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DVD Releases for February 26, 2008

February 26th, 2008

It's the Oscar-delayed edition of the DVD Release Report and we have a good mix of releases for so early in the year. Granted, there are not as many prime first-run releases, but there are a few worth picking up. This includes the DVD Pick of the Week, Death at a Funeral - Buy from Amazon.

30 Days of Night - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The director of Hard Candy followed up his success in that movie with a rather mediocre vampire flick. It's not a bad movie and there are some good aspects to it, but the characters are not interesting enough to carry the film. There's enough tension, and more than enough blood, to satisfy horror fans. I guess I was expecting more, especially with source material and the director. As for the extras, they are better than expected with an audio commentary track, and an 8-part, 50-minute making-of featurette, and an episode of Blood+, a vampire anime film from Japan. Overall it is worth checking out for fans of the genre and the extras add enough to be worth more than just a rental, but it is not a classic of the genre like it could have been. As for the Blu-ray, it is 50% more expensive than the DVD, at least on Amazon, and the single exclusive extra is a slideshow between the graphic novel and the movie. It's interesting, but not worth the extra money. On a side note, a lot of people commented that this was a new take on the Vampire myth, but this is not true. The concept of feral vampires is not new, it is just not as common in movies and books as the seducer vampire archetype like Dracula.

1968 with Tom Brokaw - Buy from Amazon
A documentary look at 40 years ago, which was a very tumultuous time. Any year that features two high profile political assassinations is one that has to be remembered and lessons have to be learned from it. (Which does not seem to be happening, sadly.) Extras include additional interview clips with a handful of individuals from the movie, but at just 18 minutes, there's not a lot here. Worth checking out, but for most a rental will do.

B.L. Stryker - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
I had completely forgotten about this show, and for good reason. It is completely forgettable. It isn't bad, but the P.I. tales don't do enough to differentiate themselves from other shows in the same genre. Add in no real extras (just three scripts in .pdf format), and it is impossible for me to recommend this 3-disc set for anything more than a rental.

Barbie Mariposa and Her Butterfly Friends - Buy from Amazon
The latest direct-to-DVD release from the toy line. Like the rest, it should please its target audience, but there's no crossover appeal.

Beowulf - Buy from Amazon: Theatrical Version, Unrated Director's Cut, or Unrated Director's Cut - HD DVD
The second digitally animated movie using the motion capture technique first used for The Polar Express. It has improved in the three years since that movie came out... and maybe in three more years it will be good enough to make a movie with.

On the one hand, there are action scenes that are almost as good as in any movie I've seen. The animation was incredibly smooth and photo-realistic at times. On the other hand, Angelina Jolie looked like she was made of wax. It is still very difficult to create realistic facial features, especially the eyes, and give them a human soul... for a lack of a better word. I didn't always believe the emotion and without the emotional core, the action seemed hollow at times, but overall the movie was still a great ride and very enjoyable, but it is not a film that will be long remembered.

On a side note.... I'm sorry, but the Austin Powers... I think the technical term is "cock-blocking" during the fight with Grendal just made me laugh. I really did kill the moment for me and did irreparable harm to the film. I didn't quite get why Beowulf needed to fight naked, but trying to have him fight and not show anything quickly became silly.

As for the DVD, there are plenty of extras, but no audio commentary track. The list of featurettes is long and starts with A Hero's Journey: The Making of Beowulf. This 24-minute featurette concentrates on the motion capture process, as well as some of the casting (specifically Crispan Glover). Beasts of Burden: Designing the Creatures of Beowulf runs just under 7 minutes and it is exactly what it sounds like, talking about the design for Grendel, Grendel's mother, the dragon, and the sea monsters. The Origins of Beowulf runs just over 5 minutes and talks about the legend, and how the screenplay differs from the earliest written version of the story. Creating the Ultimate Beowulf is just 2 minutes and talks about how motion captures allows you to have Ray Winstone's acting placed inside the physical form they want. (It is too short to be really effective, however.) The Art of Beowulf talks about the art design, which is not that much different than the art design for a live action movie. Finally, there are six deleted scenes running a total of 10 minutes. They are done is a very early stage of animation, but are worth checking out. Overall the extras run just under an hour, which seems light for this type of film.

On a side note, the Unrated Label appears to be marketing. There's a little more blood, but that's it. If you are buying the movie hoping to see Angelina Jolie naked, go buy Gia instead.

Beowulf is a good movie, but it is close to being a great movie. It is an amazing story and for the most part the acting is excellent. The film looks photo-realistic while the animation is smooth, except for the eyes. The extras on the DVD are also good, but not great. It is still worth picking up, but it is hard to be enthusiastic about that recommendation.

On a side note, the HD DVD version did not arrive yet, but hopefully it will arrive this week and then I will update the review for the next column.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: 30 Days of Night, Initial D, Justice League - The New Frontier, Led Zeppelin - The Song Remains the Same, and To Kill a King
Wow. The selection of Blu-ray releases this week kind of ... well ... sucks. There's only one first-run release and it was a box office disappointment and the most intriguing release was first put out on Blu-ray just last November.

Bratz Kidz - Fairy Tales - Buy from Amazon
I watched this movie right after watching Beowulf, and wow, talk about a serious downgrade in animation quality.

Bratz Kidz - Fairy Tales retells four fairytales retold with each of the Bratz as the Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood. It seems the four girls are putting on a play for the kindergarten class but they were mocking the stories. This displeased the keeper of the lore who took them away to fairytale world, where they have until the end of the day to outsmart their fairytale antagonists and have a happy ending, or they will be stuck there forever.

Extras are limited to three interactive features: a dress-up game, a trivia game and a sing-along. Even for fans, only the sing-along will have any real replay value.

This is a huge franchise, and this DVD is the ninth in the series, not counting the theatrical releases, the CDs, the video games, etc. Fans should be happy with what they get here, but there is zero crossover appeal. The animation looks exceedingly cheap, the writing is rather predictable, but for the target audience, Bratz Kidz - Fairy Tales should please. If your kids are watching the previous DVD releases, they will likely want this one as well.

Caillou - Caillou's Family Favorites - Buy from Amazon
A Canadian kids show aimed at preschoolers and a big hit among 3- and 4-year olds, which, taking into account the exchange rate, would be 6 or 7 in the States.

It stars Caillou, a four-year-old boy, and his family. Each adventure has Caillou learning about the world. Adventures include making a new cup for mom, having fun during a power outage, learning about Valentine's day, playing with a toy boat, etc. The show was developed by a child psychiatrist to help kids learn self-confidence, independence and so-forth, and in order to draw kids in, he acts like a real child. He can be impatient at times, he whines, etc. Some parents have complained that this makes him a bad role model for kids, so this might be an issue for some potential buyers. However, the theory is a realistic role model will help kids more than an idealized version that will alienate them.

Extras on the DVD are very light with just a few bios for the main characters, a message for parents, and some DVD-ROM games and coloring pages.

Caillou's Family Favorites is a realistic show that focuses on a 4-year old who acts like a real 4-year old would. This is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your point of view. If your child has enjoyed the previous releases, then this DVD is good value for the money.

Comanche Moon - Buy from Amazon
The complete miniseries that is based on the novel of the same name, which is part of the same line that includes Lonesome Dove. This is not as good as Lonesome Dove, but fans of that miniseries should still enjoy this one.

The Darjeeling Limited - Buy from Amazon
The latest from Wes Anderson, who has honed his particular brand of storytelling to a fine art. This is not necessarily a good thing.

The film stars Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Adrien Brody as three brothers trying to reconnect after being estranged for years. They decide... well, Francis decides they should take a train ride across India and have a spiritual journey. If you've seen any of Wes Anderson's previous films, you know how well this turns out.

This film is unmistakably an Anderson movie, but after The Life Aquatic disappointed, I think only his most diehard fans gave this movie a shot. (At least that explains the film's box office troubles.) The characters all have the requisite quota of quirkiness, some the movie moves deliberately, and it has a bittersweet air to it. On the other hand, many would say the film uses quirkiness as a replacement for actual character development, it moves at a glacial pace, and it never rises above dull. I land somewhere in the middle, but closer to the latter half. The three lead characters never really appealed to me, especially Francis, whose bossiness was instantly offputting. His two brothers didn't seem to be enthusiastic about his spiritual journey, and that lack of enthusiasm was contagious.

Moving onto the extras, things start off with the short film, Hotel Chevalier, which was shown in theaters with The Darjeeling Limited and is billed as The Darjeeling Limited: Part I. The film runs just 12 minute and at the same time feels padded. The only other special feature is a behind-the-scenes featurette that runs just over 20 minutes. Neither has the replay needed to add much to the overall experience.

I assume most fans of Wes Anderson's previous films will be satisfied with The Darjeeling Limited. It is better than his previous film, but they won't like it as much as The Royal Tenenbaums. Those troubled by his decline since Rushmore might enjoy renting it while others will be tempted to give up on him after this film. I my opinion, a rental is warranted here, but that's it.

Dark Shadows - The Beginning - Number 3 Episodes 71-105 - Buy from Amazon
Continuing the show's pre-Barnabas run. The show became massively popular when that character was introduced, but there is still something fascinating about it. Even if you've never seen the show, it is worth checking out.

Day Zero - Buy from Amazon
A drama set in a world where the United States has re-instituted the draft. The film opened with terrible reviews and disappeared from theaters quickly and is now being released on a featureless disc. The best you can say about the movie is that is had a message to tell. Having something to say is an admirable trait; however, not being able to say it well is worse than having nothing worth saying. The script is heavy-handed, as is the directing, the production values are so low they interfere with the storytelling. Elijah Wood not only has the best character, but he does the most with it, but even then it is not fully satisfying. Overall, I can't even recommend renting here.

Death at a Funeral - Buy from Amazon
A comedy with a British sensibility to it; it's on the dark side. It did extremely well for a limited release here, lasting in theaters much longer than its initial debut would normally indicate (and better than the reviews would suggest). Extras are likewise better than expected with two audio commentary tracks, one with the director and the other with the screenwriter and two of the stars. There is also a gag reel. It's not a huge amount, but better than most limited releases get. An extremely funny movie that benefits from the abundance of talent on both sides of the camera, it is easily worth picking up and even a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Dragon Dynasty Double-Shot

Legend of the Black Scorpion - Buy from Amazon
This film stars Zhang Ziyi as Empress Wan, in this loose adaptation of the Shakespeare play, Hamlet. This isn't the strangest adaptation of this story, that would be Strange Brew, but it is an unusual interpretation and that is just one of the aspects that makes this movie worth checking out.

Legend of the Black Scorpion is a period piece set in Tang Dynasty. It mixes wire fu with the court intrigue of the original play. Beautifully shot, this film really captures the epic feel of the story, but it is bloody and violent. There was a lot of death in the original play, but I don't think I've seen this much blood in a Shakespeare movie before.

Extras on the two-disc set are impressive, starting with an audio commentary track with Hong Kong movie expert, Bey Logan. I think I've listened to a dozen audio commentary tracks with Bey Logan and this one certainly lives up to his previous tracks with a lot of information, almost no dead spots and he adds another layer to the enjoyment of the movie. Over on disc two, there are two interviews, one with the director Feng Xiao-Gang that runs 20 minutes and another with the lead actor, Daniel Wu which is twenty three and a half minutes long. Both present a lot of information mixed with clips from the movie and behind-the-scenes footage. Production Gallery has a 15-minute making-of featurette and a behind-the-scenes featurette which is nearly three times as long. Both use the same talking heads / movie clips / behind-the-scenes footage and all four have serious replay value.

The Royal Tramp Collection - Buy from Amazon
The second Dragon Dynasty release coming out this week... actually, it came out two weeks ago but the screener only arrived last week, hence the delay in the spotlight review.

Stephen Chow stars as Wei Siu Bo, in this over-the-top martial arts comedy. Actually, over-the-top is an understatement here.

This 2-part movie is a spoof of many, many Hong Kong movies, and is based on a novel by Jin Yong, The Deer and the Cauldron. This film was a major, major hit in its native market. (In fact, this was one of five Stephen Chow movies that appeared in the top five at the box office chart for the year.) It makes fun of a lot of general traditions of the genre, as well as some very specific films. This does make it harder to audiences here to get some of the jokes (which makes the audio commentary invaluable).

Additionally, this is a "mou lei tou" comedy, a.k.a. nonsense talk film. The Cantonese language is tonal which means there are a lot of words that are the same character, just pronounced differently. Most people here are aware that the Chinese use the same word for 'crisis' and 'opportunity.' Crisitunity! (Okay, I stole that word from The Simpsons, but the point remains true.) This allows for very easy word play... puns. These puns don't translate well, which will reduce some of the comedy for the audiences here. However, there's plenty of comedy here that works regardless. (A lot of this universal comedy is penis-related, but the lowbrow humor actually has a lot of charm.)

In addition to the two movies, this 2-disc set includes audio commentary tracks with Bey Logan and an interview with writer / co-director, Wong Jing. I was hoping for more interviews, making of featurettes, etc., but what you do get is certainly worth checking out.

Legend of the Black Scorpion and The Royal Tramp Collection have two wildly different tones, but both are entertainingly is their different ways. Legend of the Black Scorpion is the better of the two movies and has more crossover appeal with audiences here, but both are worth picking up.

Extras - The Extra Special Series Finale - Buy from Amazon
I mentioned this release back when the Complete Series was released. Great show, but I hated the release strategy and couldn't recommend buying it. Now I can recommend buying either release. Buy this one one if you have the previous full series set, or the second Complete Series release if you don't.

Family Affair - Season 5 - Buy from Amazon
The fifth and final season of this show hits the home market this week. Now all fans need is for the updated series from 2002 to come out on DVD.

The Fugitive - Season One - Volume Two - Buy from Amazon
One of the most suspenseful shows of all time, and the one-time record holder for highest ratings for a single episode. For those who don't know the plot, Dr. Richard Kimble is wrongfully convicted for the murder of his wife, but while being transported to the prison where he it to be executed, he escapes and thus begins he quest to avoid the law and hunt down the real killer, a one-armed man. The show ran for four seasons, but it is of the utmost importance that someone starts the show from the very beginning. Even without extras, these two DVDs are worth owning.

Goya's Ghosts - Buy from Amazon
A film that is not as bad as its reviews would indicate, but still flawed enough that it is hard to recommend it. Additionally, the DVD only has a very, very short making-of featurette and it adds up to a rental, at most.

HD DVD - Buy from Amazon: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Beowulf - Unrated Director's Cut, The Brave One, Cecilia & Bryn at Glyndebourne: Arias & Duets, Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 2 Resurrection, Rain in the Mountains, and Vivaldi - The Four Seasons / Concertos for Double Orchestra - Acoustic Reality Experience
The second week in a row where HD DVD has the biggest release. Sadly it is the week after the format officially died so it no longer matters. The rest of the releases this week are either concerts or films that have already come out on DVD and Blu-ray, but it is still the stronger of the two formats this week.

Highlander - The Source - Buy from Amazon
It's amazing this franchise has lasted as long as it has considering how many bad movies they've put out. As bad as some of the previous sequels have been, most fans will agree this one is the worst. Stick with the original movie and the two TV series and forget this movie ever existed.

Hotel Babylon - Season 1 - Buy from Amazon
One of several British TV series coming out this week. This one deals with the employees at a hotel and their ... decadent guests. It is a little more risqué than most shows here, but it still maintains a very high quality. Extras are as light as most imports while the price is as high. Worth checking out, but give it a rental first.

How I Unleashed World War II - Volume 3 - Buy from Amazon
The final volume of the Polish W.W. II classic. If you have the first two, then grabbing this one is a no-brainer.

Judgment Day - Intelligent Design on Trial - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about the Dover, PA case where Intelligent Design was put on trail. This is such a frustrating debate for me because it should never have to be debated. Words have definitions. Intelligent Design doesn't fit under the very definition of the word, 'Science,' so it shouldn't be taught in science class anymore than French should be taught in English class. As for the NOVA special, it is very well done and should be watched by more people.

Justice League - The New Frontier - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc Edition, Two-Disc Special Edition, or Blu-ray
The latest D.C. comics release is only earning mixed reviews from fans and critics alike. There's enough here that works that the movie is worth checking out, although the climax doesn't live up to the build-up and this hurts the replay value. For most, it is just worth a rental. However, if you are a more hardcore fan of these characters, then purchasing is certainly an option. In that case, the Two-Disc Special Edition is the better deal over the Single-Disc Edition. As for the Blu-ray release, it has no additional features, but it is also less than 25% more in price, which is acceptable. Sadly, that's as enthusiastic as I can get.

The Last Emperor - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
This movie is older than I thought it was. The fact that it can stay fresh in my mind is a positive sign. This is a Criterion Collection release, but not just a Criterion Collection release but a 4-disc special edition featuring a ton of extras. It includes two versions of the movie, audio commentary track, hours of documentaries, interviews, and the like. It is a massive package that will enthrall even the most hardcore fan of the movie and convert those who have never seen it. Worth picking up.

Led Zeppelin - The Song Remains the Same - Buy from Amazon: 2-Disc Special Edition, 2-Disc Limited Collector's Edition, and Blu-ray
A concert film featuring equal parts music and behind-the-scenes footage. A great film for fans of the band, which should be everyone, it was previously released on Blu-ray last year, but it is making its return for reasons that are unclear. This is good news for those who weren't able to grab it in November.

Life After Tomorrow - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about the actresses who played Annie on Broadway and how that affected their lives afterward. It is an interesting movie and there's enough extras that it is worth checking out for some, but there's a limited target audience here.

Newhart - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
This is the second series starring Bob Newhart. This time around he starred as the owner of an Inn in Vermont. During the show's 8-year run, was nominated for a combined 31 Emmys and Golden Globes winning... none. Wow. This isn't the show's best year, but it is still great (Julia Duffy didn't become a regular in the show until season two while Peter Scolari didn't make that transition until season three and the first season has a different make-up than the show most people remember.) On the Other hand, season one does have a couple of guest shots by Larry and his brother Darryl and his other brother... but I can't remember his name. As for the extras, there are three featurettes, which quite frankly is more than I was expecting, and the 3-disc set is worth picking up.

NFL Super Bowl XLII - New York Giants Championship DVD - Buy from Amazon
This DVD has highlights from the Giants' championship season, and not full games like real fans want.

Punky Brewster - Season 4 - Buy from Amazon
The fourth, and final, season of this show hits the home market this week. However, it is unlikely that it will be the final release for the franchise. (They still have an animated series to put out.)

The Red Green Show - 1999 Season - Buy from Amazon
The third season of this long, long, long running show from Canada. This is the show's ninth season, but only the third full season on DVD (there have also been a dozen or so single-disc / VHS tapes releases as well). It is very funny with a sense of humor that is occasionally dry, and occasionally slap stick, which is a fun balance to maintain. On a side note, it is called a collector's edition, but the only extras are some text-based bios and production notes. Even so, it is worth picking up.

Rough Diamond - Buy from Amazon
A British TV series that deals with an aging conman. The show earned great reviews back home, but has been unfairly overlooked here. However, since the 2-disc set has only 4 episodes and no real extras, it should be rented first and only major fans will want to pay that much for the running time.

Silk - Buy from Amazon
Silk is a Canadian film that earned terrible reviews, opened poorly in limited release, and disappeared shortly afterward. It's not as bad as that sounds (the film is especially beautiful to look at), but that's not enough to save it. It might be worth a rental for those who want a look at the scenery around Japan, but that's as far as I will go, and even then I fear I am being far too generous.

Slipstream - Buy from Amazon
A bit of experimental filmmaking that was too out there, even for art house crowds. Those interested in seeing Anthony Hopkins as the director might want to give the film a rental, but that's all that is needed here.

State of Play - Buy from Amazon
A suspenseful British miniseries with a seriously A-list cast. It deals with political intrigue, infidelity, assassinations, and more. Extras on the 2-disc set include audio commentary tracks on the first and last episode, which is better than most imports and even the high price-per-minute is not an unreasonable asking price. Worth picking up.

The Smurfs - Season One - Volume One - Buy from Amazon
In a bout of serendipity, the first DVD release for the long running show hits the home market the week the first look at the CG movie is leaked onto the internet. I grew up watching The Smurfs, but it has been way too long since I've seen the show to know if my found memories are based in reality or a trick of nostalgia. Extras on the two-disc set are light with just a special and a musical montage, but it is still worth checking out. And who knows? Maybe the nostalgia is enough for the DVD to be worth picking up.


Filed under: Video Releases, Beowulf, The Brave One, The Darjeeling Limited, Death at a Funeral, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Silk, Goya's Ghosts, Day Zero, Slipstream, Highlander: The Source, 30 Days of Night