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DVD Releases for July 15, 2008 - Part I

July 14th, 2008

Another week without a first run release that is in contention for the DVD Pick of the Week. Granted, The Bank Job is worth picking up, but neither the two DVDs nor the Blu-ray have enough extras to be the DVD Pick of the Week. To find the best of this week's selection you have to look at the TV on DVD list and grab Eureka Season Two. Paradoxically, while the quality is low, the quantity is high, so much so that I had to split the list into two parts. Part two can be found here.

2007-2008 NBA Champions - Boston Celtics - Buy from Amazon
Real fans want box sets with full games, not just the final quarter of a few of the games, plus a season recap. Some leagues understand this. Obviously, some do not.

Warning: This DVD does not come out this week and makes its home market debut on the 22nd. However, the DVD screener arrived early and I was able to get the review done this week.

21 - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc Edition, 2-Disc Special Edition, or Blu-ray
Based on the real life exploits of a team of card counters from M.I.T. who head to Vegas and win millions at the casinos. However, will easy money change them?

First a note, I only have the Single-Disc Edition this week, so that is all that I will be reviewing. If the other versions arrive later, I will update this review then.

I've seen both the documentary and the TV movie that were based on the same events, and this movie is the weakest of the three. In fact, it suffers from all of the problems I thought it would. Hollywood took an interesting story and decided to change from reality and add in the typical Hollywood melodrama and included a love story between two actors who I felt had no chemistry. Also, in real life if you are caught card counting, casinos simply take your information, throw you out and don't let you back in (and give your information to other casinos). They don't beat you up, because the tiny amount a card counter can win is nothing compared to the amount a casino could lose if they were sued or they lost their gambling license, either of which is likely if someone is beaten up on their premises. And no, being in a room without cameras isn't going to protect the casino; it doesn't work that way because civil law suits do not require evidence beyond a reasonable doubt like they do in criminal cases. They simply have to prove it is more likely than not, and being filmed coming in in good physical health would be enough to cause the casino no end of headaches. However, the filmmakers here didn't think reality was dramatic enough, so they had to embellish the story. They did something similar in The Last Casino, but they kept to reality by having one of the lead characters in debt to a loan shark. Additionally, the explanation of the system felt heavy-handed and was repeated too often. It was like the filmmakers assumed the audience was too dumb to figure out when one of the characters was using a code word without seeing a flashcard.

Extras on the single disc set are adequate with an audio commentary track and a trio of featurettes. The audio commentary track is a good mix of information and entertainment, and they even admit there are a few flaws in the movie, like the old-school thugs running Vegas. On the other hand, they seem to think Kate Bosworth and Jim Sturgess had chemistry together. The first of the three featurettes is a 5-minute one on Blackjack, including its history and how to improve the odds. Next up is a meatier 25-minute making-of featurette, which is your standard mix of talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the movie. Finally, there's a 7-minute look at the production of the movie, including the set and costume designs.

I do not have the 2-Disc Special Edition or Blu-ray version to review, but it appears that the former simply has a free digital copy of the movie, while the latter has that and a Blackjack game done with BD-Java. Had that game been profile 2.0 and playable over the internet, that would have been tremendously cool. As it is, it's not so interesting that it overcomes the weakness in the movie.

21 tells a story that is amazingly interesting, which is why it has been previously made into a book, adocumentary, and a TV movie. The filmmakers didn't need to change much to create a successful movie, but the changes they did make all seemed to hurt the film. I predicted this would happen, I just assumed this would hurt the film's box office chances as well. Little did I know. Given the film's box office run, it's clear that there are plenty of fans out there, and for them the DVD is worth checking out, but with extras that are only average for a first run release, a rental will be enough for many of them. If you are set to own, the Blu-ray offers good value for money, and even offers some additional extras. Personally, I think people should stick with the book or The Last Casino, but that's just my opinion.

America's Test Kitchen - Season 8 - Buy from Amazon
I hate being on a diet. Just talking about a cooking show like this makes me hungry. This PBS program features host Christopher Kimball helping viewers cook perfect meals, and not just by giving them one recipe at a time, but by showing different methods of cooking the same recipe and showing which method is best, and why. Additionally, there are experts who talk about different gadgets, taste-test ingredients, etc. It's like Good Eats, but with fewer props. (It also reminds me of another cooking show, In Search of Perfection, which is on the BBC. But that show is more like food-porn.) This 4-disc set has 26 episodes from the most recent season, and while there are no extras, it is still an excellent deal and easily worth picking up.

Asylum - Buy from Amazon
A rather generic horror movie coming out direct-to-DVD.

The film starts with young Madison witnessing her father committing suicide. Flash forward a decade, more or less, and Madison is just starting college (we later find out it is the same college her brother committed suicide in, which is a twist that is less than believable). Things take a turn for the spooky when they find out their dormitory is an abandoned mental hospital where the old doctor in charge performed experiments on his teenage patients, but they rose up and killed him and now his ghost haunts the place. Now he is haunting the students in their dreams. There are probably dozens of similar films out there, but this is not necessarily enough to kill the movie's chances at being entertaining. However, the movie is also very generic in its execution while the villain is laughable, not scary. The end with him shouting "My souls! My souls!" was beyond too much. Had I been into the movie at that point, it would have killed my enthusiasm. As it is, it was just one more reason to dislike the movie.

There are absolutely no extras on the DVD. Not unless you count subtitles and scene selection.

Asylum is an absolutely generic movie presented on a featureless DVD. Even hardcore fans of the genre will find little here to warrant more than a rental, and for most it is completely skippable. Also coming out tomorrow is the equally generic and skippable, and similarly themed Insanitarium about a doctor creating cannibal killers out of his patients. Gee, I wonder what his fate will be in the end?

The Bank Job - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc Edition, 2-Disc Special Edition with Digital Copy, or Blu-ray
Jason Statham stars in this comedic heist thriller about a group of less-than-professional bank robbers who try to break into a bank's safety deposit boxes and stumble into something much, much bigger. I never expected this film to be a massive hit domestically, and that prediction was all but confirmed by its weak opening weekend. However, its word-of-mouth was strong and in the end it made enough to be a midlevel hit, especially compared to its estimated production budget. So with its surprising strength, it is more than a little disappointing that the DVD is so weak. Extras include just a making-of featurette and some deleted scenes, while the 2-Disc Special Edition with Digital Copy and the Blu-ray also have a digital copy for portable devices. On the other hand, the Blu-ray is just a $1 more than 2-Disc Special Edition and it is certainly worth the upgrade. Regardless what version you decide on, it is worth adding to your DVD collection.

The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell - Buy from Amazon
One of those films that has a name that makes you stop and take notice. Usually that's all you need to do, take note of the name and move on. Seeing the "National Lampoon Presents" label doesn't help either. That said, the post-apocalyptic mockumentary / political satire / black comedy is earning better than expected reviews, especially given the company's batting average recently. However, while the reviews are overall positive, they are rather passionate and those who didn't like the movie hated the movie; they really hated the movie. And in these cases a rental is always best. In fact, if you do rent it, grab a second movie as a backup, just in case you can't get through this one.

Birds of Prey - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
After the success of Smallville, the WB network remembered that they owned D.C. Comics and decided to start making some TV series based on various properties. Their first attempt didn't work out so well and was canceled partway through its first season. This is a shame, since it certainly had potential, but while it usually takes more than a season for a show to reach its potential, networks are rarely willing to wait that long. Extras on the 4-disc set include the unaired pilot and a series of animated shorts featuring the characters. This is not a lot, but likely enough for fans to buy the DVD. Those who have never seen the show should check it out, but with a rental first.

Blu-ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: The Bank Job, College Road Trip, Dragon Ball Z - The History of Trunks / Bardock: Father of Goku, MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition / Boris Godunov/ Night on Bare Mountain (Stokowski Transcriptions) - Acoustic Reality Experience, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Shutter, and Step Up 2 The Streets
Weak list of Blu-ray releases. In fact, only one release, The Bank Job - Blu-ray is likely to be a big seller this week, but not too big of a seller. On the other hand, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is the best movie on this week's list, but it is only an average Blu-ray release.

Classic TV Commercials - Buy from Amazon: Ones We Never Forgot and What We Lusted For
Two 3-disc collections of commercials from the 1950s to the 1980s. It's kind of weird buying a box set of commercials from bygone eras when some many people now use TIVO to avoid watching commercials that play on TV now. However, there is a certain hit of nostalgia that comes from seeing these, as well as a sense of wonder at what and how certain products were advertised. (It is weird to see cigarettes advertised so openly.) Also coming out tomorrow is the 6-disc Ultimate Collection, which is actually more expensive than the other two sold individually.

College Road Trip - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
A Disney movie starring Raven-Symone, who was in the Disney Channel TV series That's So Raven. It co-stars Margo Harshman, who was in the Disney Channel TV series Even Steven and Brenda Song, who is in the Disney TV series The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and features a cameo by Lucas Grabeel, who plays Ryan Evans in the High School Musical franchise. You have to hand it to Disney, they know how to market their products.

Martin Lawrence stars as James Porter, a police chief whose daughter, Melanie is just about to head off to college. He has chosen Northwester University because of its proximity to their house, while she has her eyes set on Georgetown, but she has to get there to do an interview with the acceptance board first. Hence the road trip. However, while she wants to go with her two friends, he decides it would be best if they went together. You can pretty much figure out how the rest of this story goes, as there's not a lot of creativity that went into this script. Compared to fellow Martin Lawrence road trip movie, Wild Hogs, this movie is equally bad, but it is aimed at kids, which is not an excuse, but at least an explanation. That said, the two leads do keep the energy up and there's enough here that works that its target audience will be entertained, but even for them I can't see there being too much replay value.

As for the extras, they are better than expected, and start with two audio commentary tracks. The first is with Raven-Symone and Roger Kumble, who directed the movie. It tilts towards the entertainment end and away from the informative range, but it is energetic and the two do appear to be having lots of fun. On the other hand, the second track, with the two writers, is a lot drier and there are plenty more dead spots. Raven-Symone also hosts a video diary, which is a 10-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. There are 16 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes, including two alternate endings, both of which were good cuts. Next up are a few minutes of outtakes. Finally, there are two extras on the "Double Dutch Bus" song performed by Raven-Symone: first the video and then a short making-of for the video.

As for the Blu-ray, there are no additional extras, but almost all of them are presented in High Definition. (The music video is the lone exception.) Also, the price is 20% less than the DVD, which is reasonable cost to upgrade for this type of Blu-ray release.

College Road Trip is a typical example of a film that was aimed at kids, so the filmmakers thought they had dumb it down. They dumbed it down so much that it is too dumb for adults, while the lack of creativity will even hurt its chances with its target audience. It's probably worth a rental for them, but I can't recommend more than that. If you are set on buying the movie, neither the DVD nor the Blu-ray offer significantly better value. It depends on if you have a second Blu-ray player just for the kids.

The Curiosity of Chance - Buy from Amazon
A direct-to-DVD movie about an openly gay high school student who recruits a group of fellow outcasts to help him take down a homophobic bully. The movie has earned some good reviews and won some Film Festival awards, but it never managed to secure a theatrical distributor. This is too bad, because it is worth checking out, but with just a behind-the-scenes featurette, a rental will be enough for most people.

Dallas - The Complete Ninth Season - Buy from Amazon
This series ran for 14 seasons, set ratings records, won several Emmys, was nominated for countless awards, etc. ... I hated this show when it first ran and I still hate it today. However, while my opinion might not be the most unbiased out there, many fans will admit this is the season that the show jumped the shark, or to be more specific, the year of the cliffhanger that caused the show to jump the shark. We don't learned of the true shark jumpiness of the show till Season 10. Extras on this 4-disc set include a featurette on the moment the show jumped the shark. It's almost like they don't know what a mistake that was. Even so, the show is amazingly popular to this day and I doubt that very many fans will give up on it now.

Eureka - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
A TV series set in the small town of Eureka, which is entirely populated by super geniuses. The government set up this town so they can have the freedom to invent without the distraction of the outside world, and to limit the damages when their inventions go wrong, which is practically on a weekly basis. The show got off to a strong start, and actually improves during its second season, which is great news for fans. Extras are also strong with audio commentary tracks on a few episodes, deleted scenes, outtakes, making-of featurette, and more. Easily worth picking up and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

The Fabulous Journey to the Center of the Earth - Buy from Amazon
The 1978 adaptation of the Jules Verne novel being released on DVD to take advantage of the most recent adaptation. This is one of the weaker versions of the story, and if you want to see a movie version of Journey to the Center of the Earth, either head to theaters or grab the 1959 version on DVD.

Final Approach - Buy from Amazon
A TV miniseries about terrorists who hijack a plane. There are a number of stars in this movie who had their own TV series at one time or another (some more recently than most), but counting celebrities will only entertain you so much, and the actual story is quite atrocious. Safely skippable.

Heavy Petting - Buy from Amazon
A romantic comedy about a man who finds the woman of his dreams, only to have her dog stand in the way. Then, while trying to win over her dog, her realizes he'd rather have the dog than the woman. It's lighthearted and fun, like most films of its genre, and fans of romantic comedies should check it out. Also, with better than expected extras (audio commentary and an interview), it will be worth picking up for many who do rent it.

Held Up - Buy from Amazon
The kind of movie an actor makes early in their career, but then it haunts them after they made it big. Not worth buying, not even for that bargain price. Then again, it is not even worth renting.

Love My Life - Buy from Amazon
A Japanese film about a lesbian couple who meet in college, but when one of the pair comes out to their family, secrets are revealed. It's a movie that tells a story that is normally not featured in cinema here, as lesbians seem to be falling behind gays when it comes to cinematic exposure. However, reviews have only been mixed. Some praise the natural charm of the two leads and the way it deals with the lesbian relationship in the movie. Others complained that it had an 'After School Special' feel to it or that it is a little lightweight. It is still worth checking out, but with extras that are merely on par with most imports (some deleted scenes), a rental will suffice for most.

Manswers - The Best of Season One - Buy from Amazon
For those who like Mythbusters but think it is too smart and doesn't have enough boobs. But who don't actually want to see boobs, because the network censors won't let them show any.

I have three main problems with this DVD...

  1. It is a Best of.. DVD, I hate TV on DVD releases that are not full season sets. There is no way to release a DVD that includes all of the best questions from season one, because fans will disagree with what constitutes the best questions. More than once I thought to myself, "This is one of the best questions?" Granted, I've only seen a few questions answered previous, and never a full episode, but I have a hard time believing these were the 25 best questions.
  2. There's not a lot of scientific rigor displayed here. The entire show runs just over 90 minutes, which means each question is only given about three minutes. Which in turn means that for the most part they are not able to do more than scratch the surface and give any really details. Other times they dealt with experts or studies that were of dubious reliability. Acupuncturist? Couldn't find a phrenologist? And using one scientific paper to form a conclusion is faulty as well. Perhaps I am holding the show up to too high a standard.
  3. Finally, the show relied way too much on sex and nudity, but never actually showed any. They can't show any, because the network censors won't let them. They know they can't show anything, I know they can't show anything, so they should stop pretending that they will. It just gets pathetic very quickly.
  4. On the other hand, there are a few questions here that are actually interesting, like the one on cannibalism, beating the breathalyzer, elevator survival, lethal vending machines, getting drunk faster, and some others. But the misses outnumber the hits.

As for extras, there are none.

Manswers can be described as an educational show for those who don't want to learn; or a show for people who want to be teased with the prospect of seeing nudity, but don't want to actually see a nipple. The Best of Season One is a single-disc release that gives a hint of what the show is like, but fans would likely prefer full-season sets. And personally, I recommend waiting for such a set to be released.

Meet Bill - Buy from Amazon
It takes more than quirky characters for a movie to be funny. I wish more independent filmmakers understood this.

Aaron Eckhart stars as the titular Bill, who has a dead-end job, who has a loveless marriage, and is living a dead end life. ... Wait a minute, did I review this movie already? Nope, but the film does have similarities to Just Add Water, and no, this is not a good sign. Bill is a man that is slowly going through a mid-life crisis. After learning his wife is having an affair, he decides to make a lot of changes in his life with the help of a high school student he is mentoring and a sexy underwear saleswoman. The problem is, by the time he starts making changes, we no longer care. The audience has been beaten down by the relentlessly pathetic nature of lead character and this doesn't put them in the right mood for humor, which could explain why the few forays into that realm fall flat (like when Bill and The Kid smoke pot and party at Bill's brother's sports store, or when they throw firecrackers at each other). The movie had potential and I kept waiting for the script to give its cast something to work with, but there's not enough of a script here to do that.

Meet Bill barely played in theaters opening with a per theater average of below $1,000 and was gone from theaters after just two weeks. This explains why the DVD only has a handful of deleted scenes as extras. There are one or two interesting bits here, but as the lone extra is seems inadequate.

Meet Bill takes a depressing character and hope to mine gold from the overdone territory of the mid-life crisis. It does not work. The DVD offers very little incentive to buy it, or even rent it. I would call the DVD safely skipable, unless you are hardcore fan of one or more of the main cast members. Even then, a rental is more than enough.

Monsieur Vincent - Buy from Amazon
The Oscar-winning foreign language film from more than 60 years ago makes its DVD debut this week. The movie is a biography of Saint Vincent, who rose from being a slave to advising nobility, all while helping the plight of the poor. The movie is sadly mostly forgotten. The fact that most people have never heard of the movie may explain why the DVD is devoid of any extras, but at just $13, it will be worth picking up for many people. However, if you have never seen it before, rent it first.


Filed under: Video Releases, Step Up 2 the Streets, College Road Trip, The Bank Job, Shutter, Meet Bill, 21