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DVD Releases for January 23, 2007

January 23rd, 2007

Business is starting to pick up again for DVD releases. It's still not up to the level of the pre-Christmas boom, or even the yearly average, but at least it's not a desolate wasteland either. There were a couple releases that were contenders for DVD Pick of the Week, but in the end I went with This Film is Not Yet Rated - Buy from Amazon, but since I work in the industry, at least tangentially, my enjoyment of the movie may have been increased somewhat.

Blu-Ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Alien vs Predator, Black Rain, Casanova, Chicago, Courage Under Fire, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Manchurian Candidate, and We Were Soldiers
A bumper crop of Blu-Ray releases this week (including two concurrent releases). Of these releases, Alien vs. Predator is the most visual, but has little else going for it. The film I'd most want on Blu-Ray is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but that's more Fanboy appeal than true quality. (That's not to say it's a bad movie, it's just not the best Blu-Ray release coming out tomorrow.)

Brokeback Mountain - Two-Disc Collector's Edition - Buy from Amazon: DVD or HD-DVD
The multi-Golden Globe and Oscar winner has already been released on DVD, but as I said at the time, the release was weaker than expected. So there's no surprise that a Special Edition was in the works, the only surprise is that it took nine months for it to get here. Let me correct myself, the first surprise is that it took so long, the second is that it wasn't really worth the wait. The original had three featurettes with a running time of 50 minutes (give or take), this one adds two more, one on the cultural impact and one on the score. There's also a image montage set to music and some postcards, but still no audio commentary track. Is it worth picking up? Yes. Is it worth the upgrade? That depends on how much you love the movie, but I'm leaning towards no.

Cocaine Cowboys - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about the drug trade in 80s Miami that was full of style. Perhaps a little too much style as some will walk away without being satisfied that they learned anything about the situation they didn't already know from watching Scarface. As for the DVD, it's very well done with an audio commentary track, deleted scenes with audio commentary, and a related featurette. This is better than expected, and raises the overall value to a purchase.

Cowboy Del Amor - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about a service that helps older American men looking for younger Mexican cleaning women... no wait, wives. These men are looking for wives, although if you watch the movie you can see why it would be easy to make that mistake. The film is very well made, but many will have problems getting past the distasteful subject matter. Extras are good with an audio commentary track, a featurette on the Ivanisms used by the main character, as well as other extras. Worth checking out and many will want to pick it up.

Double-Feature Double-Shot - Buy from Amazon: Don't Knock the Rock / Rock Around the Clock and Twist Around the Clock / Don't Knock the Twist
Two DVDs each with two movies made during as the infancy of Rock 'n' Roll. Don't Knock the Rock / Rock Around the Clock are okay movies, but nothing special, while Twist Around the Clock / Don't Knock the Twist are virtually remakes, and poorly made ones at that. Don't Knock the Rock / Rock Around the Clock might be fun to watch for fans of early Rock 'n' Roll but neither DVD is worth picking up.

Fiddler on the Roof - 2-Disc Collector's Edition - Buy from Amazon
This is a classic film, but it is also the third time it has been released on a Special Edition DVD. To make matters worse, the upgrade is not that extensive with about half the extras from the old DVD and half new. From the latter category are a couple interviews, featurettes on the production design, songs, and some deleted scenes. Can't say it's worth the upgrade, but it's is worth picking up of you don't already have it in your collection. (One last note, the Amazon link is currently dead, but hopefully that will be fixed shortly.)

The FIFA 2006 World Cup Film - The Grand Finale - Buy from Amazon
Just in time for Beckham's signing with the ... one second ... I'll remember. The L.A. Galaxy of the MLS, which is apparently a Soccer league. Like too many other championship DVDs, this one just has highlights of some of the games when what real fans what are full games from start to finish. Some leagues, like the NHL, do it right. Most don't.

The Guardian - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
After earning weak reviews, this film was able to become a mid-level hit this past September. The DVD itself is rather average with the usual audio commentary, deleted scenes, making-of featurette and a featurette on the real life Coast Guard. It adds up to a rental, but the film is too forgettable to have any real replay value, preventing it from being worth picking up.

HD-DVD Releases: Black Rain and The Manchurian Candidate
Just the two releases this week. Neither Black Rain nor The Manchurian Candidate are bad movies, but neither really benefit from the HD treatment. One last note, both movies are also available on Blu-Ray.

Invincible Iron Man - Buy from Amazon
The third direct-to-DVD animated feature film from Marvel Comics. So far these films have proven quite popular as the quality level is better than expected for a direct-to-DVD. (They are better than most animated TV movies but not as good as the average theatrical release.) Extras are also better than expected with a couple of featurettes, concept art, and a preview for the next film, Dr. Strange. Worth picking up if the you have the previous two and worth renting for others fans of Marvel. Can also be purchased with those films as part of a Box Set, which also includes a bust of Iron Man.

Jacknife - Buy from Amazon
Robert De Niro stars as a Vietnam vet whose relationship with his sister deteriorates when she starts a relationship with his army buddy who reminds him of a tough battle. Not his best known or best done movie of his and with zero special features its value is limited to a rental at most.

Jesus Camp - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about the evangelical Christian Camp that was set up to indoctrinate kids in the same way some extremist Islamic groups train their children to be soldiers for their faith. In fact, the head of the organization said she used these groups as inspiration. Equally fascinating and scary, it is certainly worth checking out. As for the extras, they include audio commentary track and deleted scenes, but I was most hoping for an update from when the film was first made, especially with Ted Haggard's association with this film and his recent scandals. It would have made a very interesting follow up.

Monsters and Madmen - Buy from Amazon
Four monster movies put out in one box set from Criterion. These are not the high art that Criterion is usually known for, but for the most part they are fun movies to watch. Also, Boris Karloff stars in two of these, The Haunted Strangler and Corridors of Blood. Add in audio commentary tracks, interviews, original publicity and more and it's a great set, but it is a little pricey.

NBA 1991 Champions - Chicago Bulls - Learning to Fly - Buy from Amazon
Another championship DVD coming out this week, and this one gets it right. All five games from the 1991 Championship and a sixth disc with a recap of the full season. If I was a fan of basketball, this would be a must have.

The Puffy Chair - Buy from Amazon
The story of two brothers driving across country to deliver a birthday gift for their father. The film earned great reviews but never found an audience domestically. The DVD should easily perform better with an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, outtakes, interviews, short films, and more. Easily worth picking up for fans of independent cinema.

Robert Mitchum - The Signature Collection - Buy from Amazon
I love these Signature Collections, they are a great way to add your favorite stars to your DVD collections. Robert Mitchum has done a lot of amazing movies, but this collection doesn't have the best of the best (The Night of the Hunter and Out of the Past), but there are still plenty of great movies here. The Sundowners, Angel Face, Home From the Hill, and The Yakuzu are all great films. And even the lesser films, Macao and The Good Guys and the Bad Guys, are still worth picking up. Add in extras like audio commentary on half of the films and featurettes on most and this is a must have for fans of Robert Mitchum and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Rubberface - Buy from Amazon
One look at the cover and one could assume this is a lost film from his career, or a very early film with Jim Carrey, but despite him being on the cover, he's barely in this movie. Fans of Jim Carrey who pick up this movie will be very disappointed with his limited screen time and even more disappointed with the terrible quality of the movie.

Saw III - Unrated - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
A perfect example of the Law of Declining Returns. The first film of this franchise was based on an interesting idea that had some flawed execution. However, while each successive film has opened bigger, their critical appeal has declined to the point where the franchise could slip to the realm of direct-to-DVD releases soon. Speaking of DVDs, this one is top notch with three audio commentary tracks, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes, making of featurette, and more. Easily worth picking up for fans of the movie, but there are fewer of those that with the last film.

SherryBaby - Buy from Amazon
This film is Oscar bait and was clearly made to win awards, especially for Maggie Gyllenhaal. So far she did pick up a Golden Globe nomination and with Oscars being announced tomorrow, the film could get a big boost on the home market. The reviews were better than most, but not really up to the level of an award-winning film and with no real special features the overall value is only a rental.

This Film is Not Yet Rated - Buy from Amazon
This film had a strange theatrical run. After earning excellent reviews and topping the per theater charts during its opening weekend, it just disappeared. This is a shame because this movie needs to be seen by more people.

Director Kirby Dick takes a penetrating look at the MPAA ratings system and exposes a number of serious flaws. The secrecy, the inconsistencies, the favoritism are all exposed here with pinpoint accuracy. He interviews many, many directors (Kevin Smith, John Waters, Atom Egoyan, etc.), who give great insight into the process including the differences between making an independent movie and making one for a major studio. In fact, it is this issue that may be at the heart of the problem with MPAA and its rating board. While this part of the movie was certainly revealing, I also enjoyed the undercover work where he hired a P.I. to figure out who the members of the review board were. He even filmed his experience trying to get this movie rated by the MPAA.

I did have a few complaints about the film. For instance, I think he could have spent more time on alternatives. I agree that the system is broken, but if they gave us an alternative, they would be more persuasive. There's brief mention that the European rating boards tend to deal with violence more harshly than they do with sexual content and in the Q&A session on the DVD Kirby Dick talks a bit about finding an alternative, but I wanted to see more of this. (On a side note, I like the alternative, which could use the exact same system now, just without a final grade. For instance, to pick a movie at random from this week's list, SherryBaby's rating would, "Strong sexuality, nudity, language and drug content." It would be up to the parents to decide if this is acceptable for their children to see.

Extras on the DVD including an audio commentary track, 5 deleted scenes, and a short Q&A session after a screening. The audio commentary track includes the director, producer, the P.I., and a film critic. There's a lot of information on the making of the film, but much more on the subject itself. (On a side note, it is interesting to hear them talk about Clerks II, which nearly everyone assumed would be rated NC-17, like the first Clerks was. However, the film earned an R-rating without any cuts. Inconsistencies like that are a major weakness of the current ratings system.) The five deleted scenes run a combined 24 minutes are all very strong and worth repeat viewing. I especially liked the detailed talk about the MPAA lobbying efforts and their efforts to control technology in the guise of combating piracy. However, it is quite clear it is more about maintaining iron fisted control not over copyright but also a nearly monopolistic control over the industry. (There's a simple way to combat piracy, make a product people want and sell it at a price people are willing to pay. That's actually the only way to combat piracy - all other means are just tilting at windmills. Take a look at how quickly it took for the new High Definition anti-piracy technology to be cracked.) Finally there's the Q&A session, which while informative is a little short for my liking and left me wanting more.

Overall this is a great movie and a great DVD package and a must have for all fans of movies and the movie industry.

Walker, Texas Ranger - The Complete Second Season - Buy from Amazon
This show has a lot of hardcore fans, but for most people it is a joke. Ricky Bobby naming his kids Walker and Texas Ranger wasn't an homage to the show, it was making fun of it. Hardcore fans of the show will of course want to snap up this 7-disc set, even though there are absolutely no special features, but for most people it's not worth renting. Catch the show on syndication instead. One last note, while the DVD says this is the second season it is actually the third. The first season was a short-run and was lumped in with season two when it was released on DVD.

The Waltons - The Complete Fourth Season - Buy from Amazon
This is a very popular show among a section of the population but seen as hopelessly outdated by another group. Depending on which side you fall, you've probably already stopped reading this review. As for wants, they will be disappointed by the lack of special features, but the series have never had any special features so this is not a big shock to anyone.

Yojimbo & Sanjuro - Two Films By Akira Kurosawa - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
Two Akira Kurosawa films are getting the Criterion Collection treatment tomorrow, and you should know what that means. Yojimbo stars ToshirĂ´ Mifune as Sanjuro Kuwabatake, a swordmaster who roams into a lawless town and plays to rival gangs against each other. Sound familiar? It should, it was remade as A First Full of Dollars. Sanjuro is the sequel and follows Sanjuro Kuwabatake as he helps a group of rebels who are trying to clean up their town of corruption. Both movies are absolute classics and must haves for any fan of Akira Kurosawa, Japanese cinema, or Samurai films in general and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week. One last note, the two movies are available separately, but if you want one, you will want both.


Filed under: Video Releases, Chicago, Brokeback Mountain, AVP: Alien Vs. Predator, Saw III, The Manchurian Candidate, The Guardian, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Casanova, Jesus Camp, This Film is Not Yet Rated, Sherrybaby, The Puffy Chair, Cocaine Cowboys, Cowboy Del Amor, The Invincible Iron Man