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DVD Releases for October 6th, 2009 - Part I

October 6th, 2009

Not a bad week for the home market with top-notch releases in nearly every category: classics, limited releases, TV on DVD, direct-to-DVD, etc. Every category, except first run releases, as the biggest theatrical hit to make its home market debut this week is Year One, which was a serious box office disappointment. There are several DVD Pick of the Week contenders, starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which makes its Blu-ray debut in a number of different packages (Snow White Packaging, Witch Packaging, Collector's Book, Plush Gift Set, or Limited Edition Collector's Set) Also in contention is Red Dwarf - Back to Earth on Blu-ray, Anvil! - The Story of Anvil on DVD, and Trick 'r Treat on either DVD or Blu-ray. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is obviously the best, but all four deserve DVD Pick of the Week honors. With plenty of spotlight reviews, the list has to be split into to and the second part can be found here.

Ally McBeal - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
It's that time of year again when studios start releasing full series megasets for Christmas shopping. Here they are also releasing the first season of the series as well.

Anvil! - The Story of Anvil - Buy from Amazon
A Rockumentary about the Canadian rock band called Anvil. The film earned unbelievably positive reviews and did well for a documentary. Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, and extended interviews. Even if you had never heard of the band, and most haven't, this is worth picking up and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Assassination of a High School President - Buy from Amazon
This film has been pushed back a number of times and now it is finally coming out, albeit direct-to-DVD. It's not a bad movie, but the distributor went under since the last release date was announced, which explains its long and tortured path to release. Because of this, it's not surprising that the DVD release is light on extras and there are only some deleted / alternative / extended scenes with optional commentary. Still, it's worth checking out for most, picking up for some.

Audition - Collector's Edition - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
If you don't know who Takashi Miike is, it is probably a good idea to stay far away from this movie. Takashi Miike is the kind of filmmaker that makes niche market movies, and if you are a fan of extreme and extremely violent horror films, you are very likely familiar with his work. Ichi the Killer is notorious in this sub-genre. This is arguably his best effort within this genre, and the 2-disc Blu-ray has extras like audio commentary track, making of featurette, etc.

Blood Ties - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
A short-lived Vampire TV series from Canada. It only lasted one season up here, but when it was shown on TV in the United States, it was split into two seasons, and even then the last few episodes were unaired. Sadly there are no extras on the DVD, but the price per minute is still good.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Audition - Collector's Edition, Bones - Season 4, Celestial Railroad (IMAX), A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Children, Comedy 3-Pack, Contact, Dinosaurs (IMAX), Extreme Action 3-Pack, Fantasy 3-Pack, Ghost Ship, Holiday Favorites Collection, Horror Classics Collection, Horton Hears a Who!, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Imagine That, Ken Burns - National Parks - America's Best Idea, Kurt Cobain - About a Son, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Miracle on 34th Street (1994), My Life in Ruins, Not Forgotten, The Number of 23, Offspring, Red Dwarf - Back to Earth, Romantic Comedy 3-Pack, Sci-Fi 3-Pack, Seventh Moon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - DVD Packaging, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - Blu-ray Packaging, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - Collector's Book Edition, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - Limited Edition Collector's Set, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - Plush Gift Set, The Thaw, Trick 'r Treat, Wolf, and Year One
Massive list of Blu-rays coming out this week with Blu-rays coming out in every category: First run releases, catalogue titles, TV on DVD, foreign imports, limited releases, etc. The biggest release is without doubt Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but there are a number of releases that will find their way into my collection including Red Dwarf - Back to Earth, Trick 'r Treat, and others.

Bones - Season Four - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Still a great show, even if the season finale was a little weak. I'm a little disappointed in the extras, as there are no audio commentary tracks. There are some extras, include extended versions of three of the episodes, plus additional deleted scenes, outtakes, and a couple featurettes. I expect more for a concurrent TV on DVD release; however, it is still worth picking up and the Blu-ray is a good deal compared to the DVD. Good, but not great.

Children of the Corn - Buy from Amazon
A TV movie re-adaptation of a Stephen King short story. The original movie was really bad, but few reviews I've seen for this film make it sound even worse.

Chinatown - Centennial Collection - Buy from Amazon
The timing of this release is eerie given all of the publicity surrounding Roman Polanski recent arrest. I should be getting a copy of this to review, but since a special edition came out in 2007, it better be damn good to be worth the upgrade.

Christmas Releases - Buy from Amazon: A Charlie Brown Christmas (Blu-ray), Dora the Explorer - Dora's Christmas, Frosty Favorites, Holiday Favorites Collection, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Blu-ray), Miracle on 34th Street (1947) (Blu-ray), Miracle on 34th Street (1994) (Blu-ray), A Miser Brother's Christmas, Peanuts - I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown, and Veggie Tales - Saint Nicholas - A Story of Joyful Giving
It's that time of year where studios flood the market with Christmas releases. This week there are a few classic releases including Miracle on 34th Street (1947) (Blu-ray) and A Charlie Brown Christmas (Blu-ray).

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders - Power Squad Bod - Buy from Amazon: Body Slimming Yoga, Calorie Blasting Dance, and Hard Body Boot Camp
Three exercise DVDs coming out this week featuring the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, the first is... Body Slimming Yoga, which is lead by Kurt Johnsen. There are two sets of yoga exercises on this DVD: a basic practice and a more in-depth routine. The second is Calorie Blasting Dance, and it has more aerobic exercises with each section lead by a different cheerleader, five in all. (There's also a warm up, a cool down, and an 8-minute mix called Dance Blast). Finally there's Hard Body Boot Camp, which has Jay Johnson, the official training, putting the cheerleaders through a more rigorous program.

On the Yoga and Boot Camp DVDs there are three levels done simultaneously by three different ladies, so you can modify your exercise routine according to ability. Easiest example to explain is the pushups. The easy mode the lady was doing them from the knees, the moderate was doing them normally, while the hard mode was doing them at a faster pace. Each DVD also has each move explained in more detail so you can learn them before hand so you don't have to look at the screen while trying to do the moves at the same time. This is especially useful on the Yoga DVD, as form is critical here.

I really liked the customize feature in the extras. Here you could chose a playlist of exercises from the selection of sets, hit play, and the DVD will play through them in the order you selected. I think this should be standard on every exercise DVD, because at the very least the variety will encourage you to keep up your exercise routine.

On the other hand, the energy was only moderate here (in fact, the instructor on the Yoga DVD was way too mellow for me) and I think the lack of music hurt.

The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders - Power Squad Bod DVD offer good value for the money and there's more than enough variety on Body Slimming Yoga, Calorie Blasting Dance, and Hard Body Boot Camp for most people to find something they like.

Dance Flick - Buy from Amazon
The film was released on DVD for rental last month, as well as on Blu-ray, and now it is coming out for purchase on DVD. The wait hasn't made the movie any better and I would suggest avoiding it all together.

The Gate - Monstrous Special Edition - Buy from Amazon
First a note, I only have the DVD at the moment, and while I hope to get the Blu-ray later, I'm not confident that I will. The Blu-ray isn't even on Amazon yet, but they do talk about it on the audio commentary track.

The Gate is a low-budget horror film from Canada that was made in 1987. The movie starts in a typical suburban backyard with a tree being removed, and the young boy who lives there, Glen, sees a geode fall from the roots. His friend, Terry, convinces him to dig up the hole looking for more geode so they can sell them for cash, but what they dig up is more than just a simple geode and that weekend, while the parents are away and his sister, Al, is having friends over, something weird happens. First there's a little bit of levitation. Then their pet dog dies. Then, after someone decides to bury the dead dog in the hole, all hell breaks loose. Literally. Fortunately, Terry's a fan of heavy metal, and one of his albums explains what's happening, and hopefully how to stop it. But will they be able to prevent the old gods from taking over the Earth, and more importantly, will they be able to clean up before their parents get back.

I love this movie. I was a little surprised to hear the filmmakers talk about it as a kids movie during the audio commentary track, as I never really saw it that way. It's a PG-13 horror film with kids as the protagonists, but not really a 'kids movie' per se. Granted, I was only 13 or 14 when I saw the film for the first time, so perhaps that's why I don't think it's a kids movie. It could also be a bit of nostalgia that's cloudy my judgement, because the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are quite low, but I love the old-school special effect, I love the story, I love the characters. There is a great blend of humor and scares. Okay, maybe great isn't accurate. But it's fun and entertaining, and that's what I want from a movie like this.

Extras on the DVD include the audio commentary track that I mentioned above with director Tibor Takacs, writer Michael Nankin, and special effects creator Randall William Cook. Quite a good balance of energy and information. There are also two featurettes, the first on the special effects and second on the general making of the movie.

This is the second time I have The Gate on DVD, but the previous release I have was a featureless disc, which was part of a box set. The Monstrous Special Edition isn't overloaded with extras, but it looks better and the extras that are here and definitely worth checking out. This film is worth checking out and the DVD is worth picking up. The only question is is it worth waiting for the Blu-ray they talk about in the audio commentary track. Considering there's no pre-order on Amazon, I would figure it won't come out till this time next year.

Get Smart - Season 4 - Buy from Amazon
This show was already released on a full series set with special features. Stick with that release instead.

Ghost House Underground - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon: The Children, Offspring, Seventh Moon, and The Thaw
Four horror films hitting High Definition. These are mostly independent films, one from the U.K., that very few people have heard of. The are also coming out on DVD this week, but I only have the high definition editions to review.

The Children - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
It's Christmas Eve and Elaine & Jonah drive up to her sister's with their three kids to spend the holiday with Chloe & Robbie and their two kids. The eldest of the three kids, Casey, isn't happy about being there because there was a big party she wanted to go to. She's an outsider in the group because she is too old to play with the four younger kids, but too young to socialize with the four adults. (Although there's a definite creepy uncle vibe going on with Robbie.) The youngest of Elaine & Jonah, Paulie, is feeling sick from flu-like symptoms. But this is not your typical flu that just involved a bunch of puking, and when the rest of the kids start to become infected... and that's really all I'm comfortable in saying, as I can't describe the movie more without getting into unacceptable spoiler territory.

This is the only movie of the bunch to have reviews over on Rotten Tomatoes, and I'm not surprised, as it was the only film out of the four that I had heard about before they arrived to review. Even then I only knew very little about the movie, which is the best way to going into the film. It's an atmospheric little gem that builds tension effectively; we the audience quickly see there's something wrong here, but the filmmakers seem content with letting the unease grow naturally instead of gore for a lot of quick and gory kills. (That is not to say there are no gory kills, but the film builds slowly towards them.) The acting is also strong here, including the cast of kids. Hannah Tointon is great as Casey, the outsider, who never wanted to be there in the first place. She's the first to figure out something is wrong, and the first who realizes deadly force might be necessary to defend themselves. And if it weren't for the little kids (Raffiella Brooks, Jake Hathaway, William Howes and Eva Sayer) being so effective, this movie would have been a joke.

As of for the extras, there's no audio commentary track, but there are several making of featurettes, including an overall one, one featuring on the child actors, the set locations, the special effects, etc. They are your typical mix of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie and run close to an hour in total. There are also three deleted / alternative scenes with a total running time of just under six minutes. Unfortunately, none of them are presented in High Definition. Speaking of High Definition, the video looks very good, especially for a low-budget film. Perhaps not among the best I've seen, but solid. The audio is more toward the average side, but effective nonetheless.

Offspring - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Off in the woods of Maine there have been mysterious disappearances for more than a hundred years. Brutal unsolved murders and kidnappings, the most recent about a decade ago and now it appears there's another. In this situation we see a couple with a new baby welcoming a friend and her young son. She's trying to rebuild her life after being left by her abusive husband, who is on the run after embezzling money from work and owing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the IRS. However, the husband decides he wants to reconcile and get back together and despite a restraining order, he's on his way. Now these two brutal forces converge on this one home and it's just a matter how which hits first.

This movie is everything The Children isn't, and that's not a good thing. There's no tension, because the film jumps right into the gore. The characters are uninteresting and a lot of acting is amateur. It doesn't even get the gore right, because the whole film looks so cheap. It's hard to sit through, but not because it's an unrelenting intense film, but because it's just so stupid.

Extras include an audio commentary track, a 21-minute making of featurette, a 3-minute featurette bailing out one of the actors and how one of the crew was nearly pressed into action as a cannibal. Finally, there are 8 behind-the-scenes webisodes, but they are mostly too short to have any replay value. As for the technical presentation, neither the video nor the audio impresses. It's one of the cheapest looking Blu-rays I've reviewed. I can't imagine the DVD looks much worse than this.

Seventh Moon - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Based on a Chinese myth where the spirits are free to roam the Earth during the full moon of the seventh lunar month. The film tells the story of a couple honeymooning in Hong Kong, Melissa and Yul. While being driven to Yul's parents in rural China, their driver, Ping, gets lost and steps out of the car and into a nearby village for directions. When he doesn't return after an hour, the pair decide to investigate, but what they find is a little disturbing. The place appears to be deserted, but there are live animal sacrifices, presumably to the spirits. When they return to the car, they find it covered in blood, and they decide to get out of there, and fast.

This film was written and directed by Eduardo Sánchez, who previously made The Blair Witch Project, and you can tell. The use of handheld POV shots is very prominent here, which is supposed to help draw people in and make them feel like they are part of the action. It just makes me want to take a Dramamine and buy the filmmakers a steadicam. It's a real distraction, at least in my opinion. Others might like that style of filmmaking more. I did like most of the rest of the movie, as it had good atmosphere, and some good scares. There's not a lot of gore, nor are there many jump scares, but the tension builds well throughout.

Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary track with Eduardo Sánchez and Amy Smart. It's not particularly energetic, but there's enough information that it is worth listening to. Up next is a 12-minute making of featurette that is mostly behind-the-scenes footage. The Pale Figures talks about the spirits and how they were conceived. Finally, there is The Mysteries of the Seventh Month, which talks about the mythology that helped inspire the movie. All three featurettes are presented in high definition, although the last one is filmed like it was an old educational movie, so the quality is intentionally poor. As for the actual movie, the video is a mixed bag. Early shots of the city looked amazing, but once the action starts, much of the video is blurry, choppy, etc., which is not the best way to show off High Definition. The audio is a little better, but not that strong.

The Thaw - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Val Kilmer stars as Dr. Kruipen, a famed environmentalist who is currently working in the arctic studying the effects of global warming. He and his group come across an underweight polar bear eating something in the remains of a rapidly melting glacier, but what it is eating is what causes them to react the most. It's the frozen remains of a wholly mammoth. Meanwhile, a group of students, and his estranged daughter, are travelling up to study with them as part of a college course. However, the wholly mammoth appears to have been infected with a parasite that has remained frozen for thousands of years and is now it is infecting the people. Can these people survive long enough to get back to civilization and get medical attention? Should they even try to get back to civilization? Or do they need to do what it takes just to keep the parasites from spreading?

This is a horror film with elements of science fiction and an environmental theme. Most of the elements work, although the environmental theme could have been toned down, which would have made it more effective. The acting is mostly good, but be warned Val Kilmer is barely in it so most of the heavy-lifting in that regard goes to Martha MacIsaac, who plays his daughter, and Aaron Ashmore, who plays one of the students. Most of the horror comes from the people turning on each other, but the CG bugs are effectively creepy when they come out later in the movie. That said, while the film is good, it is not great, and the replay value is limited.

Extras are even more limited with just a 13-minute making of featurette. The audio and video quality are mixed; there's nothing special with either, but there were no serious flaws either. Middle of the road.

Of the four Ghost House Underground releases that come out this week, The Children is the best and is worth owning. Seventh Moon and The Thaw are worth checking out, but it is likely that a rental will be enough. On the other hand, Offspring should be avoided at all costs.

The Hills - Season Five - Part One - Buy from Amazon
I hate this show. I have a copy to review, but I'm giving it away as part of our Box Office Prediction Contest starting this Friday.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 14th of July. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in the in this review.

Horsemen - Buy from Amazon
Dennis Quaid stars as Detective Aidan Breslin, a forensic odontologist. (If you don't know what that means, and I certainly didn't, he studies teeth as they pertain to criminal cases.) He's a widower with two sons, but he has buried himself in his work ever since his wife died of cancer. His youngest is too young to notice, but eldest, Alex, is having troubles. At the beginning of the movie, he is called in on a case where some human teeth are found on display in a field with the phrase, "Come and see" written on four of the nearby trees. When they find the body of a victim ritualistically killed with the same phrase written four times on the walls, he knows he's on the hunt for a serial killer, and when he figures out these killings are based on the four horsemen he has to stop them before something bigger goes down.

This film earned weak reviews when it opened in limited release, and it is hard to argue with overall score. There are some interesting elements at play here, but almost none of them work to their potential. For instance, Zhang Ziyi plays the adoptive daughter of the first victim, who was adopted by the family ten years ago at age eight. Zhang Ziyi is a great actress, but her English is a little suspect, which hurt in two ways. Firstly, the character was supposed to be in the United States for ten years, so she should have been much more fluent in English. Secondly, acting in a second language is hard, and perhaps it would have been better to find a lesser actress with a better grasp of the language. (On the other hand, the man who played her adoptive father had no such excuse; in one of the deleted scenes his acting was particularly bad and could have been the sole reason that scene was cut.) The script itself was a little flat and the surprise twist wasn't that surprising. The family conflict between Aidan and his son Alex needed to be more emotionally powerful, but the entire film just had a mildly depressive vibe to it. Maybe a little more than mildly depressing, moderately depressing, but it is hard to be drawn into a movie when depressing is the only emotion you get out of it. Overall it is not a terrible movie, but it certainly doesn't live up to its potential

Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary track and 12 minutes of deleted scenes. Both are worth checking out, but there's limited replay value here.

Horsemen is the epitome of a rental. The movie has just enough that works that you probably won't give up on it and the DVD has an acceptable level of extras, but nothing that add enough replay value to make it worth buying.

Imagine That - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The buzz about this movie was so amazingly bad that when it earned 37% positive reviews it was a pleasant surprise. The fact that it flopped at the box office wasn't as surprising, on the other hand, as Eddie Murphy's previous film also bombed. Extras on the DVD and the Blu-ray include just audio commentary track, outtakes, and behind-the-scenes featurettes, and more. Worth a rental, but that's it.

Ken Burns - National Parks - America's Best Idea - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A 6-disc, 12-hour program from PBS detailing the history of the National Parks in the United States. Anyone who has seen Ken Burns other films will be itching to add this to their collection, and even though the Blu-ray has no exclusives, it is certainly worth the mere 12% premium in price.

The monsters get to party on the second part of our list, which can be found here.

Filed under: Video Releases, Year One, The Number 23, Dance Flick, Imagine That, My Life in Ruins, Kurt Cobain: About a Son, The Horsemen, Trick 'r Treat, Assassination of a High School President, Anvil! The Story of Anvil