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DVD Releases for April 3, 2007

April 2nd, 2007

It's another busy week with dozens of releases on this week's list (including four spotlight reviews). As for the cream of the cop, there were a few interesting choices with two top contenders for DVD Pick of the Week: Volver - Buy from Amazon and The Lost Room - Buy from Amazon. It was a close call, but the supreme cool of The Lost Room helped it win out in the end.

3 Needles - Buy from Amazon
A trio of stories in three different continents about the tolls AIDS takes on the people there. It's a noble project, but the execution is flawed enough that even those who are receptive to message movies will be left frustrated. There are better than expected extras for a limited release (deleted scenes, interviews, and two featurettes), but that can't lift the pick past the rental level.

All That Jazz - Buy from Amazon
An auto-biographical look at director Bob Fosse's life, as played by Roy Scheider. For fans of the musical extravaganza, or movies about the people behind them, it's hard to find a movie that is better. Extras are great for a film that's nearly 30 years old with an audio commentary track, and plenty of featurettes. Easily worth picking up.

Attack of the Gryphon - Buy from Amazon
This made-for-TV movie first aired on the Sci-Fi Channel, which is enough for most people to skip on to the next release. And quite frankly, I can't blame them. This is a bad movie, but mostly because of the hideous CG Gryphons. I understand the film probably had a low budget, but if you can't make the titular monster look good, or at least not laughably bad, then you need to up the budget. On the other hand, the movie stars Amber Benson, best known as Tara Maclay on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and because of that I may be forced to buy the DVD.

Aurora Borealis - Buy from Amazon
This film opened back in September with better than average reviews, but better than average is simply not good enough for a limited release and this one languished during its short run. The film should do better on the home market, but that's mainly because it would be difficult to do worse. There's nothing here that will make people jump and buy, or even rent, the DVD, and curiosity is this movie's best friend.

The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour - Buy from Amazon
Four stand-up comics of Middle Eastern descent are featured in this DVD: Ahmed Ahmed, Aron Kader, Maz Jobrani, and Dean Obeidallah. Each man is very funny during his act while helping bridge the cultural divide. Sort of like what Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World was trying to do, but with more laughter.

Baseball Double Feature - Kill the Umpire / Safe at Home - Buy from Amazon
baseball season is upon us, apparently. I don't pay attention to the sport because, well, I'm Canadian and I like hockey. (Speaking of which, what was up with the Canucks against Calgary? They had a prime chance of practically clinching top spot in their division and they don't start playing until the third period. Got to do better than that tomorrow against the Kings.) Back to the DVD, these two baseball movies are fluff, and while they might be entertaining, there are better choices coming out tomorrow. It might be worth checking out for the hardcore fans of the sport, but that's about it.

Bedazzled - Buy from Amazon
This is the original from 1967 and not the remake from 2000. This is clearly the better version and is an entertaining film. The DVD is more extras than one would expect for a film that's 40 years old (mostly interviews), and is worth picking up.

Betty Boop - Buy from Amazon
Nearly five hours worth of early Betty Boop cartoons are included on this 2-disc set, including some of her most famous work. Extras on the DVD are non-existent, but it does come with a key chain. Worth checking out for fans of the early cartoons in general and worth picking up for fans of Betty Boop in particular.

Black Christmas - Unrated Edition - Buy from Amazon
This film continues two trends. The Christmas day horror release and the horror remake. Both of these types of releases have set the bar rather low, but Black Christmas still has trouble getting there.

First, I must be completely candid here; I do not like these types of movies. Teenage slashers bore me. Too often the characters are there merely to increase the body count and they might as well be called, 'Victim 1' and 'Victim 2' who are indistinguishable from each other outside their one word character trait (sarcastic, drunk, spoiled, etc.) This film certainly falls into that category. For most fans of this genre, this is not an issue as they are mainly interested in new and interesting death scenes. Bonus points are awarded if these scenes can work in with the overall theme and in this case there are a few that work, but most are too generic to have effect even in this limited scope.

Moving on to the extras, they are more impressive than expected given the film's short theatrical run. Things start off with seven Deleted Scenes that run a combined seven minutes as well as three Alternate Endings that clock in at 12 minutes. (I think if you have this many alternate endings, you probably needed a tighter script. Figure out the end of the movie before you start shooting.) The bulk of the extras are the two making-of featurettes, What Have you Done? and May All Your Christmases Be Black. The first one is 28 minutes long and is the typical promotional piece and is a mix of behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, and clips from the movie. (I'm not sure why, but the making-of featurettes are censored. It's an unrated DVD, so why are they bleeping out the swear words?) The second deals more with the director, Glen Morgan, who previous directorial effort was the criminally under-appreciated film, Willard. It also focuses on the crew more than most of these featurettes do and that adds to the value. There is no audio commentary.

Overall, the film amps up the blood and gore from the original, but loses almost everything that made it so effective. (On a side note, I don't think having a back story makes the psycho killer scary.) If you are a fan of the genre, it might be worth a rental, but I think I would pick up the original instead. And while you are at it, grab Willard as well.

Blu-Ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: G.I. Jane, Identity, King Arthur - Extended Director's Cut, Only three films coming out on Blu-Ray this week, and of those only Identity is worth adding to your collection.

The Brady Bunch - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
Thought this was coming out last week, but it is coming out this week instead. Still worth skipping.

Charlotte's Web - Buy from Amazon
G rated family fun that did well with critics but couldn't earn enough at the box office to cover its production budget. All the parts seem perfect, but the final product lacks the soul needed to become a true classic. Extras on the DVD are good with two audio commentary tracks, a making-of featurette, a featurette on the voice work, music videos, and more. Worth checking out, but fans of the novel will be better served picking up the original animated movie on DVD while fans of talking pigs movies should pick up Babe on DVD.

Copying Beethoven - Buy from Amazon
I think it is safe to say that this is busted Oscar bait. After barely making any noise in limited release, the DVD is better than expected with a couple of featurettes, deleted scenes, etc., but that adds up to just a rental.

Death of a President - Buy from Amazon
This film was immediately controversial as it dealt with a fictional assassination of President Bush, mixing real and filmed footage to create a documentary-like feel. Right from the beginning people accused the filmmakers of advocating the assassination of President Bush. Clearly these people are either very stupid or desperately looking for something to complain about. Or a combination of the two. ... It's probably a combination of the two. Taking a look at today's political environment and what would happen if someone actually did assassinate the president should be a fascinating movie, but it is too flawed to be fully engaging. The message is heavy-handed, predictable, and too often, just plain dull. It might be worth renting for some, but that's as strong a recommendation I can give.

Entourage - Season Three - Part 1 - Buy from Amazon
I hate it when studios break up seasons into multiple volumes, especially when the seasons are not exceptionally long to begin with. It's a real shame they did this because this is otherwise a great 3-disc set. The show is a fantastic insider look at the Hollywood Fame Game focusing on an up and coming actor and the group of long-time friends he hangs around with to try to keep him grounded. Extras include audio commentary tracks on three of the 12 episodes as well as a promo piece for the Vegas episode. Worth picking up, despite the season-splitting.

Godzilla Double-Shot - Buy from Amazon: Godzilla Raids Again and Godzilla vs. Mothra
Godzilla Raids Again is the first sequel to the original Gojira. This film start the trend of the Vs. battles that dominate the series and the big bad guy here is Anguirus, a giant Ankylosaurus-like monster. While not as good as the original, it is not as campy as many of the subsequent editions. Godzilla vs. Mothra is one of the better installments in the franchise and it features Mothra, a giant moth. (The name kind of gives it away.) One of the more popular foes, it's hard to image a big moth as being threatening, but the filmmakers pull it off. Both DVDs come with the original Japanese versions and the American counterparts, but once you see the Japanese version, it will be nearly impossible to watch it any other way. Add in extras like audio commentary tracks and featurettes and it is worth picking up for fans of the franchise.

The Good Shepherd - Buy from Amazon: DVD or HD-DVD
There were high expectations for this movie given the impressive cast, the director, and let's not overlook the release date. This movie was coming out during the heart of award season and many figured it was being groomed for a date with Oscar. However, that was not to be. It is not a bad movie, but it is overlong and underdone. Even so, the film is worth checking out. However, the DVD is just worth a rental as there are only some deleted scenes. I'm not sure why there's no audio commentary track, making of featurette, etc., but one has to wonder if there's a Special Edition in the works.

The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy - Billy and Mandy's Big Boogey Adventure - Buy from Amazon
Dear god, this is an annoying show. Mandy's fine and the Grim Reaper's okay, but the rest of the characters make me want to gnaw my own head off just to escape them. Granted, I'm not the target demographic, but I just had to say that.

Jump In! - Freestyle Edition - Buy from Amazon
Corbin Bleu of High School Musical stars in another Disney TV movie, this one about jump rope. He is joined by Keke Palmer of Akeelah and the Bee as well as a lot of other actors fans of the Disney channel will recognize.

I am clearly outside the target demographic of this movie, but having seen a number of these movies for reviews and the like and I will say it is better than many of them. On the plus side, the jump competitions are well down, at least from my perspective having never really paid attention to the sport before. On the down side, the movie is incredibly predictable. Oh so predictable. Then again, the same can be said of High School Musical and that movie has become a cultural phenomenon. I don't think this movie will do that well, but it should be a solid performer with its target demographic.

As for the DVD, the extras are on par with out Disney TV movies with a making of featurette, a learn the moves featurette, and two music videos. The making-of featurette clocks in at 6 minutes and is your typical mix of talking head, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips and is surprisingly in-depth given the short runtime. Learning the Moves is 5 minutes long, but I don't think it will teach anyone anything but the basics, but it could get someone interested enough to find a teacher. The music videos were mostly inconsequential.

The movie broke records when it first debuted on the Disney Channel and the DVD backs up the movie nicely. Worth picking up for the target demographic, but the crossover appeal is limited.

Karla - Buy from Amazon
Bad doesn't even begin to describe this movie. It is terrible both in execution and in its exploitive approach to the real-life tragedy. A lot of movies based on real life serial killers are the same way, but this one stands out and if there's any justice, it will end careers.

Law & Order - The Fifth Year - Buy from Amazon
Great show, lousy DVD. Because the show doesn't require a person to watch the episodes in order, and it is syndicated so much, there's little reason to buy the show on DVD outside the extras. And there are no extras. I guess it's worth it if you want to be able to watch a specific episode on demand, but I can't recommend purchasing the 5-disc set just for that.

The Lost Room - Buy from Amazon
Buy it. Buy it now. I'm not kidding. This is one of the coolest mini-series I've seen in a long time. However, one of the coolest things about the movie, is how it draws you in by giving you just enough information to keep you interested without giving it all away too soon. Because of this, I can't give you any more information without potentially hurting your enjoyment of the movie. Just trust me and pick it up.

The Mario Bava Collection - Volume 1 - Buy from Amazon
An Italian director who influenced a lot of the directors with not only his visual style, but also his use of sex and violence. Like most box sets, you have to look out for double-dips and filler, but while all of these are re-issues, only one, Knives of the Avenger is not prime Mario Bava. If you are a fan of his work, this is a good collection to grab. If you've never seen his work, check it out and you might become a fan.

Mind of Mencia - Uncensored Season 2 - Buy from Amazon
This show stars Carlos Mencia, a.k.a. Ned Holness, a.k.a. George Lopez, a.k.a. Ari Flescher, a.k.a. Bobby Lee, a.k.a. Bill Cosby, a.k.a. Sam Kinison. I'm just joking, sort of. For those who don't know, Carlos Mencia has been accused of stealing jokes from a number of comedians with his biggest critic being Joe Rogan. But after watching this second season of his show I have to ask why? Why would anyone want to take credit for writing Carlos Mencia's material?

For all the people who have complained that Carlos Mencia has stolen jokes, the person who should be upset the most is Dave Chappelle. This show is a total clone of his show, just without the humor. (It is worth noting that this show started shortly after Dave Chappelle left, and it makes sense than Comedy Central would try and replicate that show's success as much as possible, but they made it look like a knock-off instead.) It starts with some lame stand-up has some lame skits and rounds out the show with a solid helping of uncomedy.

Carlos Mencia has been confronted several times over some allegedly stolen jokes and one time, I swear he said this, his defense was that the jokes were too generic to know who wrote them originally. That's your defense? That's like claiming your material wasn't stolen cause it isn't worth stealing. But I do agree with that description. The comedy here is incredibly lazy, relying a lot on stereotypes and rarely scratching beyond the superficial level. I don't mind when comics use race in their material, but it has to be clever, it has to include some social commentary. It seems like the writers are aiming for outrageous and controversial without ever hitting funny and certainly not coming close to insightful.

Moving onto the DVD, this 3-disc set has very few extras, just some deleted scenes. But after watching more than a dozen episodes, the last thing I'd want to do is see more of this unfunny material.

Carlos Mencia isn't the most overrated stand-up comic working today, but he's right up there. And if he does have some good material, he doesn't showcase it on this show. Skip it.

The Natural - Director's Cut - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
It's the start of the baseball season so there's no better time to release a baseball movie, and this is one of the best. Not the first time the movie's been released on DVD, it's not even the first one to carry the special edition label, but it is the best. There's no audio commentary, but there are plenty of featurettes on various subjects like your typical making of concerns, interviews with real baseball players about the movie, and much more. Even for those of us who are not fans of baseball, this is easily worth picking up.

NHL History of the Philadelphia Flyers - Buy from Amazon
Talk about bad timing. The Philadelphia Flyers are having one of their worst seasons in a long time and it's going to be a tough sell to the average hockey fan. Diehard Flyers will suck it up and relive past glory as they watch their rivals play in the playoffs.

Opal Dream - Buy from Amazon
A small family film from Australia, this movie earned good reviews but went nowhere in limited release. It should be seen by more on the home market, but without any extras, a rental will do.

The Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection, Volume 5 - Ant Aardvark - Buy from Amazon
All 17 of the Aardvark and the Ant cartoons made by the same people that did the Pink Panther series. The price is right, but I'd rather spend more and get some extras.

Pokemon Movie 9 - Pokemon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea - Buy from Amazon
They still make Pokemon movies?

Rank - Buy from Amazon
A documentary looks at the annual world championship bull riding competition and the men who compete within it. The movie did no business when it opened last summer and this can be blamed on two things. One, bull riding is not a mainstream sport and there is not a lot of crossover appeal between enthusiasts for the sport and the average moviegoer, especially ones who like documentaries and limited releases. Two, the movie wasn't particularly well done. The scenes of the competition are thrilling, but the movie doesn't focus enough on that. It's worth a rental for fans of the sport, or related sports, but that's it.

Roseanne - The Complete 7th Season - Buy from Amazon
This was a good show for most of its run, but at this point it had clearly peaked. Even so, there's enough good shows to be worth checking out, but no extras meaning it is just worth a rental.

S*P*Y*S - Buy from Amazon
Best described as a guilty pleasure, this movie stars Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould, both of whom previously worked together in M*A*S*H. (Hence the *s in the name.) However, while M*A*S*H is a classic, this is not. Curiosity might lead you to rent it, but that's all.

She-Ra - Princess of Power - Season One - Volume 2 - Buy from Amazon
A spin-off of He-Man, this show was only marginally better. However, while I was never a fan of the show, I admire the DVD release as it is packed with extras including audio commentary tracks, featurettes, storyboards, and even collectable art cards. Easily worth picking up for fans of the show.

Sportscentury Greatest Athletes: Wayne Gretzky - Buy from Amazon
The Phoenix Coyotes better start winning next year or it might start hurting Wayne Gretzky's legacy.

Tom Goes to the Mayor - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
One of the Adult Swim series that didn't quite work. As alternative / absurdist humor, it is hit and miss, and without a strong enough conventional structure to fall back on, when it doesn't work, it really doesn't work. On the other hand, the 3-disc set is filled with extras and should please fans of the show.

Twin Peaks - The Compete Second Season - Buy from Amazon
... What the hell? ... No seriously, what the hell did I just watch? I remember the showing being bizarre when it first came out, but I still wasn't prepared for the experience 15 years later.

It's really hard to review this for a number of reasons, partially the mind-addling nature of the show. After watching too many episodes back-to-back, you feel like you haven't slept in a week. However, this season it has a Lost-like vibe to it. Season One felt like it was completely planned out by David Lynch and Mark Frost (the creators). It was like they planned out the whole season before they started filming the first episode so while it was strange, you knew there was some internal logic there. With Season Two that feeling is not as strong. It almost feels like they didn't expect there to be a second season and had to improvise trying to replicate what made the first season a success without ever reaching the high level set by their previous work.

Extras on the 6-disc set are very strong with intros by the Log Lady for each episode, but if you are expecting these to lessen your confusion, you are out of luck. Each disc also has an interview with some of the directors, writers, etc. Disc 6 also has an interview feature called the Interactive Grid. Here you can select individual interview segments where one participant (Kyle MacLachlan, for instance), talks about one particular topic (the legacy, as an example). Or you can choose to listen to all of the participants interview segments in a row, or all of the participants talk about one subject, or listen to all of them in a row. In total there are more than an hour of interviews on the six discs and even without any audio commentary tracks it is still a great package.

This is a show with cult appeal. Serious cult appeal. Those who know it either love it and have already pre-ordered the final DVD set, or loathe is and wouldn't want the DVDs if they were free. If you've never heard of it, you have to rent it, but start with Season One or you will be left confused. ... I mean even more confused.

Volver - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-Ray
Pedro Almodóvar's biggest hit in this market, and with good reason. Not only did he wow critics and woo audience members, but Penelope Cruz earned her first Oscar nomination. As for the DVD, it is not overburdened with extras, with just an audio commentary track and some interviews, but that is more than most limited releases / foreign language films get, and easily enough to be worth picking up and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week, the movie is just that good. Also of interest, this film is being released on Blu-Ray, which is an important development in the Format Wars 2: Electronic Boogaloo. With smaller films coming in High Definition, it is clear that the format has arrived and is on the cusp of being mainstream. That means if you want to be an early adapter, you better pick up your player within the next few months because it could be the big seller this Christmas.

The War on the War on Drugs - Buy from Amazon
A series of pro-drug shorts so inept one has to assume it was made by the DEA to justify their existence. It's so bad that people watching it while stoned will start chanting, "Kill the hippies."

Woman is the Future of Man - Buy from Amazon
This film earned excellent reviews but never found an audience here. The DVD should correct that as it is loaded with extras like introduction, interviews, making of featurette, and more. Easily worth picking up.


Filed under: Video Releases, Charlotte's Web, The Good Shepherd, Identity, King Arthur, Black Christmas, Volver, Willard, Death of a President, Copying Beethoven, Aurora Borealis, Opal Dream, Woman is the Future of Man, Jump In!, 3 Needles