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DVD Releases for September 22nd, 2009 - Part I

September 22nd, 2009

Both a great week for home market releases, and a rather soft week. There are numerous DVDs and Blu-rays worth consideration for DVD Pick of the Week, but almost all of them are from the TV on DVD category, and no first run theatrical releases even coming close to that level. The best of the best are 30 Rock - Season Three, Castle - Season One, Star Trek - The Original Series - Season Two - Blu-ray, and Terminator - The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Season Two - Blu-ray, all from the TV on DVD category, while Star Trek - The Next Generation - The Movie Collection on Blu-ray and Wallace and Gromit - The Complete Collection - Blu-ray. And of those six possibilities, the DVD Pick of the Week is... All of them. I honestly tried to narrow it down, but I just couldn't. They are all so amazing. With so many top-notch releases, it's no surprise that the list had to be split into two. The second part can be found here.

30 Rock - Season Three - Buy from Amazon
In three years this show has earned 37 Emmy nominations and won 13 of them. There's a reason for this.

30 Rock tells the behind-the-scenes story of a TV sketch comedy called TGS with Tracy Jordan, which is obviously based on Saturday Night Live. The show was created by and stars Tina Fey as Liz Lemon, the head writer on TGS, which is the position she held when she worked on Saturday Night Live. She has to deal with her "talent" Tracy Jordan and Jenna Maroney. She also has to deal with her boss, Jack Donaghy, as well as the litany of writers, most of whom are borderline nutcases.

The season starts with Will Arnett's guest roll as Devon Banks, who took over Jack Donaghy's job after Jack's boss went into a coma. Other long-term storylines includes a relationship between Jack and his mother's nurse. Jenna has to deal with her movie role where she's playing Janis Joplin, or at least a character who is loosely based on Janis Joplin. Jack learns something important about his family, and there's a reunion of sorts. Also this season are some stellar one-shot guest appearances from Jennifer Aniston, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Martin, and others. I don't think there's a single episode that fails to connect. Don't get me wrong, not every joke hits its mark, but there's not a single episode where there's more than a couple misses compared to dozens of solid hits.

On a side note, early in the season Liz Lemon tries to get out of jury duty by dressing up as Princess Leia and when she described what she was going to do... let's just say I was expecting the outfit from Return of the Jedi. I was disappointed.

Extras on the three-disc set are excellent starting with audio commentary tracks on seven episodes with a variety of cast & crew. There is a short behind-the-scenes featurette on the puppets (a delusion of Kenneth the page). There is a minute long commercial for 1-900-OKFace, which is a commercial Liz Lemon did during her acting career. There are two featurettes on the season finale, Kidney Now! There's a Tracy Jordan rant, Alec Baldwin monologue from SNL, several award acceptance speeches, and finally an image gallery.

30 Rock is arguably the best show on TV at the moment, and Season Three is nearly perfect. Additionally, the three-disc set has more than enough extras that it is worth picking up. In fact, it is a clear contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Adam Resurrected - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Released last December during Awards Season, the film didn't earn the reviews needed to defeat the competition, or even be noticed next to the competition. Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary track, behind-the-scenes, deleted scenes, and a Q&A from the Haifa International Film Festival. The Blu-ray has no additional extras, but actually costs a tiny amount less than the DVD.

Battle for Terra - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
This film will go down as one of the biggest box office flops of all time. It opened in just over 1000 theaters, but finished with less than $2 million total. The only good news is its production budget, which is rumored to be in the mid-teens. $13 to $16 million isn't a lot to spend on a movie, but was it money well spent?

The film is set on a distant planet where a group of aliens live in treetop cities floating in the dense atmosphere. They are visited by a group of aliens that some mistake for their gods but are in fact invaders from Earth. It turns out that hundreds of years ago, humans used up much of the resources on Earth and spread to Venus and Mars. However, 200 years after that, Mars and Venus fought a war of independence from Earth, which ended up destroying all three planets. Now the remnants of the species are traveling through space looking for a planet they can land on. However, that planet is Terra, and it's occupied. This species includes Mala, an adventurous, inquisitive, and intellectual young lady. She's one of the first to see the human spaceship fly over the planet, and one of the first to see the attack ships come. And when her father is abducted, she takes on these invaders looking to be captured as well, but she manages to instead capture / rescue one of the humans, Jim Stanton. At first, Jim Stanton sees Mala as a monster, but when she saves his life, and helps him get back to his people, he sees her as a friend. However, the general in charge of the human military, General Hemmer, has a less open view of these aliens, and he feels the only way to save the human race, is to destroy Mala and her people.

This is not a bad movie and it has a lot going for it, including a story that has a little more to it than a simple story of good vs. evil. The invading humans are not simply genocidal maniacs; they are desperate for a new world and know that without one, they will die out. And Mala and her species are not innocents; they are a rather restrictive, dogmatic society that are led by an undemocratic group of 'Elders', who clearly are keeping something important from their people in order to control them. That said, there is not a lot here that's too memorable. The story can be a little predictable at times. The animation is smooth, but not detailed enough to match up well against most major theatrical releases. I think that's the biggest problem. People watching ads for this movie before it hit theaters would probably assumed it was a direct-to-DVD or TV movie, or at the very least, one aimed at kids alone. I don't think that's the case, and I think a lot more people should give it a try on the home market. The extras will determine whether or not it's worth picking up or just renting.

Extras on the DVD start with an audio commentary track with three of the crew who talk about the process of making the movie, which was based on a short film and was originally going to be a live action / CG massive blockbuster, not a small Indie film. There is a five-minute making of featurette that is typical for this type of film. It is worth checking out, but it is not as in-depth as I would like. There are four deleted scenes with a total running time of seven minutes, and quite frankly, I think they should have been kept in the movie. There is a very short clip shown in four different stages of animation: storyboard, animatic, Maya, and final. There's a longer, 2-minute clip shown in animatic and final version. There's a 90-second clip of an animated, puppet-like version of Aristomenis Tsirbas talking about his love of movies while walking through the sets.

I don't have the Blu-ray, but I there are no additionally extras. That said, at $19.99 is a great price for a Blu-ray, and digitally animated movies tend to pop on High Definition. If I get the Blu-ray to review later on, I will update the review with the technical specs.

Battle for Terra is not as bad as the reviews would indication, and it's much, much better than its box office performance would indicate. Both the DVD and the Blu-ray are worth checking out. Call it a solid rental, leaning toward a purchase.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Adam Resurrected, Battle for Terra, Book of Blood, The Complete Monterey Festival - Criterion Collection, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Gojira, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, Hot Fuzz, Jimi Plays Monterey & Shake! Otis At Monterey - Criterion Collection, Lymelife, Monterey Pop - Criterion Collection, Observe and Report, Pierrot Le Fou - Criterion Collection, Scooby Doo - The Mystery Begins, Shaun of the Dead, Star Trek - The Original Series - Season Two, Star Trek II - The Wrath of Kahn, Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home, Star Trek VI - The Undiscovered Country, Star Trek VIII - First Contact, Star Trek - The Next Generation - The Complete Movie Collection, Streets of Blood, Terminator - The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Season Two, and Wallace and Gromit - The Complete Collection
There's an impressive collection of Blu-ray releases this week in nearly every category. TV on DVD, limited releases, catelogue titles, there's even a couple Criterion Collection releases of note. The only category that doesn't have any major releases is First Run titles, as the biggest recent release to come out on Blu-ray this week is Ghosts of Girlfriends Past while the best-selling first run Blu-ray is Observe and Report.

Book of Blood - Buy from Amazon
I originally reviewed this film last month; however, I only had a DVD-R of the movie, which means there were no extras to review. This review is mostly identical, except I'm updating it with the extras found on the retail DVD. Or should that be extra.

Book of Blood starts in a diner with an injured young man eating breakfast. His face is scarred 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.

The only real extra on the DVD is a 19-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. It's your typical mix of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie. It talks about the process of adapting two stories into one movie, filming on a low budget, etc. There are also two trailers for the film on the DVD, but that's it in terms of extras.

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. Without substantial extras, the DVD is only worth a rental.

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.

Brotherhood - The Final Season - Buy from Amazon
A TV series about Irish gangsters that aired on Showtime for three seasons but was canceled recently. This is not surprising as it was never a big hit and while it earned good reviews, it didn't earn enough awards to compensate for its low ratings. The DVD is expensive on a per minute basis and Showtime not a network known for putting out great DVD releases, so unless you are a hardcore fan, a rental will likely be enough.

Castle - Season One - Buy from Amazon
First a note, I only watched three episodes on this DVD. I know what you are thinking, 'You can't review a TV season only watching three episodes!' I have seen every episode, but I actually watched them on TV. This is the only show from last year that that was true. I did watch a number of episodes of a few other TV shows, but for the most part I have stopped watching TV on TV and only watch what I review.

The show stars Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle, a murder mystery writer who recently killed off his best selling character and has been struck with writer's block ever since. It also stars Stana Katic as Detective Kate Beckett, who contacts Richard Castle after there are two murders that resemble those in his novels. Not only is Castle intrigued by these cases, and Detective Beckett, his writer's block disappears. This prompts his to use his celebrity status to pull some strings ("The mayor is a fan.") and get him a more permanent partnership while he does research on his new character: a tough but savvy female detective named Nikki Heat.

This is a police procedural show, and as I have commented in the past, there are nearly 800 million of those on TV at the moment, so it is hard for any one of them to stand out. The hook here is Richard Castle, who is a writer and not a cop. But the real draw is the cast, especially the chemistry between Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic. However, the chemistry between Nathan Fillion and his family is also key. Susan Sullivan of Falcon Crest and Dharma & Greg plays his mother, a former stage actress who never really had a knack for parenting, while Molly Quinn of the upcoming Christmas Carol plays his daughter, who is clearly the most mature of the three, but not a 'precocious child' cliché. Some of the supporting characters have not yet had a chance to be fully developed, and not all of the murder mysteries are really engaging, but even so, almost every episode has high replay value. It's such a good show that even if there were no extras on the DVD, this three-disc set would easily be worth picking up.

Fortunately there are plenty of extras, starting with four audio commentary tracks on three episodes (A Death in the Family) has two audio commentary tracks. The three episodes chosen are the season premiere, Flowers for Your Grave; A Chill Goes Through Her Veins, where we learn a bit about Detective Beckett's past; and the season finale, A Death in the Family. In most cases, the participants are the two executive producers and a number of the cast, including Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, Molly Quinn. The second audio commentary track on A Death in the Family has Jon Huertas and Seamus Dever, who play Javier Esposito and Kevin Ryan, who are the other two cops we see the most. The rest of the extras are on disc three, starting with a making of featurette. There's a featurette on Stephen J. Cannell and his connection to the show, and it is more than just his guest spots. Stephen J. Cannell helps Nathan Fillion find his character in Write-Along with Nathan Fillion. Just like sometimes actors who are going to play cops have a ride-along with real cops, in this faux-featurette, we see Nathan Fillion prep work to play a famous mystery writer. Finally there are two-and-a-half minutes of bloopers.

Castle is one of few shows that I try and watch every new episode, and last season it was the only one where I succeeded. My only complaint is Season One was a midseason replacement, which means it's only half as long as it should be leaving me wanting more. Hardly a legitimate knock against the show and the DVD is easily worth picking up, and a clear contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Dora the Explorer - Dora Saves the Crystal Kingdom - Buy from Amazon
The latest Dora the Explorer DVD. This one has three episodes, including the double-length one that lends its name to the DVD.

  • Dora Save the Crystal Kingdom - Dora is reading a magic storybook with Boots when she learns of a Crystal Kingdom ruled by a greedy king who had stolen the four colored gems: The yellow one has chance to cause triple damage, the green one poisons monsters, the blue one slows them down, and the red on causes splash damage. Sorry, wrong gems. In order to retrieve these real gems, she travels with a new friend to several more stories, each time meeting new friends and getting what they need to find the next crystal in hopes of eventually defeating the greedy king.
  • First Day of School - Boots and Tico have to go to school, and we get to come with them. It's a bi-lingual school, so Boots helps Tico with his English, and Tico helps Boots with his Spanish.
  • Boots' Banana Wish - While visiting a carnival, Boots makes a wish that bananas will fall from the sky every time he says the word, 'Banana'. However, he quickly realizes that this was a bad idea, but before he can make another wish to fix it, the machine breaks down. Now he and Dora must travel far and wide to get to another wishing machine.
The only extra on the game is a color match game, but there are no spoken instructions and no reward when you win.

If your kids are fans of Dora the Explorer then they will likely want to pick up Dora Saves the Crystal Kingdom. There are not many of extra, but there's still reasonably good value for the money.

Friday the 13th - The Series - Season Three - Buy from Amazon
A bittersweet week for fans of Friday the 13th - The Series. While they will be happy to be able to complete their DVD collection, it's sad because there will be no more episodes to watch. In fact, since the show was canceled before season three was finished, there are only 20 episodes on this 5-disc set instead of the usual 26 like there were in the first two seasons. But are they at least as good as the first two seasons?

Some are. Some are not.

First the bad news, the character of Ryan Dallion (who was played by John D. LeMay) is written out of the series and is 'replaced' by Johnny Ventura (Steve Monarque) who is nowhere near as interesting a character. For that matter, Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins) is also fading into the background leaving Micki Foster (Louise Robey, who is credited on the show as simply 'Robey') as the only main cast still at the center of the show. She does get to shine in a few episodes, including the series finale, The Charnel Pit, which is one of the best episodes of the season. Night Prey is another strong episode, and one of three that feature Jill Hennessy this season, in three different roles. She is not unique in having multiple guest spots on this show. Speaking of guest spots, Tia Carrere pops up in Year of the Monkey, as does Robert Ito, who played Sam Fujiyama in Quincy M.E.. (For that matter, Jill Hennessy pops up in that episodes as a secretary.)

Not all episodes work out as well, including Repetition, which is rather... well... repetitive. (It is an interesting concept; it's just not executed well.) The Long Road Home also fails to have much impact. It is also the last time there's any hint of romance between Micki Foster and Johnny Ventura. This is not a coincidence. Johnny's not a very sympathetic character, and the romance just doesn't work.

The only extras on the DVD are episodic promos, which you can choose to watch or not. I chose not. These are basically spoilers and I'm glad they have fallen out of fashion. There are also no play all buttons, nor are there subtitles. There are proper chapter placements, but that's not much in terms of DVD authoring. On a side note, the show is 20 years old, and you can tell at times. Not only are some of the special effects a little suspect, but the audio and video quality are quite weak as well.

Friday the 13th - The Series - Season Three might not be quite as good as season two, but it is close. The hit to miss ratio is about two to one, and even the worst episodes of this season tend to have something worth checking out and there are no real outright bombs. The lack of extras is disappointing, but if you bought the first two seasons, there's no reason to stop now. If you didn't, there's a Full Series Box Set, but it does offer much savings.

Ghost Whisperer - Season Four - Buy from Amazon
Just about every season saw major changes in the cast of this show. At the end of the first season, Aisha Tyler left. Season two saw the addition of Camryn Manheim, whose character went on to fill the same role as Aisha Tyler 's did the previous season. Also getting in on the act was Jay Mohr as Rick Payne, but he left at the end of season three. His part in the jigsaw puzzle was Jamie Kennedy, but is this a case of one change too many?

In a word, yes. Jamie Kennedy plays Eli James, a skeptical professor at Rockland University. At the beginning of the season he dies but is brought back to like by Jim, Melinda's husband. However, when he comes back, he is not the same and he can hear ghosts. Hear them, but not see them. Having a new guy to deal with means a lot of storylines feel recycled. We explore the same things we've explored before, only through the fresh eyes of Eli. This could have worked, except Eli's not a very interesting character. More annoying than compelling. The main storyline this season involves the death of Jim, who instead of crossing over decides to possess the body of a accident victim; however, when he does, he forgets his previous memories. Now Melinda has to reconnect with her husband, while trying to convince him he's really her husband. It's overly confusing at times.

On a side note, there seems to be fewer guest stars this time around or at least fewer major ones. This is a show that relies on guest shots but the very nature of the show, but while there were a few I could say, 'Hey, it's that girl from Sabrina' or 'It's that guy from JAG', but I had to look up their names (Jenna Leigh Green and Patrick Labyorteaux, in case you are wondering) and there were fewer I new their names than in seasons past. (One of those 'She looks familiar.' guest stars was Isabelle Fuhrman, who starred in Orphan. I wonder if she's about to become the go to girl for creepy kid.) Rachel Leigh Cook appears early in the season, while Hilary Duff, Alexa Vegas, and Gail O'Grady show up late in the season.

Extras include a number of featurettes including The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, which is about Jamie Kennedy going the cast. Season 4 - Love Never Dies is a recap of the main storyline in the seasons, which should be on disc six and not disc two, so people watch it after they've seen the full season, not partway through. Scoring The Spirit World is about not just the score, but also the songs and sound effects used in the series. There are eight webisodes that run a combined 30 minutes. There are three interactive features. The first is a trivia game set in a haunted dollhouse where you must first find the hidden door, then answer a trivia question to proceed, but there's not much of a reward in doing so. Dorothy Amos narrates the fashion guide for each of the main characters, or you can check out several of the ghosts. Finally there is Grave Mistakes, which has the user fix mistakes on tombstones to help the ghosts pass to the other side.

Ghost Whisperer - Season Four isn't the best season of the show and the changes that take place are starting to take their toll. Season Five starts this Friday, and I wouldn't be too surprised if it was its last. That said, if you bought the previous seasons, this 6-disc set still offers enough value to add it to your DVD collection. I would have liked an audio commentary track or two, but what you get is still good.

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A romantic comedy that earned terrible reviews but still managed to be a midlevel hit at the box office. It was a big enough hit that I'm a little surprised that the DVD only has some deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes featurette. The Blu-ray is BD-Live enabled and has an additional featurette, but it is still strictly a rental.

The rest of the rockin' spotlight reviews, and other releases, can be found here.


Filed under: Video Releases, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Observe and Report, Hot Fuzz, Battle for Terra, Lymelife, Scooby Doo! The Mystery Begins, Rob Zombie Presents The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, Streets of Blood, Adam Resurrected