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DVD Releases for October 6th, 2009 - Part II

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 first part can be found here.

Lark Rise to Candleford - Season One - Buy from Amazon
A British TV series featuring Dawn French, Julia Sawalha, among others. They are based on a trio of books by Flora Thompson that have previously been turned into a series of plays. Fans of the rural dramas that the BBC have mastered over the years will certainly want to check it out, while fans of the show will likely want to buy it while they wait for season three, which should air in 2010.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and made its home market debut on the 8th of September. However, the DVD screener arrived late, hence the delay in this review.

Mad Monster Party - Buy from Amazon
Mad Monster Party is a stop-motion animated movie done by Rankin/Bass Productions. Some might be asking, 'Who?' right about now, but you would instantly recognize their work, as they made Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, which are two of the most beloved Christmas special of all time. This movie was made in-between the production of those two specials and fits in with a different holiday.

Baron von Frankenstein is the head of Worldwide Organization of Monsters, an organization that includes such monsters as Dracula, the Wolfman, the Invisible Man, Mummy, and others. After he completes his lasted creation, a vial of liquid capable of destroying matter in an explosive fashion (Think of it as antimatter of sorts.) he invites the rest of the monsters to the Island of Evil where he will announce his retirement and name his successor. One of his creations, a Fembot named Francesca learns it is going to be Felix, his nerdy nephew, she conspires with Dracula to gain control herself. Her plans are complicated when Frankenstein's Monster and his mate overhear their plans and want in on the action. But will they be able to get control of the monster empire, or will Felix prove to be a more capable foe than they assumed?

This film is more than 40 years old, but it has held up rather well. The script can be clever at times, although parts of it feel padded. Some of the character animations is excellent, especially the Invisible Man. That's not a joke; while the character is invisible, but he wears clothes, and doing a floating outfit with stop-motion animation is tough to do. Other times, the animation seems a little stiff, and the lip-syncing is rarely precise. Fans of monster movies and Rankin/Bass films should be entertained by this cute spoof.

Extras on the Special Edition start with a 15-minute making of featurette that is quite in-depth and has high replay value. It's Sheer Animagic goes into the basics of making stop-motion animation, but fans won't learn much new here. Groovy Ghouls spends four minutes talking about the music in the movie, while there are two songs you are play with a play-along mode.

Mad Monster Party isn't exactly a forgotten classic; it's probably more the former than the latter, but it is fun to watch and worth checking out. The extras on the DVD are better than expected for a smaller film from the 1960s, and for fans of Rankin/Bass, monster movies, or stop-motion animation, it is worth picking up.

Man vs. Food - Season One - Buy from Amazon
The purest form of Food Porn, this show's host, Adam Rich, travels the world eating such mega-foods as a 72-ounce burger, 2-pound donut, etc. Fun show, but lack of extras hurt.

Mary Tyler Moore Show - Season Five - Buy from Amazon
Season five had the show dipping out of the top ten in ratings for the first time since its debut season, but it was still a major hit and was raking in the awards. (In fact, this was its best year in terms of Emmys earning six of them.) The lack of extras is disappointing, but not surprising, and the 3-disc set is still worth picking up.

Medium - Season Five - Buy from Amazon
This is the last season the show played on NBC, which is a bit of a confusing. Granted, the show's ratings were down, but they were the same as season three, and they were better than a lot of shows that NBC decided to keep around. Thankfully for fans of the series, it is continuing this fall, just on CBS. Patricia Arquette stars as Allison DuBois, a psychic who has visions in her dreams and uses these to help catch the bad guys. Her husband has learned to deal with these dreams and has become very nonchalant about them. She has three daughters, Ariel, Bridgette, and Marie, all of whom seem to have inherited the gift. Every week there's a new crime and every week the dreams come. There are also season long arcs. Last year there were a couple, including the family was dealing with financial troubles, which is a little draining without a lot of payoff. This year Joe has a new business to help produce the solar panels he developed. Last year there was also the recurring guest spot by Anjelica Huston, which was a lot more compelling, and not really replicated this year. Although she does have a guest spot this season. The individual episodes are still good, but not stellar, and the show struggles to really stand out in a very, very crowded field. If you are a fan of previous seasons, on the other hand, there's no reason to stop watching now.

Extras on the five disc set start with 8-minute featurette on the creation of one episode, Apocalypse...Now?. Over on disc four you will find Curious Maria, which is a 10-minute featurette with Maria Lark, who plays Bridgette DuBois, interviewing the cast and crew. Finally on disc five there is a 27-minute making of featurette dealing with season five overall, as well as an interview with Patricia Arquette and Jake Weber, who actually interview each other for 23 minutes. That's not a lot of extras and it is a step down from previous seasons.

With the show moving from NBC to CBS, you would think CBS would really want to promote the show by putting out a top-notch DVD. This is not the case. Medium - Season Five has a lot of good episodes, but the five-disc set has only four featurettes with a total running time of just over an hour. That's not much compared to most concurrent TV on DVD releases. If you bought the previous seasons, then there is no reason to stop now, but I can't be too enthusiastic about my recommendation.

Murphy's Law - Series One - Buy from Amazon
James Nesbitt stars as the titular Murphy, an undercover police detective working in London, where he moved after his daughter was killed by the IRA. This show is a major hit for the first four seasons, but season five slipped dramatically in the ratings after it was put up against Doc Martin and now it appears the show is gone. This 3-disc set has all five episodes from the first season, but each episode is about 80 minutes in length, so they are more like TV movies than regular episodes, but the price per minute is still high.

My Fair Lady - Buy from Amazon
Audrey Hepburn stars as Eliza Doolittle, a flower seller who meets Professor Henry Higgins, a linguist who is fascinated by her rather common way of speaking. Meeting fellow linguist, Colonel Hugh Pickering, he laments the way the English speak the language and claims that he were to give Eliza lessons, he could pass her off as a Duchess, or get her a job as a shop girl. She likes the idea of improving her lot in life, so she decides to buy language lessons from the professor; however, he decides to make a bet with the Colonel. Six months of lessons and he will be able to pass her off as royalty. The lessons go poorly. (Mainly because he's a terrible teacher. You don't just ask someone to repeat something if they get it wrong without explaining how they got it wrong and how to change it.) Then suddenly there's a breakthrough, but that's only the first step in passing for a member of royalty.

I feel kind of silly talking about the quality of My Fair Lady, after all, it is widely considered one of the best musicals of all time. It was one of the biggest hits of the day, it was nominated for 12 Oscars and won 8 of them, and it still has near perfect reviews. It is a spectacle and for fans of the genre, it is a must have. I do have a few minor complaints. Firstly, Audrey Hepburn's Cockney accent is a little suspect and her lip-syncing it too obvious at times. Also, at nearly three hours, it can be a bit of a marathon, even for fans of the genre.

As for this DVD release, there are quite a number of extras, starting with an audio commentary with Gene Allen, Marni Nixon and Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz. (That's the art director, the lady who supplied Eliza's singing voice, and two of the men who helped restore the movie.) There are several Vintage Featurette, Footage, & Audio clips, which is fascinating for historical purposes, even if the quality is dodgy at times. Also of historical value are a couple of musical numbers sung by Audrey Hepburn. There's a short audio interview with Rex Harrison shown with posters and lobby cards. Finally, there are a couple of short clips of Andrew Lloyd Weber and Martin Scorsese talking about the movie. This isn't a bad selection of extras, but a few years back a 2-disc DVD was releases that had all of this, plus a documentary. Sadly, it is out of print, but if you have it, there's no reason to upgrade.

If you don't own My Fair Lady on DVD, then this version is worth picking up. If you already own the 2-Disc edition, then this is not worth the upgrade. It is really as simple as that.

My Life in Ruins - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
There are just so many cruel jokes one can make about the title of this movie and the career of its star. The reviews were terrible and the box office was worse. I was half expecting a featureless DVD / Blu-ray; however, the extras are adequate with an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, and a featurette on Alexis Georgoulis. Even so, there's little reason to rent this movie, unless you are a hardcore fan of the genre.

Ni Hao, Kai-Lan - Buy from Amazon: Carnival and Celebrate
Two Kai-Lan DVDs arrived this week, one of which comes out this week, the other which came out earlier in the year. But I got them both, so I'll review them both. The first is...

Kai-Lan's Carnival
There are four episodes on this DVD including

  • Kai-Lan's Carnival - There's a carnival in town and Kai-Lan and her friends want to go and play games and go on the rides.
  • Lulu Day - Kai-Lan invites Lulu over for a play date. But when Kai-lan wants to play pirates and Lulu wants to have a tea party, they need to figure out what they can do so they both can have fun.
  • Roller Rintoo - Ye Ye takes Kai-Lan to the roller rink where she meets all of her friends. This includes Rintoo, who has never roller-skated before and when he isn't the best right away, he becomes discouraged.
  • Wait, Hoho, Wait! - Hoho is having trouble waiting. First he wants to eat the dumplings before Ye Ye has made them. Then he wants to ride in the toy car before it is built. How will he learn patience?
The only extra on the DVD is the Balloon Race Carnival Game, but it appears to be random.

Celebrate with Kai-Lan
Another four episodes starting with...

  • Happy Chinese New Year - Kai-Lan show us how the Chinese celebrate the new year, which involves wearing a lot of red, eating dumplings, and playing the drums.
  • Safari Pals - Kai-Lan meets a new friend, Stampy the Elephant. Everyone likes him, except Rintoo who is jealous because Stampy is bigger, louder, and stronger than he is.
  • Kai-Lan's Camp Out - Kai-Lan, Rintoo, and Tolee are having a camp out in the back yard and they get to play games, eat s'mores, and have fun. We also learn the Mandarin word for slippers sounds a lot like Tool Shed.
  • Tolee's Rhyme Time - Kai-Lan decides to put on a music show, so she gets all her friends to help play music. Tolee gets to be the lead singer, but he doesn't know how to rhyme. Will he learn in time? (See what I did there?)
There are no extras on this DVD.

Ni Hao, Kai-Lan - Kai-Lan's Carnival is the latest DVD release from the pre-school show to come out. These episodes teach the importance of patience, practice, and more and if your kids are fans of the show, they are worth picking up.

Nip/Tuck - Season Five - Volume Two - Buy from Amazon
The show has jumped the shark while splitting the season into two feels like a cash grab.

Not Quite Hollywood - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about the B-movie explosion in the Australian movie industry in the 1970s and 1980s. The film earned amazing reviews but never really found an audience, here or in its native Australia. There was a two-disc special edition released in Australia, but the DVD here is a single-disc release. Even so, it is still worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

Red Dwarf - Back to Earth - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
For the past few weeks there have been many, many attempts to get Red Dwarf from TV to the big screen. Those never came to fruition. However, they did release a new three-part mini-series to help round up the TV series. Season eight wasn't a real success quality-wise, but the reviews for this mini-series were great. Also, the extras on the DVD are amazing with audio commentary track on all three parts, making of featurettes, outtakes, deleted scenes, and more. Easily worth picking up, while the Blu-ray is just 18% more than the DVD. Excellent value for the money and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack - Buy from Amazon: Snow White Packaging, Witch Packaging, Collector's Book, Plush Gift Set, or Limited Edition Collector's Set
As they call it in the special features, this is "The one that started it all."

Based on the classic fairytale, the movie tells the story of Snow White, a princess living with her jealous stepmother, The Queen. When The Queen is informed by her slave in the mirror that she is no longer the fairest one of all, she instructs the royal hunter to kill Snow White and bring her her heart in a box. But he just can't do it, so he sends her away and tells her to live in the woods instead giving a pig's heart to The Queen. Snow White then stumbles upon the home of the Seven Dwarfs, who at first think she's a monster that has invaded their house, but when they see her, they instantly fall for her charms. Well, all of them except Grumpy. But when The Queen discovers she's still alive, she decides to finish her off herself.

This is the first feature-length animated movie made in America, and that's reason enough that it should be owned by every fan of the medium. However, this movie is a must have not just for historical reasons, but also based on the quality. Looking back more than 70 years from when the film was made, it is still incredibly impressive in a technical sense. Not all of the animation is perfect, and some of the more realistic animation looks a little out of place. (I believe it wasn't till Cinderella in 1950 that they made a feature-length movie that focused on realistic human animation as much as they did in this movie. It really is that tricky.) On the other hand, the storytelling, the music, and the emotional depth of the film are near perfection. If you don't have this movie in your collection, it should be, even if you are not a major fan of animation. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind about that.

The only real question is which version to grab.

I only have the Snow White packaging, which is a three-disc set. Disc one is the DVD version of the movie, which has an audio commentary track of the film that is pieced together with archival audio clips of Walt Disney, as well as new material by film historian John Canemaker. The only other new extras are a music video by Tiffany Thornton from Sonny With a Chance and a preview for The Princess and the Frog, which has the first six minutes of the movie, not all of which is in its final animated form.

Disc one of the two-disc Blu-ray edition has these extras plus several Blu-ray exclusive extras. This starts with a nine-minute featurette on Snow White Returns that might have been a sequel to this movie, perhaps as a short film, that used two scenes that were cut from the original movie, a bed building scene and a soup eating scene. You can also see these two deleted scenes in the form they were when they were cut. There are four games starting with Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, which tells you which Princess you are most like. (Apparently I'm Tiana.) What Do You See? shows you a blurry image and you have to pick which of the six characters are shown. Jewel Jumble is a lot like Tetris and is much better than most DVD games. Scene Stealer needs BD-Live and is only available in the United States.

Over on disc two there's an interactive tour of Hyperion Studios, which is where this movie was made more than 70 years ago. There are countless video clips, audio clips, short films, and image galleries to be found within this feature. There is nearly three hours of video and audio to check out, as well as hundreds of images. Because it is setup as a tour of the animation studio, you get to see various parts of the animation studio from the Music Room to the Art Department to the Live Action Reference to Walt's Office, etc. There's so much information that it will likely take even the most ardent fans will need more than one sitting to get through it all.

As for the film's technical presentation, it is as good as one could expect, especially given the age of the movie. I've seen plenty of Blu-rays for film made in the past few years that don't look and sound as good as this film. They only way it could look better, would be if you got a chance to visit the studio as they were restoring it. The 7.1 surround sound is likewise near perfection. The original mono sound, which has been included on the set, has been remastered into an exceptionally clear and immersive track.

(On a side note, I believe the only differences between the versions is the packaging. Snow White Packaging is the DVD case, the Witch Packaging uses the Blu-ray case. The Collector's Book, Plush Gift Set, and Limited Edition Collector's Set come with physical extras.)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a must have. Simply put, if you don't have it in your collection, it should be. If you do have it in your collection, you should buy it on Blu-ray. The only question is whether or not you want to spend the extra money to get a book, plush toys, or the limited edition collector's box.

Stargate Atlantis - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
Great show, but the price is not that much less than buying the seasons individually.

Trick 'r Treat - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Good news: At least it's finally being released. This film has been pushed back a number of times and it now coming out direct-to-DVD. This horror / comedy anthology is earning excellent reviews and it has a chance to become a Halloween classic. It is certainly placing well on the Amazon sales chart. Looking at the extras, the DVD appears to have just a bonus short, with optional audio commentary, which is disappointing. On the other hand, the Blu-ray has audio commentary, deleted scenes, making of featurette, and it is BD-Live enabled. It does cost $10 more, which is a bit much, but worth it.

The Wild Stallion - Buy from Amazon
Made in 2006 but pushed back till 2009. That's a bad sign. There are no reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. That's also a bad sign. It stars Miranda Cosgrove and Danielle Chuchran as a city girl and a country girl respectively who photograph horses for a school project and subsequently try to save them from an illegal plot. I've only seen one review, but it was moderately positive, so if you are a fan of this genre, it might be worth checking out.

Year One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Wow. One of the biggest disappointments of the year. This film had an amazing pedigree both in front of and behind the camera; however, it earn horrible reviews and really struggled at the box office. On the other hand, the DVD is loaded with extras with an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, alternate line readings, alternate ending, and a lot more. The Blu-ray has all of this plus Cinechat and an exclusive featurette, but it does cost 44% more.


Filed under: Video Releases, Year One, My Life in Ruins, Not Quite Hollywood, Trick 'r Treat, Anvil! The Story of Anvil