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DVD Releases for January 30, 2007

January 29th, 2007

I'm still waiting for the first "Must Have" DVD of the year (the first one of those doesn't show up until mid-February), but at least there are more that nearly make the grade this week than so far this year. Flyboys - Collector's Edition is better than the reviews would indicate, as long as you are in the right frame of mind. Lucky Louie - The Complete First Season is a great show but a little demented for a mainstream audience, and the same can be said for Viva Pedro - Pedro Almodovar Classics Collection - Buy from Amazon. But in the end I went with Red Doors - Buy from Amazon as the DVD Pick of the Week. Perhaps an unexpected choice, but it's a movie that should be seen by more.

The Arrangement - Buy from Amazon
This is one of those films that could have been really good if a few casting choices would have gone the other way. I'm not saying Kirk Douglas is a bad actor, far from it. But he wasn't as good of a fit as Marlon Brando, who was the original choice for writer / director Elia Kazan. There are other issues besides the casting; it is simply not one of Kazan's better films. Add in zero real special features and this DVD is only worth checking out for fans of the director and even then it will be worth just a rental for most.

Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated - The Hill's Angels Years - Set Six - Buy from Amazon
Still funny, but it is clear that Benny Hill's sense of humor was not evolving with the times and that he was in danger of being looked at as a curiosity of a previous era. Add in a rather weak set of extras (interview featurette and the latest trivia quiz), and this is only worth picking up for the more hardcore fans.

The Big Valley - Season 2 - Volume 1 - Buy from Amazon
15 more episodes of the award-winning Western are coming out on this 3-disc set, but that's all you'll get. Also, I'm a little perturbed that the second season was split up into two volumes as there was no real need to do so.

Blu-Ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: Beerfest, Discovery Atlas: Australia Revealed, Discovery Atlas: Brazil Revealed, Hart's War, The Wicker Man
Nothing of value this week.

Catch a Fire - Buy from Amazon
It would be fair to call this film Oscar Bait. Politically charged film that, while about the South African regime of the 80s, could be seen as an allegory for today's war on terrorism. However, while the film earned good reviews, it never found an audience. (I think it might have something to do with the South African accent Tim Robbins used. It wasn't a bad accent, it's just not one often heard by audiences here and that could turn people off. The same factor hurt The Blood Diamond.) As for the DVD, it's not bad with audio commentary track and some deleted scenes, but nothing to push it above a rental.

Dallas - The Complete Sixth Season - Buy from Amazon
This primetime soap opera lasted 14 seasons, but it's hard to imagine why so many people stuck around after that horrible conclusion to the, "Who Shot J.R.?" cliffhanger. That storyline sucked in viewers better than most anything ever seen on TV, but the conclusion was such a cheap cop-out that it should have killed the series. But it still lasted a long, long time. As for the DVD, this 4-disc set has a single featurette on the pop culture influence the show had and that's it. I don't rate the DVD above a rental.

Facing the Giants - Buy from Amazon
One of several low-budget films aimed at Churchgoing Christians. Like most of the other movies, this one earned terrible reviews, but at least it was able to find an audience, crossing $10 million theatrically. That box office total convinced the studio to put out a more fully loaded DVD with an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, outtakes, behind-the-scenes, and interviews. However, that is not enough to make up for the quality of the movie. I can understand why the target audience might want to support films aimed at them, but if you support bad Christian movies, that's all you will get, bad Christian movies.

Farce of the Penguins - Buy from Amazon
Take a nature film in the same vein as March of the Penguins, remove the audio track, and get tons of comedians to dub in new lines and turn it from a documentary to a raunchy parody and you should have a winner, right? Well, the fact that it was removed from the schedule and then dumped direct-to-DVD suggest otherwise and one look at the limited reviews confirm this. Simply put, this is a concept that might have worked as a short skit: a two-minute skit on SNL, and even then I would have got a better writer. Stretch it out over 80 minutes and it becomes not just bad, but aggressively bad. On a side note, this film will be featured in a contest shortly with T-shirts and mini-posters being given away.

Flyboys - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc Edition, Collector's Edition, or Blu-Ray
Flyboys is a World War I film focusing on a group of American fighter pilots who travel to France to fight since America hasn't joined the war yet. This film boosted some amazing special effects and possibly the best dog-fights caught on film ever. But is it a good movie? No. Is it worth checking out? Yes, as long as you are in the right frame of mind. I would compare the movie to Bloodsport. If you go into the movie looking for complex characters, in-depth plot, moving storyline, etc. you will be deeply disappointed. On the other hand, if you go in looking for some cool fight scenes you will walk away satisfied. As for the DVD, there are two versions, the boring Single-Disc Edition and the cooler Collector's Edition. The former only has the audio commentary track, deleted scenes, and three short featurettes, which is more than serviceable for a first-run release. However, the Collector's Edition has more in-depth making-of documentaries, information on the real life Lafayette Escadrille, and more. Worth picking up as long as you know what you are getting into.

The Gathering - Buy from Amazon
Originally made in 2001, this film sat on a studio shelf for five years before finally being dumped direct-to-DVD this week. Is it as bad as that, or did it not deserve this fate?

Christina Ricci stars as Cassie Grant, an American backpacker traveling through small town England who is accidentally hit by a car and loses her memory. In the same town a recently unearthed church is being studied as it may contain the earliest known depiction of the crucifixion. However, something is amiss and Cassie is starting to have hallucinations, or perhaps premonitions of something horrible about to happen.

The film is an above average suspense film that takes way too long to get going. I stuck around until the end because, well, because I was reviewing it and that's my job. But I figure most people who would watch this on TV would have started flipping through the channels long before the ending. And with no special features there's little replay value... Maybe if you are a really big fan of Christina Ricci it will be worth checking out, but even then a rental will do.

Gymkata - Buy from Amazon
The term unintentionally funny may have been invented to describe this movie. At least you'd be hard pressed to find a movie that it applies to more. This is the kind of film you watch with your friends and make fun of it MST3K style. But as much as I recommend taking the opportunity to mock this movie, catch it on cable because it just isn't worth spending money on.

HD-DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: Beerfest, Discovery Atlas: Australia Revealed, Discovery Atlas: Italy Revealed, Half Baked: Fully Baked Edition, and The Wicker Man
There's not a single HD-DVD release this week that I would buy and none of them come even close to making me want to upgrade.

I Dream of Jeannie - The Complete Third Season - Buy from Amazon
One of the most recognizable shows from the 1960s, there's little that needs to be said that fans don't already know. There are plenty of people who are huge fans of the show and will pick up this 4-disc set even though it has absolutely no special features. Then again, there are plenty more who either think it is a cheap rip-off of Bewitched or a relic of another time and wouldn't even rent it no matter what the special features were.

Law & Order Special Victims Unit - The Third Year - Buy from Amazon
Good show. Limited replay value. Zero special features. Heavily syndicated. Unless you are someone who has to watch every episode in order, there's little reason to pick this 5-disc set up instead of catching the shows on TV.

Looker - Buy from Amazon
A couple of good ideas maimed by bad execution. Really bad execution. It's the kind of film you watch with friends and poke fun at all the plot holes, and there are plenty. On the other hand, the DVD does have better than expected extras with an intro and audio commentary track, both by its director, Michael Crichton. However, that's still not enough to lift it past the rental level.

Lucky Louie - The Complete First Season - Buy from Amazon
Stand-up comic turned SitCom star, Louis C.K., stars as the dysfunctional head of what would otherwise be a pretty normal family. Very funny show that deserved to last more than one season. The 2-disc set contains all 13 episodes, including one that wasn't aired, as well as audio commentary tracks on four and a behind the scenes featurette. Easily worth picking up, especially if the show is not quite fully dead. Strong sales might get it renewed later on.

Madame Curie - Buy from Amazon
A surprisingly effective story about the woman who discovered radium. Not the subject matter you would normally associate with Hollywood. While the movie centers around the scientific study, it's main focus is on the love story between the two scientists. Extras include a short film on radium and some trailers for films starring Greer Garson and is worth checking out.

The Marine - Buy from Amazon: Theatrical or Unrated
The latest WWE film is no better than the others. It's a simple, generic action film about a Marine whose wife is kidnapped and who goes to get her back. Extras range from fluff to outright ads for the WWE and add nothing to the overall experience. Skip it.

The Motel - Buy from Amazon
A slightly bent perspective is presented in this impressive coming of age film. The film never came close to finding an audience during its theatrical run but at least the DVD is strong enough to help out. Extras include an audio commentary track, behind-the-scenes featurette, and a shorter scene specific featurette. It's worth checking out for most and worth picking up by fans of indie cinema.

Murder, She Wrote - The Complete Fifth Season - Buy from Amazon
Another great show coming out on DVD this week, but like Law & Order Special Victims Unit - The Third Year, there's not a lot here to convince me the 5-disc set is worth picking up as opposed to catching the episodes on syndication. However, there is a 10-minute featurette on the show that includes a new interview with Angela Lansbury, and that tips the scale to at least a rental.

One Night With the King - Buy from Amazon
The second film aimed at Churchgoing Christians to come out this week. This one is only marginally better than the first, but not by enough to make a real difference. While the movie made more at the box office, it was also more expensive to make and the DVD is devoid of special features. Like I said before, I can understand why someone is itching to support Christians films, but if you support bad Christian movies all you will get is bad Christian movies.

Open Season - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
One of the new brand of lesser digital animation films. It wasn't made to earn the $200 - $300 million that most of these films used to make, but its $80 million box office domestic box office and nearly $200 million worldwide is still a great total. Also, its 48% positive reviews, while lower than any Pixar film, it is still better than a lot of the more recent competition. Still, it will appeal more to younger children and less to the adult collector of these films. Extras should also entertain the kids, for the most part. The audio commentary track is more for adults but the bonus short, character commentary track on select scenes, behind-the-scenes featurette, and music video add enough to the overall package to be worth picking up for the kids.

The Passion of the Christ - Two-Disc Definitive Edition - Buy from Amazon
There's no surprise that this movie is getting a special edition release after its lackluster original DVD release. The only surprise is that it took this long for it to come out because I assumed it would be release the following Easter. Instead they went with the Recut version, which turned a lot of people off the whole movie. At least it was worth the wait as the DVD has three audio commentary tracks and an impressive feature-length making of documentary. On the other hand, the movie was only average and it's not worth the double-dip.

Prey - Buy from Amazon
Prey is your typical Animals Gone Bad movie featuring man-eating lions preying on a family stuck in an African wildlife preserve.

It features Peter Weller as the father who gets to act determined while searching for his family, Bridget Moynahan as the new step mother who gets to act scared and scream a lot, Carly Schroeder as the sullen teenage daughter who gets to act grumpy and then scared and scream a lot, and Conner Dowds who... well, frankly it's been two days since I saw the movie and I don't remember a single thing about his performance. There's also a handful of other actors in the movie, but they could have been called Victim Number One, Victim Number Two, and so on. I'm not trying to insult the actors here, most of whom have a lot of talent, but there's nothing in the script for them to sink their teeth into, so to speak.

What little plot or character development there is (step mother trying to connect with her new family, specifically her daughter), is mostly superfluous and the real draw is the animal attack scenes. At least they would have been if they had been done right. The filmmakers relied on CG to add blood to these scenes, probably to make them gorier, but it just made them laughable. Also, more than once I was frustrated by the characters' actions, or inactions. For instance, if you don't have the keys, hotwire the jeep, it's not that hard to do. Also, once you do have the jeep started, drive carefully, you don't have to floor it to outrun a lion. Is it worth checking out? Maybe. But with no special features and very limited replay value it is worth a rental at the most.

Red Doors - Buy from Amazon
This film had a strange run at the box office. It had the best per theater average on its opening weekend. Then it nearly disappeared the next weekend. Granted, the reviews were not top-notch, but at 60% positive were still better than most wide releases and doesn't explain the sharp drop-off. At least is should get a second life on the home market with plenty of extras (audio commentary, making of featurette, short film and more). It's easily worth picking up and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

The Silence of the Lambs - Collector's Edition - Buy from Amazon
With the latest installment of this franchise just a week away from entering theaters, there's no better time to double-dip on the home market. One of the best movies of the last 20 years, it swept the major Oscar awards, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Lead Actress, Best Lead Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. On the down side, this is the third or fourth Special edition DVD to come out and that's just far too many. On the other hand, it is easily the best Special Edition to come out so far and if you don't own the movie on DVD yet, now is the perfect time to pick it up. Can also be purchased with Manhunter and Hannibal in a Box Set.

Unhitched - Buy from Amazon
A mostly effective romantic comedy starring, among others, Seth Green as a man trying to break up an engagement between his mortal enemy and the woman of his best friend's dreams. It's a charming film, for the most part, and fans of the genre should check it out, but a rental will suffice.

Unknown - Buy from Amazon
Five men wake up in a room with no idea who they are or how they got there. But one's been shot and another's tied to a chair, and a mysterious phone call saying they have to, 'finish things' in a couple of hours sets them in motion.

This could have been a really good movie.

Could have been.

There are plenty of good actors, but the script relies on too many surprise twists to work. What's worse, a lot of the time there no set up to the reveals. Characters just suddenly remember bits and pieces and that really limits the replay value. Movies with good surprise twists invite you back to see if you can find the clues the second time around. Here there are no clues and you can only figure things out in advanced because it's that kind of movie. (For instance, I knew the end twist as soon as the ransom was introduced because it felt like the filmmakers would go there.)

This film had a great premise and should have been a good movie, but the execution was a little choppy at times. It is still worth checking out, but the low replay value and the small amount of special features (just some deleted / extended scenes), limit the DVD value to a rental.

Viva Pedro - Pedro Almodovar Classics Collection - Buy from Amazon
I see this box set and I immediately think it should be the DVD Pick of the Week. After all, there are a lot of amazing movies here. Even the weakest movie in this set is better than 90% of the films that come out. However, there's a reason that Pedro Almodovar was mentioned by name in This Film is Not Yet Rated when they discussed what could get a movie an NC-17 Rating. His movies are not for everyone. I still recommend this movie for anyone who likes daring independent cinema, but the extreme subject matter prevents it from being the DVD Pick of the Week.


Filed under: Video Releases, The Passion of the Christ, Open Season, The Wicker Man, Beerfest, The Marine, One Night with the King, Flyboys, Facing the Giants, Catch a Fire, Red Doors, The Motel, Unknown, Farce of the Penguins, Prey, The Gathering