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DVD Releases for April 17, 2007

April 16th, 2007

For the second weekend in a row I had to dig hard to find some of the DVDs on this week's list. But unlike last weekend, there are a number of DVD releases that jumped out as contenders for DVD Pick of the Week including the gritty La Haine - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon and the Oscar winning The Last King of Scotland - Buy from Amazon. But in the end I went with sublime humor of The Venture Bros. - Season Two - Buy from Amazon, which may seem like a lowbrow choice compared to the others above, but it earns the title of DVD Pick of the Week.

Blu-Ray Releases - Buy from Amazon: The Dirty Dozen and Enter the Dragon
I like the fact that older movies are coming out on Blu-Ray. But while it is nice to see these classics in High Definition, I can't say they are worth the upgrade.

Brute Force - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
Burt Lancaster stars as Joe Collins, con locked up in Westgate Prison. Westgate Prison is run by an ineffectual warder leaving the real power in the hands of a sadistic head guard, played by Hume Cronyn. An excellent message movie delivered with a healthy does a noir sensibility that still works today despite being made 60 years ago. The extras are sharp with an audio commentary track, interviews, 36-page booklet and more. Worth picking up for fans of the genre or of movies from that era in general.

The Chocolate War - Buy from Amazon
The directorial debut of Keith Gordon, who also wrote the screenplay based on the novel by Robert Cormier. The film earned excellent reviews but never came close to matching that at the box office. The DVD comes a little late to really change that, but at least with an audio commentary and an interview, (both with the director), it is worth checking out.

Double Happiness - Buy from Amazon
This movie is more than a decade old, but this is the first time it's been released on DVD. The film is one of Sandra Oh's earliest roles and certainly should benefit from her Grey's Anatomy fame and that's a good thing as the movie deserves a wider audience. As for the DVD, there are no extras and that limits the value to a rental unless you are a big fan of Sandra Oh in particular or Asian cinema in general.

Dragon's Lair - Blu-Ray - Buy from Amazon
Two important points, firstly this is a Blu-Ray release, but it was noteworthy enough to separate from the other Blu-Ray releases coming out this week. Secondly, this is not a movie but an interactive adventure. It's a game. Not a very good game, however. The nature of the game means there's little choices given since they would have to fully animate each branch. Also, remote controls are not optimized for games like this further reducing the game play. I remember when these types of games first came out, but even then you could tell that once the initial curiosity factor waned there wasn't enough substance to last.

Forgiving Dr. Mengele - Buy from Amazon
A documentary about a survivor of the holocaust who is looking for reconciliation. While the documentary lacks style, the subject matter more than compensates for that. Extras are limited with an interview, but it is still worth checking out.

Foxworthy's Big Night Out - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
The Blue Collar comedian hosted this sketchcom / variety show and was joined by some of the biggest names in country music. This is the third failed TV show for the comic, and it's not too surprising to see why it failed. (On a side note, it does appear that he finally struck TV gold with Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, but I can't see that show lasting too much longer as the novelty appeal will soon wear off.) Extras on the 2-disc set are better than expected given the show's short run with some behind-the-scenes footage and some outtakes, as well as bios on the Homewreckers, (the dance troupe), but that's not enough to lift it past the rental level.

Freedom Writers - Buy from Amazon
One of the best-reviewed films of the first part of this year, this film was able to top low expectations but can't be considered even a midlevel hit. The DVD should do better and features extras like a commentary track, deleted scenes, a couple of promotional featurettes, music video, etc. Overall it's a good package and earns a recommendation, but I can't be too enthusiastic about it. Call it a solid rental leaning towards the purchase level.

The George Elliot Collection - Buy from Amazon
A series of made for TV movies based on the novel by George Elliot and produced by the BBC. They are: Adam Bede , Daniel Deronda, Middlemarch, The Mill on the Floss, and Silas Marner, The Weaver of Raveloe. Middlemarch is arguably the best, but most are worth checking out for fans of either the author in particular or the BBC made for TV movie in general. Also, since the box set is basically buy 3 get the other two free, it is the way to go.

George Lopez - The Complete First and Second Seasons - Buy from Amazon
A family SitCom with an 'ethnic twist.' I have 'ethnic twist' in quotes because while the show features George Lopez and a Hispanic family, it really could have featured any ethnic comedian and the basic structure wouldn't change. Stick in Margaret Cho and it's All-American Girl. This is mainly due to its lazy writing that is designed to be a safe sitcom for the easily offended as opposed to a show that takes any probing look at the culture it depicts. Also, this 4-disc set has just the minimum extras for a current TV on DVD release with a featurette and some outtakes. I can't even call it a rental, but others might feel differently. On a side note, the theme song, Low Rider by War, as been replaced as the licensing fees were just too much. I really think studios should purchase the DVD rights when they pick up the song for the series and if that costs too much, there are thousands of indie bands that would love the free publicity and would license one of their songs for a lot less.

The Ghost Busters - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
When I first saw this title I was so happy, then I realized it was the live action series from the 70s and not the cartoon based on the hit movies. The show itself is not that great, better than most live action Saturday morning shows aimed at kids, but I think a lot of the appeal here is nostalgia while the extras are limited. If you grew up watching the show, it is worth revisiting, but a rental will probably do for most people.

La Haine - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
From writer / director Mathieu Kassovitz, who also brought us Gothika, but let's not hold that against him. La Haine, or Hate, as it is translated in English, is an amazing movie that depicts a world of class and racial divide and three social outcasts from three different ethnic backgrounds who have a common bond that includes an anti-authority streak and a lack of hope or direction. Despite earning rave reviews, and more than a few awards, this is the first time the film has come out on DVD here, but it was worth the wait. The 2-disc set includes an introduction by Jodie Foster, audio commentary track, feature-length retrospective documentary, a shorter featurette on the sociological impact of the movie, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes, and more. Easily worth picking up an a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Happy Days - The Complete Second Season - Buy from Amazon
Why do studios insist on releasing classic shows on featureless DVDs? I don't think I have to tell you how good this series was, but without any extras I can't recommend it. And for studio executives reading this, here's a rule of thumb: For each spin-off show produces, there should be one featurette on each DVD release.

HD-DVD Releases - Buy from Amazon: Feast, The Game, The Jerk and School for Scoundrels
An eclectic mix of movies are on this week's list of HD-DVD releases, but none stand out as a reason to buy into the format, especially as it seems to be losing the format war.

Highlander - Ultimate Collection - Best of the Best - Buy from Amazon
15 episodes from the series plus 3 hours of extras. However, since the every season of the series has already been released on DVD, this is only for the really hardcore fans or those who just like the show a little bit and don't want to spend big bucks on full season sets.

The History Boys - Buy from Amazon
This movie was based on an award-winning play, but the transition to the movie wasn't without some bumps. It still earned better reviews than most wide releases, but not enough to escape limited release. (I think getting the entire cast from the play to the movie was both a blessing and a curse. The certainly knew what made the show a success, but it takes a different style of acting to perform in a theater than it does on screen and this shows.) As for the DVD, it is very strong for a limited release with an audio commentary track, a featurette on the play as it toured various places and a making of featurette. Worth renting for most, picking up for many.

Kraken - Tentacles of the Deep - Buy from Amazon
A TV movie that was made by the Sci-Fi Channel and is bad even compared to those low standards. Unless you like really bad movies you can mock MST3K style, avoid this movie like the plague. Even if you like MSTing bad movies, there are better choices out there. Skip it.

The Larry Sanders Show - Not Just the Best Of - Buy from Amazon
I'm of two minds about this release. On the one hand, I hate TV on DVD that isn't full season sets, (with very few exceptions). On the other hand, it has been five years since Season 1 was released and there's still no release for Season 2 on the horizon. So, if you are a fan of the show, the only way to help get Season 2 out there is if this 4-disc set. At least they made a 4-disc set that is worth picking up. In addition to the 23 episodes picked from all five seasons, there are also audio commentaries on four of them, deleted and extended scenes, and a nearly feature-length documentaries, and interviews. Lots of interviews. In total there are nearly as much in terms of extras as there are in terms of episodes and that makes it a must have for fans of the show. I know, I would prefer to see full season sets come out with this kind of treatment, even this amount of extras spread out over the remaining four seasons would be better than a Best of DVD set. But until that happens, this is as good as it gets. On a side note, Season 1 is being re-released tomorrow so fans might want to grab that as well to encourage the rest of the show coming out on DVD.

The Last King of Scotland - Buy from Amazon
This movie had Oscar buzz going for it since well before it hit theaters. However, as good as the movie was, it was overshadowed by Forest Whitaker's Oscar winning performance as Idi Amin. The film started in limited release in late September of last year and did reasonably well during its initial release, but didn't really take off till earlier this year when the awards started to get handed out. As for the DVD, it is just as strong as most first run releases and much stronger than most limited releases with an audio commentary track, deleted scenes, a look at the historical record of Idi Amin, and a few interviews. This is worth checking out if for no other reason than to see Forest Whitaker become Idi Amin, add in the high quality of the movie and the DVD and it is easily worth picking up and a contender for DVD Pick of the Week.

Laverne & Shirley - The Complete Second Season - Buy from Amazon
See Happy Days above. Studios really need to stop putting out such great shows on featureless DVDs.

Masters of Horror - Family - Buy from Amazon
One of the best episodes from the second season of this series. The film stars George Wendt as a normal guy just trying to do what's best for his family... who just happen to be a collection of skeletons he's amassed by killing his neighbors. Excellent mix of humor and horror and should please fans of John Landis' other genre films. Like the other DVD releases from the Masters of Horror series, this one has more than enough extras including an audio commentary track, behind-the-scenes featurette, etc. Easily worth picking up and yet another contender for DVD Pick of the week.

Mork & Mindy - The Complete Second Season - Buy from Amazon
See Laverne & Shirley above.

Murder, She Wrote - The Complete Sixth Season - Buy from Amazon
This season is one of the weaker seasons in the shows run for a simple reason, not enough Angela Lansbury. The grind of a weekly series was just too much but instead of ending the show early the network let her take time off during the season, so this year nearly half the shows don't feature her. We do get some guest shots, in fact, a lot of them, but it doesn't have the same heart. Even so, it is still worth picking up for fans, especially with the featurette Recipe for a Hit, which was filmed this year and features interviews with many of the cast members.

MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge Season 2 - Buy from Amazon
One of the stranger shows on TV at the moment, it is a guilty pleasure and very fun to watch. "Right you are, Ken!" The 3-disc set has all 13 episodes from season 2, audio commentary tracks on three of them, wrap-up on the most painful eliminations of the season, and an unedited episode of Takeshi's Castle, which this show is cut from. Is this a good selection of extras? "Indeed!" So much so you might think it is a contender for DVD Pick of the Week. "Well, you're wrong!" But it is still worth picking up for fans of the show while those who have never seen it before might want to give it a rental. "Don't get eliminated!"

National Lampoon's Pucked - Buy from Amazon
Further proof that National Lampoon has lost its edge. Just walk away.

Notes on a Scandal - Buy from Amazon
Other film on this week's list that was made to win awards but despite earning fantastic reviews, it was only able to earn a couple nominations but no wins. As for the DVD, there are more extras than most limited releases and inline with first run releases. They include an audio commentary track, couple featurettes, behind-the-scenes, interviews, and more. Worth picking up, but not quite up to the level of a DVD Pick of the Week.

Off The Black - Buy from Amazon
A coming of age story that features some good performances, but the themes here have been explored too many times in other movies to feel fresh. Add in zero special features and the DVD rates a rental, but not much more than that.

Overlord - Criterion Collection - Buy from Amazon
Written and directed by Stuart Cooper, the World War II movie using real archival footage to help craft a fictional story of a recruit from basic training to the beaches of Normandy during D-Day. A powerful film that is being presented on DVD for the first time on this Criterion DVD. Extras include an audio commentary track, and several featurettes on the use of archival footage, war correspondents, influences and more. Overall it is an excellent package, but of the three Criterion Collection releases this week, this is the weakest in my opinion.

Pulp - Buy from Amazon
A parody of film noir films that is also works as film noir itself. However, it's a setup that didn't impress critics all that much while moviegoers ignored it. This is too bad since it deserves to be seen more, however, with zero extras, the DVD only requires a rental, unless you are a big fan of either the genre or the star, Michael Caine.

Smokin' Aces - Buy from Amazon: DVD or HD-DVD
A guilty pleasure, although I will admit it is more guilty than pleasure. While the film wasn't able to win over critics, or an overabundance of moviegoers, the DVD is top notch. Extras start out with an audio commentary track, a trio of featurettes on topics like the making of the movie, deleted & extended scenes, alternate ending, and more. I won't call the film high art, but it is entertaining in a kinetic way and the extras on the DVD lift it to the purchase level for fans of these movies.

Spider-man 2.1 - Unrated & Extended Cut - Buy from Amazon
Marketing ploy or legitimate special edition? ... I think that answer is obvious. I guess if you don't already own Spider-man 2 on DVD, this might be worth picking up, but the only new extras here are a new audio commentary track and an ad for Spider-man 3. And to make matters worse, not all of the extras from the previous Special Edition were ported over. I can't recommend the DVD for either upgrades or new customers since it is just a cheap cash grab.

Spongebob Squarepants - Friend Or Foe - Buy from Amazon
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?
SpongeBob SquarePants!
Absorbent and yellow and porous is he!
SpongeBob SquarePants!

Now you'll never get that theme song out of your head. Ha, ha, ha.

It looked as if we weren't going to have a spotlight review this week but earlier in the afternoon a copy of this DVD landed on my desk. Now, I realize I'm not in the target demographic here, I'm too old to appreciate the film for its giddy nature, and too sober to enjoy it on a more adult level, but even with that caveat I think it is safe to say the show is running out of steam.

The seven episodes included in this DVD are:

  • Friend or Foe: 2-part episode on the history of Plankton and Mr. Krabs and how their friendship turned to a bitter rivalry. This was actually a pretty good episode and I had high hopes for the DVD.
  • The Original Fry Cook: The original Krusty Krab's fry cook comes back and he outshines SpongeBob. At first our yellow friend wants to quit, then he wants to learn at the feet of the master. One of the better episodes on the DVD as it lives up to the nuttiness of the show, but it's a theme that has been overused.
  • Night Light: After reading a scary story, SpongeBob becomes afraid of the dark. This one is too repetitive early on and takes a hard left halfway through and never recovers.
  • Rise and Shine: A look at the early morning routine of Patrick Star. Patrick is a stupid character and I can appreciate that in little bursts throughout the show. However, 10 minutes of him in a row was just too much for me.
  • Waiting: SpongeBob sends away for a free toy and waits for it. And waits. And waits. And waits. And waits. And waits. And waits. ... And waits. And you'll be waiting for the episode to end.
  • Fungus Among Us: SpongeBob gets an itchy fungus. ... I watched a cartoon about this in health class. That was less gross than this episode and slightly funnier.
  • Spy Buddies: SpongeBob and Patrick go on an undercover mission to spy on Plankton. The DVD ends on a high note with a secret agent spoof. Does a good job of spoofing James Bond and Mission: Impossible with specific references that I can't help think will go over the heads of most kids watching the show.
As for the extras, they are limited with the only real one being the animatic for Friend or Foe, which is pretty weak. There's also a photo gallery, but that also barely qualifies as an extra.

Overall only half the episodes were worth checking out and the extras didn't make up for that, so I'd say wait for the full-season sets.

"Oh brother, I hated the real version of this song."

Thieves Like Us - Buy from Amazon
Not one of Robert Altman's best known films, but that's not because of any lack of quality. While many people will (re)discover the movie on DVD, with just an audio commentary track there's not enough to recommend purchasing, but give it a rental.

True Confessions - Buy from Amazon
A film based on the Black Dahlia murder starring Robert Duvall and Robert De Niro as two brothers, a cop investigating the crime and a Catholic priest. However, the crime is not the focus of the movie, but merely a backdrop for the real story of these two brothers. A fantastic movie with a great noir feel to it. It should have been an easy recommendation, except there are no extras on the DVD. It is still worth a rental.

The Venture Bros. - Season Two - Buy from Amazon
The second season of this spoof of the classic cartoon, Johnny Quest. Spoofs are very popular because they look so easy to do. Just copy what you are spoofing and add a few jokes. What's so hard about that? But that's not a real parody. A real parody is a work of art. It takes an innate knowledge of the subject matter, you need to be able to dissect it, analyze it, and rebuild it in a way that is instantly recognizable to fans of the genre, but just out of kilter enough to bring the humor. This show does it nearly perfectly. So the show succeeds in a deceptively difficult genre, but what about the DVD? I'm happy to report it is up to the quality of the show with audio commentary tracks on all 13 episodes, deleted / alternate scenes, and a tour of the studio. Easily worth picking up and a clear contender for DVD Pick of the Week.


Filed under: Video Releases, Spider-Man 2, Freedom Writers, Smokin' Aces, School for Scoundrels, The Last King of Scotland, Notes on a Scandal, The History Boys, Off the Black, Feast, Forgiving Dr. Mengele, Pucked