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DVD Releases for January 22, 2008

January 22nd, 2008

More than 40 releases made it on to this week's list, however, after reviewing the whole selection, there's a real weakness at the top. There are plenty worth renting a more than a few worth picking up, but none that leap out and demand to be chosen the DVD Pick of the Week. Hopefully that will change next week.

4 by Agnès Varda - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
Agnès Varda helped create the French New Wave movement back in the mid-50s with La Pointe Courte. This makes her one of the most important directors of the last century so there's little doubt that she deserves a Criterion Collection box set and fortunately this 4-disc set lives up to her career. Not only includes three of her earliest films, as well as one of her later works, it also includes interviews, making of featurettes, short films, and more. Easily worth picking up for fans of French New Wave in general or Agnès Varda in particular.

Adrift in Manhattan - Buy from Amazon
It has been a few years since a Heather Graham movie as opened wide in theaters, and films like this won't help change that. It's not a terrible movie, there's just nothing here that is fresh or new. Nothing memorable and nothing that will help spread word-of-mouth. Worth a rental for some, but that's it.

Avatar The Last Airbender - Book 3 Fire - Volume 2 - Buy from Amazon
Good show, but wait for the full season sets.

Banacek - The Second Season - Buy from Amazon
George Peppard stars as Thomas Banacek, a Polish-American insurance investigator. I mention that he is Polish because one of the highlights of the show is all of his phony Polish proverbs he used. The show had a simple premise where someone tried to commit insurance fraud and then Banacek was brought in to figure out the scam. However, within that simple premise, there were a lot of great stories told. Unfortunately, at the end of the second season, George Peppard moved on and the show ended. The only extra on 3-disc set is the original pilot, which really doesn't seem like an extra. It should be standard for TV on DVD releases to have the original pilot. Even so, it is worth checking out but for most a rental will suffice.

Barney Miller - The Complete Second Season - Buy from Amazon
This TV series stars, among other people, Ron Glass, who was also in Firefly, so this is a must own DVD. In all seriousness, this is one fantastic show that earned more than 30 Emmy nominations over its 8-year run, including three wins. The second season of this series was its first full season having been a midseason replacement for The Odd Couple during one of its regular scheduling changes. The second season was different from the first in other ways including the shift in focus from evenly split between the police precinct and Barney Miller's family life to 100% work-related, which is an improvement on the show. Extras are light to nonexistent with two bonus episodes for unrelated shows, but it is still worth checking out. If there were some interviews, or even better, an audio commentary track or two, it would be a must have.

Blonde Ambition - Buy from Amazon
This film is practically a direct-to-DVD release, and it shows. At best it can be described as thoroughly average, which is not much of a selling point. Add in light extras (deleted scenes and a making of featurette that is pure fluff), and there's nothing here to convince me the DVD is worth a rental.

Blu-Ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: The Game Plan and Saw IV
Just two Blu-Ray releases, but they are two day-and-date releases and are both selling rather well. Should be another easy with for Blu-Ray on the charts.

Confessions of a Superhero - Buy from Amazon
A fascinating documentary about four people whose job it is to dress up as super heroes and walk the streets of Hollywood while looking to break into movies. Extras on the DVD are better than expected with an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, and bonus footage and is worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

E.R. - Season 8 - Buy from Amazon
This is an excellent show, but just the thought of collection at 14+ seasons fills me with dread. I haven't even started yet and I figure I'll check out the full series set when it comes out. If it comes out. While the show maintains its high quality this season, the extras are getting on the light side with some deleted scenes and some outtakes, but it is still worth checking out.

Fatal Contact - Buy from Amazon
The latest release from Dragon Dynasty hits the home market tomorrow. I believe I've reviewed more than a dozen releases from this company, and they continue to put out impressive releases and at this point, as soon as I seen Dragon Dynasty logo on top of the DVD, I know I'm going to be entertained at the very least.

Fatal Contact stars Jacky Wu as a member of a touring Opera house group and a member of the national Kung Fu team. One day after a performance, he is approached by gang leader to be part of an underground fight circuit he runs. Fearing he would lose his place on the national team if he took part, he says no, but he is later talked into it by his girlfriend. A couple of easy victories later and he is drawn into every more challenging, and potentially deadly, fights.

There's not a lot in this film that will make fans of martial arts movies stand up and say, "Well, I haven't see that before." Also, the ending was kind of jarring. The movie itself as a good mix of action and humor, which makes the rather dark and depressing ending a bit of a shock. Normally I like darker endings because too often we see films given into sappy, sentimental endings where everything turns out fine regardless of what happened during the movie. However, given the tone of the movie, which at times was almost buddy comedy like, I would have preferred a happier ending. . There is still more than enough action to keep most fans entertained throughout its running time.

As for the extras, disc one has an audio commentary track by the director, Dennis Law, and Hong Kong movie expert, Bey Logan. Bey Logan really knows his stuff and helps move the track along keeping the information flowing. Also, he and the director have good chemistry and that makes it much more entertaining as well. Over on Disc 2, there are four interview featurettes with the stars (Jackie Wu, Theresa Fu, and Miki Yeung) and with the director (Dennis Law). They run a combined 75 minutes, more or less, and are worth checking out. Finally, there's a behind-the-scenes featurette that runs just over 30 minutes.

Technically a very strong film, Fatal Contact is filled with more than enough fights, humor, etc. to entice fans of the genre and the extras make it worth picking for these people. However, there's not enough here that many will consider it among the best of the genre.

The John Frankenheimer Collection - Buy from Amazon
Four films from the legendary director including his best movie. Better yet, none of these films really feel like filler. However, there are no extras on this 4-disc set and since all but the first have been released on better DVDs, it is hard to justify the cost. A real shame.

The Game Plan - Buy from Amazon: DVD of Blu-Ray
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson parlayed his successful wrestling career into a career as an action star. And now he's going from action star to the star of a family friendly Disney movie. ... Hey, if Vin Diesel can do it, why not him?

The Game Plan opened to terrible reviews but became the biggest hit from September. So who is right: the critics or the moviegoers? It's a little bit of both. On the down side, the plot is very simple and formulaic leading to many moments that could feel stale. It pulls out a few clichés from the new dad bag, throw in a few culture clash moments between the football and ballet, and finish with an inspirational sports story. Even so, Dwayne Johnson has a charm in this role that helps the film go by better than it should. I'm not saying it's an award-worthy, but for a kids movie, it goes down easier that a film with 27% positive reviews should.

(On a side note, ballerinas are not athletes. Athletes comes from the Greek word athlein, which means to contend for a prize. Athletes are those who participate in competitive sports. Ballet, while incredibly physically demanding, is not a sport. You would never hear, "I went to the ballet today." "Really, who won?" Ergo, it is not a sport and therefore ballerinas are not athletes. This is not a knock against ballet, but words have definitions that shouldn't be abused to make a point. ... Moving on. )

As for the extras, the DVD is deceptively light. There are a lot of extras here, but most are insubstantial and forgettable. The two ESPN featurettes are like this, and so are the bloopers. The deleted scenes (with intros) and the making of featurettes are meatier and worth checking out. You can also mess with the mood lighting or decorate the apartment. However, overall I wasn't too impressed.

On the Blu-Ray, there are all of these features (minus the mood lighting), but with a minor change and a major addition. The decoration part is a lot more advanced, but not a single iota more interesting. On the other hand, Chalk Talk is one of the best extras out there. (On a side note, the director, Andy Fickman, calls the feature original, but it is not. Waiting... did it on DVD.) Chalk Talk has Andy Fickman and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson talking and writing throughout the movie, which they can pause when needed. (This pausing adds about 17 minutes to the running time.) They keep up the energy throughout and the movie is more fun to watch with the commentary track than without. It's nice to see the Blu-Ray have special features not included on the DVD, especially those that push the technology.

I had low expectations going into this movie given the family friendly nature and the reviews reinforced that opinion. But I will admit, I found myself enjoying the movie more than I thought I would. I can't call it quality cinema, but for families it should be worth checking out. Also, if it is an option, the Blu-Ray version is a cut above the DVD and worth the extras money.

The Girls Next Door - Season 3 - Buy from Amazon
Reality TV at its worst. While nobody is lying in a pile of maggots, it does focus on people who have no reason to be on TV. Skip it.

Hawaii Five-O - The Third Season - Buy from Amazon
There's something almost quaint about watching old police procedural shows. The rules certainly changed when C.S.I. came out. They changed, but not always for the better, and sometimes the old-school ones are still the best.

I find too often that new shows like this rely too much on examining the evidence and not enough on the story. Watching someone put fingerprint powder on a possible murder weapon loses its appeal after the third or four hundredth time. This show doesn't fall into that trap not are crimes solved with some improbable piece of technology. On the other hand, it doesn't have the humor I like to break up the drama. As I've said in the past, well place humor can emphasize the drama, but this is a minor complaint for a show this good.

(On a side note, Martin Sheen was a guest on the show for the second season in a row, although I didn't recognize him at first. In fact, I only checked out because the voice sounded familiar and even after I knew it was him I could only barely see the resemblance.)

Sadly, there are no extras on the 6-disc set outside the episode previews. In fact, there are no subtitles or a play all button.

For a show that ran for more than a decade, the DVD releases are rather light on extras. Even so, fans of the show will be glad to check out Season Three, but I can't recommend anything more than a rental.

HD-DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: Channels, Method Man - Live From The Sunset Strip, Mysterious Aqua
Holy crap! There are more HD-DVD releases this week than Blu-Ray releases! Usually Blu-Ray has a substantial lead. Then again, Blu-Ray has two day-and-date releases and HD-DVD has a concert video featuring Method Man, a direct-to-DVD release called Channels, and whatever Mysterious Aqua is. (3-D sound reality? Huh?) Hardly a powerful line-up.

The Hunting Party - Buy from Amazon
The second Richard Gere film that came out last year, that was based on real life events, and that opened in limited release. Like most other critics, I preferred The Hoax, but this is still a very good movie and should have performed better at the box office.

Richard Gere stars as Simon Hunt, a war corespondent who had a meltdown live on air. (At least it's called a meltdown in the movie; I would call it telling the truth.) Five years after the meltdown, he reunites with his old cameraman, Terrence Howard, and tells him he has a story that will bring him back to the top. Tagging alone is Benjamin, a greenhorn who is trying to prove himself to his dad, who is a V.P. of the network. These three men going on a mission to capture the most notorious war criminal from the Bosnian War.

Extras on the DVD are inline with most limited releases with an audio commentary track featuring the writer / director, Richard Shepard. It movies along very well and there are nothing in the way of dead spots, which is impressive for a solo track. (Strangely, he kept mentioning how you couldn't shot certain scenes in Vancouver because it just couldn't cover for Sarajevo. It made me wonder if he has some bias against Vancouver. Did he lose his luggage while flying here? Was he mugged? Did he eat some bad sushi? What is with the obsession?) Next up are 5 minutes of deleted scenes, as well as a practical joke. Most of what we see is in the movie, just in a different form. There's also a 9-minute long making of featurette and finally there is a 30-minute interview featurette with two of the real life journalists who lived the real story.

This was a hard movie to make. It has so many different tones and it is also mixture or real and fictional events. You are asking a lot of moviegoers, even those who are fans of independent cinema. However, the writing is great and the three main leads have a chemistry that carries the film. Certainly this movie is worth checking out and the extras are strong enough for a limited release that it is worth picking up over just renting.

The Hustle - The Complete Season Four - Buy from Amazon
The art of the con. There's something about a good scam that I find just so cinematic and this series is filled with them. However, what the show is missing is Adrian Lestor who left after season three. Sadly, the show was not the same and last week BBC announced it was canceling the show. The extras on the DVD are limited to one two-part making of featurette, but it weighs in at close to 40 minutes and overall the 2-disc set is worth checking out. However, the price is a little high to be worth picking up for most causal fans.

Killer Snakes - Buy from Amazon
The Shaw Brothers made some of the best Hong Kong martial arts movies of the 60s and 70s. They also made a lot of junk. Sadly, this is part of the latter group.

(Note, this film was released on DVD a few weeks ago, but the screener arrived late.)

The movie focuses on the story of ... well ... the story of a loser who get beat up a lot. He lives next to a shop that sells drinks made from the gall bladder of snakes, which are removed from them while they are alive. One day one of these snakes slithers into his apartment and he patches it up and thus they form a bond. And after that, the snakes decide to protect him. This film felt like a remake of the original Willard only with killer snakes instead of killer rats. Also, the lead here was far less sympathetic that in either version of Willard. He comes across as a creepy pervert most of the time. Someone who is one step away from becoming a stalker or even a serial killer. In fact, at one point he rapes a prostitute who was part of the gang that beat him up and robbed him earlier in the movie. I know this is a sexploitation movie, but that killed whatever sympathy I might have had for him.

Add in production values that were low even compared to other films made in Hong Kong at the time, and no real extras, and there's little reason to recommend this movie. Not even as a rental.

Make Room for Daddy - Season 6 - Buy from Amazon
This is the second season the show was on CBS and only the second season released on DVD. (I assume the rights for the first four seasons are held by ABC.) However, while a lot of people have fond memories of this show, the previous season was released in its syndicated version and fans should be wary of these issue before picking it up. On the other hand, the extras are better than expected given the age of the show.

Masterpiece Theater - Northanger Abbey - Buy from Amazon
The latest Jane Austen adaptation made for British television. There's just so many of these out there that they seem to blend together. Fans of Jane Austen will either be ecstatic that they can add another DVD to their collection, or will be overwhelmed with the options.

Molière - Buy from Amazon
A biopic about Molière, who wrote some of the best comedies of all time. The film earned good reviews, but not great reviews, and was never able to find an audience during its limited release. Given the fact the film didn't exactly thrive during its theatrical run, the limited extras (and audio commentary track and making of featurette) are within reason and overall it is easily worth checking out for most while many who do will want to add the DVD to their collection.

NHL - Just Like Me - Profile of NHL Legends and the New Crop of NHL Stars - Buy from Amazon
A look at the lives of several stars, past and present. However, I just can't think about hockey right now as the Canucks are in a slump right now. It's just too depressing to think about.

The Odd Couple - Season 3 - Buy from Amazon
Starting off as a Tony Award winning play, then becoming an Oscar nominated movie, and then an Emmy winning TV series. The story has a simple premise talking two mismatched men and making them live together. Under the wrong guidance and with the wrong cast, this would be a short-lived, but more than 40 years after the play first aired, the TV show is still able to generate laughs.

Tony Randall and Jack Klugman continue where Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau played in the movie (and Walter Matthau and Art Carney started in the play). Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were one of the best comedy teams of all time appearing in several classic movies together and The Odd Couple is arguably their best. However, this show doesn't suffer in comparison and it almost lives up to the movie although it was never a ratings winner. (In fact, it was cancelled at the end of every season only to be brought back to life because of strong summer ratings.) While it didn't win over many viewers at the time, it did very well with critics and award shows earning 14 Emmy nominations including 3 wins, as well as 2 Golden Globe nominations and 1 win.

Highlights of the third season include the season opener, Gloria, Hallelujah in which Oscar lies on his computer dating form and ends up being paired with Felix's ex-wife. (This should also features Penny Marshall as her recurring character, Myrna, Oscar's secretary.) The Odd Couples has Oscar's mother coming for a visit, which is a bit of a problem since Oscar never told he he's divorced so he and Felix have to pretend they are still married. I Gotta Be Me has the two playing role-reversal and is yet another episode with Myrna and she helps every episode she is in.

Sadly, while the episodes are great, there are no extras on the DVD. There are also no subtitles, but there is a play all button and proper chapter placements.

The Odd Couple was never a big hit when it first ran, but it is a high quality show that has lasted a long, long time. Season 3 is certainly worth checking out, but I just wish there were extras on the 4-disc set. The show definitely worth checking out, but with something simple as a five-part retrospective (one part per season), I could have been a lot more enthusiastic than that.

Philby, Burgess and Maclean - Buy from Amazon
Excellent performance are the highlight of this British TV movie about the Cambridge espionage ring. However, since the movie is just over 30 years old, there's little surprise the DVD is bare bones.

Rack 'Em - Buy from Amazon
You can always rely on adult entertainment to give you a few good puns in their titles. I only mention this release because according to Amazon, the second most popular purchase who people who look at this release is The Game Plan, which strikes me as an odd combination.

Saw IV - Buy from Amazon: Theatrical Version, Unrated Edition, or Blu-Ray
This is a franchise that has clearly ran out of steam. It has taken everything that was even mildly interesting about the first movie and thrown it out and all that's left are traps that have become so elaborate that they are boring. As for the DVD, there are enough extras to entice fans, but not enough to stand out. On the other hand, the Blu-Ray is the first 2.0 disc release. Of course, there are no 2.0 players yet, but I am willing to bet the PS3 will get a firmware upgrade in the near future to correct that. What can you do with the internet interactivity on this disc? Blog. That's right, you can blog about the movie while watching it. You have got to be kidding me. If this is what Profile 2.0 has to offer Blu-Ray, you can keep it. (To be fair, I think there a lot of interesting things that can be done with the technology, but this Blu-Ray doesn't even come close.) In the end, it is just another example of a Blu-Ray disc featuring new technology but a terrible movie. Skip it.

Sex and Breakfast - Buy from Amazon
Under the advice of their therapist, two couples decide to have group sex to help strengthen their relationships. Yeah, like that has any hope of working. The filmmakers were aiming at provocative, but landed at dull. Add in a DVD that appears to be devoid of extras, and there's little reason to even rent the movie.

She Likes Girls 2 - Buy from Amazon
A collection of short films all with a lesbian theme. I love this DVD for a number of reasons, firstly, I love short movies but there isn't a commercial market for them, at least not yet. Secondly, I like seeing strong female characters in movies, which is sadly all too rare. You would think with the strength of gay cinema, lesbian cinema would also be growing rapidly, but this doesn't seem to be the case. This DVD contains 8 shorts, including a documentary and is worth picking up for those who like short films, strong female characters, and / or lesbian cinema.

The Simple Life - The Complete Fifth Season (Goes to Camp) - Buy from Amazon
Soul crushing Reality TV falls into two categories: A. Humiliating contest for a mere pittance compared to the network's take and B. Following around vacant morons who should never be on TV. This falls into the latter category and is 100% skippable.

Swamp Thing - The Series - Buy from Amazon
First of all, while it is called The Series on the box, it is actually the First Season, but I can see why they didn't go with that name. Season 1 lasted 22 episode, all of which are here, while season 2 was 11 episodes and season 3 was 39. I assume those two will be released as two, roughly equal volumes. As for the show, it is well done but not as complex and engaging as the source material and the DVD only has a two short interview featurettes with Swamp Thing's co-creator and the other with the star. Still worth checking out for many, and the more hardcore fans will want to pick it up.

Sydney White - Buy from Amazon
The latest vehicle for Amanda Bynes didn't earn the same level of reviews as her previous films and it was even weaker at the box office. The biggest fault with the movie is how formulaic it is, but since it is based on the Snow White fairytale, it is going to be predictable to everyone who every saw the Disney version of that movie. However, Amanda Bynes still has a fearless approach to comedy that raises the effectiveness of everything she is in and this movie is no different. The DVD doesn't have an audio commentary track, but there are several featurettes, deleted scenes, and outtakes. It's worth checking out for most, picking up for some.

This Sporting Life - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
Richard Harris stars as Frank Machin, a working class man who has a chip on his shoulder, which is perfect for his chosen profession as a rugby player. An excellent movie that earns the Criterion treatment. The 2-disc set starts off with an audio commentary on the first disc while the second disc has a featurette about the career of the director, Lindsay Anderson, an interview with his first producer, Lois Sutcliffe Smith, and two early short documentaries, and his final film, an auto-biography. Easily worth picking up for fans of the movie or Lindsay Anderson's work in general.

Thunderbirds 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition Megaset - Buy from Amazon
The latest release for this Supermarionatio show from the 1960s. This show has already been released on DVD, including a previous Megaset. There are more extras this time around, and an improved transfer, but only very hardcore fans will want to upgrade.

Torchwood - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
The Spin-Off to the latest incarnation of Doctor Who. This show deals with a secret government agency that deals with alien invasion. Since it is part of the Doctor Who family, it comes as no surprise that the 7-disc set is crammed with extras. Things start off with audio commentary tracks on all 13 episodes as well as making of featurettes spread throughout the 7 discs. These deal with every aspect of production has an a combined running time of over three hours, which is more than enough for even the most diehard fan. This is good news, because only the most diehard fan is going to accept that price.

Zodiac - 2-Disc Director's Cut - HD-DVD - Buy from Amazon
The HD-DVD screener finally arrived last week and I can update the previous review.

Like I said at the time, Zodiac is a great movie that as the power to draw you in and keep you engaged. Additionally, I was impressed with the extras on the DVD, which included two audio commentary tracks, and more than three hours of featurettes. The real question is whether the HD-DVD is worth the extras money to get this version over the DVD.

On the one hand, there are no additional extras on the HD-DVD and therefore there are obviously none that push the technology. On the other hand, this could very well be the best-looking HD-DVD I've reviewed. Additionally, the HD-DVD is barely 10% more than the DVD and it is worth the extra expensive. Back to the original hand, with Blu-Ray winning the Format War by such a wide margin this past week, one can only assume this war will be over sooner than later. I'm not sure I can recommend spending money on a dying format. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if many of those who owned HD-DVD when the movie first hit High Definition have since switched sides.

In the end, while this is an excellent movie and one of the best looking HD-DVDs I've seen and at a very reasonable price for a day-and-date release. It all depends on whether you are willing to sink money into a format that might not be found on store shelves in six month. That's a call I just can't make.


Filed under: Video Releases, The Game Plan, Saw IV, Zodiac, Sydney White, The Hunting Party, Molière, Blonde Ambition, Adrift in Manhattan