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DVD Releases for May 13, 2008

May 12th, 2008

The summer blockbuster season is upon us, so it's not a very good time to release a top-notch movie on DVD. There are a high number of releases, little in the way of top-notch releases. In fact, arguably the best release of the week is a Blu-ray catalogue release, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - Blu-ray Edition - Buy from Amazon. And if you don't have a Blu-ray player, grab The Great Debaters 2-Disc Special Collector's Edition instead.

Adventures of The Galaxy Rangers - The Collection - Volume 1 - Buy from Amazon
An animated western set in space. It's not a bad show for kids, but I think a healthy dose of nostalgia is needed here. Extras on this 4-disc set are amazing for this type of show, and kudos go to Koch Vision for doing it right. There's more than enough to warrant a purchase for true fans of the show. However, maybe give it a rental first if you haven't seen it in a while, just in case.

Autism - The Musical - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about a group of five autistic kids who are getting ready to put on a musical performance. Given the title of the movie, it seems like it could be really crass. However, it is quite touching at times, and heartbreaking at others. Extras include more than half an hour of deleted scenes and some text-based information on the director, Miracle Project, Autism, etc. Worth checking out for most, picking up for many.

The Big Trail - 2-Disc Special Edition - Buy from Amazon
A Western from 1930, this was John Wayne's first starring role and that alone will interest a lot of people. It was also a big budget, widescreen production that was thought lost for a while (only the 35mm version was seen for a long time). Not only is the movie impressive in the technical sense, and for helping start John Wayne's career, it is also simply a good movie. Although the story is rather simplistic, it is wonderfully shot, and has a grandeur to it that is still effective today. As for the 2-disc set, the extras are impressive given the age of the movie, but on the light side for a 2-disc special edition. There's an audio commentary track and close to an hour of featurettes on the 70mm process, the making of the movie, the early career of John Wayne, etc. It's certainly worth picking up. Also coming out this week is John Wayne: The Fox Westerns Collection, which is a box set that includes this movie, and three others.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Master and Commander: Far Side of the World, Mrs. Doubtfire, Ozzfest - Tenth Anniversary, Shinobi - Heart Under Blade - Special Edition, Untraceable, and Youth Without Youth
Only one first-run release, and it is a bomb from January. That said, it is not quite fair to call The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe a true catalogue release, and the Blu-ray is worth the upgrade. Speaking of which...

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - Blu-ray Edition - Buy from Amazon
I already reviewed this particular version of the movie when it came out on DVD. This is more or less an update discussing the Blu-ray version and whether it is worth upgrading from the DVD.

First of all, this is a visually impressive movie, one that greatly benefits from getting the High Definition treatment, and Disney did not let fans down. This is clearly one of the best-looking DVDs I've seen. Near perfection is one way to describe it.

As for the extras, that's a little murkier. The two-disc set has all of the extras on the four-disc DVD, but they are all in Standard definition. This is not good. This is very disappointing, actually. There is one additional extra that is not on the DVD and that's the Battle for Narnia, which is a strategy game that feels like a Magic-lite. You choose fights and when you win, you pick-up reinforcements to help in tougher fights. After a few fights, you are given choices that will either help or hurt you in future fights (don't eat the black magic food and share the gold with everyone). Additionally, the different terrain can help or hurt different characters. For instance, you can't use the Phoenix in wet or cold environments, which includes almost all of the last several fights. There is even a reward if you win, but I won't spoil the surprise. Overall it is certainly engaging and it pushes the technology in a way that DVD can't handle and this makes up for the standard definition treatment of the other extras.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe earned impressive reviews and the 4-Disc DVD was very good. The Blu-ray edition has some great advantages (including having the whole movie fitting on one disc), and it is cheaper than the DVD. It only costs $24 for a 2-disc Blu-ray. Excellent price and easily worth the upgrade.

Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection 1 & 2 - Buy from Amazon
Fans of B-movies rejoice! 10 'classics' from the 1950s and 60s are coming out in this 6-disc set for just $42. On the one hand, that's a great price. On the other hand, 10 B-movies is probably too much for all but the most diehard fan.

The Cottage - Buy from Amazon
A horror comedy crime thriller about a kidnapping gone wrong. ... And kidnappings are rarely very right in the first place. It's a low budget affair from Britain featuring Andy Serkis, among others. The movie earned better than expected reviews, while the extras are average for a direct-to-DVD release. It is gory, it is offbeat, it is entertaining, and it is worth picking up.

Cover - Buy from Amazon
A stunningly bad movie that delivers 'social commentary' that is so homophobic that is amazing it was made in this day and age. It would be highly offensive, except that it is also so ineptly made that it is laughable. (It is almost like a self parody.) No real redeeming value here.

Drawn Together - Season Three - Uncensored - Buy from Amazon
The third and final season of this animated reality TV series comes out on DVD. But was it cut down before its time, or did the show overstay its welcome?

It's the latter.

I have stated many times before that I hate reality TV and I think it is ripe for spoofing, and while Drawn Together is one of the better spoofs, it is clear that is has run out of steam. In fact, one of the characters even asks, "can cheap plagiarism be considered parody?" There are still some good episodes, including Breakfast Food Killer, Drawn Together Babies, and the two-part Lost in a Parking Space, however, there was a serious issue with repetitiveness, and the humor seemed less sharp than before. (The characters seemed very flat -- reduced to one-dimensional stereotypes, and they were never really fleshed out to begin with.) Finally, for the most part they dropped the reality TV angle and were concentrating on other areas for humor, which was probably for the best.

The extras on the 2-disc set include four audio commentary tracks featuring different members of the cast and crew. Strangely there's an audio commentary track on the first part of Lost in a Parking Space, but not the second part. The only other extra is a Karaoke / Sing-A-Long feature with six songs to choose from. It has limited replay value. As for the Unrated label, the show earns it. There is a lot of swearing, and quite a bit of nudity shown on the show (mostly male nudity, so don't buy the DVD looking for a lot of boobs).

If you've picked up the previous releases and liked them, there's little reason to stop now. Drawn Together - Season Three - Uncensored started to waver in quality, and the extras were weaker, but most fans will likely want to complete their collection while they wait for the possible Drawn Together DVD movie.

Drew Hastings - Irked and Miffed - Buy from Amazon
This DVD came out last week, but the screener arrived on Wednesday, hence the delay in the review.

Drew Hastings comes from the neurotic school of stand up comedy. His self-deprecating style reminded me of Richard Lewis, only a lot more deadpan in his delivery. In this hour-long special, he touches on a number of topics from being a farmer who is obviously unfit for the profession, his British parents, having a younger girlfriend, being 50, and his failing health. There are a number of very memorable jokes, which I obviously won't spoil here, and almost no dead spots. Some of the material is a little racy (like his bits on erotic asphyxiation or his experience with Viagra), and he occasionally fires off an F-bomb, but there's nothing here that I would consider offensive.

Unfortunately, there are no extras on the DVD.

Drew Hastings - Irked and Miffed is typical of most stand up performance DVDs; it has a short runtime of just over 60 minutes and there are no extras. That said, the price is very reasonable and anyone who is a fan of Hastings should be happy picking it up. Others who have never heard of the comedian before should give it a rental. Many who do will become fans.

Fox Western Classics - Buy from Amazon
Three westerns making their DVD debuts this week on this 3-disc set. Good news, all three movies (Rawhide, The Gunfighter, and Garden of Evil) are great movies and should be seen more. Also, you can't beat the price. Finally, for a bargain priced set, the extras are amazing with several featurettes, an isolated music track and an audio commentary track on Garden of Evil. Just a fantastic collection and easily worth picking up.

Frank Sinatra - Various Box Sets - Buy from Amazon: The Early Years Collection, The Golden Years Collection, Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly Collection, and The Rat Pack - Ultimate Collectors Edition
A bundle of releases are coming out this week in order to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Frank Sinatra's death. ... Okay, that's just ghoulish. There are a lot of excellent movies coming out in these four box sets, and only few of those feel like filler. That said, Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly Collection offers the best bang for your buck.

Frank Sinatra - Various Individual Releases - Buy from Amazon: Double Dynamite, First Deadly Sin, High Society, Higher and Higher, It Happened in Brooklyn, The Kissing Bandit, Man with the Golden Arm, Never So Few, Ocean's 11, On the Town, Robin and the Seven Hoods, Sergeants 3, Sinatra, Some Came Running, Step Lively, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, The Tender Trap, and Till the Clouds Roll By
Just as there are four box sets coming out to celebrate the death of Frank Sinatra, there are even more individual release, some that are in the above box sets, and some that are not.

Frontier(s) - Buy from Amazon
This film opened in theaters on Friday and is coming out on DVD on Tuesday. It's not the first film to use this release strategy, and it is not the first film that did that bombed at the box office. Not only does the 4-day theatrical release to DVD release turnaround generally cripple a film, this is a genre that doesn't do well in limited release. Reviews were mixed with the term, "torture porn" used by a few. As for the DVD, there are no extras and unless you are hardcore fan of the sub-genre, there's little reason for anything more than a rental. And if you have had your fill of sadistic horror, stay far, far away.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun - Buy from Amazon
Even with a healthy dose of nostalgia, and the ability to see more than a few stars before they were famous, there's little here that makes this movie worth recommending.

Sarah Jessica Parker stars as Janey, the new kid at a private Catholic school who immediately becomes friends with Helen Hunt, the rebellious girl. They are both fans of the TV show, Dance TV. Janey wants nothing more than to become one of the dancers showcased on Dance TV, but she is paired with a guy from the wrong side of the tracks and their relationship is fill with tension. Will this tension turn to romance? Will they win the competition? Will the rich snobby girl get her comeuppance? Will anything original happen in this movie? Or will it be one cliché after another?

The answer is yes, yes, yes, no, and yes. And no, I don't consider any of those answers to be spoilers. Anyone who has seen any romantic comedy or competition movies will know exactly how the storyline will play out. I was talking to my sister about this movie, and she said, "I bet there's a training montage in the movie." There are several. I'm convinced if you cut out the training montages in the movie, you could cut the running time in half. And anything that reduced the length of this movie is a great idea to me.

There are no extras on this DVD, but at least that meant I didn't have to spend more time on this review.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun is a terrible movie, much worse than its Tomatometer score would indicate. The DVD is absolutely bare-bones and there's nothing here to warrant a recommendation. In fact, I am confident that the only reason is it being re-released on DVD is it stars Sarah Jessica Parker, who also stars in the upcoming Sex and the City Movie. And if you simply must have a movie in your DVD collection that features a Cyndi Lauper song, pick up The Goonies on DVD instead.

The Great Debaters Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc Edition and 2-Disc Special Collector's Edition
The curse of great expectations.

The Great Debaters was released on Christmas day, the heart of Awards Season. It was the second directorial effort by Denzel Washington, who previous directed the award-winning Antwone Fisher. And it was the kind of movie that award voters usually fall for. Most people expected the movie would be a major player during Awards Season. However, while the movie earned plenty of praise, it was almost completely forgotten by voters and practically ignored by moviegoers.

Set in the 1930s, the film stars Denzel Washington as Professor Melvin B. Tolson, who teaches at the preeminent African-American University in Texas, Wiley College. There he is in charge of the debate team, which includes the brilliant, if listless, Henry Lowe (played by Nate Parker); the first woman debater, Samantha Booke (played by Jurnee Smollett); child progeny and son of Wiley professor, James Farmer, Jr. (played by Denzel Whitaker), and the sole returning member of last year's team, Hamilton Burgess, (played by Jermaine Williams). In addition to the debating, the movie deals with the racism at the time, the effects of the depression, union busting, and others. It is a powerful film, and one that should have been seen by more.

Extras on the DVD are kind of mixed. There is no audio commentary track on the Single-Disc Edition and there are only a few deleted scenes that run just under 5 minutes, a 23-minute featurette on the historical significance of the movie, and two music videos. The 2-Disc Special Collector's Edition has the above smattering of extras, as well as seven featurettes and even two poems by the real life Melvin B. Tolson. Featurettes discuss almost every aspect of the movie including the music, the costumes, the production design, the actors, and the art of the debate. Overall they run a total of more than 70 minutes, and there's serious replay value. However, the total package doesn't necessarily scream special edition.

Despite its strong reviews, The Great Debaters wasn't able to win many awards, nor did it reach its potential at the box office. This is a shame since it deserved a better fate. Hopefully it will find an audience on the home market. The 2-Disc Special Collector's Edition is certainly the better deal and is definitely worth picking up.

HD DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: One Missed Call and Sublime
Only two HD DVD releases this week, and they have both already came out on Blu-ray.

Indiana Jones - The Adventure Collection - Buy from Amazon
Just in time for the release of The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull comes the first three films in a new box set. But is it worth the upgrade from the 2003 release?


... Okay, I'll give more details than that. In 2003 the 4-disc box set was released on DVD and sold millions. And for good reason, as it was a great set with three hours of extras on the fourth disc. This included a massive 2-hour making-of documentary for the trilogy. This 3-disc set has a trio of featurettes on each of the three discs, but they run a total of only 90 minutes. What's so frustrating is that very little of it is repeated materials. In fact, much of it was filmed with the people who were working the set of The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull at the time. If it was just the old information, I could safely say skip it and hunt down that previous 4-disc set. However, I can image a lot of people who would be willing to spend $35 for new introductions by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas; interviews with Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, Cate Blanchett, and others; not to mention the featurettes on the locations, creepy crawlies, the special effects, and more. And quite frankly, it's an excellent price. But I still can't recommend it.

In less than two weeks Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull hits theaters. I can almost guarantee that in less than seven months there will be a massive collector's edition box set that will include all of the extras from both previous box sets, and more. So even at this great price, I think it is wise to wait until the Fall instead of buying the franchise on Tuesday and buying it again in November. That said, if you don't have the old box set, rent this one to get into the mood. You can also get all three movies separately, but there's almost no reason to do so.

(On a side note, in one of the featurettes, Cate Blanchett said all her female friends wanted to kiss Indiana Jones but she wanted to be Indiana Jones. The made total sense to me.)

Lovejoy - The Complete Season 3 - Buy from Amazon
Ian McShane stars as... well, Lovejoy. I assume that's his last name, because I can't image parents naming their kid that. This is an excellent mystery series that ran for six seasons from 1986 to 1994 and garnered a large number of fans, especially for the roguish Lovejoy. Fans of British TV shows in the same genre should definitely check out this one, but start with series one. This 4-disc set isn't perfect, as the price per minute is rather high while there are no extras, but this is common for imports and it won't stop most fans from picking it up.

The Lovers - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
Not director Louis Malle's best or most well-known movie, it is nonetheless an important and controversial piece of filmmaking. In fact, it is the film that resulted in that famous saying, "I know what pornography is when I see it." This is not the first time it has come out on DVD, but the Criterion Collection looks great and it is much cheaper than most releases by that company. It doesn't have the usual high level of extras, but there are half a dozen archival interviews ranging in length from just a few minutes to nearly 20, while the DVD comes with a booklet. Another Malle movie, The Fire Within is also being released on a Criterion Collection release this week, which is the same price and has even better extras. Both are worth picking up.

Mad Money - Buy from Amazon
Flopped with critics. Bombed at the box office. And now this movie is coming out on a nearly featureless DVD. There is an audio commentary track, but it feels like it is more dead air than talking, and a short making-of featurette, which is pure marketing fluff. Nothing to see here.

MGM Western Collection - Buy from Amazon: The Day of the Outlaw, Duck, You Sucker a.k.a. Fist Full of Dynamite, The Gunfight at Dodge City, Man from the West, The Man with the Gun, Navajo Joe, The Secret of Santa Vittoria, The Way West, and The Westerner
Several releases from MGM in the Western genre, some that are classics, some that are not. Regardless of your tastes in the genre, you should find something here to like.

MGM World War II Collection - Buy from Amazon: Carve Her Name With Pride, Morning Depature, and The One That Got Away
MGM is also releasing a few World War II DVDs as well.

Mission: Impossible - The Fourth TV Season - Buy from Amazon
The 60s spy series featured Peter Graves as the head of a covert agency that worked for the American government doing missions of a highly sensitive nature. It was one of several such series that started in the 1960s and it was arguably the best, and certainly the longest-running. This season is the first with Leonard Nimoy, but also the first without Barbara Bain and Martin Landau. The change in cast members was not uncommon with practically every season seeing at least one of the main cast being replaced. This 7-disc set has all 26 episodes from the 69-70 season, but that's it. Given the show's age, the lack of extras is not shocking, but still disappointing, and those who picked up and were happy with the previous releases will certainly want to continue collecting this series.

Nora's Hair Salon 2 - Buy from Amazon
For those who liked Nora's Hair Salon. ... Which is probably not a lot. In fact, most people probably have never heard of that movie and when they read the title will think of Hair Show... or Beauty Shop... or The Salon. ... There have been a lot of these movies lately, but most never find more than a niche market. This film stars Tatyana Ali, from Fresh Prince, and Stacey Dash, from Clueless, and with a budget of barely more than $1 million, it should find a large enough audience to show a profit eventually.

Numb - Buy from Amazon
Matthew Perry stars as a clinically depressed writer who looks for treatment after meeting the girl of his dreams. Reviews are few and far between, but generally positive. Extras are on par with most limited releases (and it only got a limited release North of the border) with an audio commentary track and a making-of featurette. Worth checking out for most, worth picking up for many.

A Raisin in the Sun - Buy from Amazon
A TV movie adaptation of the play by Lorraine Hansberry, which in turn was based on real life events. It stars most of the cast from 2004 stage production, include Sean Combs, Phylicia Rashad, and others. Reviews are mostly good, but it feels very much like a play turned movie, which it is, but great adaptations transcend the staged feeling. Extras include an audio commentary track and a featurette on the history of the story, which is enough to lift the DVD past the rental level and up to a purchase.

The Rat Patrol - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
Both seasons in a single 7-disc set. It's been less than a year since the second season was released, so I'm a little confused why this is coming out now.

Saawariya - Buy from Amazon: DVD
This film reached the home market last week, but the screener arrive late, hence the delay in the review.

Like I said last week, this is the first Bollywood film that was made with the backing of a major studio, in this case Sony. Unfortunately for the studio, it opened the same week as Om Shanti Om and it just couldn't handle the competition. It should perform better on the home market, but I'm not sure this was the best film to introduce mainstream audiences to the genre.

Saawariya is based on the short story, White Nights, by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky. It tells the story of Raj, a rock star in the making, who tries to get a job from Gulabji, who runs a local nightclub among her other business ventures. Later Raj sees a woman, Sakina, waiting on a bridge and he is instantly smitten. However, it turns out she is waiting for her lost love to return. Raj offers to help her find him, but is in fact sabotaging her efforts in order to win her over for himself. In turn Gulabji "helps" Raj, for the same reason. It's a simple story, too simple to carry the movie through its 138 minute running time, as it drags at times. But the film is visually fantastic, setting up a world that is very different from the ones Hollywood usually presents. (However, the movie is so surreal at times that it becomes a barrier to being fully engaged by it.)

(On a side note, it's kind of weird how much English they use in a foreign language film. There are plenty of words sprinkled in there, but also phrases and complete sentences. Is this common in India? Is English really this pervasive?)

Since the movie missed expectations at the box office, the extras are understandably light with just two featurettes, one on the music and one on the premiere. They run a combined 40 minutes, but of that, a solid 10 minutes or so is repeated footage. Even so, there is some replay value here.

Saawariya was the weaker of the two Bollywood releases to debut last November, but those interested in the genre should still check it out. It is not perfect, but it has the looks, and the music to satisfy most.

Saturday Night Live - The Complete Third Season - Buy from Amazon
I'm loving these full season sets. I never thought they'd come after years and years of Best of Releases. Season three includes the first appearance of several well-known recurring characters, including the Blues Brothers. (That should be enough to convince a lot of fans of the show to buy this 7-disc set.) Extras on the DVDs are nonexistent, but the set does come with four postcards.

Stargate Infinity - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
An animated spin-off of the long-running TV series. It never found an audience when it first aired on TV and most fans do not consider it part of the Stargate continuity. It is that bad. Granted, it is aimed at kids, but even so it should have been better. Extras are light and curiosity is the only reason to rent it.

Two and a Half Men - The Complete Third Season - Buy from Amazon
Too sitcomy... Yes, I know it is a sitcom, but it shouldn't feel like one. That said, while I'm not a huge fan of the show, most fans will agree than season three was the best so far. Fans of the show who have been happy with the previous releases should pick up this 4-disc set, even if the only extra is a gag reel. Other fans that were upset that the previous releases didn't offer enough bang for your buck will probably want to stick with a rental.

Untraceable - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
The first rule of writing is, "write what you know." It is clear that the person who wrote this travesty, knows nothing about how the internet works. In fact, they may have never been on the internet in their lives. Extras are better than expected with an audio commentary track and 50 minutes of featurettes. However, this is not enough to overcome the quality of the movie itself. As for the Blu-ray, it does have a video commentary track, which is a very nice extra. However, it is also more than 50% more expensive than the DVD (at least it is on Amazon at the moment). Since I can't recommend buying the DVD, there's little reason to spend more for the Blu-ray, but I am happy the studio made the effort to take advantage of the technology.

Walk All Over Me - Buy from Amazon
A Canadian movie starring Leelee Sobieski, who gets into financial trouble so she steals her roommate's identity, who is a dominatrix. ... This ends poorly. The movie is not prefect, but it is entertaining, for the most part. It's worth checking out for most, and for Canadians it is your patriotic duty to pick it up.

Youth Without Youth - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Francis Ford Coppola's return to directing for the first time in a while. However, it wasn't particularly successful. Granted, the movie was based on a novel that many would consider is nearly unfilmable and the result is a lot better than it could have been. In fact, it works better on the home market because you can re-watch the more confusing parts. Additionally, watching the movie with the audio commentary track will help people understand the most confusing parts, and it is confusing. Other extras include a making-of featurette, a featurette on the music, and a final one on the production design. As for the Blu-ray, there are no additional extras and it costs 40% more, which is too high for no additional extras. That said, the DVD is worth checking out for most, worth picking up for many.


Filed under: Video Releases, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, The Great Debaters, Untraceable, Mad Money, Saawariya, Youth Without Youth, Cover, Frontière(s)