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DVD Releases for March 18, 2008

March 18th, 2008

The movie business is cyclical with peaks (summer season and the winter holidays), as well as lulls (September and January). This translates into the peaks and lulls in the home market as well, just three to four months later. We are finally coming out of the latest home market quiet period and the biggest hit of the Christmas Holidays is hitting the home market. However it is not the DVD Pick of the Week. That honor goes to Enchanted, which is worth picking up on DVD but is a must-have on Blu-ray.

Adventures of Robin Hood - Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
39 episode for $5.50? That has to be a mistake. Nope, not a mistake, but the show is public domain and there is no restoration here so don't expect great picture quality or anything in terms of extras. That said, many people spend more than that on a single cup of specialty coffee, so it is truly a bargain for more than 16 hours of entertainment.

After Dark Horrorfest - Buy from Amazon
8 horror films from After Dark coming out in a box set that is just way too much money. $15 per movie, after Amazon's discount, is too much for low budget horror films that separately would only be worth a rental, at most. This depends on your tastes and you feelings on torture porn, but The Deaths of Ian Stone is probably the best. If you are into torture porn, then Borderland and Tooth and Nail could be your thing.

Atonement - Buy from Amazon: DVD or HD DVD
One of the major players during this past Awards Season, Atonement, including seven Oscar nominations but was nearly shut out, winning just one Academy Award. This is not surprising as the film's reviews were not as strong as the major winners' were. Still, this is a movie that is worth checking out and has enough replay value to lift it above the rental level. As for the extras, there is an audio commentary track, deleted scenes also with audio commentary, and two featurettes, which is a good selection, but hardly overwhelming. Still, it is worth picking up. As for the HD DVD, there are no additional extras and I can't recommend sinking any more money into a dead format. Wait until it comes out on Blu-ray -- it shouldn't be that long.

Baseball - Buy from Amazon: Bull Durham, Eight Men Out, and The Pride of the Yankees
With the major leagues ready to start the season, there's a trio of classics from the genre coming out on DVD.

Battlestar Galactica - Season Three - Buy from Amazon
Season three started off with an amazing story arc with several of the heroes caught on a Cylon controlled planet and forced to try and lead a resistance / rebellion. The first several episodes may very well be the best the show has ever put out. Unfortunately, the rest of the season can't live up to the beginning. It's still better than most shows on TV, but the overall effect is uneven. As for the 6-disc set, it is as amazing as previous releases with a ton of extras. These include audio commentaries, deleted scenes, video blogs, webisodes, and more. Easily worth picking up and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Bee Movie - A Very Jerry 2-Disc Edition - Buy from Amazon
First of all, we do know how bees can fly. Their wings create vortices in the air that provide additional lift. No scientists ever said, 'Bees can't fly!' They said, 'Bees can fly using a mechanism that is not well understood at this time.' And with additional research, the that mechanism was discovered.

Moving on.

Bee Movie came out on DVD last week, but the screener didn't arrive till this week, hence the delay in the spotlight review.

Jerry Seinfeld wrote, produced, and starred in Bee Movie, his first major project since the end of his TV series. This certainly helped the film earn additional publicity, but fans of the show will not be enticed by the movie. It certainly shares some of the same comedic sensibilities, but this is certainly a kids movie. It is not a bad movie and there are some funny moments here; however, there are some problems with the overall story and that hurts the flow of the movie. For instance, in the movie we learn that bees can speak perfect English, they just choose not to. Also, the whole plot with the bees suing humans over the theft of their honey doesn't seem well thought-out.

(They talk in the commentary track about the number of revisions in the script, which is a large issue here. They also talk about the film being given the greenlight based on the name alone and at the time it had absolutely no story to back it up. This is a larger issue.)

As for the extras, the 2-disc set has a lot of them with a mix of those that are aimed at kids and those that are aimed at adult aficionados like myself. The audio commentary track is easily the best of the features for the latter group; it moves fast, provides plenty of information and isn't dry. Other extras for adults include the deleted scenes and alternate endings shown in storyboard form with introduction by Jerry Seinfeld. Most of the endings are quite similar, however. TV Juniors are 90-second promotional pieces with Jerry Seinfeld doing his thing with some guest from the movie, and some guests that are not from the movie. Occasionally funny, but with limited replay value. Jerry's Flight Over Cannes is a three-minute featurette about the film's premiere in Cannes, for which Seinfeld dressed up as a bee, while Inside the Hive is a 15-minute featurette on the making of the movie. Rounding out the first disc are the two live-action trailers.

Over on disc 2 we find Tech of Bee Movie, which is a behind-the-scenes featurette that focuses on the technology of the movie. There are also more kid oriented features like musical video and the Dreamworks Jukebox. (This second feature feels like it is more ad than extra, however.) Meet Barry B. Benson has 11 questions you can ask Barry while the answers are culled from the movie. Might entertain kids, but I doubt many adults will even get through them all. Over on the kids section we have The Buzz About Bees, a 7-minute featurette on bee facts. The Ow! Meter looks at different dangers bees pose to humans and vice versa. That's Un-Bee-Lievable! is a trivia quiz while Be a Bee is a personality quiz to help you find the perfect Bee Job for yourself. (I'm a Pollen Jock, so it is clearly flawed.) Pollination practice is a target practice game, however it isn't intuitive enough.

Bee Movie had a lot of buzz right from the beginning. however, the end product is hit and miss. There is more than enough here to entertain most kids, but adults aficionados will not consider it a top-tier CG release. Likewise, the 2-disc set has a mix of feature to please kids and adults, and overall it is better for the latter. If you have kids, it is worth picking up, but it doesn't live up to the releases by Pixar, for instance.

Bionic Woman - Volume One - Buy from Amazon
A remake of the TV series from the 1970s. This show started with a lot of buzz and it was one of the most hotly anticipated new shows of the season; however, it started with a whimper and it quickly became clear that the show wasn't going to last. Now the first, and only, season is being split into two volumes and the price per minute is just too high for TV on DVD. The extras are not bad with a commentary track on the pilot and a quartet of featurettes, but that's not enough to recommend picking up.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Enchanted and or I Am Legend
Interesting. On the one hand, there are only two Blu-ray releases this week. On the other hand, they are two prime releases. In fact, I Am Legend should become the biggest High Definition release of the year, and should do it with ease. (Even though Enchanted is the better of the two.)

Celtic Thunder - The Show - Buy from Amazon
A concert DVD featuring performances of new and old songs with a Celtic heritage. The DVD is selling surprisingly well on Amazon and is currently close to the top ten on the sales chart.

Enchanted - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
One of the best films from last year, Enchanted took a classic tale of a fairytale princess (or princess-to-be) and gives it a modern twist. In the movie Amy Adams plays Giselle, a fair maiden who finds her Prince Charming and is about to live happily ever after. But his evil stepmother has other plans and sends her to the real world.

This is an amazing hook and the folks at Disney make the most of it. In the hands of coarse or unsophisticated group of writers and you would have had a ham-fisted spoof. Date Movie meets Disney. ... Meet the Princess. However, the writers here are deft and skillful and the result is just as much an homage as it is a parody. It is amazing how many references to these classics there are in the movie, and not just the broad themes, but little touches including cameos from several actresses who have played princesses in the past.

Also, I have to say that Amy Adams is perfect as Giselle. She hits the right notes at the right times and channels the naivete perfectly before becoming a more powerful woman in the end. Without her performance, this film would not have been half as good. (That is not to take away from the rest of the cast, which is uniformly excellent.)

Extras on the DVD are light with making-of featurettes, deleted scenes, outtakes, music video and a short film featuring Pip. On the one hand, this is not a wide selection of extras and the total running time is just 37 minutes. On the other hand, they are all have strong replay value. What you are missing in quantity is made up for with quality.

On the Blu-ray, they have all of the above extras and a bonus feature, The D-Files. Here you can watch the movie with the help of William Huntley, who was mistaken for Grumpy by Giselle in the movie. Here he asks trivia questions and for each one you get right, you get to see a clip. And in the end depending how many you got right, you can the chance to see one of three additional bonus clips. (Apparently I suck. I only got one of the three clips.) I've said it before and I'll likely say it again: Disney is the main reason Blu-ray beat HD DVD, and it is features like this are the reason why. This feature will become a favorite for young kids who love princess movies and they will love the interactive nature of the extra. Adult fans of classic animation will love this feature because of all of the information they learn.

Enchanted is one of the best movies from last year and, since it works on many levels, it will entertain children and adults alike. Both the DVD and the Blu-ray are worth picking up. In fact, despite the additional cost, the Blu-ray with its D-Files feature is a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Funky Forest - The First Contact - Buy from Amazon
A sketch-comedy movie from Japan that is bizarre even by their standards. It get more and more surreal but in a way that draws you in and keeps you wanting more. However, it runs two and a half hours over two discs and most people won't be able to make it all the way through without throwing up their hands and saying, "What the hell is going on?" Some might find this frustrating, but relax, it is the normal reaction to the material. Those that do make it all the way are in for a fun ride.

Greek - Chapter One - Buy from Amazon
An original series from ABC Family channel that takes place at a campus. The show stars Jacob Zachar as Rusty Cartwright, a freshman at college who is trying to juggle his honors physics program as well as his new life in a fraternity, much to the chagrin of his sister, Casey Cartwright played by Spencer Grammer, who spent the first two years of college pretending she didn't have a brother.

The first episodes starts out introducing a lot of characters, all of whom feel like one-dimensional stereotypes. However, quickly these characters are shown to have a lot more depth than their introductions made it seem. It is a very good show that blends humor and drama, more of the former than the later. It deals with a lot of storylines including the obvious fish-out-of-water with Rusty, but also the brother / sister relationship. The sister is also involved in a love triangle with her current and former boyfriends and a power struggle in her fraternity with a new pledge. Also, there's Rusty's friend, Clive, who is in the closet.

As for the 3-disc set, there are all 10 episodes from the first season with audio commentary tracks on three of them. Most of them are with the creators, but there's one with the three female leads, who are a lot less focused, but they are certainly having a good time. The rest of the extras are on disc three and include a 10-minute making-of featurette, three short deleted scenes, an extended musical number, as well as a preview for season 2. In total, these run less than 20 minutes, but they are still worth checking out.

This show was surprisingly entertaining for me, as I have no interest in the Greek system. Interesting characters, good writing, good performances add up to a show that is easy to recommend. The three-disc set has good extras, not great extras, but it is still enough to lift the show past the rental level and into a solid purchase.

HD DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: Aquarium Impressions, Atonement, Fireplace Impressions, Justice League - The New Frontier, Led Zeppelin - The Song Remains the Same, and Mystic Windows
Only one first-run, day-and-date HD DVD release this week, and it's the last first-run, day-and-date HD DVD release ever. Going out with Atonement, an Oscar winning movie, isn't a bad way to go, but it is indeed the end of HD DVD and likely the last time these releases will be featured on this list. I see no point is listing the few remaining Warner Bros. titles, all of which will be coming out on Blu-ray first. And the TV picture window releases like Aquarium Impressions also lack the target audience to be included on this list.

Hip Hop Awards 2007 - Buy from Amazon
B.E.T. presents the 2007 Hip Hop Awards, where the best of the musical genre get together to honor their own. This is only the second year the awards have been handed out, but the show still has some traditions to call upon.

For instance, like last year, the awards are hosted by Katt Williams. This was a smart call as he is able to move the show at a quick pace, he's able to poke fun at the stars of the genre while honoring them at the same time. It's a tough line to walk, but he does it very well. Another highlight of the night is the music, obviously, with a large number of acts including Kanye West, Ludacris, Busta Rhymes, and others. There were also the Cyphers, which were recorded before the show and who were cut to throughout the night, and many speakers who talked about the virtues of the musical genre, as well as the issues it faces. It felt a little self-congratulatory at times, but no more than other award ceremonies.

That brings us to the biggest problem with the show, it is an award ceremony. I find award ceremonies to be incredibly boring, even the Oscars. If I wasn't a journalist, I wouldn't watch the Oscars, I would check the Internet to find out who won. And I would check it out the next day at the earliest. I kept watching the show and enjoying the music, but my interest would wane as soon as the nominees were announced.

As for the extras, there are just over 10 minutes worth of rehearsal performances by T.I., which has some replay value.

Fans of Hip Hop should enjoy the show, however, the overall replay is a little light. I can't help thinking the DVD would have been better with a way of skipping the ceremony and sticking just with the music. ... Well, the music and Katt Williams. Even so, for fans, the DVD is worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

I Am Legend - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc Edition, Two-Disc Special Edition, or Blu-ray
One of the biggest hits of the year and one of the biggest hits of Will Smith's career. I Am Legend opened with good reviews, but not great reviews, with most critics agreeing that the movie is worth checking out but flawed enough to miss the key points in the original novel. Had it explored these metaphors more fully, this could have been a classic. That said, it is still a very good movie that is worth seeing. As for the three versions, none are particularly good. The Two-Disc Special Edition includes two versions of the movie, which makes it a better deal over the Single-Disc Edition, while the Blu-ray does the same and is actually cheaper than the special edition. (At least it is over on Amazon.) Extras are not particularly strong, especially given the film's box office success, with a making-of documentary that runs just over 50 minutes, a featurette on real world viruses, and four animated comics that tell the stories of other survivors. Worth picking up, but not as strong as I had hoped.

The Ice Storm - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
An Ang Lee movie from a decade ago set during the time of Nixon's impeachment. It opened well during limited release, but never expanded that wide. Likewise, it earned good reviews but was not a major player during Awards Season. Now it is coming out on a Criterion Collection 2-disc DVD. Extras include an audio commentary track, almost an hour of interviews with the cast and the author of the book, deleted scenes, a 30-minute discussion at the Museum of the Moving Image, audio interviews about the production design, and more. A great selection of extras and enough to make this DVD worth picking up.

Johnny and the Sprites - Meet the Sprites - Buy from Amazon
Johnny and the Sprites makes its home market debut with the DVD that features 5 11-minute episodes full of colorful characters, plenty of songs, and a few life lessons.

John Tartaglia stars as Johnny, a songwriter who moves into his uncles cottage only to discover there are sprites living in his garden. There's Ginger, the Air Sprite; Lily, the Water Sprite; and Basil, the Earth Sprite. (I guess there's no fire sprite because they don't want kids to light things on fire.) Others on the show include Root, the youngest Sprite and Sage the oldest and wisest of the Sprites. Episodes on the DVD include Ginger's Antenna Dilemma, where Ginger discovers her antenna are too curly and thinks she's a freak, Where's the Water, Lily? where Lily has to figure out where the water has gone, Basil's Band where Basil decides to form a boy band, and others. Each one has a song for the kids and a lesson for them to learn and should entertain its target audience. In a nice twist, they only play the theme song once on the DVD, which prevents it from being repetitive. In fact, there's not a lot here that is repetitive, which is the biggest sin committed by kids' shows.

As for the extras, there is a bonus song and the five 5-minute shorts that got the show started. Additionally, you can watch everything, the episodes, the bonus song, and the shorts with the lyrics on the screen for a sing along.

Johnny and the Sprites has proven to be very popular with preschoolers growing from 5-minute shorts to full episodes and Meet the Sprites should please fans of the show. The DVD has roughly 75 minutes worth of programming, as well as a sing along feature for its trademark songs. Worth picking up.

Life After People - Buy from Amazon
A TV documentary about what would happen to the Earth after humans are gone. (I guess that depends heavily on how many other species we take down before we go.) What should have been an interesting show was overdone and relied on forced drama instead of just relying on the scientific facts. A wasted opportunity.

The Lost - Buy from Amazon
Marc Senter stars as Ray Pye, a charming sociopath who, on a whim, decides to kill two women. But while he is able to intimidate his friends into helping him cover up these killings, the cops are always on to him and it is only a matter of time before his past catches up with him. The movie was made in 2005 and has been stuck in development hell for a long time, but it is now coming out on DVD. However, the subject matter will turn off most moviegoers and there's not enough blood and guts to draw in gorehounds.

Love in the Time of Cholera - Buy from Amazon
Based on a book that many have called unfilmable, and it appears they might have been right. The movie is a mess, but a mess with some great cinematography and there are those who did find the movie romantic in its own way. The DVD just has the basic extras (audio commentary track, deleted scenes, and making of featurette), and I can only recommend a rental.

Married... With Children - The Complete Eighth Season - Buy from Amazon
Wow, the Reverse Shark Jump. This is something very, very few shows have been able to pull off, but Married... With Children was able to do it in season eight. In the previous season, the show added Seven, which was their version of Cousin Oliver and made season seven the worst of the show's run. However, season eight starts and Seven is nowhere to be seen. Woo hoo! The show is not as good as the first few years, but fans will be happy to see No Ma'am in action while there are several other classic shows. Worth picking up even with a featureless 3-disc set.

McHale's Navy - Season Three - Buy from Amazon
A military life show that has more con men than combat. All 36 episodes from the penultimate season are on this 5-disc set, but sadly there are no extras.

Revolver - Buy from Amazon
Guy Ritchie's first film since Swept Away, which was widely regarded as one of the worst movies of 2002. Revolver won't suffer the same fate, but it also won't be seen by as many people. The film has a lot in common with his earlier films like Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but the script seems confusing and confused while the other films' twists seemed more finely crafted. Extras on the DVD are better than expected with an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, making-of featurette, another featurette on the music, and a final one on the concepts in the movie. (On the one hand, it is nice that they spent so much of the DVD trying to explain the movie. On the other hand, the movie should be able to survive on its own.) For fans of Guy Ritchie, it could be worth a rental; however, that's as far as I can go.

The Seeker: The Dark is Rising - Buy from Amazon
One of many, many, many fantasy films with kids as the protagonists that have come out in the wake of Harry Potter. Most simply don't work. Sadly, this film is among that group. In fact, it nearly set records for box office ineptitude for a saturation level release (films opening in 3,000 theater or more). So it comes as no surprise that the DVD is devoid of extras. A sad end to what could have been a strong franchise -- the novel was certainly cinematic enough.

Shemp Cocktail - A Toast To The Original Stooge - Buy from Amazon
A 2-disc, 5-hour spotlight on Shemp that has short films, including his solo work, work with the Stooges, and work with other comedy teams like Abbott & Costello. The DVD even has some of his dramatic work and a documentary on the man. An excellent DVD that is easily worth picking up for fans as they wait for the chronological collection they so desperately want.

Southland Tales - Buy from Amazon
The writer and director of Donnie Darko returns six years later with Southland Tales. There was a lot of anticipation for the movie, but it was delayed several times before being dumped in "select cities." Needless to say, it did about as well as most such release do. Its box office performance was certainly worse than its reviews, although it is still a bit of a mess. There are too many story elements here (political satire, religious allegory, conspiracy theories), as well as too many characters (The Boxer who lost his memory, the porn star trying to get a reality TV series, the politician's daughter, the rebels, the head of big brother national security corporation, and the narrator). The film just can't handle the weight. Also, with so many characters, the cast it too big and it is almost like stunt casting and becomes distracting at times. It is still worth checking out, but with a rather bare-bones DVD (just a 34-minute making-of featurette and a 9-minute cartoon), for most people a rental will suffice. Other will want to watch the movie again and again to try and decipher all of it, but definitely try before you buy.

Steep - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about extreme skiing that features great cinematography, but not enough of anything else to really work for anyone who isn't already a fan of the sport.

The Untouchables - Season Two - Volume 1 - Buy from Amazon
A TV series from the late 50s to the early 60s that takes a look at the exploits of Special Agent Eliot Ness who battled Al Capone and other crime bosses in 1930s Chicago. Like the first season, season two was nominated for three Emmys, but didn't win any. It is still a good season, if a little over the top at times, and fans should check it out. The splitting of the season into two volumes and the lack of extras is disappointing, but understandable.

The Wild Wild West - Season Four - Buy from Amazon
The fourth and final season of this series, which was canceled due to the level of violence and not declining ratings... Wow, like that would ever happen today. In fact, today it is more likely the network would ask for more violence to boost declining ratings. Good news, this means the show ended before it became stale and anyone who enjoyed the previous releases should pick up this 6-disc set as well.

Wrestlemaniac - Buy from Amazon
Wrestlemaniac is a low-budget Teenage Slasher about a porn crew who go to Mexico to make a movie but come under attack from an insane Mexican Wrestler.

... Oh boy.

No one will mistake this movie for an Oscar masterpiece and all it is, is an exercise in low expectation cinema. It's generic to the point of where using that term seems a gross understatement. The lead characters, a.k.a., the victims, are nondescript at best and completely irritating at worst. The villain might be a draw for fans of wrestling, but looked silly to me. The plot is predictable and nonsensical and there are no twists and turns to keep the viewer interested. All it offers is the prospect of blood and boobs. Sadly it doesn't really deliver there. For a porn shoot, there's almost no nudity, there are only six people to kill off, and two of those deaths happen off-screen. There's just not enough here to recommend. There are mitigating circumstance, but we will get to those in a second.

As for the extras, they are better than expected starting with an audio commentary track featuring writer / director / producer Jesse Baget, D.P. Tabbert Fiiller, and actor Adam Huss. One of the first things they talk about is how the movie was originally set in an abandoned mental institute but two days before filming was to start, they lost their location. Because of this, the script had to be modified at the last minute and was never completed with the new location in mind. It shows. The filmmakers decided to go for more over the top camp because of this, but you can't aim for camp, it just happens, and trying to be campy almost never works. The only other extra is a behind-the-scenes featurette that runs 5:30, but it lacks context and therefore replay value.

Wrestlemaniac is a technically strong film and looks good, especially for its budget. However, almost every other aspect of the movie is below adequate. Perhaps had they not had to make so many last-minute changes, the movie would have worked better, but I can't recommend a film based on what could have been. That said, the next movie these filmmakers work on should be much better, and hopefully that's a movie I will be able to recommend.


Filed under: Video Releases, I am Legend, Enchanted, Bee Movie, Atonement, The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, Southland Tales, Steep, Revolver, Jack Ketchum's The Lost, Life After People, After Dark's Horrorfest 2007