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DVD Releases for February 5, 2008 - Part I

February 4th, 2008

A big list this week with plenty releases, so many releases that we had to split the DVD Release Report into two parts. And there also includes many that are worth adding to your DVD collection. However, it is soft at the very top and there are none that jump out as obvious DVD Pick of the Week contenders. That will change next week.

2 Days in Paris - Buy from Amazon
Julie Delpy's directorial debut was simply amazing and the film earned over $4 million in limited release. The movie also stars Adam Goldberg with the couple on the end of their vacation when they stopover in Paris for two day so Julie Delpy can show him where she grow up and he can know her family. But what he learns he doesn't like. Despite the movie's strength at the box office, the DVD is rather weak with just an interview with Julie Delpy and some deleted scenes. However, it is still worth a checking out and for many it is worth more than just a rental.

Across the Universe - Two-Disc Special Edition - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
It is very hard for films to open in limited release and expand wide and it usually takes exemplary reviews. Very few earn a measure of mainstream success, but one of the best such films when it came to box office success this year was Across the Universe, which did it despite earning just 53% positive reviews. But moviegoers didn't care and helped the movie become one of the biggest limited release hits of the year. The studio is rewarding these fans with an excellent 2-disc set that includes an audio commentary track, extended musical performances, and what is essentially a massive, multi-part making of featurette. There are five featurettes that run more than an hour and a half and discuss areas like the cast, the special effects, the music, etc. All of these extras are also available on the Blu-ray, and are available in High Definition, while there is also a massive photo gallery (80% of which is dedicated to Evan Rachel Wood). I'm not sure if that is enough to warrant spending the extra money, however, this movie has such a heavy emphasis on the sound and video that having the film in High Definition alone could be worth it.

Americanizing Shelley - Buy from Amazon
An Indie culture clash romantic comedy that's value depends on your tolerance for clichés. However, if you are a fan of romantic comedies, then odd are your tolerance is rather high. (As an added bonus, the film has Wil Wheaton in it.) Worth checking out for fans of the genre, fans of Bollywood movies, or for fans of Wil Wheaton. Worth picking up if you are all three.

Anne of Green Gables - The Collection - Buy from Amazon
A classic of Canadian literature was made into one of the most beloved movies as well. This 5-disc set contains all three movies as well as 2 discs of special features and is worth picking up for all fans of the franchise, and the patriotic duty of all Canadians to buy.

Anthony Bourdain - No Reservations - Collection 2 - Buy from Amazon
Anthony Bourdain is a world famous chef, author, and culinary adventurer who travels the world looking for different eating experiences. A great series that offers viewers a chance to explore the cuisine of places like Indonesia, Peru, and Canada... Really? Seems like a strange place for culinary adventure. On the downside, there are no extras on this 3-disc set but the price is certainly right and it is worth picking up for fans of the show specifically, or travelogue / food shows in general.

The Apartment - Buy from Amazon
The latest DVD release for this outstanding and multi-Oscar winning movie. The movie is a classic so there's no need to go into detail there and it is the extras that determine if the DVD is worth picking up over the previous releases. This is the first time there have been substantial extras and they include an audio commentary track, making of featurette, as well as a retrospective on Jack Lemmon. It's the kind of movie that deserves a 2-disc extravaganza, but it is hard to complain about what we do get.

The Aristocats - Buy from Amazon
The Aristocats is the last movie given the greenlight from Walt Disney and the first movie completed after his death. For this reason it has a place in Disney's history. However, compared to the classics the studio, it can't live up to the greats. But taken on its own...

In the movie, Madame Adelaide Bonfamille is a rich women who dotes on her cat, Ductchess, and her three kittens, Marie, Toulouse, and Berlioz. In fact, she calls for her lawyer to give all her riches to her cats in her will, under the guardianship of Edgar, her butler, and he shall inherit the money when they die. So the butler hatches a plot to get rid of the cats first.

This brings up an interest point. Why? Why get rid of the cats? First of all, Madame Adelaide is still alive so he wouldn't profit from this endeavor for the foreseeable future. And even then, it doesn't seem worth the effort to get rid of the cats to get the money. He would have been their legal guardian and could have spent the money and way he saw fit, as long as the cats remained healthy he would in all respects inherit the money directly. It's not like they could have gone wild and spent all his money on catnip and rubber mice. It makes no sense.

However, it does give the film an excuse for a bit of culture clash between the big city cats and the rural Thomas O'Malley, as well as a nice set up for the cross-class romance. But even the big song numbers, "Everybody Wants to be a Cat" there doesn't seem to be enough here for a feature-length film. It could have been cut down to 44 minute and aired on TV as an episode of The Wonderful World of Walt Dinsey.

(On a side note, the film was made in 1970 and the Siamese cat seems frightfully un-P.C., even for nearly 40 years ago.)

As for the animation, I was not that impressed. Every once and a while there are a lot of pencil marks in the animation and it is distracting at times. If it was there all of the time I would assume it was just the style, and I would have liked that style, but it comes and goes and it looks like it was a mistake. Also, there are times that the animation is repeated. It adds up to an experience that is not up to the classic early period from Disney, nor the technically impeccable era that came later on.

Moving onto the extras, there are a lot more extras than the previous release, but there would have to be. Things start with a featurette on the deleted song, "She Never Felt Alone" while you can jump to the individual songs or play the movie with the lyrics on screens. The other music related feature is the featurette on the Sherman Brothers, you wrote music for an untold number of Disney films. There is also interactive extras (virtual kitten and a reading game for kids), and an excerpt from The Great Cat Family. The latter starts out well, but then goes into the anti-rat bigotry about the Black Plague. Rats didn't spread the Black Death; people spread the Black Death. Finally, there's a short film, Bath Day.

As I stated before, The Aristocats is the last movie given the greenlight from Walt Disney and the first movie completed after his death. Sadly it doesn't manage the same level of storytelling as the classics that came earlier, nor does it have the same technical precision in the later animated films did. For many, this film comes from an era that is not well remembered by animation enthusiasts. However, it is not a bad film and is worth checking out. The extras, as well as the transfer, is certainly better than other releases, and this might be enough for many to consider this DVD worth the upgrade. If you don't already own it, it is worth picking up, but I can't be enthusiastic about it.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
This movie is, in a word, busted Oscar bait. ... Okay, that's three words, but you know what I mean. The film earned good reviews, but not great reviews, and struggled to escape its limited release roots, which is never did. Because it didn't match expectations, the DVD and the Blu-ray are bare-bones with no real extras.

Beauty and the Beast - The Final Season - Buy from Amazon
Beauty and the Beast was never a major ratings winner, that said, the way it was treated by the network seemed grossly unfair. That said... when one of your title characters leaves the show it is time to pack it up.

When Linda Hamilton became pregnant, she asked to leave the show, which is why her character was killed off at the beginning of season three. In retrospect, it would have been wiser for the series to go on hiatus for a season. As it was, without the dynamic between Vincent and Catherine, the show just couldn't survive and it was cancelled halfway through this season. It still has that magical feel and Ron Perlman is great as Vincient, and quite frankly Jo Anderson is good as Diana, the new girl. Had she been in the show from the beginning instead of Linda Hamilton, I think it still would have found an audience, however, the change was just too much.

As for the extras, there are none. There are also no subtitles, no play all button and not every episode has proper chapter placements.

I know those who don't consider Season Three of Beauty and the Beast to actually be part of the franchise. This is a little harsh and now that the years have past since the show ended, even these people will want to complete their DVD collection of the show. That said, the treatment this show has been given on DVD with substandard releases is a real shame.

BlacKout - Buy from Amazon
An original TV movie from BET, this film takes a look at the events during the blackout of 2003, specifically one Brooklyn neighborhood.

There are several threads that are dealt with in the movie, however, most don't reach their potential. The writing is flat and the too often predictable. (Like with the young man who is about to escape the neighborhood with an academic scholarship. You can tell this is the kind of movie where he is just not going to make it. The ensemble cast does well, for the most part, with the stronger performances coming from Melvin Van Peebles, Saul Rubinek, Zoe Saldana, etc. However, while they help lift the film above the material at times, it never seems to rise above movie-of-the-week standards with too many 'After the Disaster clichés thrown in.

Extras start out with a short interview with the writer / director, Jerry Lamothe. There's an even shorter behind-the-scenes featurette, a more substantial cast featurette, and a featurette on true stories from the blackout. These four are presented by Uptown Movie Network and run a total of 20 minutes and while the first two are too short, the last two add to the overall experience. Finally, there are four deleted scenes that run just under 7 minutes.

BlacKout feels too much like a TV movie-of-the-week. There's a good story to be told here, but what we have here is just not fresh enough to work. It certainly doesn't have the replay value needed for more than a rental, and even that might be too generous.

Blind Dating - Buy from Amazon
This film could have been really good. The chemistry between Chris Pine and Eddie Kaye Thomas, who played brothers, was good. As was the romantic chemistry between Chris Pine and Anjali Jay. All they needed to do was scrap all attempts at the raunchy humor and the final product could have been great. Extras on the DVD reflect its short theatrical run with a 5-minute behind-the-scenes featurette and 15 minutes of deleted scenes. Those looking for raunchiness won't be happy with the PG-13 rating, while those looking for a romantic comedy won't like the attempts at raunchiness, but overall it is still worth a rental.

Blonde and Blonder - Buy from Amazon
No. .... And that's all I have to say.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Across the Universe, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Breaker Morant, Celine Dion: Live in Las Vegas - A New Day, Crimson Tide, The Jane Austen Book Club, Me, Myself, and Irene, Over America, Over California, Suburban Girl, and Wall Street
Another week where Blu-ray dominates HD DVD in terms of total releases, exclusive releases, first run releases, the best selling releases, etc. Pretty much across the board Blu-ray dominates this week and should easily win with 80% of the High Definition market, or more.

The Brave One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
This film garnered mixed reactions from critics, and it is easy to see why. On the one hand, the film is a revenge flick and it suffers from same failings that the genre has dealt with since Death Wish. On the other hand, Jodie Foster puts in a superb performance in the lead role even earning a Golden Globe nomination. As for the DVD, it is rather disappointing with just a featurette called I Walk the City and a bunch of deleted scenes. As for the Blu-ray, there are no additional extras, and none of the extras are in High Definition. Just not worth the extra cash.

Comedy Central Presents - The Best Of - Uncensored - Buy from Amazon
Someone needs to talk to the people at Comedy Central and explain what the word, 'Best' means.

Nearly 3 hours long, this DVD presents 8 stand up comics and of these 8 comics I would put Lewis Black in that category and ... no one else.

Okay, that's a little harsh. Jim Gaffifan is funny, I'll admit that; however, his act it not something I would watch enough to warrant buying on its own. Mitch Hedberg is incredibly funny and wrote some amazing jokes, but his style just doesn't work for me and it becomes grating well before his 22-minute act is up. Demitre Martin's 'Large Pad' bit really works, but not enough of his other material holds up. The final act, Brian Regan, I had never heard of before. He was good, but I can't imagine he's really one of the best 8 acts from the show's decade long run.

On the down side, the DVD also has bits with Dane Cook and Carlos Mencia, who I consider two of the most overrated stand up comics out there. Not only in their inability to write humor, but their inability to tell any good jokes they got from someone else. In addition, they have Jeff Dunham, who is a ventriloquist. Is that even considered stand up? His act hasn't changed enough over the years and have been stale for a while.

(On a side note, the DVD is indeed censored so don't be fooled by the label.)

There are no real extras on the DVD, but there are Quickies from four Comedy Central shows.

Out of the 8 acts presented here, only one is truly worthy of the title, "Best of..." while only about half the rest generate enough laughs to be worth sitting through and none have the replay value needed to be worth a purchase. Call it a rental, just so you can check out a number of acts, some of which are worth owning on DVD, just get their solo work instead.

Crimson Tide - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
A tense and taught film dealing with a potential nuclear war. It is set aboard a nuclear attack submarine that is in place to launch a pre-emptive string should it be necessary.

First of all... Wow. What a cast. I think the only reason no one in this cast was nominated for an Oscar was because there were so many excellent actors you couldn't pick just one or even two to give accolades to. The claustrophobic set increases the tension, and the tension is high thanks to the excellent writing and tight direction. There are some problems with the movie. For instance, in the military the keyword is redundancy. A nuclear submarine would have backups for the all communication equipment. And backups for the backups. There's virtually no way they would have been rendered unable to communicate in the way depicted in movie. However, without that plot device, there is no way they could have built any real tension in the movie.

As for the Blu-ray disc, there are very few extras and none that are new to the High Definition release, and none are in High Definition. All that are here are 7 deleted scenes running just over 6 minutes, a 10-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, and a 20-minute making of featurette. (In one of the deleted scenes, one of the crew says, "Wait a minute, play that back." But the scene they show next is different that the first scene. Perhaps that's why they cut it.)

This is the kind of catalogue Blu-ray release that I have so much trouble recommending. It's shovelware, plain and simply, and it is not worth $20 for the upgrade. However, if you own DVD, you can get $10 back from a mail-in rebate and that's a much better deal. On the other hand, should you not own Crimson Tide on DVD, it's a great movie and it is worth picking up on Blu-ray.

(On a side note, does it feel strange to anyone else that Matt Craven's name is in the Amazon URL? Granted, he is a fantastic actor and one who should be recognized more, but it just seems weird here.)

Descent - Buy from Amazon: Original NC-17 Version or R-rated Version
I reviewed this movie when it came out in theaters and I have to say it is one of the most unpleasant experiences I've had as a movie reviewer. The DVD is packed with extras, but there is no way I can recommend this movie, not even for a rental. It is an endurance test that I can't put someone else through.

Dirty Jobs - Collection 2 - Buy from Amazon
The second season of this Reality TV series that follow the host, Mike Rowe, as he works one miserable job after another. Some of the entertainment value is derived from Mike Rowe's obvious displeasure, but it doesn't feel like you are laughing at his expense. It isn't soul crushing Reality TV, in other words. The 2-disc set is devoid of extras, but the price is right and it is worth picking up. On a side note, I am waiting for The Worst Jobs in History to come out on DVD over here. This is a similar show but with a historical angle hosted by Tony Robinson of Blackadder fame.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age - Buy from Amazon: DVD or HD DVD
Busted Oscar Bait. There's a lot of that going around this week. There were high hopes for this film, especially considering how well the first one did, but it couldn't live up to its predecessor either at the box office or with critics. The DVD is better than expected given its struggles with an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes, making of, etc. The HD DVD has all of these extras, but no additional features, and none are in High Definition. It's just not worth the added 40%.

Fierce People - Buy from Amazon
A movie that takes a topic that is far from new, and doesn't add enough to it to be satisfying. It has an impressive cast or veterans and newcomers, but the material just isn't there for them to sink their teeth into. The film started out well in theaters, but as soon as it tried to expand it collapsed, which makes the few extras we do get a bit of a surprised. Extras include an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, and a making of featurette. It adds up to a rental, at most, while most people can safely skip it.

The DL Chronicles - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
An anthology series from Here! TV that deals with black men who are hiding their sexual identity. Powerful series, but with a limited target audience. Also, the single-disc release has no special features making it hard to recommend picking up over just renting.

Feast of Love - Buy from Amazon
Typical September release, the film earned weak reviews and barely made a peep at the box office opening below the Mendoza line. On the other hand, the DVD is better than expected with an audio commentary, a few featurettes, and a music video. However, it is still hard to call it anything more than a rental.

Hannah Montana - One in a Million - Buy from Amazon
As a man in his 30s, it is embarrassing to admit this... but I like Hannah Montana.

Are you happy I admitted it, let's move onto the episodes.

  • Lilly's Mom Has Got it Goin' On
    Guest start Heather Locklear makes an appearance as Lily's mom, Heather. After a PTA meeting, there's obvious chemistry between her and Robbie is undeniable and they go on a date. Miley and Lily's excitement over becoming sisters quickly turns when the date doesn't go well and they start fighting over which parent is to blame.
    Strong episode with Heather Locklear putting in a strong showing as Lily's mom. The B-story wasn't great, then again, almost none are with Rico. (On a side note, when she lists off Robbie's favorite things, the final one is Most Extreme Challenge. Have that on DVD.)
  • Me and Mr. Jonas and Mr. Jonas and Mr. Jonas
    Miley meets the Jonas Brothers and the three of instantly hit it off... with her dad. When he agrees to write some songs with the boys, Miley because jealous and decides to break them up the only way she knows how... it involved cross dressing.
    The guest work by the Jonas Brothers is not a selling point for me (but they are opening for Miley's tour, so I'm sure her target audience will love it). It was still an excuse for Miley and Lily to try a harebrained scheme But overall, it is not one of the stronger epsiodes.
  • I Will Always Loathe You
    Vicki Lawrence and Dolly Parton have guest appearances as Miley's grandmother and her Aunt Dolly, who happen to hate each other after the latter stole the former's boyfriend, who just happened to be Elvis. They are in town to be with Miley as she wins an award, but their rivalry threatens to turn her perfect night into a nightmare.
    Vicki Lawrence and Dolly Parton have a huge amount of talent and their bickering makes this my favorite episode of the group.
  • That's What Friends Are For?
    Jake Ryan is back in town, but this time he's hooking up with Hannah Montana's rival, Mikayla. In a strange twist, Mikayla becomes friends with Miley, not knowing she's Hannah's alter ego. Miley uses this as an opportunity to stop any potential romance between Jake and Mikayla. Why she would care about Jake is beyond me.
    Miley Cyrus and Emily Osment leap headfirst into another poorly thought out plan and this is where being fearless about comedy really helps. On the other hand, the B-story doesn't add much to the episode. Best line goes to Lily when she says, "And I'm just a sidekick who needs to learn to say no."
Extras on the DVD are on par with other similar releases with two songs performed by Hannah Montana, a 12-minute featurette on feuds that seems more like a informercial for several Disney products, and finally a bonus episode of That's So Raven. None of these extras are really amazing, but it's better than nothing.

The writing is better than most kids' shows and I don't feel like they are dumbing it down for their target audience. In fact, it feels like they are taking their cues from classic shows like I Love Lucy. (I'm not saying this show is as good as that one, but you can definitely see the influence.) Miley Cyrus is fearless in her comedy, which is especially important with this style of comedy, and the actors have great chemistry together. (Strangely, it seems like Billy Ray Cyrus has better chemistry with Jason Earles, who plays his son, than with Miley, who is actually his daughter. Must make for a weird dynamic back stage.) If you were happy with the previous releases, there's no reason not to add Hannah Montana - One in a Million to your collection. On the other hand, I would be a lot happier with full season sets that came with more substantial extras like audio commentary tracks.

HD DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Just the one HD DVD release this week. Sheesh. On the other hand, in a couple weeks American Gangster and Beowulf come out back-to-back, which is arguably the best two-week run for HD DVD for as far as we have solid release dates.

Ironside - Season Two - Volume One - Buy from Amazon
Strong show, weak DVD releases. No extras and split-seasons are not good selling points.

The Jane Austen Book Club - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
I wonder if you could call this film busted Oscar bait? I guess it depends on if you would consider it Oscar bait because it certainly is busted. Like many limited releases on this week's list, it earned good reviews, but not good enough to breakout into mainstream success. On the other hand, the DVD is surprisingly strong despite this with an audio commentary track, featurette on Jane Austen, behind-the-scenes featurette, featurette on the premiere, and more. Easily worth checking out, and many who do will want to add it to their DVD collections.

The Jewish Americans - Buy from Amazon
A massive 6-hour mini-series detailing the Jewish American history, which stretches way back to before America was a nation.

The first 2-hour episode deals with the earliest experiences of American Jews from before the revolutionary war to the end of the 1800s. Many of the stories here deal with how many, many Jews who immigrated to the United States and started, usually as travelling peddlers, and rose to become pillars of industry. Most likely it will be this episode that gives people the most new information.

Episode two, The Best of Times, deals with the rising anti-Semitism, in the early 20th century culminating in the horrors of World War II. Arguably the most powerful episode yet it also covers well traveled ground so in that way it is not as effective.

The final episode, Home, starts with the end of World War II and talks about the rise of Jewish Americans in mainstream America. This is the era where the a lot of the obstacles for the average Jew were breaking down and while the new medium of television helped bring Jews into people's homes. It always deals with the Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement and the fight for the E.R.A. and other topics.

Extras on the 2-disc set include a 6-minute featurette with the writer / director David Grubin who talks about how and why he created this mini-series. Next up is cooking with Rabbi Gil Marks, which runs just two minutes and talks about what makes certain foods Jewish and doesn't tell us how to make Matzah balls or Kreplah or any other Jewish food. Disappointing. The final featurette talks about a combination of modern performance art and ancient Judaism traditions. As someone who is decidedly not a fan of performance art, it looked rather silly to me.

The story of Jewish Americans is rather unique. There are few groups that were able to rise as high while simultaneously being the targets of bigotry. The Jewish Americans is a comprehensive and engaging look at their shared history and is worth checking out for Jews and non-Jews alike. Those who have enjoyed previous PBS historical documentaries like The War will certainly want to add this 2-disc set to their collection.

King of California - Buy from Amazon
A smaller film that opened in limited release, and opened reasonably well. However, as soon as it tried to expand, it collapsed. Was this a product of its reviews, or is this a undiscovered treasure?

(First a note, while this movie came out on Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, I only have the DVD screener to review. However, there are no additional features on either high definition release.)

Since the movie starts close to the end with Miranda talking about key elements of the movie, it's hard to decide what is a spoiler and what is not. But I'll try to avoid anything that isn't mentioned in the trailer.

The film stars Michael Douglas and Evan Rachel Wood as Charlie and Miranda, a father and daughter who are reunited after Charlie spent the last two years in a mental institute. While there he researched and became convinced he found the location of a cache of Spanish doubloons, but using 17th century directions could prove difficult in the modern world, which is a major theme in the movie and it culminated in the discovery that the treasure is buried under a Costco.

On a side note, I don't see why Miranda wasn't more excited by the early discovery of the doubloon. She was having trouble making enough money, and a single doubloon is worth hundreds, even if you just melt it down for gold. The prospect of some extra cash should have been something to cheer her up, even if they didn't find anything else.

As for the extras, the back of the box only shows two extras, a making of featurette and some outtakes. However, the main extra is an audio commentary track with the writer-director Mike Cahill, production designer Dan Bishop, director of photography Jim Whitaker, and first assistant director Richard L. Fox. This is a good track with very few dead spots detailing a lot of the challenges of making a low-budget movie. Worth listening to. There is also a 10-minute making of featurette that has a little bit of overlap, but not so much you are overwhelmed by déjà vu. And finally there are just under 5 minutes of outtakes.

Michael Douglas is great in this movie; his performance along makes the movie worth checking out, as does the father daughter relationship. Throw in the treasure hunting, which manifests in an almost magical way adds up to a great film. Extras are on par, or better than most limited releases and the DVD is worth checking out. It is not the kind of film that needs to be seen in High Definition, and without additional features, I can't really recommend the Blu-Ray or HD-DVD, but the DVD is worth adding to your collection.


Filed under: Video Releases, The Brave One, Across the Universe, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Deux jours à Paris, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Jane Austen Book Club, Feast of Love, King of California, Americanizing Shelley, Blind Dating, Fierce People, Blonde and Blonder, Descent