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DVD Releases for March 11, 2008

March 11th, 2008

A rather slow week for new releases, which is good because three DVDs arrived late last week and I was able to get caught up on spotlight reviews. (Actually, I'm not completely caught up as at least one failed to show up in time for this week.) As for the DVD Pick of the Week, the obvious choice would seem to be No Country for Old Men, but the lackluster DVD just screams double-dip and in the end I went with Stargate - Ark of Truth - Buy from Amazon instead.

13: Game of Death - Buy from Amazon
A black comedy from Thailand. At least I think it is a black comedy, because there's really no other way to explain what I just watched. The film stars Krissada Terrence as Pusit, who is having one hell of a bad day. He was recently dumped by his girlfriend, loses a sale to a co-worker, is fired by his boss and then finds out his mother needs money. After all of this, he is contacted over his cell phone by a game show who tells him that if he joins the game he can win 100 million Baht, which is about $3 million, all he has to do is complete 13 games. The first game: kill a fly buzzing around his head. Second game: eat the fly. Then things get weird. There is only one real extra on the DVD, which is a making-of featurette, but that's to be expected for a foreign language release. This is not a movie for everyone and it does get very extreme, and the ending was a bit of a letdown from the setup (the reveal of the bad guy was too much to take), but overall it is worth checking out for fans of Asian cinema. ... For fans of the gorier, more extreme side of Asian cinema.

30 Days of Night - Buy from Amazon
The first of a few late screeners this week. The movie actually came out at the end of last month, but the DVD just arrived late last week.

(Note: While the movie also came out on Blu-ray, I do not have that screener and will not be reviewing it.)

Josh Hartnet stars as sheriff Eben, who helps protect Barrows, Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States. Barrows is so far north that every winter the sun sets and doesn't return for 30 days. On the day of the final sunset, a stranger comes to town, destroys all of the satellite and cell phones and then kills all of the dogs. When he is arrested, he warns of a threat that is about to descend upon the town and kill them all.

The film earned mixed reviews. In fact, it earned almost exactly 50% positive. This sums up my opinion of the movie pretty well, as I found that for every aspect that worked, there was something that didn't. Good news, the story is strong, the movie is visually striking (especially considering the film was so dark most of the time), and the mood is strong. Bad news, the acting is a little suspect at times, or maybe it’s the less than inspired dialogue that caused that. Also, I had a real issue with the climatic fight between Eben and Marlow. The final fight should have been the best action scene of the movie, but it just didn't have enough energy to be exciting enough. And that final punch came so fast and looked so fake that it ruined the ending for me.

As for the extras, things start off with an audio commentary track featuring actors Josh Hartnet and Melissa George, as well as producer Rob Tapert. There's good information here, enough energy, and very few dead spots. Worth listening to. Next up is the 8-part, 50-minute making-of featurette that provides a whole lot of information that starts at pre-production 8 weeks before shooting started. It continues onto the construction of the massive sets, the look of the movie, the stunts, the gore, etc. Finally, there's a bonus episode of Blood+, a vampire Anime, which has no direct connection to 30 Days of Night, at least none I could decipher.

Overall, 30 Days of Night works enough to be worth checking out, but is also flawed enough most fans of the genre won't need to see it several times. The DVD is worth a rental, but unless you are a hardcore vampire fanatic, that will be enough.

Appleseed Ex Machina - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc Edition, 2-Disc Edition or Blu-ray
A digitally animated anime movie that doesn't live up to the original. The visuals are amazing, but that's not enough here. The DVD is rather light, especially for a 2-disc set. I have a great deal of difficulty believing it couldn't fit on one disc. The Blu-ray has no additional extras, but it is only $1 more and the movie is visual enough to be worth seeing in High Definition.

August Rush - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
One could say this movie is inspired by Dickens, but a lot of critics just complained that it was uninspired. Others complained it was too melodramatic, overdone, and worse. It does have an almost fairy tale-like quality to it that some were drawn into, but not enough to recommend the movie with any enthusiasm. As for the DVD, there are only a few deleted scenes present, which solidifies the film's standing as a rental only.

Baby Einsteins - Baby's First Sounds - Buy from Amazon
Watching this brought up a lot of questions. Mainly, whatever happened to singing songs to your baby?

Baby Einsteins - Baby's First Sounds is the latest in a long line of products that are designed to help early childhood development. There seem to be a lot of parents who swear by these products, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of evidence to back up the claims made. You can read more about these issues on Wikipedia. As for this DVD, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of bang for your buck. The main program runs just over 33 minutes and the only real extra is 13 minutes long. Neither of these two programs seem interactive enough to encourage parents to play with their kids and at times felt like a 30-minute babysitter, which is certainly not a benefit at 6 months of age, or six years, or at any time.

There are plenty of parents who love the Baby Einstein line and I'm not likely to change their minds. I will admit that it is brightly colored and the music and action should draw the attention of kids; however, I don't think that's a particularly good thing. Additionally, the cost here it too high for the short running time. Save the money and just sing nursery rhymes to your kids instead. Interactive ones like Pat-a-Cake are especially fun.

Bachelor Party 2 - The Last Temptation - Buy from Amazon
Why? The original wasn't that good to begin with and there's no need to release a direct-to-DVD sequel 24 years later, especially one this bad. Skip it.

Bee Movie - buy from Amazon: Regular Edition or Special Edition
Jerry Seinfeld's first starring role in a movie ever and this certainly helped make it easier to market, and that's a good thing. It is not a bad movie -- in fact it earned a couple of major nominations, but that was mainly due to the weak competition for animated films this year. It just feels average. Young kids should like the movie, but adult aficionados of digital animation will be left cold. As for the extras, there are a ton to be found on the DVD and for those who enjoyed the movie, or have kids who did, it is worth picking up. On a side note, the HD DVD release has been canceled, despite what you read on the HD DVD Official Site.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Appleseed Ex Machina, August Rush, Dan in Real Life, Dogma, Gattaca, Hitman, I, Robot, Independence Day, No Country for Old Men, and Slueth
Blu-ray is putting out a lot of DVDs this week, including some day-and-date releases as well as some catalogue titles. It is important to note that Independence Day is not your typical catalogue release and it better than every day-and-date release that came out this week, or any other week this year. Blu-ray exclusive extras include a pop-up trivia track, an Alien Scavenger Hunt game, and a new keyword search that could be incorporated into other releases. An excellent package overall.

Dan in Real Life - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Dan in Real Life opened in October to decent reviews, earned a respectable opening weekend box office, and finished its run with close to $50 million. There's nothing wrong with those numbers, but they are hard to get excited about. The same can be said of the movie itself.

Steve Carell stars as Dan, an advice columnist trying to raise his three daughters who travels to his family reunion. There, while in a book store, he meets and instantly falls in love with a woman, whom he later finds out is his bother's girlfriend. A romantic comedy ensues.

Romantic comedies by their very nature tend to be very predictable, and there's almost no getting around that. I can forgive that as long as the rest of the movie works. However, here I also felt that not all of the emotions were genuine. Dan's entire family, including his brother, want him to get over the loss of his wife and are trying desperately to get him to call the new woman, even though he has said she is currently seeing someone. These scenes are meant to ratchet up the emotions, but they felt manipulative. That said, there are more than enough strong performances from the ensemble cast that the film has enough charm to carry the day.

As for the extras, the DVD has the usual selection. There is an audio commentary track with the director, Peter Hedges, which moves at a reasonable pace and gives all the usual information. There are also nearly a dozen deleted scenes, also with commentary, and close to 3 and a half minutes of outtakes. Featurettes include a 15-minute making-of featurette, Just Like Family and a 10-minute featurette on the music from the movie, Handmade Music. Both are worth checking out, and have some replay value. As for the Blu-ray, it has no additional extras and the outtakes are not in High Definition.

Dan in Real Life is a good movie, but not a great movie. It's worth watching, but for me I would say the replay value is a little low. Call it a solid rental or a weak purchase. The Blu-ray version doesn't bring anything new to the film and costs 33% more than the DVD, which is right on the line for being worth the upgrade. Had the film been more visual, it would be worth it, but as it is, the DVD is the better deal.

Fantastic Four - World's Greatest Heroes - Volume 3 - Buy from Amazon
Not the best comic book adaptation seen on TV. To compound matters, the single-disc DVD release is way overpriced. Skip it and hope that they put out a better release down the road.

Fox Film Noir - Buy from Amazon: Black Widow, Daisy Kenyon, and Dangerous Crossing
Three film noir releases from the late 1940s to mid 1950s continue the Fox Film Noir franchise. There have been about 2 dozen such releases in the past few years, and they are starting to run out of quality films. Dangerous Crossing is arguably the best of the three, but it is not truly film noir. Still, it is worth checking out, as is Black Widow, and the extras are better than most films from the era get.

The Fugitive - Season One - Volume Two - Buy from Amazon
This 4-disc set came out two weeks ago, but the screener arrived late, hence the delay in the spotlight review.

David Janssen stars as Dr. Richard Kimble, a man wrongfully convicted of killing his wife, but while on his way to death row, his train skips off the tracks and he escapes after the crash. He starts a new life as a fugitive with Lt. Philip Gerard hot on his tail everywhere he goes. His only hope: find the one-armed man he saw run away from his house before the police find him.

Or at least that's the setup. In actuality, very few episodes deal directly with the chase or the one armed man, and the show mostly features stories with Dr. Richard Kimble going to a new town, assuming a new name, finding a new job, and helping those in need. In many ways the show shares a lot in common with The Incredible Hulk TV series with Bill Bixby, or the A-Team, or The Littlest Hobo...

Maybe tomorrow, I'll want to settle down,
Until tomorrow, I'll just keep moving on.

... moving on indeed.

There's a reason there are so many shows with such a similar setup: it's one of the main hero archetypes and creates a very powerful lead characters. (And David Janssen's acting also helps here.) In volume two of season one, Dr. Richard Kimble helps a nun get to her destination when her car breaks down, gets involved with a casino owner's daughter (who looks a lot like Vanessa Lengies, at least in my opinion), and even helps a man who is arrested for a double murder but claims he's innocent. Of the 15 episodes on volume two, only three really deal with the chase, Search in a Windy City where Kimble returns to Chicago to track down the one-armed man, while The End Game has him trapped by Gerard only to be rescued by Piglet. I'm not kidding, character actor John Fiedler makes a guest appearance in the season finale.

Extras on the four-disc set are as hard to find as the one-armed man, but at least there is a play all button and proper chapter placements. In fact, you can even skip the opening credits, which is good because that train wreck is so fake looking it is laughable. There are no subtitles, but this show was made before the Americans with Disabilities act and therefore didn't run with subtitles to begin with.

A great show with that built a huge following. In fact, when the series ended, it broke records for the highest rated show ever. And from watching The Fugitive - Season One - Volume Two it is easy to see why. Even without extras, it is worth picking up, but start with Volume one.

HD DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: Fletch, In the Valley of Elah, and Michael Clayton
Of the three releases this week, only Fletch is making its debut on High Definition as the other two have recently come out on Blu-ray. There was supposed to be more HD DVDs coming out, but they were canceled or postponed.

Hitman - Buy from Amazon: Theatrical Version, Unrated Edition, 2-Disc Special Edition, or Blu-ray
A movie based on a video game. There have been quite a few of these movies made, and most suck. This one is no different. It is all style, no substance with violence being used as a substitute for plot and characters. Additionally, none of the versions have enough extras with real replay value to be worth purchasing. In fact, I can't even recommend renting here.

Lil' Bush - Resident of the United States - Uncensored - Season One - Buy from Amazon
The latest show from Comedy Central is political satire, which is an incredibly hard genre to work in. There are plenty of ways to screw this up, but the biggest sin is forgetting that the comedy is the key. It has to be funny before you worry about it being political. This is something that The Daily Show understands, this is something that The Colbert Report understands, and maybe if this show lasts, its creators will also understand it. But until then we are stuck with this.

Part of the problem with the show is with Bush, the real Bush, who is currently enjoying support of 31.3% of the population. It just makes him too easy a target and the writing it sadly rather lazy. The show goes for the cheap laughs, not only against Bush and his lil' cronies, but also against other Republicans like McCain, against the Democrats like John Kerry, and whatever the hell Joe Lieberman is. Cheap, and often repetitive jokes are substitutes for anything with any real wit or edge to it.

Additionally, on the technical side of things the show was also lacking. For instance, the animation felt very crude at times and was not at all smooth. It is not stylized like with South Park, it just looks cheap. Finally, I didn't like much of the voice work here. The impersonation of Bush doesn't sound like Bush. It sounds like someone who never actually heard Bush but is instead basing his impersonation off of other Bush impersonators. I didn't have high expectations here, but the show still somehow managed to underperform.

There is a good selection of extras on the DVD, on the other hand, starting with audio commentary tracks on every episode by the cast and crew. The commentaries tend to be a little chaotic and a little to self-congratulatory for my taste. There are also other commentaries with special guests Raplph Nader (Global Warming / Hall Monitor), Jerry Springer (Evolution), and Tucker Carlson (Press Corps Dinner). These are not as interesting as they should be. Next up is a bonus episode, "Walter Reed," which they made in case Cheney died in real life... seriously. There is also a short, 2-minute tour of the White House by Lil' Bush, a 6-minute interview featurette with the cast & crew, and finally a 6-minute table read.

This single-disc DVD has all 6 episodes from season one, plus more extras than most TV on DVD releases have. However, its price per minute is still rather high, and the quality of the show is nowhere near what it should be. I can't recommend picking up Lil' Bush - Season One, not even for a rental.

Love American Style - Season 1 - Volume 2 - Buy from Amazon
An anthology comedy series from the 1970s that was considered risqué at the time but now feels completely tame. It is still entertaining, but a lot of the appeal comes from nostalgia.

Michael Palin - New Europe - Buy from Amazon
The latest travelogue from Michael Palin has him traveling to former Soviet block countries. Over seven programs he explores 20 countries, from eastern Germany to Russia, from Turkey to Lithuania. Extras on the three-disc set include a bonus interview and deleted scenes, and while the price is on the high end for TV on DVD, it is still worth picking up for fans of this series, and checking out for others.

Mod Squad - Season 1 - Volume 2 - Buy from Amazon
A groundbreaking show when it first came out in 1968, some of the groundbreaking aspects of the show have lessened in the nearly 30 years since then. However, the undercover crime caper part of the show still holds up. Extras are light with just a featurette on the style of Peggy Lipton, but that is better than most such shows get. Worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

Nancy Drew - Buy from Amazon
I'm surprised it took this long for the movie to come out on DVD. Usually it only takes three or four months, while fans of this movie have been waiting nine months for it to hit the home market. It wasn't worth the wait. The movie itself is merely average, maybe a little above average given the film's target demographic, but there are very little in the way of extras. There's a making-of featurette that is fluff, an outtake reel that is laugh free, a music video, and the video blogs from the site. Nothing special and nothing that lifts the DVD above a rental.

No Country for Old Men - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
One of the best-reviewed movies of the year, one of the big players this past Awards Season, and the biggest winner at the Oscars. I should be a lot more excited about this DVD than I am.

It's hard to review a movie like this without using so many superlatives that one seems almost like a paid shill. But simply put, this is one of the best movies I've seen, not only from last year, but I've ever seen. The story here is fantastic, dark and gripping. The directing is superb. And the ensemble cast is amazing all the way through. There's a reason this movie won the Oscar for Best Picture; it is an absolute must see. The DVD on the other hand...

Extras are surprisingly light with only three featurettes with a total running time of just 40 minutes. The longest of the three is the making-of featurette that is the usual mix of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie. It's the meatiest of the three featurettes. Working with the Coens has the same format and runs 8 minutes long and it is exactly what it sounds like. Meanwhile, Diary of a County Sheriff runs just under 7 minutes and despite its name, it only focuses partially on the character Sheriff Ed Tom Bell played by Tommy Lee Jones.

I get the distinct feeling that this is not the last version of this movie to come out on DVD or Blu-ray. While No Country for Old Men is an amazing movie, the DVD doesn't live up to the movie. On the one hand, it is worth picking up. On the other hand, it wouldn't be unwise to rent it and wait for the special edition, which I can almost guarantee is on its way.

One Foot in the Grave - Buy from Amazon: Series 3 and Series 4
A British TV series about a cantankerous old man who hates people, and wants people to hate him, and his long-suffering wife. The show ran for 6 series overall, and it kept growing in popularity, with good reason. However, I can't recommend these DVDs since there's a full series set that has been released in its native U.K. and should come out here next year.

The Rookie - Blu-ray Edition - Buy from Amazon
This catalogue release came out last week, but my screener didn't arrive, which is why the review is on this week's column.

Dennis Quaid stars as Jimmy Morris, a high school baseball coach dealing with a losing program that has only won one game each of the last two years. In order to inspire his team, he makes a bet: if they can win the division and go to state, he will tryout for professional baseball again, a dream he gave up after he suffered a devastating shoulder injury. I'm sure you can guess what happens next. Yes, it's an inspirational coach movie based on real life events. Okay, it's not the most original idea for a movie, but it is a good movie and one that is worth checking out. The real question is whether it is worth upgrading to the Blu-ray.

Sadly, this is Shovelware. It is just the old DVD released in 2002, upgraded to High Definition; in fact, only the movie was upgraded to High Definition and the extras are still in standard definition. There is a good selection here starting with an audio commentary track, 8 deleted scenes with introductions, a 20-minute making-of featurette, and 8 minutes of baseball tips.

The Rookie on Blu-ray is a typical catalogue release that does nothing to take advantage of the technology available. Even at just $20, it is hard to recommend upgrading. On the other hand, this is the latest in a string of Blu-ray releases from Disney that include a $10 mail-in rebate if you own the DVD, which is a real deal.

Sam & Max Freelance Police - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
A cartoon that was based on a comic with a cult following. The show follows a pair of Freelance Police named Sam and Max a dog and rabbit (maybe), and like the best shows made for kids, it was made with adults in mind, and not dumbed down for its target audience. The 3-disc set includes an interview with the comic's creator, bonus shorts, playable demo for the game, and the Series Bible by the creator, Steve Purcell. Certainly worth picking up for fans of the show or the original comic, and worth checking out for others.

Sleuth - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
I had high hopes for this movie as the original had one of the best surprise twists of all time. Actually, it had several of the best surprise twists of all time. The new version isn't as good as the original, which is a shock considering all of the talented people who helped make it a reality. It's hard to point to where it went wrong, but it lost a bit of the charm along the way. Extras on the DVD include two audio commentary tracks, a making-of featurette, and a look at the make-up used in one of the twists, which is a good package for a limited release. The Blu-ray has no additional features and costs 35% more money, which is not a good deal. Hard to call it anything more than a rental, I just wish they would re-release the original on DVD, which has been out of print for a while now.

South Park Imaginationland - Buy from Amazon
A three-episode story arc from season 11 released as a "new feature-length DVD movie." At least the marketing department is still full of imagination.

The show starts off with the boys trying to hunt down a leprechaun because Cartman bet Kyle that he saw a leprechaun and if he did, Kyle would have to ... and this next part is in white partly because it is a spoiler, and partly because it is just so immature... suck Cartman's balls. Kyle actually loses the bet, but refuses to go through with it and Cartman is forced to take him to court, and wins. Here's the problem, no contract that deals with an illegal act is legally enforceable, that's first year law school stuff, not arcane minutia that only a few would know about. I mention this because if the show were better, I wouldn't care about this point. But I couldn't really get into the story because, and this is rather ironic, it lacked imagination. For instance, the whole battle between good and evil with one of the main characters acting as a chosen one was done before in Best Friends Forever with Kenny being the Neo defeating Satan's army.

Maybe that's the point. Maybe the whole point of this three-episode story arc about the terrorist attack on Imaginationland is that our imagination is dying and all that's left is derivative repeats. Or maybe Trey Parker and Matt Stone are just running out of ideas. The amount of repetition in this story suggests the latter is more likely.

Extras include an audio commentary track, which starts out strong, wavers rather quickly, and then ends early in episode three. The other extras include two scenes done it storyboard form. (Really? The final animation is barely above the storyboard level, so this seems pointless.) And finally there are two bonus episodes, both of which have been released on DVD before, more than once in the first case. Overall it is below adequate.

Skip it. Skip it and if you are a fan of the show then buy it when it comes out on a full season set. It will be a better bargain then.

Stargate - Ark of Truth - Buy from Amazon
The first direct-to-DVD follow-up to Stargate SG-1, which was one of the most successful Science Fiction series of all times, lasting 10 years, not to mention a second series, Stargate: Atlantis. Since this is such a popular show, there are two questions that must be asked when reviewing it. Firstly, will fans of the show enjoy it? Secondly, will neophytes be able to get into it.

The show takes place after the events of series finale, which many fans found unsatisfying. But at least now we know why: the show isn't over. Because of this, there is no way to really talk about the movie effectively without going into way too many spoilers either for it or for the past two seasons. I will say that even if you are a fan of the early seasons but haven't watched seasons 9 and 10 yet, watch the prelude first. I can't emphasize that enough. If you have never seen the show ever, watching the prelude won't help explain a whole lot of what's going on, but it will answer a few questions you have. But to be honest, I don't think the movie works as a separate entity from the series. While you could probably walk in never having seen the show and enjoy it on one level, it won't be truly satisfying without knowing the full back-story.

As for fans of the show, they should love it. It has everything the show had, but bigger. Ark of Truth felt like it was operating on a larger scale. Part of this had to do with scope of the story as well as the bigger budget, more effects, etc. Also, part of this was due to the pacing. Because a TV episode has a very set runtime, you can't have shots linger, you can't afford to marvel at the size of a spaceship flying through space or watch as an imposing figure walks down a hallway, for instance. But with a movie that doesn't have a predetermined and very strict time limit, you can do this and this pacing makes the movie feel epic. Tighter pacing, which is often employed these days in movies, tends to make the final product feel cramped. Feel boxed in. Feel smaller than it should be. This isn't a problem here. This doesn't feel like a two-part episode, but it feels like a movie.

As for the extras, the DVD delivers. Things start off with an audio commentary track with writer / director / producer Robert Cooper, D.P. Peter Woeste, and actor Christopher Judge. (On a side note, there is no audio commentary on the prelude.) There is a lot of information here, the pace moves quickly and there are not very many dead spots, but they do pop up here or there. Worth listening to and it does have replay value. Other extras include a 30-minute making-of featurette called Uncovering the Ark of Truth that is the usual mix of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie. (On a side note, Michael Shanks is interviewed wearing an old school, "Flying Skate" Canucks T-shirt, which makes him the coolest person on the show.) Finally, there's a 20-minute Q&A session at Comic-con.

Overall, fans of Stargate SG-1 should be very happy with Stargate - Ark of Truth and the DVD is certainly worth picking up for fans of the show. Newcomers to the franchise might get lost at times, but there's still enough that it's worth a rental. And if renting it makes you get into the show, all the better.

Looking forward to Continuum, which comes out this summer.

Tin Man - Two-Disc Collector's Edition - Buy from Amazon
Zooey Deschanel stars as D.G. in this re-imaging of The Wizard of Oz, which aired last year as a TV mini-series. It broke records for the Sci-Fi Channel when it aired, but the critical reception was more mixed. It draws on a lot of sources and the steampunk show is only intermittently as engaging as it should be. It is worth checking out for those who liked the books, but don't mind a rather radical departure from the source material. However, it doesn't require anything more than a rental.


Filed under: Video Releases, I, Robot, Bee Movie, No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton, Dan in Real Life, Hitman, August Rush, Nancy Drew, In the Valley of Elah, Sleuth, Stargate - The Ark of Truth, 30 Days of Night