't have enough replay value, nor are there enough extras on the DVD to lift it to a purchase.

Friday the 13th - Deluxe Edition - Buy from Amazon: Part VII - The New Blood and Part VIII - Jason Takes Manhattan
I think I will be getting these DVDs to review, but the screeners are late. That's happening a lot lately.

Full Battle Rattle - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about the Iraq simulation facility in Mojave Desert. It earned good reviews, but not great reviews, and went nowhere at the box office. With some additionally scenes and a interview with the director, the DVD is worth checking out for fans of documentaries, and many who do will want to add it to their collection.

Go, Diego, Go! - Diego's Arctic Rescue - Buy from Amazon
The latest DVD release from the Go, Diego, Go! TV series, which is a popular spin-off to the insanely popular Dora the Explorer show. Both are interactive TV shows in the 'Ask and Pause' sub-genre, which allows kids to feel like they are part of the adventure helping their favorite characters solve problems. It also allows jaded critics such as myself to say inappropriate things, which I won't repeat here.

The latest DVD, Diego's Arctic Rescue, has three episodes, starting with...

  • The Great Polar Bear Rescue! - A double-length episode has Diego and Baby Jaguar traveling to the arctic to visit the polar bears. His sister, Alicia, and his cousin, Dora, make appearances helping him rescue some polar bears affected by Global Warming.
  • Puffin Fishing Adventure - Diego has to help feed the baby puffins, who don't have enough fish to eat at their normal habitat because of all of the over fishing.
  • Where is Okapi's Brother? - Diego travels to Africa to help the Okapi, which are like Zebra, only with fewer stripes. He plays hide-and-seek with a herd of Okapi, but due to deforestation, one pair of brothers has to travel very far to find a good place to hide. They have to travel so far, that they get lost.
There are three short animal rescues featuring walruses, snowy owls, and a musk ox & caribou. Each are just over 2 minutes long, so there's not much in the way of special features on this DVD. However, that's pretty common for pre-school releases.

Go, Diego, Go! - Diego's Arctic Rescue combines the usual animal rescues with an environmental theme, which is an added bonus. The price per minute is on par with the previous releases, and it is worth picking up if your kids are fans of the show.

Grace - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Jordan Ladd stars as a pregnant woman whose husband and unborn child are killed in a car crash. However, she decides to carry the baby to term, who then miraculously comes back to life... with a taste for human blood. It's reviews are better than expected, as it's a low-budget horror and it's worth checking out. Extras on the DVD include audio commentary track, featurettes on the making of the movie, the cast, the score, etc. The Blu-ray has a second audio commentary track and costs just 33% more, which is a good deal. Worth picking up, but since it's not a mainstream film, it's better to start with a rental.

Grey's Anatomy - Season Five - Buy from Amazon
Early in this season, Dr. Cristina Yang freaks out at Dr. Meredith Grey over her obsession with Dr. Derek Shepherd. I believe the exact quote is "Shut up!" She repeats that phrase several more times, and every time she did, it was the high point of the season.

Okay, perhaps that's not 100% accurate, but it's close. I also like the medical aspect of the show, which sadly has never been the focus of Grey's Anatomy. There are some interesting stories this year, including Dr. Yang being enthralled by a military doctor. Of course, there's also the return of Jeffrey Dean Morgan playing Denny Duquette, who died in the series a long time ago. He comes back and can only be seen by Dr. Izzie. At first she thinks she's being haunted, but it is revealed that he's not a ghost, but she's very ill. When she figures it out, she has an impassioned confrontation with him over the fact that he knew she was sick and didn't tell her. She could have gotten treatment earlier, but he didn't tell her why he was there. I'm sure this was supposed to be a highly emotional moment, but I was yelling at the TV, "He didn't lie to you. He's a hallucination brought on by your brain tumor. On the one hand, this is further proof that I'm a little demented. This is supposed to be emotionally gut wrenching, and I'm freaking out whether what she's saying is technically accurate or not. That's my fault, cause I'm a big nerd. On the other hand, if the scene was really effective, I don't think it would have bothered me as much. That's the show's fault.

And clearly the show has a lot of quality issues compared to seasons past. On just needs to look at its Emmy count this time around to see that. Granted, earning three Emmy nominations is nothing to sneeze at, but the previous year it earned five and the year before that it earned ten winning one, and eleven the year before that. This is the worst year for the series since the first, which only ran for only nine episodes.

Extras on the seven-disc set includes a few extended episodes, as well as deleted scenes for other. There's also a featurette on the show's 100th episode and interviews with several of the cast. That's not a lot, especially for a concurrent release.

I think it's clear that Grey's Anatomy has jumped the shark by Season Five. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of fans stopped watching the show at some point during the season, but if you are a hardcore fan enough to buy the previous seasons, I don't think you will give up at this point.

Heartland - Season 1 - Part 1 - Buy from Amazon
A Canadian TV series about a successful career woman who must return to her home to help the family ranch to survive. It's a good show and I'm glad it's coming out on DVD. I'm glad when any Canadian TV series comes out on DVD, because so few have. The more that come out, the more likely I'll get Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy.

The IT Crowd - Season Three - Buy from Amazon
A great show from Britain about the IT department of a large corporation and the social misfits who are stuck there. There are only six episodes on the DVD, but there are plenty of extras including audio commentary tracks on all of them, tour of the set, interview, deleted scenes, outtakes, and more. Worth picking up.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - Season Four - Buy from Amazon
A low, low, low budget show that was nearly cancelled after just a few episodes, but it survived and is now one of the most popular shows on FX. Although popular on FX would probably not rate in the top 100 on network TV. Then again, given the unsympathetic nature of the characters, this show could never be a mainstream hit. (At one point the show was going to be called Jerks.) Extras include deleted scenes, outtakes, and a live performance. That's not a lot and I would have liked an audio commentary track or two, especially at that price for just 13 episodes. Even so, worth checking out for many, picking up for some.

My Name is Earl - Season Four - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A high-concept comedy that petered out in the end. Too bad, as for the first two seasons it was one of the best shows on TV. If you've collected it on DVD so far, you might as well complete your collection. However, if you are planning on making the jump to Blu-ray, wait till there's a full series set.

Next Day Air - Buy from Amazon
This film opened with terrible reviews, opened in barely more than 1000 theaters, and went nowhere at the box office. This week it is coming out on DVD with an audio commentary track and some outtakes, but while it will likely do better on the home market, I suspect most people will stick with a rental.

One Step Beyond - Season One - Buy from Amazon
The second of three DVDs that arrived late. This is an anthology mystery series that debuted in 1959, the same year as The Twilight Zone. That's probably why a lot of people reading this had never heard of the show before. I certainly hadn't before I was offered a chance to review the show. In the 1980s, the show's copyright lapsed and it entered into public domain and it has been released on DVD many, many times before, but this is the first time it has been released using the original masters, so it hasn't looked or sounded this good. But how about the episodes themselves?

The similarities between One Step Beyond and The Twilight Zone are amazing. Not only are they both anthology mystery shows that have a supernatural edge. Both featured plenty of guest shots from pre-fame actors. Both even started with introductions and epilogues by the host who was a creative force on the show (writer Rod Sterling for The Twilight Zone and director John Newland for One Step Beyond). The Twilight Zone focused on the truly bizarre (the last man on Earth, a young boy with supernatural powers, a monster attacking an airplane at 20,000 feet altitude, etc.) while One Step Beyond deals with supernatural occurrences that could be real. In fact, they play upon that fact. People having premonitions, hauntings, possessions, etc. I think because they try to be more grounded in reality that there are not as many very memorable episodes on season one. The hit to miss ratio is excellent compared to a lot of more recent shows like this one (Fear Itself, for instance) and for fans of the genre it is definitely worth checking out, but I would be amazed if most people even remember this show 50 years after it first aired.

Extras on the 3-disc set include the extended version of the pilot episode the promos from the original series and the 1990 revival, as well as an audio interview with Don M. Mankiewicz, one of the writers on the show. That's not a lot in terms of extras, but for a show that's 50 years old, that's to be expected. I'm a little more disappointed that there are no subtitles or play all buttons.

One Step Beyond might not be as well known as The Twilight Zone, but if you are a fan of that show, it is likely that you will also enjoy this one. There are not a lot of extras on the Season One DVD release, but it is still worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

Phantasm II - Buy from Amazon
Phantasm is considered a cult classic among horror fans. The sequel isn't as good. This appears to be the first time the movie has been released on DVD, at least a region one DVD, which makes it a must have for fans of the franchise. If you haven't seen it yet, but you are a fan of low-budget horror, it is worth checking out.

We've got sexy doctors, fighting robots, and martial art masters and more on the second part of our list, which can be found here.


Filed under: Video Releases, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Next Day Air, Easy Virtue, Full Battle Rattle, Blood and Bone, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, Barbie and the Three Musketeers